Last year on Sept. 9, 2009 The NINES conference debuted. It was an entirely online, completely free church leadership conference that featured 75 different speakers talking for nine minutes each. There were plenty of highlights and lessons for church communicators.
This year The NINES is back with an even shorter format (six minutes!), some for-a-fee extras and more speakers—including our own Michael Buckingham, CFCC board members Kem Meyer and Phil Cooke, and loads of big names, including Rick Warren, Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt and more.
Those for-a-fee extras include a 100-page conference book, hefty discounts on resources and access to the videos after the event. And there’s still the free option. The paid options are $29 (“premium”) and $99 (“gold”), and the pricier option is the only way to get access to the videos after the event (keep reading for a discount!).
We sat down with Todd Rhoades, Monday Morning Insight blogger and the man behind The NINES, for some quick lessons and behind-the-scenes insights.
What did you learn from last year’s debut of The NINES?
Todd Rhoades: You know, we learned a lot about what to do, and what not to do. Last year’s NINES was our first online conference. Here are some of the things we learned (not necessarily in any order):
- People ‘dig’ free. The idea of being able to provide an event online that people didn’t need to pay for (or travel to for that matter) seemed like a big hit.
- Speakers like to speak. We gained a ton of momentum last year as we announced speakers gradually. Once the speaker list was starting to release, we found that we had a ton of people actually asking us if they could speak.
- Diversity is important. No matter how hard we try, probably the biggest criticism we receive is that our speakers are not diverse enough (not enough women, African americans, etc.). We really do try to include as diverse a group of speakers as we can. Truth is, though, in our circles, it’s still dominated by the ‘white guys’. We’re glad to see that slowly changing.
- Buzz is incredible. We really didn’t anticipate the reaction we got last year. In fact, it blew us away! I think part of it was that it was new. But a big part of it was the marketing message: 9 minutes on 09/09/09. It was succinct and easy for people to get.
- Nines minutes is too long. We noticed that nines minutes that we gave speakers last year was actually too long! Many speakers got to the six minute point and started to do a re-cap of the first six minutes. So… this year, we decided to give each speaker just six minutes. Of course, they balked! But the end result is a better honed message in most cases that will make this year’s NINES much better!
What kind of reaction did you get last year?
Todd: You know, the response blew us away on a couple of different fronts.
First of all, this was our first experience asking speakers for an event that had never happened before. We compiled a list of 80 speakers that we wanted to invite; hoping to get 25 or so. We couldn’t believe it when we had 76 people say they wanted to be a part!
We had hoped for a couple thousand or so people to attend. When all was said and done, we ended up with over 20,000 unique IP addresses (computers) that logged on during at least part of The NINES last year. It was incredible!
What’s different about this year’s approach?
Todd: Well, I already mentioned that we’re going with six-minute talks rather than nine minutes.
We’re also featuring some ‘user-submitted’ videos this year. The deadline is now passed, but we invited anyone that wanted to to submit a video for consideration. I think we ended up with over 40 video submissions. Most were very good!
A couple other things we’re adding this year: the opportunity for churches to host a group viewing party (for free); iPhone and iPad streaming; and the addition of a couple of paid registration offerings, including the options of a full color conference program book and access to video-on-demand after September 9 (Editor’s Note: Keep reading for a discount on this option!).
Last year there was some frustration about not having a schedule in advance. Will we get a schedule this year? (And if not, why are you holding out on us?!)
Todd: Ha! Yeah, we’re holding out on you again this year! But there are some good reasons… really there are.
First of all, we simply don’t finalize the schedule until a few days before the conference. We have a ton of videos to go through (over 150 this year) to review for quality, content, theme, etc. We take it very seriously, and it is a long, tedious process to get the final schedule down.
Second… if we told you the schedule beforehand, you’d tune in just to see your favorite speaker. The power of The NINES is that you get to hear from some of your favorite speakers, and some that you don’t know… maybe never even heard of… that will be your new favorite speakers. Some of the best feedback we got on speakers last year was that some of the more unknown speakers had the best presentations.
To be honest… that’s something we really like about putting together The NINES… we get to feature people that have a great story to tell, but haven’t had a good platform to tell it.
Now if you really, really want to see a schedule of the day, you can register with one of our premium packages. In each of these, we do include a general run order within 48 hours of the event that will give you a better idea of who’s featured and during what hour.
A few months back there was some controversy over your Twitter voting for this year’s NINES speakers. What did you learn from that whole ordeal? Did it end up being positive and helpful, or did it cause too many problems?
Todd: Yeah, we took some flack for the list. Essentially, we wanted to use it as a tool to give input to people to suggest speakers. That was a great idea. Unfortunately the tool we used also gave the ability to vote with a thumbs up or a thumbs down for each speaker submission. Some people didn’t think that we should have a thumbs down button. The list created a ton of buzz… over 50,000 visits to the page over a few weeks! The end result for us was good. We generated some good buzz and also gained some great speaker suggestions that we followed through on.
What have you learned about marketing an event like this that could be helpful to local churches trying to do their own marketing?
Todd: I think the one thing is this: Have a message that is clear, concise, and easy to share. I think that was the key last year. The theme was clear. It was easy to communicate. It was new and fresh. And people gravitated to it. They told their friends who told their friends. That’s the buzz part. On the back end of the buzz, you have to deliver what you promise.
Thanks Todd! In addition to answering our questions, Todd also offered a $10 discount on the gold registration for Church Marketing Sucks readers. The discount code is good for one week, so you have until Sept. 5 to cash in and save $10 on gold registration for The NINES.