Lessons Learnt From Organizing a Conference
It has been quiet here for a while… :-)
You may have noticed that I organized my first conference .NET Day about two months ago. Well, that is not true. The organization itself took place long before that, but the event took place approximately two months ago. With this distance of time, I want to gather what I learned from organizing this event, what I take with me and what will influence the next conference if I will do this again some time :-)
I needed some time to really figure out all the thoughts & things which were going on and break them down to the following points. If you made similar experiences or want to add new ones, feel free to comment :)
Be prepared and have a plan B
On the event you are planning, things will happen you never thought of. This can be good or bad things, but you will not be prepared of them. So what you can do is start early (!) and think of any possible situation which may happen. (You can’t, but more on this later. :-) This can be that a speaker is not coming because the night before he got sick or something, a microphone does not work, the food can not be served etc. You should always think of those things and play with that thought in your head. “What do I do if xyz happens?” is the question you have to ask for yourself. Have backup speakers. Have saved the telephone numbers of all pizza delivery services in your area to be prepared if food can not be served. Have a car there which you can use to get something which you not have thought of etc. If you re-think your event over and over again, you will possibly come to a point where you can say to yourself that you are prepared for every single thing which can happen. (Which you can’t, but you did your best here :)
So make that a little easier and taking this thought of being prepared further, we can take a look at the next point…
Change the perspective to an attendee
…changing the perspective to an attendee. Image you are walking into the venue, what do you expect? Getting your ticket scanned? Getting a lanyard? Seeing the organizer? Think of where do you like to sit, what would be cool in the breaks? Is there something you would say, “If there would be xyz, that’d be cool!”. If you attended to other conferences before, and you can clone some ideas: Cool! If you were missing something on other conference: Try to add it to our conference. It’s your attendees who give feedback & do tweet about it. So you have to do everything they feel comfortable. From the selection of talks, topics over the venue, how you treat them etc.
Ask for help
You noticed something, didn’t you? Thats massive work. Well until here we did not organize anything so far. All that were thoughts! But you need another input. Ask your friends, your family if idea xyz is cool. “Would you like it if …?”, “What do you think of xyz?”. Also tell them if you arranged something. Not to get compliments on how good you are, but to trigger their thoughts a bit. “Hey I have organised thisandthat” – “Cool, but did you think of thatandthis, too then?” – Boom! You got your input.
Further ask a friend to help you out. There are so much things to do which are completely separated and can be done by another one. If you organize a conference, at some point you have to …
Talk to each other and delegate
… delegate! We took OneNote for that which was completely fine. To keep each other up to date, if the emails to the speakers were sent out, which speaker said yes/no/maybe. Which topic by whom, which sponsors do we have, mail proposals for review etc. Delegate something, divide the work by two or more and give exact advises. “Can you please write a draft mail for the sponsors to do this and that”. Maybe you can organize via SCRUM or Kanban. Feel free to do that as you want, but split up the work. It is getting easier then.
Don’t do a talk when you organise the conference
I did that mistake. I really thought a long time about “Shall I speak or not?”. In the end I thought my topics were interesting and so I spoke at the event I organised. This was a mistake if I look back. And the reason for that was that I was not focussing on my talk. You are so distracted by anything what is going on that you can not focus on your talk. I did not get into this tunnel completely giving everything I have in this 45 minutes. (I even thought about so much things the night before the event, that I forgot that I only had 45 minutes and practices for 60 instead!!!) I only have been at the talk at like 70% or something. And it went bad. I forgot to show demos, forgot a cable to show something with my mobile phone, my timing was bad, I moved the slides too fast etc.
So stay focused. Either on talking or on doing the things around it…but for me both is not working.
With all the things in mind: You can not start too early with that. Even if other people youre talking to tell you “We still have time”: Try to organise everything sooner than later. If you ask people about their opinion maybe you notice things you haven’t thought of. And these are things you have to organise. So start early with you preparations. Maybe there is no “Too early” at all :-)
During the conference: Observe & Listen !!!
Maybe this is the most important point. Listen to feedback. It won’t go perfect the first time you organise a conference and people will tell you. And that is okay. Take it as a chance to get better. How was the food? How was the venue? Take a look at the attendees during the talks and during the brakes. Do not only talk with people you know. Ask them about one thing specifically. “How do you like …?”, “Are you satisfied with …”, “Is it okay that thingandthat is like …”. In addition to that provide a possibility for feedback. We used google forms for that. We always asked about ratings and if the rating was not the best there was the possibility to add “Why is it not rated with 5 stars? What can we do better next time?” and we got great feedback!
Enjoy the moment
Last but not least: Enjoy the moment. I was sitting in the conference very excited and tried to have everything under control as a friend and attendee said “Don’t worry. It will work. Lean back and enjoy the conference”. When I look back now that was one of the greatest advices that day.
Thank you and once again thanks to all attendees. You made this day very special and I had a great birthday that day :-)