Jared The Nerd

Jared The Nerd

Nerdery, Public Speaking, Leadership, Travel Geekiness & More

Starting a New Development Conference

On August 3rd, 2012 we held the first edition of the CloudDevelop conference. We had a great turnout (150 or so attendees), great sponsors, and relatively few problems. In case you are thinking about starting your own conference I’d like to document some of the things I’ve learned through this process.

Organizers

CloudDevelop was organized by Michael Collier, Brian Prince, Eric Boyd and myself. It started in the fall of 2011 when we independently started thinking the Midwest could use a platform-agnostic cloud computing conference. Once we realized we were having similar thoughts we started moving forward.

Lessons learned:
4 organizers wasn’t enough. Due to all the other responsibilities we each had and sometimes due to geographic issues we really could have used another 3 or 4 organizers.

Marketing

Related partly to organizing, we didn’t do nearly as good of a job marketing the conference as we could have otherwise. We really didn’t get a handle on buzz generation until a month before the conference.

Lesson learned:
Going forward I think we’ll try to have people focusing on that at least 6 months in advance.

Venue

We shopped a lot of venues and eventually settled on the Ohio Union because the facilities were new, a lot of things were included, and the prices were great. CloudDevelop was held before the fall semester started which meant we had much of the Union to ourselves as well. However, because we had a non-standard conference event space we did have people getting confused about where things were located.

Lesson learned:
Have lots of signage. We had printed a bunch of generic signs and planned on taping schedules/arrows to the signs as needed. Before the conference I (with help) setup a bunch of signs in front of rooms and with arrows pointing people to where they were going. By the time the first session started we had enough people confused about where one of the rooms was that we knew we needed to put more way-finding signs up. Thankfully, I had brought my printer and had enough blank signs that we were able to fill the gap before the next session.

Sponsors

We had a lot of great support from awesome sponsors. I think in general they were really happy with the event from an engagement perspective. However, I did hear from a few sponsors that they would have liked access to the attendee list or another way of contacting people they spoke to. Apparently a lot of the attendees didn’t have business cards or other ways of quickly sharing their contact info with the sponsors.

Lesson learned:
Actually I’m still not sure what the answer is here. When selling tickets we chose to tell attendees we wouldn’t share their contact information so we couldn’t just give sponsors the list. However, we may be able to come up with some easy way for attendees to share details. Possibly some generic ‘business cards’ that attendees can fill out with their details during the keynote and carry around all day.

Volunteers

We had a TON of volunteers (thanks to all of you). This made the early morning registration really easy. By lunch we really didn’t have anything for them to do. This was great and made my life and the other organizers’ lives super easy.

Lesson learned:
Have way too many volunteers. It’s a great help. They can leave later if they are bored or sit in sessions.

Swag

We had printed plastic name tags that attendees wrote their own names on with markers (like CodeMash had this year). We separated all the remaining swag (USB drives, software licenses, shirts) out into piles and had attendees move down the line taking an item from each pile as they registered. The volunteers running the registration table worked out this process as they went and it seemed to go extremely smoothly. We did have a number of minor swag-related pain points that I’ve learned from though.

Lesson learned:

Overall

I had a great time organizing and running CloudDevelop and I think most everyone else involved had a good time as well. The key take aways for me from our first attempt at this are a) get more organizers, b) do a better job of marketing the event for months and months leading up to it, and c) streamline everything as much as possible (not having to print name tags was huge) on the day of the event.

Hopefully this is helpful if you are planning your own conference. If you attended CloudDevelop and have feedback please leave a comment!s