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.
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.
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.
- We found out we weren’t particularly great at using social media to advertise the conference (sorry folks in Canada who didn’t hear about it until afterwards) and having a dedicated social media expert on our planning committee would have been awesome
- We borrowed the services of Derek Briggs but his life would have been easier if he was on our calls instead of just having me bug him at the last minute about stuff.
- With more organizers we could have delegated tasks ahead of time and had a lot of things done in parallel.I think we’ll fix this for next year.
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.
Going forward I think we’ll try to have people focusing on that at least 6 months in advance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have way too many volunteers. It’s a great help. They can leave later if they are bored or sit in sessions.
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.
- The more things you can do to automate registration the better. We didn’t have to find labeled bundles of swag for people or pre-print name tags that we might have gotten wrong. Our prep time was pretty minimal
- I did however screw up and not tell the volunteers about the free parking vouchers right away. This meant as the day went on a number of people stopped by registration to ask about them. If a little more planning had been put into registration this wouldn’t have happened. We also could have probably used a script to explain room locations to help with some of the venue confusion.
- We also printed the schedule only on the back of the name tags and apparently attendees didn’t notice them right away. If I had it to do over again I’d have name boxes on both sides and 1/2 the schedule printed on both sides. No matter which way the tag flipped you could read the persons name and everyone would realize the schedule was there.
- It’s really hard to estimate shirt sizes. We polled the first 75 or so registrations about what shirt sizes they wanted and used that to estimate our full order and still got things wrong. We ran out of female t-shirts earlier than I expected (and yes you should have female shirts at your event) and we ran out of the largest and smallest sizes early. We had probably 15 or 20 XL shirts leftover. I’m not sure what we can do about this yet other than buying extras.
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