Running an Event for Technologists, as Illustrated Through 23 Gifs
It’s the last Wednesday in January and, for some folks, that means that they’re at the end of their most stressful 1/12th of the year. The world of events, however, is different.
There are so many variables that go into running a tech event. Organisers can be hosting their event on any day of any month, they can take anything from five weeks to two years to put the show together and, in a lot of cases, they’re doing most of the heavy lifting alone.
For both a light-hearted reprieve from the extremely stressful and serious goings-on of that career, and to share some helpful resources, I’ve put together this post all about the different stages of running an event so that you can revel in all the things you’ve accomplished so far in 2019, plus get an overview of might be ahead:
Planning the Event
1. When you find out how much feeding 100 people is going to cost:
One of the major expenses event organisers generally under-estimate is how much food costs. Of course, we all feed ourselves, but you’re not just paying for the actual food when it comes to catering an event.
Unless you prep, cook, serve, clean, and equip the service yourself in which case, good luck.
Staff, equipment, distributor costs and other pricey extras in between mean that the final quote can often by alarming. Jessie Char, speaking at Admission, mentioned once being issued a quote for a $100 carton of orange juice, for example.
One estimate, as provided by online service sourcing technology, Thumbtack, estimated the cost at $70 per person for a two-day event including breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon stack. So, yes, 7,000 big ones just to feed 100 people, before you even consider hosting a dinner. And, for context, Smashing Mag calculated that the average attendee size of a tech conference is 840 people.
Furthermore, that’s before we even consider adding quirks, as many developer and tech-focused events will, both for branding’s sake, and for the sake of not boring your attendees to starvation with a soggy box sandwich.
Waffle.js has found a palatable middle ground, however. While not a conference as such, the organisation holds regular meetups all around the theme of “code, waffles, and karaoke”, proving that even your event’s name can revolve around affordable food alternatives, if you play your cards right.
2. When you wonder why the Everything Spreadsheet has frozen even though your desktop looks like this:
In order to be fully comprehensive, when running an event, an organiser could potentially have 61 different spreadsheets to turn to at any one time. Or 61 tabs in one colossal Excel document that you can just about hear your computer’s RAM screaming over.
Traditionally, conference organisers use spreadsheets for everything from their budget, to their schedule, to their social media, to their sponsorship flow… you get the idea.
However, to no one’s surprise in the tech community, new alternatives have been spreading throughout the event industry. A couple of examples include Planning Pod and, if you still want the look-and-feel of a spreadsheet, but in a smarter package with automated tasks, Smartsheet.
3. What you think your sponsors look like:
Approaching sponsors can be nerve-wracking. If you haven’t been through the process yourself yet, imagine being broke and having to ask your friend for that loan you gave them. Six years ago.
But multiply that fear by twenty, change the power balance to make them a business who doesn’t know who you are, and increase the monetary value by, well, a lot. You’re still probably nowhere close.
Things don’t need to be like that, however. In the past, we’ve spoken with our customers who run tech and developer conferences about how they get sponsorship, to help reassure you.
- Holger Blank from JSConf EU was kind enough to share his tactics for securing event sponsorship,
- And our resident Communications and Events Manager, Annie, shared a collection of inspirational sponsorship approaches here.
4. How you think your sponsors view your proposal:
Ah, imposter syndrome. That guest that’s never invited to the party, but who shows up and trashes the place anyway. Aside from all the pressure that goes into considering what your peers are going to make of your event, you still need to sell the concept to sponsors before you can start planning anything else.
To find out exactly what sponsors are looking for, it can help to go to the source. As such, I spoke with Amy Crimmens from Red Badger (hosts of React London among other events) to see what she and her colleagues in the tech industry seek out in sponsor pitches, and what’s worked for them.
5. When you get your fifth “no” from a speaker in one day:
It can be hard to take rejection at the best of times. Especially when you’re reaching out to someone you’ve admired from afar for a while. That said, professional speakers are busy people. People who have full-time jobs in tech and speak on the side are even more thinly stretched. It’s usually nothing personal when you get a rejection.
We recently published a post about how we secured the speakers for our own conference, including the Global Strategist for Developer Engagement at Mozilla, to give you some idea as to where to look when you need some more ideas, and what you need to seal the deal.
6. When you invite developers who’ve inspired you, and one of them ACTUALLY SAYS YES:
Yes, all those emails will eventually pay off. As with most areas of running an event, preparation in advance can save you from a lot of headaches in the long term. The rule of thumb in terms of timeline according to speaker matchmaking service Speak Inc is to start looking for your keynote speakers six months to a year in advance.
In terms of other things you can prepare for ahead of time, if you’re aiming for a celebrity speaker or someone with a large following for your tech conference, there are a few logistics lain out in this post. Namely; location, promotion, speaker fees and transportation.
If you’re looking at a smaller scale event like a meetup, though, Johann Romefort suggests that you should look to your close network, social media, previous meetup groups you’ve attended, LinkedIn, GitHub, and Twitter if you’re struggling on the hunt for speakers.
7. When the CSS for the event site won’t co-operate:
Coding is hard. CSS is hard, even if you think other coding is easy because, dammit, stylesheets are fickle. While I’m not best placed to offer your code snippets or troubleshooting, I can guide you in the right direction of some other things that might help.
Our customers are far more talented with this kind of stuff than I, and our Customer Experience Lead, Vicky, recently put together a beautiful collection of their custom-CSS-ified event sites that utilise the Tito widget. For inspiration, and a reminder that it will eventually work, you can read that here.
8. When you realise an industry conference is on the same day as yours:
Dear reader, if I could move the mountains that are the big-ticket corporate events of the tech world for you, I would, but I’m not that powerful. Finding out that your event clashes with another in your niche, and that you might lose otherwise willing attendees to it, can seem devastating.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, the factors that are most important to attendees might not be satisfied by what your glitzier competitors are offering. In a recent study by Meetings Imagined, the top three factors that made people want to attend events were education (91%), networking (75%) and the location (82%).
Instead of worrying about the big wigs, you might channel your energies into focusing on getting the most educational speakers, not just the most well-known. You might focus on creating an environment where people can truly share ideas, instead of an exhibitor lounge where they have to fight through free pens and lollipops. You might even spend the money that those larger companies are investing in dynamic blue lighting into, you know, food.
Reputation is important, but you only build that by doing the best you can with what you can, not by having the most money.
Launching the event
9. You when you set your site to live:
In the immortal words of Nile Rogers, “AHHHHHHHHHHHH! FREAK OUT!”
Except, just this once, don’t. Your event site going live is a moment for celebration, not panic. You’ve worked hard, and are about to see the fruits of your labour. If you want to do something proactive in the mean time, we’ve put together a resource for event organisers who want to get started with basic on-page SEO for their event sites.
Or, if you’re familiar with the theory, and just want to put it into practice, here’s some info on setting up a site to mirror those recommendations.
10. When you sell your first ticket:
In case you’re not familiar with Tito, we’re make design-led event software that makes it super easy to manage ticket sales for events. We aim to make the product clean, simple and intuitive to use, so we’ve been fortunate enough to see our customers feel the euphoria of that first sale first-hand.
That’s the only suggestion I have for you on that one.
11. When ticket sales suddenly stop and you think you’ll have to ask your parents for rent, even though you’re 37:
Please, one more time, for me, don’t panic. What they don’t tell you is that 30-40% of your tickets will only sell in the last 30 days before the conference.
They also don’t tell you that, more often than not, risks can pay off. Again, at Admission, Bryony Gomez-Palacio of Brand New Conference spoke about maxing out credit cards in a bid to put the show on. And now, they’ve sold out their conference just under ten times. So, with a little patience and a lot of work, you’re likely going to be just fine.
13. When you start sending out discount codes:
If you’ve survived a Black Friday without getting trampled, you’ll know that people love a good deal. While, as an organiser, it can seem like you’re selling yourself short by reducing the price, it has the potential to act as a way to encourage attendees that just couldn’t afford the original ticket price.
After speaking with some behavioural scientists, we put together a piece of research on why people buy tickets, beside the price tag. If you truly want to explore different ways to amp up your sales, you can read their recommendations here.
14. And when, finally, after all that, somehow, really, you completely and totally sell out:
But the event hasn’t even started. So maybe don’t fling your monitor on the ground in excitement just yet.
If the prospect of a sold-out event seems like a distant dream, you can look to the strategies that other tech conferences and events have undertaken in the past for inspiration.
The Head of CMX, a conference that focuses on community above all, but that touches such tech areas as machine learning and blockchain in the mean time, recently spoke to Forbes about how it’s achievable in just five weeks here. The main takeaways from the article are;
- Create a one-pager explaining the value of the conference for attendees,
- Focus on high-quality speakers that will draw crowds,
- Sell tickets even if you haven’t solved every single logistical challenge yet,
- Partner with communities and networks,
- Build a team with complimentary skills,
- Think about your attendee’s long-term experience,
- And avoid perfectionism.
During the event
15. When the first attendee arrives:
Let out a sigh, then smile. It’s really happening. People actually want to see what you’ve been working on all this time.
However, in your planning, you should remember to keep the attendee experience front and centre in all of your strategies. This post by Andrew Betts details how he and his team aim to create better developer conferences.
They ran five editions of Edge Conf, a day of discussion and debate on advanced technologies. They offer myriad tips which I won’t list here, but the key message is that involving your speaker in the content you produce is vital. Whether that takes the form of a panel discussion, live Q&A or feedback. But, for the moment, it’s fine to just be warm and welcoming.
16. When the badge printer inevitably stops working:
I’ve toyed with the idea of giving my autobiography the title, “Feuds with Office Printers and Other Little Disappointments” but I digress.
One of the worst-case scenarios that can happen on the day of your event is the sight of people waiting to get in the door because your printer is more needy than a bottle-wanting infant.
The best option, if you don’t want to have the added stress and/or aren’t a wizard when it comes to inkjets and lasers, is to outsource. Boomset offers on-site printing and was recently named one of Zapier’s top ten event management software brands, for example.
17. When someone asks you where the bathroom is when you’re trying to put out a much, MUCH bigger fire but they don’t know any better:
This too shall pass. Paul, our co-founder, once joked about having nightmares before his events took place. He also talked about fear and paralysis, neither of which are anything close to a joke as far as the organiser is concerned. To psyche yourself up for the big day, consider the Panic and the Release.
18. When the keynote speaker’s slides freeze and you’re the go-to tech person:
Every conference I have ever been to has had one of two problems. Either 1) the slides won’t change in the middle of a speaker’s talk or 2) the sound breaks so that the audience can hear nothing or (worse) the back-prickling feedback of a misplaced microphone. For further proof, see point one here.
To deal with these two problems, there are two options. 1) Have a contingency plan to prevent them from happening or 2) hire someone to look after it for you on the day. Option two will inevitably be more costly, but could save you a red face, cranky speaker, and annoyed audience.
If you’re on the hunt for online resources when it comes to option one, Endless Events have a formidable catalogue of information that may well do the trick.
19. When you realise the schedule is an hour behind and people are getting hungry:
At this stage in the game, you’ll probably begin to understand that these things take time. Speakers go over their allotted time, attendees are late, simply moving people from A to B becomes an issue. But, it’s not the end of the world.
The delay is most likely a symptom that you gave attendees enough breathing room and a break between sessions. Something that we’ve previously recommended. These kind of pauses are healthy and, in the long run, make the day more broken up and palatable for those who show up. Maybe just remember to keep some snacks on hand.
20. When you’re at your most stressed but also need to be your most sociable:
Whether you’re an introvert, and extrovert, or an ambivert, the stress of hosting an event partnered with the stress of interacting with strangers can be a daunting prospect. But, you’re not alone.
Networking and socialising don’t always come naturally to us, but thankfully, there are some fine people out there who have put pen to paper (or, rather, fingertips to keyboard) to share their experiences and tips.
- Justin Miller, marketing manager for Tech in Motion Events, recommends starting conversations online before the event, and getting creative with name badges.
- The team at HP recommend putting stickers on your laptop to show your interests and spark conversations, and actually emailing the people whose business cards you got.
After the event
21. When you finally get to turn your phone off
*Click* and you’re done.
But the sudden removal of all the pressure you’ve been feeling between the build up to your event and actually pulling it off can be stressful in and of itself.
In fact, some people call it the Post-Event Blues.
Finishing a project or a pursuit that absorbs all of your energy can leave a huge gap in your time, and it can feel like you’ve lost the centre of your focus and accomplishment. However, reframing the experience might be helpful in times of listlessness like this.
Event organisation is frequently ranked as one of the most stressful occupations, so that combined with a feeling of purposelessness can be a very hostile emotion. Though it’s not for everyone, in a recent interview with one of the organisers of Brand New Conference, Bryony spoke about how she intermingles her home life with her conference organising to add joy to the experience:
“I have found that not separating [my home life and the conference] is key, they overlap and interact while respecting each other. My kids help with the conference, they know not to interrupt the morning writing, and I am always at school pickup.”
22. When you file the last receipt with your accountant
Aaaand, we go full circle on the finances. Projecting how much your tech event is going to cost, and finding out how much it actually cost can often give you some pretty disparate numbers.
It can help to track down examples of similar conferences and events to compare their reality with your expectations. We recently showcased the JSConf finances (yes, with real numbers) and can recommend it as a great starting point to see where the 00s should go on your budget and, eventually, to your accountant.
23. And, finally, when that first person asks you, “Same time next year?”
Obviously, a single gif (or even 23) doesn’t speak the bazillion words that could be written about running, selling, marketing, organising, fixing, and replicating a tech event. We’ll be focusing on some of these topics over the coming months, though, and will be exploring solutions for the most typical challenges we hear from our customers.
If you’d like to join us on that journey, you can request all of our findings in our soon-to-be-released guide to growth in the developer event space here: