How to organize your community conference — Part 3 — The People

In the second part of this series we saw why having a good environment is the first step for a successful event. If you haven’t done it yet, you should go read the first and the second part of the series to make sure you know our story. Now is time to understand how to attract the right folks to your event.


Speakers

Making a good agenda is just an NP-hard problem

Speakers are the main character of your show. Finding speakers is not necessarily hard. Finding good speakers is harder. Making a good agenda probably the hardest part.

To find some speakers you usually start with a call for paper.

CFP

Take inspiration from other call for papers to draft yours (ours was here). Make sure your theme is clearly stated in your CFP and in your website. This will avoid confusion and speakers applying with proposals completely unrelated to your conference. Also clarify type and duration of the session you’re looking for: talks (usually 40 min), lightning talk (10/15 minutes) or workshops (1/2 hours). Don’t forget to set a deadline, you don’t want to receive proposal the day before of your conference.

Ask for all the information you need in the CFP: Abstract, Speaker’s Bio, Speaker’s Picture, Language and Level (Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced).

With CFPs the rule is: the sooner the better. Speaker’s agendas are pretty packed. I personally decide which conference to apply/to attend 3/4 months in advance and I have months where I’m out for a conference nearly every weekend. As soon as you fix the date, send out your CFP.

Advertise your CFP as much as you can. Start from your personal network and ask colleagues/friends if they’re interested in giving a talk. Twitter and Facebook are definitely valuable for finding speakers. Try to specialized communities where to advertise your CFP. For instance, Android speakers are easy to reach in several Slack channels like Android United or the Android Study Group. Also think about adding your conference to some conference list online (e.g. the Android Weekly Conference List or the Android Study Group Conference List).

Roberto Orgiu and “Have you met Flutter?”

Try to find a couple of famous speakers, either from big tech companies or known in the community for their contributions. You can also reach to speakers directly and invite them, you have nothing to loose, worst case they won’t answer. Announce them as soon as you can to find more speakers, more sponsors and more attendees.

Be clear with your speakers regarding which expenses you cover. As a general rule, try to offer travel or accommodation for speakers that are coming from far away. If you can’t, try to ask if the speaker’s employer is willing to pay and offer them some visibility on your website and on your social channels. If you’re organizing a community event, especially if is free, speakers will hopefully understand your effort and will be more open to speak even if you can’t cover their expenses.

Define your Agenda

Time to choose the proposal arrived from the CFP. Here you define the shape of your whole event, so be really careful when picking sessions.

When defining your agenda, make sure to take in account your theme, your target, your location, your language and all the aforementioned details.

In our case we defined those guidelines:

  • Have a good number of beginner talks to target undergraduate/new-grad attendees.
  • Since we received a lot of Android proposals, make sure the conference is balanced with a good number of Cloud/Web sessions as well.
  • Since we received both Italian and English proposal, have at least an English session for every time-slot.
  • Don’t overlap two similar sessions (e.g. if you have two sessions about Kotlin, interested attendees would love to follow both).

Those are not constraints. We tried to follow them as much as we could, but is definitely a complicated task, especially if you have several track in parallel to arrange.

Once you defined your agenda, inform your speakers that they’re in. Ask them a confirmation within 1/2 weeks. Try to send your agenda out as soon as you can, but NEVER advertise a speaker before they confirm.

Also you can ask one of your speaker to prepare another shadow talk, ready to be used to replace a missing speaker (e.g. last minute sickness or missed flight).

Attendees

It’s all about details

Finally you need to find your attendees. Make sure to have a proper ticketing system and start to sell your tickets!

Use all the proper channels for your promotion. Social medias are working fine, but sometimes you need to advertise your conference through different channels. Try to investigate which channels your potential audience is using. Some of the channels we used were:

  • IT Student forums and social groups.
  • Local communities meetup pages (just search on meetup.com) or posting on their mailing list.
  • Printed leaflets on university dashboards and canteen.

Furthermore, Eventbrite worked like a charm for us. Once you organize your previous events with this platform, you can simply invite previous attendees through the platform.

Always keep your attendees expected number in mind. If you designed your event for 100 attendees, avoid sending out thousands of invite email. Having a sold out event is cool, but not if it happens three months before your event.

For free events, consider also a usual 30/40% drop of the registered users. Is up to you to decide if you want to overbook and risk to do not have enough space in your venue. Having previous events metrics here is extremely valuable to understand which drop to expect.

Code of Conduct

You MUST have a code of conduct. This is the starting point to build an inclusive event and to avoid accidental violations. Make sure your attendees are aware of your COC. Usually is a good practice to print it and to stick it around the venue and on the stages. Furthermore, provide a contact (mail/phone) in your COC to make sure any violation can be easily reported.

If you never wrote a COC, you can take some inspiration from ours or from this code of conduct template.

Delight your users

I tend to treat conference attendees as my app users, I try to delight them with little details. Make sure you buy some swags and stickers for your conference and be unique! Try to work on great designs for t-shirts and stickers, you don’t want your t-shirt to be forgotten in a shelf.

You can add little details everywhere. In our case we prepared a placeholder video for our stage. The video was just a series of slides with the schedule/speakers, some songs as a background and some animations (yes, those are AnimatedVectorDrawables). The video was running before/after the keynote and during the breaks and it worked pretty well to avoid embarrassing silence in the stages and to provide some background music in the whole venue.

The placeholder video

Make sure to follow up

After the conference, don’t forget to re-engage with your attendees. Publish speaker slides, material and videos (if you took them) of every session online and tell the attendees where to find them.

Publishing photo or an highlight video is also really effective to promote future events, don’t forget to do it.

Finally, make sure to ask for feedback. Prepare a form that you can distribute to all your attendees and collect their opinion. Be short, just some multiple choice questions and leave space for open comments. Feedback forms are the starting point to build your next successful event.


Takeaways

As a general suggestion, don’t be afraid to take inspiration (a.k.a. copy) from others. Try to attend similar conferences and observe how everything is handled. From my point of view that’s the best way to learn how to organize a conference. Don’t forget to pay attention to all the little details. They’ll make the difference in the overall feedback of your event.

Finally, as I mentioned in Part 1:

You will probably underestimate the effort needed in organizing a community conference

That’s still totally true. But if you do it with passion, it’s definitely worth the effort.