Organising successful events in London
My thoughts on how to get it right:
List of LONDON venues available for booking or hiring (thx @joshr) ->> https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AmK8OoJsMrtedGVxQW82NmRiU18tZnkyVHpjSE5fdnc
Ease of access is the most important thing you should consider, when looking for a venue to host an event as it will directly affect the way people will consider attending.
Every city has a tech hub, a tech scene or a tech hangout area. This is a neighbourhood where most tech companies set their offices, a bit like the financial district in SF is for financial institutions (captain obvious here) and Old Street area is in London for tech companies. If the venue is far from the main scene it means that people cannot just pop-over after work, but instead they’ll have to travel all the way. Adding the fact that public transport after office hours is usually swarmed and packed you might have to consider hosting the event in a location where there are a lot of transportation options available or simply is walking distance from a very large hub.
Once the venue location has been isolated, and you’ve done your best to discuss the possible cost of renting the space, you need to consider the logistics available. This is imperative and is required. As an event organiser this is your sink or swim checklist.
Before you book a venue always double check (and take mental notes) with the venue manager the following details:
- Stage: Is the stage large or small? Do you have a clicker to change the slides? Does it come with a standing table and a microphone or will you have to stack things up and shout? Will you be able to introduce your event, speakers and eventual sponsors in a way that everyone can hear you effectively?
- Lights: How powerful are the lights? Can its intensity be regulated? Will the attendees fall asleep if I try to create an “ambience”? Are there any sources of natural light or is it all artificial?
- Seating: How comfortable are the seats? Too comfortable means people will just drift away. Stools means people will have a bad posture and back pain by the end of the day. Do you see any bean bags or sofas? Do you want any bean bags? Is it that kind of event? If the seats are portable: How will you place the seats in a way that the middle seats will get used, most of the times people sit at the edges of the rows.
- Audio/Video interfaces: Can you display things on a whiteboard through a projector (or similar)? Take the time to walk at the end of the room and with the lights turned on check how visible the display looks, with different colors. Is the video clear and can you hear the person speaking into a microphone on stage? Are they speaking in “ice-cone” microphones, fixed ones or do you have something else available? Can you record the event with a camera? If so who will operate it?
- Networking area: People will want to chill out before the event and after the conclusion and talk with other people; also required if you’re catering food for the event. Make sure you have enough space for people to walk around and place standing tables or better in this area.
- Phone reception-WiFi: How good is the signal inside the venue, is the wi-fi powerful enough and has it been tested with the numbers of attendees you are expecting? Will it handle all the connections or will it crash and what about interference?
- Facilities: Cloakroom, Toilets, Security, Electric plugs?
- Health and Safety: Exit routes in case of emergencies, phone numbers for getting in touch with the venue management, ensure cables are shielded on the floor and around the room so no one trips over them.
For larger events you want to create an webpage with all the information relevant to what and where its going to happen, who will attend with short bios for each speaker. You can provide an agenda, with details of the starting and ending time for each speaker and breaks. Furthermore a how to get there with a well detailed paragraph on the different types of transport link that can be used is very important to have. Don’t forget to clearly define the address and contact details for the person in charge of the event (that should be you).
An extremely powerful way to engage people is through emails and newsletters. You don’t need to spam your users but you can cleverly create a built up atmosphere when you email once every few months prior to your events or just a few weeks/days before your event reminding everyone who has marked themselves as attendees (or purchased a ticket) that the event is imminent and you can start revealing surprises(such as a really good topic or speaker) and event-related facts.
Using social media channels you can start promoting your event to a targeted audience, don’t be ashamed to ask people with a lot of followers to retweet your event if they’re planning on attending as the power of word-of-mouth is really what makes or breaks some of these events.
You can also acquire promoted slots on sites like meetup and eventbrite which will further boost the visibility of your event, but this works best when you take advantage of their services. (more on this in the next paragraph)
Every event should consider giving out or selling tickets. Not only you create trust but you can keep an eye on who is going to attend the event.
In a perfect world attendees of your events will be the ones you expect (to me that’s something like a crowd of devs, generalist, hackers, marketers, cto, product managers, ceo etcetc) but it is often that event-crashers will come and try to sneak out some of your delicious food and drinks. This is a real issue for event organisers. The only way you can prevent this by keeping an eye on who has signed up to attend.
How to deal with people who did not acquire a ticket and still show up?
First of all do not panic. Did the person really just forgot to press the last confirmation button? Or is it a friend of an attendee that decided at the last minute to come? It’s up to you, but usually have a strict policy on this front.
Another extremely good practice is to announce the day which your tickets will go out on sale in advance. Then schedule releasing tickets in batches
- Regular tickets (batch #1)
- Regular tickets (batch #2)
Optionally you should considering having “early birds ticket” and “last minute ticket”
How to distribute tickets? Well, eventbrite.com is a great start, so are meetup.com and ti.to
Speakers and Attendees
Finding speakers and convincing speakers to come join you to present is a really tough job. There are no shortcuts, you need to be well connected with other developers and speakers from your area. Don’t forget to ask your closest friends to ask their own friends network. The scale is limitless.
Another good practice to follow during conferences, meetups and other events is to mix up speakers: new and old faces, oldschool and beginners. It’s important to give everyone (who deserves it) a chance.
Don’t forget that we’re all equal and you should balance the amount of men and women attending and presenting at the event. You don’t want to have a minority feel uncomfortable because they’re under-represented.
Whether you will provide food to attendees is decided based on the type of event (and its lenght) being hosted. If you can’t directly provide refreshments, you should point attendees to nearby shops that can provide these services.
An active part of any catered event is surely the networking that comes with it, the food/drink breaks are hreat times to facilitate conversation amongst attendees.
Furthermore if you’re going to provide refreshments it is important to always have both cold and warm drinks (water, fizzy drinks, coffee, tea are always a good base to start with). Everyone has different tastes and you cannot aim to cover every single option. Conventional drinks are therefore the way to go!
If you’re planning on providing meals on top of refreshments, you should consider ask attendees of their dietiary needs. It is not uncommong to have attendees who are allergic to some type of food or element.
The number of events where the WiFi is quite terrible is astonishing. Usually the hotspots saturate quickly, considering everyone attending has possibly at least one device connected. Depending on events though, this number skyrockets, tablets, laptops and other small devices will try to connect and be assigned an IP.
So running out of IPs to assign to devices isn’t that uncommon as each router can only support a certain amount. It is good practice to ask the venue manager about this before picking a venue.
Another thing that might happen is known as interference . The are a few types of interference, however the most known ones are co-channel and adjacent channel interference. Luckily, two access points configured on the same channel will share the full capacity of that channel. Interference can also be caused by bluetooth and microwaves, seriously, although I do not think that will ever be a problem…
Interference can be a pain and thefore make sure that there are enough **low intensity** access points, spread out throughout the venue next to comfy seats!
Make sure to advertise the WiFi password (make it something easy to remember while you’re at it, and make sure you always set one. Ensure you are using WPA2-PSK, the wireless access point uses the common passphrase to generate unique encryption keys for each wireless client. Meaning that even if users aren’t using HTTPS enabled webpages their traffic is still protected with WPA2.[source]( https://security.stackexchange.com/questions/68748/free-hotspot-open-wifi-vs-wpa2-wifi-with-known-password]) in places where everyone can see, you don’t want to have attendees ask organizers about the password all the time.
Finally ensure you cap your internet speed per client to an acceptable yet non-disruptive. You can also consider blocking p2p packets, if you’re really conscious.
When organizing events you might want to distribute little freebies, everyone likes to go home with a little souvenir from the event. Whne picking the right freebie to give out as an organizer you want to give out something that the attendee will use somewhat regularly and which will remind him of the great time had at the event. For this reason, most events give out tshirts with their logo or name printed on the front.
If you’re going to pick to give out a freebie you should make sure that the quality of it is good or better. It is really annoying to receive a gift which breaks after few cycles of usage (or in the tshirt case, few washing machine cycles).
The second most important thing about freebies is the fact that you need to pick something that others, outside of the attendee will be able to see. Promoting indirectly the brand is a great way to market your event further through participants.
On this note it’s important to underline the importance of not being too aggressive with the marketing, although you want to do indirect marketing through this freebies you really want to be subtle about it. This means no font-size 75 URLs! No one likes to be a living advert/banner!
Some more examples:
* Multiphone chargers: A phone charger with thunderbolt, older iphone and android — all in one.
* Beer openers , everyone can carry one on their keyring
* Glass/screen cleaning re-useable wipe
* Phone charging pack : it looks like a USB stick from the early 2000s but it is a reuseable phone charger which can revive a phone from 0 to 100% battery
* Hats, Stickers, Socks and Umbrellas
[Conference code of conduct](http://confcodeofconduct.com/) is a very detailed and easy to read text, it’s self-explanatory and you should make sure you mention it somewhere before the registration sign-up. Ideally you want point attendees to the website linked above so they are aware of how they are expecteed to behave on the day. By registering and attending your event they accept the code of conduct.
Intro and Closing Remarks
When organising an event, it’s important to be ready to talk in front of your audience. Usually you’ll want to share some information at the start of the conference, thank attendees and eventual sponsors, announce the layout of the day, provide information about the venue and introduce each speaker.
In the same way, closing remarks are important as you will be thanking attendees and speakers for coming and making the event such an incredible day, explaining what happens next, show people the after-party and so on.