Event planning lessons learned from World IA Day Ottawa

On February 18, Shopify hosted Ottawa’s World IA Day event for the second year in a row. I had the privilege of speaking at last year’s event, and it ran so smoothly that I naively thought “hey, it can’t be that hard!” And for the most part it wasn’t too hard — but I did learn a few things along the way.

Capitalize on lessons learned (if you have ‘em)

Turns out that having someone forge a path does make event planning a lot easier. We were lucky enough to have lessons learned from the inaugural WIAD team, like:

  • Underestimate how much food you will need
  • Don’t make people spend an entire Saturday with you
  • Spend resources on things that actually matter (good signage, not fancy name tags)

We also took advantage of things we could reuse like, website content, Eventbrite account, poster templates, and to-do lists.

Charge a small fee

This might seem like a no-brainer, but charging a fee is a great way to get attendees to actually show up (especially on their day off). We made last year’s event free for attendees. Unfortunately, many people reserved a seat but didn’t show which resulted in fewer attendees and a waitlist of people who couldn’t attend.

This year we charged $10. Shopify sponsored the food, but the ticket fee was just enough to go towards things like signage, supplies, and small gifts for our speakers. We sold 64 tickets, and almost everyone showed up. We also had a waitlist of 43, making me wonder if we’ve outgrown our venue.

Scott Plewes wowing the crowd with the first talk of the day

Be flexible

Because 💩 happens. From big problems (speakers dropping out) to small problems (attendees showing up ½ hour before registration opens), unplanned stuff will happen.

The key to getting through these little unexpected blips? Lean on your team of volunteers and don’t be afraid to delegate!

The best volunteers and speakers!

In the weeks leading up to and the day-of the event, volunteers wrangled speakers, publicized the event, manned the registration desk, managed the food, tweeted up a storm, answered attendee questions, and even MC’d the event. Without their awesome and generous help, the whole day would not have been possible.

Leading up to the event is chaos

Seriously. I had no idea how many tiny things (signs with wifi passwords! Gifts for speakers! Figuring out the mics!) would pop up, and how much time they would take. Those unplanned challenges? 2 weeks before the event. I know for future planning to lighten my work calendar as much as possible, and to plan for early mornings and late nights.

Here are just a few of the last-minute considerations:

  • Wifi signs EVERYWHERE: think there are too many? Make more. Even with signs, at least 5 people asked me how to get onto wifi. While you’re at it, make sure the password you print is the right one. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ lessons learned, amirite?
  • Gifts for speakers: our speakers volunteered their time, on a Saturday, OF A LONG WEEKEND. Seriously, the least we could do is a small token of our appreciation.
  • Microphones: somehow we didn’t test the mics until 10 minutes before we started. Another oops?
  • Giveaways: we had a bunch of prizes, but were scrambling the day-of to figure out how to actually give them out. We landed on drawing names after each speaker to encourage attendees to stick around.

The event just flew by, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as it was without the help of our volunteers, speakers, and attendees. See you in 2018!

Read about the WIAD17 Ottawa presentations and take a look at the slides.


Special thanks go to: Gillian Massel, Biz Sanford, Selene Hinkley, Angela Counter, Adam Hollett, and especially Virginia Start who pretty much co-wrote this article ❤ thanks team!

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