How to host a conference within your team

Have you ever wanted to stay up to date with the latest changes in your tech field but you did not have the time or the money to spend on a conference visit?

Guess what, becoming a father this year made scheduling a conference visit a bit trickier for me. So it didn’t happen and I had to improvise and organised my own little conference. The result was pretty awesome, so I wanted to share how I did it.

How to get started

One day I woke up and thought: What if we would just have a conference in our office? Everyone from our team who wants to join can join, but has to suggest some talks we could watch together. I asked around in the office, got some positive feedback and setup a Doodle to check when most of us would have time.

Gather talks

Over the last few months, every now and then someone posted a link to a “awesome video” that “everyone should watch”. That’s why I was pretty sure that getting enough videos for one day will probably not be a problem. I was rather worried that I would get overwhelmed with suggestions.

To solve this, I set up a tiny Google form which basically had two input field: “Who are you?” and “Which videos would you like to watch?”. Just to make sure, that I have one place for searching all those links and someone to ask, if those links are broken.

We ended up with 25 talk suggestions — way more than we could watch on one day 🎉

What to pick?

Then I got asked a few times, if I already picked the talks we are going to watch. But little did my team know: I didn’t pick any. They had to do it during the event.

I did this, because I got a lot of feedback that people wanted to join, but not everyone could stay all day long. They had other meetings going on every now and then. So in order to respond to a changing crowd, I wanted to have a quick poll after every talk to see what should come up next.

(I came up with that idea after watching a “speedrun sunday” event of 360Chrism — you should checkout his stream if you are into speedruns 🤓)

Preparation time

In order to doing polls and picking talks, I had to do some preparation. Initially, I wanted to do something like a simple strawpoll. But somehow I was running out of time and went with a good old “agile” solution:

I simply wrote down the name of the talks and the speakers on sticky notes and put them on a whiteboard. And because the names sometimes were not good enough on their own, I told everyone to influence others during the breaks. They should tell them more about their awesome talks so that they might get voted, even if the title was bad.

Running the conference

When the conference started, I basically only had a few things to do:

  • Decide how long the breaks should be (~5–15min worked fine)
  • Make everyone vote in the breaks
  • Update our team chat with the talk that will start after the break

Updating the team chat was meant for everyone who wanted to join us later. I didn’t want anyone to miss any talks they were looking forward to watch.

Our Playlist

Here is what we ended up watching together on our first mini conference:

Learnings

Here are some learnings I took from running this kind of conference for the first time:

  • Make more marketing: Not everyone from my team understood from my initial messages. I should have put some more effort into explaining what this whole conference I was planning was about — then even more of us would have joined.
  • More announcements during the event: Next time, I will make the breaks a bit longer and announce when the polls are happening. That should make it easier for everyone to join in later and influence how the conference topics would evolve throughout the day.
  • Have a topic: Some of our developers suggested that the next conference should have a topic. This would probably influence more up front, who will be the audience of the whole day. Because of the very mixed audience, we ended up with a lot of talks about soft skills — and not everyone of us was 100% into these. I guess, I will give this suggestion a try next time, and checkout if this improves the conference or not.

Outcome

The conference overall was amazing. Many of our team members joined and had lots of fun as well. We had some nice discussions in between the talks — which probably means that the talks were both interesting and also helping us getting better at our jobs.

So I will definitely organise another one of these conferences in the near future.

What do you think? Will you try this out yourselves? Any ideas for improving such events? Please leave your comments below 👇