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Internal Engineering Conferences for fun and profit

At GumGum, we hold several internal engineering conferences during the year. If your organization wants to host an internal conference so that you can share triumphs, struggles, and new innovations, this essay is for you. We’ve had great success at GumGum doing these internal conferences, and we’ve gotten a good library of training materials out of it. If you don’t know where to start, this guide is for you.

This guide is geared towards a conference that is one half to one whole business day with breaks and lunch in-between. Choosing the time frame will help you determine how many speaking slots will be needed. If this is the first one, try a half day. If you have it, use a conferencing system that allows recording. Choosing a useful session length will be vital. At GumGum, we’ve found a good balance of having the slots be a twenty minute presentation with five to ten minutes left for questions. There should be a non-trivial break period between sessions. We’ve found good luck with fifteen minute breaks with a filler slide and music.

Planning

The first thing you’ll need to do is get organizational buy-in. You’re asking everyone to take one work day of dedicated time from your organization and possibly other organizations. Do not surprise your Director/VP/CTO with a missing department without warning them. Do sell them on the benefit of having employees speaking about their personal experiences and triumphs to the future organization.

You’ve got buy-in, now you’ll need to gather speakers. Do this at least ninety days before the conference date. Determine your relevant business/technology organizations and gather your presenters. Find out what has excited them in the last year to six months. Some speakers may need to be volun-told to participate, and that this will benefit them and the overall engineering organization. Plan on getting at least two more speakers than speaking slots. That way, you can accommodate illnesses/emergencies and really pick your best topics for the conference. In our organization, we ask the speakers to gear their topics toward a 60/40 business/technology mix. I.e. state the business problem, and then give the technical details that were done/installed to solve the problem.

The biggest resource you will need is time. Reach out to a global coordinator of calendars and ask them to block off time for the attendees. If your org doesn’t have this role, then do it yourself. Consider a meeting invite of ‘HOLD for My Amazing Event’.

Logistics

You’ve chosen speakers, and they’ll need some presentation resources. Find the people in your organization who are responsible for marketing materials and ask them if they could make the following items for your event:

  • Speaker video backgrounds
Speaker Background Image
Every presenter had their own cool Zoom background
  • Speaker presentation templates
  • An event schedule & registration page (The registration should be simple: a link to a calendar, email address, or google form)

Our schedule for this year:

Schedule image
Our cool schedule site could adjust for time zones.

Having a good looking set of materials will set the correct tone for the event. As the organizer of the event, double and triple check the materials given to you for accuracy. Checking the schedule for accuracy is vital!

Timeline

We’ve talked about what’s needed for the internal conference, let’s break down the timeline to organize it:

90 days ahead: Gather speakers, block off calendars.

60 days ahead: Request presenter resources from the people who make beautiful things.

30 days ahead: Release the presenter resources to the speakers so they can start working on them. Pro organizers will suggest themselves as the speaker’s first audience.

14 days ahead: Start announcing your event on various internal channels — corporate home page, messaging systems, email. Share widely; you want interest from many people. Pro organizers will carefully compose countdown messages and schedule them for delivery.

Day of the event

This set of steps assumes a continuous meeting video. Change as appropriate for individual events, but in the author’s opinion, having everyone ‘there’ is a good thing.

All of the cats are herded and everyone is excited for the event. Make yourself a checklist of what you need to do to keep the event moving as the host. The keeping of the timeline is the most important task you have that day. Be precise on start/stop times.

Smile — you’ve made it here and now you get to host and have fun. If your conferencing software allows it, set up randomized breakout rooms for attendees to mingle.

Keep an eye on the time and send 10, 5, and 1 minute warnings to the presenters via private messages in the video app or instant messaging.

Remember to start and stop the recording with a clean hand-off/break-off. i.e.

  • [Start recording] Over to you <presenter>
  • [Presentation starts]
  • Thanks for that presentation and those questions. [Stop recording]
  • Transition into your break period. I’ve used a Spotify playlist to amuse and entertain until the next speaker.

Be very aware of what is on your screen as you’ll be sharing the break slide during breaks. During the breaks do remember to:

  • Mute your microphone
  • Disable your video
  • Work from a second screen or personal device if you need/have to. Your main screen is for event hosting.

When coming back from break, enable your video first, enable your mic second, then come back in as the host at least two minutes before the next presentation.

Take time during breaks and lunch for yourself. It’s tough to be the coordinator for a full day.

Remember to thank everyone and sum up the event at the end.

Send out a feedback form ASAP; smarter hosts will have set this up in the 14 days leading up to the event. I’ve used Google forms to much success.

Congrats, you’ve done it. Have a great evening with the relaxation of your choice. Enjoy your well earned accolades.

TL/DR;

  1. Get a good set of materials for your speakers
  2. Set up the speaker list
  3. Run a tight ship
  4. Get feedback

I hope this guide has given you some tips and inspiration to host your own internal conferences. I know at GumGum, these have been well received and anticipated. It’s also given recognition to the presenters of their valuable work during the year.

We’re always looking for new talent! View jobs.

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Keith Sader(GumGum)

Keith Sader(GumGum)

Director of Engineering, Ad Server. Surfer, runner, Night Vale resident.