Introduction to the GDG
I recently went to my first GDG Summit meetup and it was definitely an experience I will always remember. There were people from all over the world sharing how they have made an impact in their communities. You are probably wondering, what is the GDG? Good question. GDG stands for Google Developers Group. This global program provides a supportive platform for people where they can get together with other developers to learn, grow, and get inspired by the latest developments in Google technology. You can follow them on their GDG twitter profile or visit their website here for more information.
At this particular meetup, there were several breakout room sessions that you could pick from and attend, depending on your area of interest. Most of the breakout rooms I went to centered around best practices on hosting your own DevFest. Lately, we have been wanting to provide more value in our community by holding more meetups and getting other developers together. I wanted to learn more about what this whole process entailed and how to go about implementing it. As result, the primary focus of this blog will be to show you those important lessons learned from the experts who have put on numerous DevFests over the years.
Providing the Right Environment
When hosting any event, it’s all about the type of environment that you create. Your environment is composed of the location, the type of food you serve, drinks, the extra help you bring on-board, sponsors, speakers, and even the smaller details, like the type of background music you might play. All of these are important components that you should pay special attention to when hosting any event. Below will be a few things that stood out to me and that will be discussed in further detail.
Before doing the initial planning of how you are going to go about getting your DevFest up and running, you will first need to have some idea of what type of value you are going to bring to the table. Ask yourself what it is you are trying to achieve and why. Figure out some common topics that people might be interested in learning about or what is currently being talked about. Once you have a general concept behind hosting your DevFest, you can then begin defining the how, what, and where parts of the implementation phase.
Location and Time
Once you have the idea, you will need to set a date for when you would like to host your DevFest. Ask yourself if weekends might make more sense compared to weekdays. If you’re like us and live in a college town, maybe a weekday might be better. However, if your demographic is largely centered around working professionals, then it might be best to host it on a weekend or after working hours. Taking into account times that work for your audience and speakers, will ensure a better rate of attendance.
Next will be determining the best location to host your DevFest. If you’re in a college town, check out your local campus for any available conference or auditorium rooms. If you don’t live near a campus, then see if your public library would have an area for you to host your meetup. Hotels are also a great place to look into for open spaces. Some places even have event centers you can specifically rent out for big gatherings. There are numerous options out there, so do some groundwork ahead of time to get an idea of what location might work best in your area.
Your audience is composed of the people going to your DevFest and you will need to make sure you meet their needs. By this we mean, make sure you have a clear understanding of what your audience might want out of attending your DevFest. Try to see the world through their eyes. Do some research ahead of time to figure out what are some common interests or pain points for people in the development community. It might even be helpful to do some sort of pre-survey to get an idea of what your participants might be keen on listening to. In turn, this valued feedback will help you focus on the type of content you will need to have at your event.
When it comes to inviting people, a good suggestion is to create a group on Meetup, then advertise it on social media. Currently, this method is what we use. Other DevFest organizers have used Eventbrite to get attendees to register. If you have hosted before, then be sure to invite previous goers.
Next, it’s important to have great speakers. These will be the people responsible for presenting meaningful content to your audience. Before reaching out to your speakers, be sure to create a great CFP, or “call for papers.” Then, advertise your CFP, by posting it in the different slack groups you have joined. Posting your CFP on other social media accounts like LinkedIn is a great resource to use.
To be considered a DevFest, you need to have at least 5 hours worth of content. If your DevFest is going to be this length, then shoot for having about 5 people present. You don’t want the whole event just centered around talks. Add some sort of work shop to fill in part of the time. This is highly recommended and will provide more hands on value.
Make sure you give your speakers enough warning in advance. Rule of thumb here is about 6–9 months. They have busy schedules too, so giving them enough time will ensure a higher likelihood of them responding and booking a spot. If you don’t hear anything back, don’t worry too much, at this point you might just need to step up your advertisement method. Try reaching out to your local university or other related organizations you might be a part of to see if anyone might be interested. On a related note, don’t announce your speakers until you have confirmation that they will be attending.
Try to make it as easy and as comfortable for your potential guest speakers. This means providing hotels if they are traveling long distances. Think about creating a slide deck template that is already pre-themed. This will incentivize them to start on their presentation and get the ball rolling. Be sure to send out reminders as well. It can be easy for people to forget. If one of your speakers has the last slot and you are worried that your audience might start dropping off, don’t worry. Some helpful tricks are to offer a prize giveaway at the end, an after hours party, or mention that it’s the last keynote. Doing this will increase the likelihood of people staying.
Depending upon how many attendees you have you might need to call in for some extra help. Reach out to your local community. Ask friends or family if they would like to take part in hosting a DevFest.
Once you have a group of people who agree, try to build an identity and a clear plan of action for them to follow. Make sure when you do enlist extra help that they are easily recognizable to the participants at your event. That way if any of your attendees have questions, they can easily find someone to help them out. Having your helpers have an identity will make them feel important and have purpose. By doing all of this, they will be much more willing to give it their all and attend to your guests needs in a competent manner.
As one of the guest speakers at the GDG Summit said, “Good food translates into good networking.” Meaning, when you have food available for your attendees, they are much more likely to be in a better mood and willing to talk to others about potential ideas. DevFests are usually an all day event, so having snacks and drinks available is a must.
When providing food, look for alternatives like vegetarian, kosher, gluten free, or vegan options. Also, providing the right amount is important. Try to get an accurate head count beforehand to make sure you don’t run short of anything mid-DevFest. Having a coffee bar is something you should have on hand, especially if your event starts in the morning. If you are like me, you will need your caffeine fix to function.
Focusing on the smaller details is just as important as the bigger ones. Sometimes these can make the most lasting impression. For instance, especially when hosting in a large area, it might be a good idea to have some sort of background music. This will set the tone and make your attendees feel more at ease. Usually during the start of an event and near the end, things tend to be a bit quiet since not a whole lot is going on. Playing some pleasant background music will help make the overall atmosphere feel less empty.
If you have the budget, invest in some cool swag for your participants. This will be worth your time since it’s great advertisement, plus who doesn’t like free stuff? Generally some good websites to hit up for some cool swag are DiscountMugs, Vistaprint, 4imprint, and Stickermule. They have quite a variety of products ranging from sunglasses, pens, bags, stickers, socks, mugs, and much more.
As was mentioned above, make sure you provide plenty of coffee breaks, i.e. chances for people to network. It’s good to give people an avenue to exchange ideas in a more casual setting. For a nice touch, during these breaks, you could have some sort of branding on your coffee cups. A DevFest that was hosted in Ukraine used space cats as part of their theme. This definitely was a big hit and people could not stop talking about it. Even though it was a small detail, people remembered, which is essentially what you want.
Prior to hosting your event, you should put together a social media marketing plan. Meaning, if you want people to be aware of the event, then you need to schedule updates about your DevFest beforehand. There should be several reminder posts leading up to the DevFest. Make sure you have a post planned for the day of the event as well. People use social media to keep in the know with what is going on in their area, so make sure to utilize this resource.
Once your event is over, you should do another social media blast. Give a shoutout to the people who came out to support you. This includes your speakers, attendees, sponsors, and the extra help you brought on-board. It’s good practice and the people you worked with during the whole process will greatly appreciate that you took the time to recognize their efforts. Thanking everyone will go a long way, especially if you want them to come back.
Even if you never host a DevFest, I think the fundamental principals can be applied to almost any meetup that you could potentially hold. There were definitely other helpful tips on how to best put on a DevFest but here are just a handful of core topics found most relevant.
Going to my first GDG Summit meetup was eye opening and I can honestly say I did learn something. The real test now is seeing if we can pull off our first DevFest!
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