18 great conference organizing tips

Original author: Louis Rosenfeld
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I am very lucky. There are two reasons for this:

Last summer, Rackspace colleagues asked my company Rosenfeld Media to participate in organizing a conference on the behavioral characteristics of users in an industrial solution environment. The idea was great, Rackspace helped us a lot, among other things by providing a venue for the event.
The second reason is that people are very nice in communicating with me. I asked the different people who organized successful conferences, tips, and their answers were very useful and voluminous. The least I can do is collect them in one place and pass on their knowledge to you.

So, I present the most useful tips for organizing conferences.

1: Make sure your event is needed

In 2015, according to experts, about 6,000 conferences will be held on the behavioral characteristics of users. It is only on Earth. Many will be good, many will be great. Serious competition, right? Are you going to organize an event just for the sake of the event, or do you know that it is really necessary?

I would like to know in advance that, no matter how exciting my idea may be, first I need to check whether those people who should have bought tickets for it need it. Then I would not waste time and energy. All that is needed is to think about what this event is for. Is this problem close to people? Does my conference promise to help with it, and will clients want to take part in it?

- Jonathan Kahn (#dareconf)

Organizing conferences is more expensive than you imagine. In order not to go broke, first make sure there is demand. You can start with low-cost intelligence events - organize discussions on social networks. You can learn a little about demand and get the opportunity to discuss with people the idea of ​​the conference. Or, as Jeff Crum advises:

The best conferences I've seen focus on the initial creation and support of the community, after which events for their personal meetings are already being organized. This leads to more energetic conferences when people want to participate in it, and not just have to be there.

- Jeff Crum (Delight Conference)

For the Enterprise UX 2015 conference, we already work with the audience in various ways, including organizing monthly discussions and consultations. At first, we discussed the idea of ​​holding a conference with many of our interlocutors in several social networks, and their reaction was something like: “Well, finally someone does it!”.

2: Decide on the type of event

Jared Spool identifies five types of events. Type greatly affects the development of the program, the choice of venue and the cost of tickets, not to mention other things.

Related: events like IA Summit, UXPA, and Interactions, where people working on the same project meet. Most often, this is the only way to meet people who do a common thing with you. Usually they share experiences and technologies.

Network: organized by venture capitalists. The program is of secondary importance after social activities, when people meet and get acquainted. Long breaks and meetings are more important than lectures.

Shopping: a traveling fair for sale and commerce. Exhibition space is more important than lectures, which are usually just advertisements paid by sponsors. Examples are Macworld and CES

Educational: visitors want to learn new technologies and gain skills. It is important who makes presentations and on what topic. Social activities are minimized.

Academic: designed to receive links in publications. Examples: CHI, UIST, and SIGGRAPH. The works are reviewed by the public and published, so that the authors can obtain the degrees of reference necessary for their academic degrees.

The mistake of beginning organizers is that they do not take into account that different types of conferences require different formats and structures. Hybrids work out poorly. The type of event affects everything from time to break to managing the program.

- Jared Spool (35+ conferences over 20+ years)

If your conference is not intended for a wide audience:

Only by invitation, without accepting applications from the outside, so as not to bother with the application system if we know who we want to invite.

- Dan Stsuk and Joe Wong (UX Hong Kong)

3: If you don’t care about the details, the participants will take care of them.

Every detail is important. At a meeting of designers, make sure that all the little things are done properly. Professionals in the field of behavioral characteristics of users are very critical of all this, they will discuss it during the event, and this impression will affect the overall impression of the event.

- Cornelius Rehiru (UXcamp Ottawa)

Details are important in the long run. If visitors tell how well everything was organized, this will positively affect their return next time. And also this means that you did well this time, and the next time you will only need to polish the roughness, and not redo everything from scratch.

It is best to walk through the entire program from the perspectives of different participants:

Stay in the place of not only visitors, but also speakers, sponsors, volunteers, hosts, the press, security guards, ordinary visitors, etc. Study and imagine what they need before, during, and after the event. It would be nice to think over various details, but do not forget about the basic needs according to the Maslov pyramid.

- Grant Carmichael (Midwest UX, TEDxGrandRapids)

4: Get help from professionals

At one or two of the very first events, attract specialists who organize events. Logistics when working with hotels, menus, the Internet, the location of premises, flows, registrations, refunds is just a nightmare.

- Christina Halvorson (Confab Events)

Due to the complexity of the event, you need to learn from others.

5: Separate responsibilities from the start

Do not take the conference to too few people. Divide the team into several groups, in each of which 1-2 people will be responsible and manage it. Work with speakers, sponsors, design, budget, volunteers, content, PR, production, tickets, legal subtleties - all this must be addressed. Follow the work of the groups, and let the whole team periodically talk about their progress to each other.

- Grant Carmichael (Midwest UX, TEDxGrandRapids)

We realized early on that documents should be started from the very beginning:

Do not underestimate the time that will be spent on tedious things such as changing registrations, processing accounts, answers to the email to questions that you have already covered in detail on the site.

- Donna Spencer (UX Australia)

Volunteers are great, but make sure that proxies also work with you. Three to four people you can rely on without lowering to micromanagement.

- Jared Spool (35+ conferences over 20+ years)

6: Be a role model

The nature of the organizers influences the impression of the conference. I was inspired by the personal sacrifice of some and was disappointed by the self-centeredness of others. Before organizing a conference, gather a team of people who share your views, values, goals.

- Brian Sullivan (Big Design)

7: Treat Your Business

Whether you want it or not, but a conference is a business, and risky:

People can reserve a ticket and not pay, ignore payment reminders and cancel everything at the last minute. This is especially bad for conferences with disabilities, as you have lost both money and the opportunity to sell a place. It would have been easier for me to live if I had realized how people can get kids, and would have been more persistent in chasing payment and canceling those who did not pay.

- Donna Spencer (UX Australia)

Your lenders are likely to clearly indicate what they want from you. Also, you must clearly indicate to the participants what, how and when they need to register (or cancel). Speaking of tickets: Jared Spool believes that they should not be underestimated:

Free events are organized to sell something. People are used to paying for values. If you choose a price that is too low, you will scare away anyone who believes that the quality of the event will correspond to it.

And of course, all expenses must be covered. Use the following formula:

Go to zero = Fixed expenses / (Cost - Variable expenses)

First of all, it is necessary to evaluate the variable and fixed costs (fixed costs are the costs of placing the first participant. Variables are the costs of each subsequent one).

Having determined the costs, choose a price and look at the formula. Play with numbers until you are sure that in any case you will make a profit. This is the first thing we do for every conference. Then we constantly compare these numbers with reality. This helped us learn how to value events well and how to make each conference profitable.

- Jared Spool (35+ conferences over 20+ years)

8: Sell, but don't sell to sponsors

Sponsors are important, but more important is the impression of participants from the conference.

Give sponsors the opportunity to advertise their products and services, but do not let the event run. Nobody likes speeches from sponsors or their advertisements. This is disrespectful to the people who paid for the ticket.

- Bruno Figuerdo (UX Lisbon)

9: Give people a break (and a pee)

It’s good that we realized that it’s much more important to take a lot of breaks so people can chat than to make a lot of reports

- Cameron Koscon (Brooklyn Beta)

Sometimes you want to shove more into the program - but the rhythm is very important. Visitors need to get up, warm up, have coffee, check mail, go to the toilet. Learn new ideas, discuss them with each other or think about them in private.

I saw conferences where they tried to push valuable information into every second, made thematic lunches and dinners, debates in bars ... It seems to me that visitors need time to relax and hang out. Give them good food and drinks, and everything will work out by itself.

- Bruno Figuerdo (UX Lisbon)

10: Be prepared to pay or part with speakers

It is very important to document your rules and adhere to them, and publish them so that the speakers have a detailed understanding of them. Some speakers will not agree to speak with you on your rules. You need to be prepared to part with them and find another speaker in their place. It’s bad when you chose a speaker, and he refuses because of insufficient payment, but it happens.

- Christian Manzella (Giant)

Find other ways to compensate speakers, for example, offer them professionally designed videos of their speeches or consultations with a public speaking trainer.

We began to give our speakers basic guidelines such as font size, and will soon try to provide them with oratory lessons. It is also nice to have a room for preparing a speaker.

- Eva Caniasti (UXPA Boston)

11: Seal the speakers before entering the podium

Speakers, like all people, do not read letters, do not know what you want from them, do not know how to place a deadline on the calendar, and ask questions about what you have already discussed several times.

- Donna Spencer (UX Australia)

Most of the time is spent running around speakers

- Andy Bud (UX London)

We are already faced with the need for constant kicks. We worry that we already got everyone, but the speakers know that this is an inevitable evil.

12: Place is the foundation of everything

A traditional place like a hotel or conference center is not always the best choice. First consider the requirements and limitations of the event, then look for the most suitable place.

Provide a place where people will be most free so that it is not too expensive. In most hotels and conference centers, you must use their food and drinks and pay all the overhead.

- Brad Smith (WebVisions)

The location greatly affects the feeling of the event, so prefer some more interesting places to chain hotels or large conference centers. Sometimes cultural centers work well.

- Andy Budd (UX London)

If you have an amazing program, visitors will not care where it goes. I have been to great conferences in boring places.

The first thing that provides a place is the concentration of visitors on the purpose of the visit. If this is not a Disneyland or a meditation conference, they came to participate in the program, and not to admire the views. Let the venue support the event, not compete with it.

- Jared Spool (35+ conferences over 20+ years)

13: The program is management and design

The conference program is not just a bunch of reports. They must be linked together and arranged in the correct order.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of a good program. A schedule can be made in a couple of minutes, but it takes several days to draw up a good structure, pace and flow. The larger the program, the more it will take to compile it.

- Steve Batey (UX Australia / Interaction)

Try to arrange the program as a statement. It's amazing how many conferences look like a messy bunch of events.

- Andy Bad (UX London)

A good conference is a carefully planned impression. I do not mean only design refinements. This is an emotional and educational presentation. An ideal conference is held as one event, so that all participants receive one sensation throughout the day or days.
A good conference is like a good playlist or album. Each song adds its own, and their order matters. To invite famous consultants to speak is nonsense. We need to look for new talents and ideas. It is necessary to create an environment in which speakers would like to sit and listen to other speakers, thereby increasing the learning flow and interaction of ideas. And for this you need to very well understand your topic and the people who develop it.

- Jeffrey Zeldman (An Event Apart)

My best conferences, which I developed, which I spoke or attended, created a multi-layer impression that made it easy to switch from one layer to another. For example, at the last minute deciding to chat with people, I should be able to do this without problems.
Multipurpose conferences suggest that people will switch between reports, but rarely think that some will want to completely get away from them. Is there room for reflection and discussion? To answer the mail? To just have fun?

- Kevin Hoffman (IA-Summit)

14: Be prepared to fill in a pause

Cameron Koscon showed me the value of bad jokes. He had them ready to fill in the pauses when the speaker was busy with slides or there was a technical malfunction. Then jokes were used to keep the audience.

You may not be ready to tell even a bad joke, but you still need to prepare and say something on the procedural issue, or about the next speaker.

15: Consider a feedback system

Some organizers consider it important to have feedback through feedback forms ...

It must be possible to leave feedback on paper in the classroom. People are more inclined to give feedback right after the report. Reviews will vary from “the best event of my life” to “only spent money in vain”. It's amazing how much experience can vary!

- Christina Halvorson (Confab Events)

Others recommend personal polls.

I prefer to personally receive feedback from people through small surveys, rather than fencing off them with pieces of paper.

- Bruno Figuerdo (UX Lisbon)

Do not forget to interview the speakers:

We always not only collect the opinions of speakers, but also give the opportunity to make anonymous feedback. Sometimes this is the only way to find out about shortcomings, especially of a private nature - payment, preparation, etc.

- Aria Styles (Environments for Humans)

16: Plan carefully

Once we did not attach importance to wasting efforts to maintain our health, and now we are trying to fix it. Also, conference organizers cut corners, underestimating the cost of tickets or not paying speakers. Each compromise creates a pattern that is becoming increasingly difficult to break over time.

- Ari Styles (Environments for Humans)

17: Leave time to attend your conference

Be in the shoes of the visitor of your event.

At each conference, I always try to take part in the conference as if it were someone else's event. Suppose I take out a laptop and try to take notes. Therefore, I plan to work so that there is time for such things.

- Christopher Schmitt (Environments for Humans)

18: Remember to Thank

Don't underestimate the value of gratitude to all the people who helped organize your event.

- Brenda Sanderson (Interaction)

And following Brenda's advice, I thank everyone who shared with me their experiences, sweat and blood.

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