Secrets of DevCon # 2. How the conference grid is formed
We continue to talk about how our traditional developer conference, DevCon, is being created . In a previous article, we shared a story about how the conference format is being updated taking into account feedback from participants in past years. Today we will talk about how the conference grid is formed - an hourly and even per-minute event schedule that takes into account various parallel activities, including, of course, the content of the conference.
More precisely, we will begin to tell, because this topic will consist of two parts:
- The first part, which focuses mainly on organizational issues, is what you are reading right now.
- The second part, telling about the conference program, will be released in the spring.
Start with restrictions
One of the logistics tasks that we decided when planning the new DevCon was to move the conference closer to Moscow. We still wanted to take it out of town, but so that it wasn’t too difficult for participants to get there by car, and the transportation time from the nearest metro took as little time as possible.
Route to the previous venue: 60+ km, 1.5+ hours (Yandex.Maps)
For comparison: in past years, the bus traveled from the metro to the venue for about an hour and a half, and if there were traffic jams, then all two - two and a half. As a result, the traditional beginning of the conference was not at 10 in the morning, but at 11, and in order to deliver all the participants in time, we started sending buses from 7 in the morning. In this case, we usually lay the time with a margin, for example, in this case, the “transportation window” is four hours.
Route to the new venue: 15+ km, 30+ min. (Yandex.Maps) The
new DevCon will be held in the Klyazma boarding house on the Klyazma reservoir - water, trees, squirrels. A new place gives its advantages and also imposes its limitations.
From the point of view of the program of the event, saving on distance and time of transportation in one direction is essential. Now we not only give participants the opportunity to sleep more (or a larger buffer for flights / transfers, which is critical for participants not from Moscow), but we can start the conference itself earlier, which means we can potentially tell you more about all the interesting things.
A similar “saving” of time is obtained with departure at the end of the first or second day - you can leave later, and the travel time will be less.
Why did we start our story with transport? Because before we can form the internal grid of the event, it is important for us to understand what limitations we have. The start and end times of the conference are the frameworks that you need to fit into.
Geometry of space and time
The second important point is what restrictions are imposed by the boarding house territory and the location of various zones.
Potential zones for various activities in the boarding house (Yandex.Maps)
When designing an event program, it is important to understand many different parameters, including:
- How long does it take for an unhurried (fortunately, a large territory, paths and "dense forest" contribute to this) transition between different zones? For example, I am in the main building (1) and want to get to the pier at the exhibition area (2) and after that have time to return to the next report (1). You can, of course, measure with a ruler on the map, but it’s important to walk with your feet with a stopwatch.
- How long do breaks take? Participants need to have time (maybe not all at once) to talk, watch an exhibition, get to another zone, have a snack, drink, or, corny, get to the nearest toilet (this is also important!). Here again, you need to understand the geometry of the territory.
- How long does breakfast, lunch and dinner take? Moreover, it is important to understand not only how much to go to the restaurant from different places, but also how many people can comfortably accommodate at the same time and how much the restaurant service is ready to serve such a number of people in parallel (for example, can a kitchen serve hot food in a timely manner). Still, for example, it is worth figuring out what the minimum time can be between different “nutrition sessions”, for example, between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and the next break for “tea, coffee, cookies”.
- When can I check in and when should I check out? This applies, first of all, to those participants who come to the entire conference, that is, for two days. We must be sure that there is enough time outside the content of the conference to do these operations. Along the way, you need to make sure that the boarding house accommodation service is ready to populate people at the right speed (this is also not easy, given that this moment is not very dependent on us).
Therefore, our traditional exercise is a large team of organizers to come to a potential site and, in addition to other organizational and technical issues, find out all the logistical issues.
So, in October, we came to Klyazma and walked between all the main zones to find out where the parking is, where is the restaurant, where is each room, where is the smoking area (the Ministry of Health and Social Development warns!), Etc.
In preparing the breakdown by time, we try to make all blocks a multiple of 15 minutes (it’s easier to fit into a temporary grid). With such a cell, we determine the "internal" blocks:
- 30 minutes for a break,
- 1.5 hours for lunch and a relaxing dinner,
- 1 hour for breakfast.
We compare the clock hands
Ultimately, you have a list of questions that you need to find answers to. For example, it may look like this:
If the conference is held within the city, it is important to know the time on foot from the nearest metro or major transportation hub. If the site is on the outskirts of the city, you need to consider the time from the center (or the metro ring line in Moscow).
There are all sorts of interesting parameters that many organizers do not think about (or, unfortunately, can not do anything with them). Say, the noise of the corridors, which means that there is a need to find a "quiet zone", or, if the conference takes place in the cold season, the speed of service in the wardrobe.
Depending on the configuration of the site and the number of participants, specific numbers can be reduced or increased. For example, lunch time is highly dependent on the number of participants and the restaurant capacity. And time for breaks - from the proximity of the location of the halls for reports and the conscience of the organizers.
From our experience of participating in various conferences and holding our own, we know that different organizers have different attitudes to all of these parameters. Usually, the need for their clarification comes with experience. For a familiar site, key indicators may be known.
In general, if the content component (we will talk about it below) is the time to gain knowledge, then such “internal sections” are the time to comfortably stay at the conference, which is no less important, as it is part of the overall impression.
One of the first sketches of the event grid
Large blocks are easily distributed over the time grid (I use Excel) and can already be used independently for planning transportation and meals of participants. They act as restrictions for the content component.
Having agreed at an early stage, we can to a large extent further part the work of the content team and the rest of the conference preparation team.
An interesting point about the timeline: when planning the overall structure of the event, the key task is to link the different blocks together. Although you can enter a minute-by-minute timing, a step of 15, 20, or 30 minutes is usually sufficient - such relatively large blocks are convenient for perception and fitting to “round” values.
Having agreed on the top level, you can already dive into the details: now each specific activity can be fragmented in accordance with a time scale convenient for it.
For example, the available one and a half to two hours for transporting participants to a boarding house easily beat at 10-minute bus departure intervals, which are subsequently published on the website as a schedule.
Draft Bus Schedule
And in the case of lunch, the people in charge of food in their version of the program will lay down the time to prepare and clean the restaurant (this is the answer to the question about the minimum time between power units):
Lunch block in the internal program of the event
Similarly for reports, each specific speaker builds an internal speaker timing of his performance with a rhythm convenient for him.
Fill with content
It's time to go to the content of the conference. Perhaps you are wondering: why do we first discuss some organizational issues, logistics, time for a dash, etc., and not reports. There are several natural reasons for this.
Divide and rule
First, it’s important to understand how the person responsible for the track or, in general, for the content of the conference works. For example, at the initial stage, we decided that the conference has three big topics that are consonant with the company's strategies:
- Windows 10 and Universal Windows Platform (UWP)
- Microsoft Office and Productivity
- Microsoft Azure and smart cloud platform
Each topic has its own responsible. We give them equal priority. The first question that those responsible for the tracks ask us is: “How many reports do I have?” To answer this question, you must first, to some extent, design the entire grid of the event.
Knowing such a restriction, the person responsible for the track begins to select speakers and reports in accordance with his vision of how the track should look.
When working in a team, it is important to agree on the shore. Even if you formulate the program alone, it is important for you to understand the general skeleton of the program before you even invite the first speaker. In our case, we agreed that the three thematic tracks of the conference look like this (each):
The structure of the thematic track
In total, this is 5.5+ hours of content for each topic.
After a month of another, those responsible for the tracks will begin to ask the second question: “What is the time for the report”? In fact, we would start, but we already know everything and said.
Room room discord
Secondly, although the report can be read even in a small room in front of the camera and one spectator (operator), at the conference we work for live participants sitting in the hall. In a room of a certain size, specific capacity, configuration, etc.
As a rule, if the venue of the conference is not a specially configured space for this kind of activity, then we need to work with the limitations that we get by choosing this very venue.
It is important for us to use the available rooms as efficiently as possible. For example, we obviously understand that it is better to read reports to a large audience, and to limit lengthy workshops by the number of participants.
Approximate room capacity ratio
In our case, we have a list of halls and their capacity. We also previewed all the halls in person. Based on this information, we can plan in which halls what we can carry out:
Distribution of halls by content type
Set the beat
Thirdly, the conference should have an understandable and fairly simple rhythm that helps you navigate the grid of parallel activities. Therefore, in addition to logistics, we are sure to ask ourselves “content” questions about time:
- What is the duration of the report - 20, 30, 45 minutes or an hour?
- How much time do you need to lay on
- questions within the report - 5-10 minutes?
- questions after the report (for example, communication on the sidelines) - another 5-10 minutes?
- How long does it take to change the speakers - and another 5-10 minutes?
An empty grid for rhythm
In the simplest version, all activities are fully synchronized and uniform. That is, if there is a break, then it is at the same time for everyone. If the reports, then all are the same in duration and at the same time for everyone.
In the most difficult and inconvenient - a bunch of different activities with inconsistent rhythms.
We need the right balance, taking into account, for example, that different times are ideal for different activities - and this time needs to be entered into the general rhythm of the conference! Here we try to attach to a step of 15 minutes.
Synchronization of activities by duration
We are meeting together, taking into account our own experience and audience dynamics, looking for a good combination.
These are three important reports that we want to tell the widest possible audience. Their importance is emphasized both by the duration and by the fact that in parallel with them there are no other content activities.
Duration: 4x15 min = 1 hour.
Theme Track Reports
Immersion in technology is difficult to do in 20 minutes, but it also seems unnecessary to allocate an entire hour by today's standards. For example, we feel it in a young audience. 45 minutes - just right. At the same time, we ask each speaker to provide 5-10 minutes for questions and answers and communication with the audience within the report. Additionally, it will be possible to talk after the report and as part of a number of other activities, which we will discuss in other articles.
Duration: 3x15 min = 45 minutes.
Reports of startup and community tracks
In these tracks, the main task is to share practical experience. The experience fits well into the more capacious 30-minute reports. Here we also lay time for questions and answers.
Duration: 2x15 min = 30 minutes.
In time, the master class is a dual report: the leaders have two blocks of 45 minutes each and between them there is a break time for free communication.
Duration: 6x15 min = 1.5 hours.
Structurally, intensives are similar to three master classes: these are three blocks of 2 hours, that is, a total of 6 hours of immersion in technology.
Duration: 3x8x15 min = 6 hours.
Fourth, with all our wishes, we cannot but take into account the physiological characteristics of man. A person needs not only to listen, but also to eat, and drink, and sleep, and communicate, and much more. Moreover, the time for absorbing knowledge should be diluted with the time for digesting it.
Therefore, first of all, we distinguish the main rhythm of the conference:
The main rhythm of the conference for the first day.
The main rhythm of the conference for the second day.
In the main rhythm, we highlight the common activities for all participants:
- Key presentations and opening
- Time for presentations
- Time for food
- Short breaks
In turn, content blocks can have their own rhythms inside, depending on the type of content. This issue is being addressed simultaneously with determining the duration of different types of sessions. Moreover, here the "overlapping" of breaks is not so critical.
As a result, we get something like this grid with the distribution by halls and time:
Draft version of the conference content grid (first day)
Draft version of the conference content grid (second day)
An interesting detail: we try to combine thematic and expert reports in such a way that for each of topics of conferences at any time it was possible to find the corresponding activity.
The above version of the schedule is not final. In particular, it does not display a number of additional “content” activities, which we will discuss later. We are also thinking about adding a fifth intensity or an additional portion of reports.
What remains behind the scenes
In addition to the basic rhythm formed by restrictions and the content rhythm defined by the duration and number of sessions, the conference has additional rhythms and activities that are not yet displayed in the program. For example, this is all about the exhibition, special blocks for communicating with experts and speakers, as well as evening activities between the first and second days of the conference. We will talk about this in a separate article.
Traditional block about tickets
You can buy tickets for the DevCon conference on the website: www.msdevcon.ru .