This is the seventh post in my series on running a tech conference. In today’s post, I’ll outline what you need to do on the day of your event.
- Getting Started: Goals and Vision
- Choosing a Venue
- Budget and Sponsors
- Finding Speakers
- Event Logistics & Timeline
- Promotion of your Event
- The Day Of!
- Post Event
Before the event starts, you should expect that things may go awry. Every event brings a new adventure and sometimes you can’t anticipate what the issues will be. From experience, I will tell you a few things that you should be prepared for but sometimes it’s impossible to know what the universe will bring. At MongoDB London this year, we had a terrible problem with door wedges. Yes, door wedges — the venue didn’t have enough, and there were several spots where we were desperately improvising door jams or stationing staff at the doors so they wouldn’t slam during talks. Maybe next time I’ll pack a door wedge in my conference kit, but even if I do that I know that next time there could be some other unanticipated issue so I’ll just have to be ready for it.
The Walk Through
The day before your event, assemble your staff of volunteers and walk through the space and your staff assignments. Make sure that everyone knows who is responsible for staffing registration, who is responsible for each speaking room, the expo hall, and any other areas. It also helps to have a “floater” who can jump in in case there are gaps or if someone doesn’t show on the day of the event. We also have staff designated to greet press and high-profile speakers.
At Open Tech NYC, the night before the event my co-organizer suggested an exercise that was very useful. We walked through the event, but then we also discussed all the different ways that things could go wrong and how we could possibly mitigate those issues. It was really helpful for identifying different logistical problems.
The first several events that I organized were fairly small and we had no process for formally preparing speakers. As 10gen has grown, we’ve taken presenting more seriously as a skill set that needs development. We try to organize several prep meetings for each presentation before the event, and we’re experimenting with office hours for our external presenters as well. On the days leading up to the event, a final run through, particularly in the space where the talk will be delivered, is a great way to ensure a good experience at the event. These can be difficult to schedule, especially with set up happening in parallel, but they can make a huge difference in the quality of your presentations.
If at all possible when booking your venue, I recommend getting the space booked the night before so that you have the prior day to set up. Sometimes this isn’t possible from a cost standpoint, but logistically it’s extremely challenging to do set up at 5am and then be on your feet all day for an event.
The key things that you need to do include:
- Posting directional signage, banners, and any other conference branding
- Printing, inserting, organizing and setting up name tags in your registration areas
- Stuffing your give-away bags (here is my article on how to efficiently stuff swag bags)
- Getting your vendor hall labeled and set up
- Testing your A/V equipment and wireless connection
- Doing any final presentation rehearsals or run throughs
A few small details that you should always remember:
- Mac adaptors and slide advancers for each room
- Random supplies such as paper, tape, scissors, Sharpies, etc. in case you need to make signs
- Bottled water for your presenters so they aren’t parched
- Extra blank name tags in case someone’s badge didn’t get printed
The more that you can pre-stage and set up in the days leading up to the event, the happier you will be.
There are several options for printing nametags, which I enumerated in detail in the blog post on budget and sponsors. For the day of the event, I recommend purchasing trays to organize your name tags and easily find each person. For every 100-150 people expected to register per day, you probably want 1 person on registration at peak hours. (So at MongoSF this year, which was a 1-day event with roughly 1,000 attendees, we had roughly 10 people on registration during the 8-9:30am peak hours.)
Make sure that you set up you clearly label registration with signage, and consider positioning a greeter at the entrance if the direction isn’t obvious. Be wary of creating bottlenecks at any point in the registration process!
Once people have their name tag, you may also want to check them in using an app such as Eventbrite check-in or Marketo check-in, or an old-fashioned printed list. We use iPads at our events to quickly sign people in. Usually one person finds the badge and the other checks them in, and the process takes about 30 seconds. Once they’ve checked in, an automated email is sent to the attendee with information about the event, the venue, and further activities during the conference.
Usually we’re so excited about the event wrapping up, that we forget about the hard work at the end of the conference. It helps to have a detailed inventory of the items that you brought with you to the event and the places that you’ve stored them. If you had boxes that you packed things in, keep them handy for the end of the event with shipping labels at the ready so that you can quickly get everything boxed up. Ideally you’ll have a small breakdown crew that can get everything organized and then the rest of the team can go to the bar or social event with the conference guests.
In my experience, the most stressful part of conference organizing is the hours leading up to the start of the event. Once we’re through registration and the first talks have started, that’s when it starts to get really enjoyable for me. I can interact with the guests, attend a few talks myself, get feedback on the conference, and learn from our partners. Events are a lot of work and effort, but also very rewarding.