Writing “Confessions of a dangerous mind”

11 Oct

I was thinking about “Confessions of a dangerous mind” with Sam Rockwell when writing the title. Truth is the post has nothing to do with the movie, so everyone interested in the movie – feel free to skip the article or search for better places.

Here is a copy of a poster for the movie fans not to feel bad. This was just to get your attention

sam rock

This year I was involved as a co-organizer of a Product Stream at IT Arena Lviv conference 2015 (itarena.lviv.ua). Prior to this I have organized just one event – Eleks Battle of the bands in 2013 – so I can’t say I have a wealth of experience in the area. My main responsibilities this year were to guarantee quality content i.e. find speakers and ensure they present at the event. I have found a few interesting folks (according to feedback I’ve heard) but now I realize how far the initial plan was from the actual execution. This post is a braindump of things I wanted to share after the conference. Some of ideas require a lot more elaboration and deserve separate posts. If you have enough patience to go through this – then maybe you can spend even more time and share your ideas and experience in event management via comments to the post

  • Design of the event
    • Waterfall is still alive. Almost any event is a great example of waterfall. This is particularly valid for conferences. This means that all phases preceding to the actual execution take 99% of time and therefore need to be thought through for the execution to go well
    • It is essential to define goals of the event. I knew goals of Eleks as the company I represented as a co-organizer of product stream but I did not know goals of the rest of key organizers. This made me narrow-minded in understanding the attendees of other streams
  • People buy tickets to the conference and not a certain stream
    • Attendees don’t distinguish Product stream or Business stream or whatever stream as different parts of the conference. For them this is a single experience for which they have paid money and they expect the same level of quality and experience at any speech of any stream they attend. They don’t know the conference streams may be organized by different people or teams or they don’t care about that. They care about 3 days they spend at the conference
    • This means there has to be consistent work among stream leaders to help one another with speakers, content, promotion and any questions that arise as the conference is a shared responsibility. Failure of one stream becomes a failure of the entire conference
  • Guidelines for presentations – how to define a high-quality presentation
    • What should be inside content-wise
      • Takeaways
      • Learning outcomes
      • Text + image combo or text limits
    • Font size
  • Presentation censorship
    • Should not be 1 person making a decision about speakers
    • Should be a group of 2 or 3 that review on a regular basis to ensure unbiased decision
    • Keep track of all speakers who have already participated
    • Introduce a mechanism for rating speakers to decide whom to invite
      • Past experience
      • Topic
      • Presentation skills
      • Past ratings
      • Personal knowledge of the speaker
      • Travel cost
      • Cost of stay
    • Work with speakers – iterative approach
      • Central idea
      • Main takeaways/conclusions
      • Slide titles
      • Actual meat
      • Visuals
      • Presentation
      • Define timeframe for each stage – should be completed well enough before conference
      • Train speakers to present or check their presentation skills / if a speaker doesn’t agree – let them go and don’t let them participate
    • Substitute speakers
      • High risk that should be considered
      • May be needed to find 2-4 substitute speakers
      • Should be given some form of presenting at the conference not to feel second best
    • Workshops
      • People need to be motivated to come to workshops
      • Workshops should be paid separately
      • Integrated environment – buy conference ticket, workshop ticket or combo
      • Prepare real cases for audience
      • Collect audience expectations
      • Promote workshops through opinion-makers
    • Work with top level management
      • People at the top are often there for a reason and could be strong proponents of ideas so they should at least be made aware of opportunities. From there they can figure out who to involve
      • Senior people should be kept in the loop from the very beginning as that helps to generate even more ideas
    • Food catering
      • Lines like they are don’t always work. Lines helped Tom Gilb to start speaking to Alex Skrypnyk but that could be a rare exception
      • Need to think of ways to get speakers holding the floor right after lunch to eat quickly
    • Inviting speakers
      • A formal letter is not really important. Time is money. It is more important to check speaker’s availability on time than to spend a couple weeks preparing an official letter to find out it is already too late to invite the speaker
      • Timeliness of the invitation is key (6-8 months in advance)
      • Graphics is important – visual part of the invitation should be there
    • Keynote speakers
      • Keynote should be someone known by everyone regardless of age. That person should be the candy everyone is looking for
      • Keynotes deserve to be paid
      • Keynotes should make the people want to attend everything at the conference
      • Keynotes should be fun
    • Conference language
      • There should be one language of the conference. Speakers should be checked against that language. Questionable statement
    • Conference timing
      • There should be breaks between presentations to give people enough time (5-10 minutes)
      • Don’t put a keynote for 9am on days after registration or promote the keynote
      • The number of presentations in one day should probably not be higher than 8 (considering 40 minute long or so)
    • App improvements
      • Engage attendees more into conference by introducing more features than attendify app (rebranded for it arena) has
      • Local Bas and UX experts can be involved into design and development of those extra features i.e. thing feature through and mock it up
        • Reminder to rate speaker at the end of the speech
        • Other ideas tbd
      • People should start using the app a lot earlier than the conference starts
    • Screens and places
      • If there are tv screens available they all can be used to show conference speakers or presentations in real time not like this time where a bunch of screens was showing a static image for 3 days of the conference
      • Adjustable screens or better / larger screens
      • Multiple working screens in rooms with columns
    • Speaker companions
      • There should be someone responsible for either a foreign speaker or a keynote speaker and helping them get in touch with key people from different companies
      • There should be a person who is able to lead networking and serve as the connector between speakers and different executives/key people present at the conference
    • Talk to other related conference leaders and get them onboard to promote the event
      • Not direct competitors i.e. not happening around the same time
      • In this case, invite leaders of conferences like UXPoland, Agilia to get advice from them before and after the event
    • Conference experts
      • In case the organizers (or one of them) is not a professional organizer, there should be a 3rd party consultant involved to help with pressing issues)
      • This will help to ensure many of items outlined above are at least known and considered
      • This is what of one of the speakers mentioned to me in a dialog. “Let’s say you have google, internet, scalpel and you need to do a surgery on a heart of a friend. What will you do? Call a professional or rely on youtube videos?” and this makes sense as there are professionals who have already done quite a few things to get a knack on what needs to be done to make a conference successful
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