Planning a technical conference is a big undertaking and involves challenges you might not normally come across in non-technical conferences. As part of our experiences with attending and assisting with these conferences, we have come up with a list of things to avoid.
- Not enough power! If you have attendees at a technical conference, you will invariably have attendees who will have devices with them. They are more likely to be taking notes, researching topics, copying information given or posting on social media about the event using a device rather than a notepad. So, ensure you have the power to enable the attendees to recharge their devices. Have conversation points, around a table with some power ports. This will allow for interaction and conversation, all the while why the attendees get their devices ready for the next session. Much better to have that organized than seeing attendees sitting against walls, scampering for an outlet.
- Not making the sessions technical. This is a hard one, as you have to make sure the speakers are on board. Try to ensure that the content is not “salesy.” Depending on the conference, there may be some content that is sales oriented, but be upfront with the attendees in the session description and make those fewer than the technical content. One of the common complaints we hear is that “the session was just someone listing a set of benefits.” Instead, have a session that shows how to configure the product that gives you those benefits. That’s the point of a technical conference, the how, rather than the why.
- Not looking after the network. When you have a technical conference, attendees are going to want two things, power and internet. We mentioned the power earlier, but how much Internet is enough? It’s a pretty complex question, and frankly we partner with folks who can make that magic happen. But, if you think about it – if you are running a small conference with 2,000 attendees, each who will have a laptop and another device (such as a phone or a tablet – or possibly both,) than you have more than 4,000 devices that will be connecting to the internet. If each one of them browses the web for an hour at an average usage of 60MB (low but they should be paying attention to the conference) then for a seven hour day, that is over 1.6TB of traffic! Plus, add in those doing demos and it really starts to add up.
- Not making the content accessible. This one takes planning, but by the end of the second day at a conference, your attendees will appreciate it. In the past, technical conferences were often three to four days of talking heads on a stage, with mostly one-way traffic of content. In other words, presentations, PowerPoint decks and demos that required “sacrifices to the demo gods” to work. With that approach, by the end of day two, attendees would start to glaze over, nod off and generally be over watching a session. So, make the content interactive for them. Make it so that they have to participate. Using hands-on labs or instructor-led labs accomplishes this! This allows attendees to get hands-on with the technology that they are hearing about. And by learning by doing, attendees retain more knowledge.
- Not providing decent food. Now admittedly, this is not really a technical conference issue, but it is an issue with conferences in general. Feed the attendees and feed them well. No one expects a four-course meal at every break, but supplying attendees with edible food, decent coffee (or tea) and some snacks – healthy as an option – is going to make for more satisfied attendees. Giving them the ability to eat at the conference ensures more networking opportunities, more discussion and less time away from the conference when they are not learning about your products and services.
- Not planning for migration. It’s important to look at a venue and plan how attendees will likely flow between sessions. This can have a serious impact on attendee satisfaction. We have all been to a conference where it took up to 30 minutes to get between sessions. Having to maneuver your way through thousands of other attendees (or worse getting lost,) trying to backtrack and missing a session is horrible. Obviously, you are going to be limited by the space and set out of the venue, but make sure you plan for that and have enough time between sessions to ensure that attendees can make it!
A well-run event is like watching swans on a lake. Underneath there is a lot of hard work required, but on the surface (in attendee land) everything is smooth!