On April 27th (2018) we had our first BCOUG Tech Day conference! If you are reading this and you’re part of an OUG board, you know how stressful and how much work it is to organize such an event. But the bottom line: it was very successful!
I decided to write this post for a couple of reasons: first, I usually write about conferences, and second, to give a little bit of information and stuff to think about if you plan such an event for the first time.
Let’s start from the beginning. In the 2nd half of 2017 our board decided to organize a full day technical conference, so we started working. When planning such a conference, there are many things to consider:
- Funding (sponsors and registration fee)
- Location (taking into account the cost of the venue, parking, how easy it is to get there by public transportation, etc.)
- Food (lunch, drinks and refreshments for breakfast and breaks)
- Speakers and agenda
- Advertising (social media, banners for the event, etc.)
For us, because this was the first time (and we didn’t have a lot of money to begin with), we decided to reduce costs. We booked a relatively inexpensive venue (but well organized for the amount of people we expected) instead of a fancy hotel, got a reasonably priced lunch and for breaks we just bought stuff from Costco and Starbucks. We also worked hard on obtaining sponsors (contacted many companies we know, companies we work for and companies that the OUG was in touch with in the past). The idea was to reduce the registration fee, as we didn’t want cost to be a reason not to participate.
Another important thing is advertising. You want to advertise the event as much as you can and in several media formats. We used our mailing list (of course) as well as Twitter and LinkedIn. One important thing to remember is the information you need for sponsors and advertising. For potential attendees it might be enough to see keynote speakers and some basic information in order to “save the date”, but as soon as possible, they will want to see a full agenda. For sponsors, it’s important to estimate the number of attendees, speakers and benefits that they will get from sponsoring.
One of the first things we did was to split the tasks between us and this was done PERFECTLY. Each board member took a task and managed it until it was done. This helped a lot in balancing the work between us. But in order for this to work well, it needs to be documented who is doing what and to keep everyone updated. It’s also important not to forget small details (like printing signs and banners, name tags, etc.).
One more thing that we did was setting up a weekly phone call. During this call we updated each other, voted on ideas and managed the open tasks.
Having sponsors for the conference is a win-win relationship. They pay for the sponsorship, enabling us to reduce the registration fee and attract more attendees, and on the other side they get recognition and access to talk to the attendees. The things to finalize when preparing the sponsorship options are basically price and benefits, and it’s important to be clear about the details. For example, Canada is quite strict about personal info and we promised our users that we won’t share their info, therefore we explained to potential sponsors that we cannot provide the attendee list. Instead, we encouraged them to come, talk to people and take business cards or contact info. They also did a raffle between the people that provided their info.
Speakers and Agenda
I already mentioned that agenda is important for sponsors and advertising the conference (some people will wait to see the agenda before registering). This part was my responsibility and as part of the Oracle ACE Program, I know many speakers from OUG conferences. I contacted Maria Colgan in October 2017 (after chatting with her at OOW) and invited her to be a keynote speaker. She offered to bring Gerald Venzl and I was thrilled when I got the final approval from them.
After that we opened a Call for Papers. We published the CfP on the social networks, among colleagues and contacted directly some speakers (some couldn’t make it because of a conference collision, but I hope they will be able to come in the future). As this was our first full day conference, we decided to keep it modest and have 2 rooms and 5 slots after the keynote, so 10 sessions in total (11 with the keynote). In the end we had about 40 submissions from which we had to choose. All of the board members voted on sessions and the top 10 were selected. We also chose a few backup sessions in case a speaker cannot make it (it’s better to choose sessions of speakers that are already coming as backup sessions).
To set up everything we had to use some tools. We had to vote on sessions, register attendees, have a conference site, organize feedback and more. For some things you can use paper or mails, but it’s less efficient. In our case we have Adrian Png on our board, and he’s a master in APEX. So basically everything we needed, Adrian developed in APEX in literally minutes (OK, maybe hours sometimes). For example, I talked with him during the conference itself about feedback, and a feedback page was ready before the end of the day (including a way for us to see all the results easily).
Summary and Feedback
We had about 60 attendees, which is a good number for a first time. As of today (a week after the conference) we got 21 responses. On a scale between 1 and 5 (5 being the best), on all questions we got an average of 4 and up (except room quality because it was a bit hot…). The questions that was most important for me was: “Will you attend the conference if it happens again next year”? The average answer was 4.57 (!!). We also got a few mails regarding CfP for next year (from VERY known speakers).
During the conference I also talked with the speakers. They loved the venue as it was much more intimate and quiet than usual and helped us to be more cost effective. They also enjoyed the weather which was perfect! It was sunny and warm, so everybody could see the beauty of Vancouver, and that was the hardest thing to arrange but we did it 😉
So, I’d like to thank the BCOUG board, the speakers, the sponsors and the attendees. It was a great experience.