Wow, what an experience!
Event if you ever had the chance to attend a SharePoint Saturday or a similar free community event, you probably don’t know what it means to organize such an event for 300 people in your free time. So in this post I just want to give you a glimpse on what is involved if you ever play with the thought to do it yourself :)
SharePoint Saturday Stockholm 2015 on 14th of February in the Stockholm World Trade Center was the second run that Erwin van Hunen and I organized, and even though we thought we had done most of the required preparations already the first time and can just copy & paste the event, there was still a lot to prepare.
Sponsors, Speakers, Attendees
Organizing this event started about 8 months before and the first step (after fixing the date and venue) is always to find and convince the sponsors to fund the event. Luckily this was much easier this time due to the success of SPSSTHLM2014 and we got the first 5 sponsors signed up within the first week after we announced the event. Still, you have to chase up all your contacts regularly, come up with ideas that might make the event or a special sponsorship level more attractive and finally hope that you will get enough to sign up in order to make your budget. In my personal opinion, finding sponsors is probably the most nerve wrecking task in the entire organization process. You can make that easier if you find someone who provides their premises for the event e.g. Microsoft, but that often comes with the downside that you have to take care of the catering, insurance, security and cleanup yourself and that the location is maybe harder to reach for the attendees (which may result in more no-shows).
Next up is calling for and selecting the speakers and sessions. There are so many great, well-known speakers out there who are eager to come at their own expenses to the event (!), that getting sessions was no problem at all. Although unfortunately the Swedes seem not like to speak that much which meant at the end that we only had Wictor Wilén as the only real Swede speaking at the event. The tough part (and I didn’t envy Erwin for that) was to select the sessions for the 21 slots out of the 120 submissions. Erwin made a great job selecting mostly technical session because much like in 2014 about 65% of the attendees were developers, 20% IT-Pros and only 15% interested mainly in business topics.
When you have the sponsors, speakers and sessions in place then it is time to make some noise and get attendees. Last year our tickets were sold out in 2 hours and we heard from many people that they learned about the event the first time after all seats were already gone. Hence we decided this time to release the tickets in two batches to give the word some time to spread around in between. To be honest I am not entirely sure if this made any difference. Both batches were gone again each within 2 hours and we had still over 100 people on the waiting list on the event day.
What else needs to be done?
Here is an incomplete list: plan the catering, speakers dinner, agenda, sponsor perks, exhibition area layout, room equipment, attendee bags, SharePint, attendee registration, volunteer allocation, design signage, badges, raffle tickets, slide decks, communicate with sponsors, speakers, attendees, venue and much much more.
All of the time you always have to think of the budget, how many attendees you can allow, amount of no-shows to plan with (sadly this year we had about 17,5% with over 100 people on the waiting list), if you can have better/more/different food, coffee breaks, nicer speaker presents and so on.
Because of all these variables and the lack of experience, our first event in 2014 went unfortunately about 10% over budget. Our goal this time was to do better and cover for last years loss. I am glad to say that this mission was accomplished and thanks to our generous sponsors we were still able to make the event bigger this year (300 instead of 250 participants, 5 instead of 4 tracks, 25 instead of 20 speakers).
Both Erwin and I knew very well what challenge we were up to and even though it requires a lot of work, it is also lot of fun. When you finally see what was accomplished and feel the appreciation from all the people who participated it is just a awesome.
So rest assured, we will do it again! (just don’t tell our wives :).
To finish of, I want to shout a big thank you to everyone involved:
- The sponsors, for making all of this financially possible, providing awesome raffle prizes and being on-site to give the whole event a professional feeling :)
- The speakers, for coming on their own expenses to Stockholm to share knowledge and expertise with the local community,
- The volunteers, for helping to prepare the event the day before, registering the attendees and supporting speakers and attendees in the session rooms,
- The venue staff, for being a big help, flexible and professional,
- The attendees, for coming to this great community event, on a Saturday!, on Valentine’s! and mingle with all others to share their experiences with SharePoint and the surrounding technologies and
- Erwin, for holding out until the end with the annoying, perfectionist German that I am ;)
Last but not least, I just want to say: Hats off to anyone who takes up the challenge organizing a free community event!
If you need help, then just let me know and I share whatever I can.
All pictures of the event can be found on our Flickr account