Back in April, I volunteered to join the yearly US based community conference of the open source technology my company works with. I enjoy event planning on a smaller level, and I thought it would be a challenging side project to take on. I had only met some of this year’s committee members once or twice, and had very little idea about how the group functioned.
Here are my observations from the experience:
Conference Visions Vary
This year’s committee was picking up from where 2012’s committee left off. There was very little overlap or knowledge transfer from the previous year, which meant the committee spent a fair amount of time horse-trading their ideas about what would make up a good conference. It took the committee members some back and forth to establish the direction we wanted to go toward.
It’s A Chance To Step Out Of Your Usual Role
If you’ve been thinking about a marketing role, possibly interested in budgeting and accounting, or understanding website design, then conference planning can be a good vehicle to test the waters with some group support. Some people are inherently good at some things. As for myself, I was curious to see if I could create interesting and friendly (but not pushy) content promoting the conference over a period of time. On the flip side, I also took over the financial management of the conference, as it was an area that needed to be organized immediately since it impacted many of our decisions.
It’s A Great Way To Get Noticed In The Community
My contributions toward the community fall on the product strategy and advocacy side. One way to support the hard work and contributions of the developers is to give them a really great arena to show off their efforts, and be able to interact with the user base and other community members. I personally had attendees ranging from the C level to newbie users come up and thank me for assisting in putting together a successful conference.
Be Prepared To Assist On Site
Part of the responsibilities of a conference member is to make sure all things are operating smoothly. Checking in attendees, answering questions about lunch (yes, there are vegetarian options and some items are gluten-free) and helping speakers connect the A/V leads in each room were just a few items which occurred throughout our days. Very quickly the registration desk became a one stop knowledge base for the whole conference – and the surrounding area…Need a bank? One block over. A pharmacy? Two blocks down.
Pack A Survival Kit
I’m not talking about sleeping bags, a flashlight and granola bars (these items would have been useful during my 6 hour delay at the airport, however). I spent almost the entire conference walking around talking to attendees, speakers, hotel staff and some seriously lost souls who wandered into our conference space. My kit included a bottle of water, cough drops, Sharpies and tins of mint Altoids (a great way to kick off an introduction to someone you haven’t met, by the way).
Overall, the conference was a great success, our sponsors were happy, the attendees enjoyed the talks and the conference committee kept things flowing between all of us. After sleeping and decompressing for a few days,along with the right group and support of the community, it would be worth doing again.
Have you ever been part of an organizing committee? What did you learn from it?