Typical Mistakes of Tech Conference Organizers

Konstantin KomelinKonstantin Komelin
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Some of you may know me as a local Drupal community coordinator and organizer of community events in Saint Petersburg. Even though I am not much involved in the Drupal community today, I still advise other conference organizers on their small-to-medium events.

In this post I am going to share the mistakes, which organizers often make despite the fact that most of them are warned about potential pitfalls.

1. Everything must be ideal

Perfectionism is an enemy that paralyzes developers, designers as well as community organizers. Cozy venue, fully featured website built on the trendiest React-Angular-whatever framework, restaurant-quality food, etc. - all these components cost time and money and sometimes lock the preparation process for months.

A few organizers, who I know, had to shift deadlines because they were not on time with their sites. I will not call them by their names for ethical reasons.

  • An organizer A decided to implement their custom payment processor integration and missed deadline
  • Organizers B and C could not agree on design and branding, which significantly delayed the conference announcement
  • An organizer D used framework X just because they wanted to try it, but the exercise took more time than expected

Colleagues, please do not reinvent the wheel. Website is just a tool and it is not a target. There are many ready-to-use CMS solutions for conference sites as well as there are conference organizers who would not mind sharing their code base with you. But wait a minute, do you really need a fully featured site for your conference? In many cases, you do not. You may use Meetup.com or whatever event site you find on Google. Such sites usually have everything built-in - payment systems, communication channels, tickets and other useful tools.

If you still want to keep up with your highest dreams and expectations then be prepared to miss deadlines and fail.

2. Sponsoring and speaking at conferences is charity

Sponsors and speakers of your event are your business partners. Less experienced organizers do not understand goals of their partners. From my experience, two primary goals of any sponsor are PR and recruiting, in other words, they want to promote their company/product on your site, through presentations and in the venue, and also find the best talents. You know, it is not a charity. Nobody gives you money silently and anonymously. In fact, you just sell marketing and recruiting opportunities to your sponsors.

Do you know how some developers look for a job? They browse conference site, click by a sponsor's logo, then go to the sponsor's site and find open positions. I personally used this approach many times.

On the other hand, sponsors need badges "I am a sponsor" and the conference site/page to refer to in their blog posts as early as possible.

If you do not develop attractive sponsor packages you will probably have to sponsor your conference yourself. The speaker's goal is to be listened to by as many people as possible. It means that even if your conference collected 50 attendees it is expected that you record the presentations and show them to thousands. To sum up here, feed the chicken with the right grain and you will get your golden egg.

3. Site first, announcement later

The earlier you announce, the earlier attendees book flights and hotel rooms, and the more time speakers have to polish their presentations. You cannot afford empty rooms as well as you cannot speak alone in all time slots.

If you have already booked a venue and confirmed the dates but have not yet announced the event, you may be doing it wrong. Again, you do not need a fully featured site to run advertising campaign. You just need a one-screen landing page with the conference name, dates and a newsletter subscription form.

4. Developers for developers

Some conference organizers ignore the real world and focus on technical people only. This way they close doors for newbies and people from other industries. I attended many events and noticed that some people yawn when they see the third or fourth code sample in a row.

To grow your community and your event you may want to think outside of the box and advertise the event to non-technical people via non-standard channels. However, you should make sure that you have enough content adapted to those people.

You may say that the mistakes I mentioned are obvious, but why do people make them all over again?