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The SharePoint Hillbilly Fewer Big Words... More Pretty Pictures...

Well! I’m still recovering from SharePoint Saturday Ozarks and preparing my presentation for this weekend’s SharePoint Saturday Dallas, but I wanted to be sure to blog about my experience organizing an event before I forgot it all.  Plus, if someone out there is thinking about organizing their own event you can hopefully learn from what I went through.

So, let’s take a look at my thought process for organizing the event and I’ll be sure to point out where I could have done things better.

Before you begin

There are two very major components I think you should have in place before you even consider hosting an event.  Without these two, there’s really nothing to plan.

Speakers

Do you know any speakers personally who are willing to speak at your event?  The SharePoint community is very blessed to have so many speakers willing to help, but make sure you have a handful of verbal yeses before you go through with planning your event.  I knew even before I started planning that 4 or 5 great people would be willing to speak.  Those being @mattbremer @jdwade @chrisgeir and @mosslover.  Without their initial support I probably would not have proceeded. Thanks again guys!

Venue

Where are you going to hold your event?  This is so crucial because it will determine how many attendees can come and can also influence hotel selection. I was lucky enough to have a local college (http://www.northark.edu) that was very excited about the thought of bringing this kind of technology to the area.  So, I was able to get a venue without charge.  If you are not so lucky and have to pay for your venue, make sure you can find the sponsor backing to pay for the venue (or be willing to pay for it out of your own pocket).

Some other important points about venues:

  • Is wireless access available (very important if you want to live blog)
  • Are projectors in the rooms? Can you get projectors in the rooms?
  • Do you have a space for sponsors to set up booths?
  • Is there a place to set up and serve food?
  • Is food/beverages allowed in the classrooms? This is a biggie! I had to change rooms before the event to make sure drinks were allowed in the rooms.  You don’t want parched speakers!
  • Can you put the event together and have a nice flow? Can the classes be close together?  Will there be a bottleneck with people trying to register and get breakfast?
  • Are there any special catering contracts with your venue that would force you to use a specific caterer?  This was the case for my event and almost caused a HUGE problem. 

The venue really helps set the tone and mood for your event, so make sure it’s the right one!

SharePointSaturday.org

What are you going to call your event?  Is there already meetings going on like yours that you can piggy back off up?  This is where SharePointSaturday.org comes in.  I could have called my event “Hillbillies with SharePoint” or something bizarre like that, but I had been to a few SharePoint Saturday events and knew they already had some infrastructure in place that would help.

So, Becky Isserman (@mosslover) got me in contact with Michael Lotter (@michaellotter) and he really help me get set up.  Becky and Michael both were really instrumental in pointing me in the right direction and helping me get going.  So, kudos to both of them for all that they do. 

Dux (@meetdux) was gracious enough to forward me all the documents and templates he used for his event which saved me a lot of additional effort in reproducing.  Thanks Dux!

Michael Lotter also forwarded me several forms that I could use to sign up speakers and sponsors as well as set me up a site on SharePointSaturday.org.  Michael also contacted several of the SharePoint Saturday sponsors and before I had a chance to do much I already had speaker shirt and attendee shirt sponsors.  He also contacted several publishing companies and I had boxes and boxes of books showing up at my house.  Which brings me to my next point.

Sponsors

Be prepared to send lots of emails and make lots of calls because you need quite a few sponsors to make your event successful.  The sponsors you absolutely need are:

  • Lunch sponsors for day of the event
  • Drinks sponsor for throughout the day
  • Venue sponsor (if you need to pay for venue)

The other sponsors really make your event nice and something to remember, but as long as you feed people lunch and take care of their thirst they could live without the rest (IMO). The other nice-to-have sponsors that will help drive attendance and give people something to remember are:

  • Breakfast Sponsor  -most people can eat breakfast at home or in their hotel, but it’s nice to come to the event and pour a cup of coffee and pick up a muffin
  • Raffle Sponsor – People love to win stuff, see if you can find a sponsor that will fork over something nice.  If you want Microsoft to give something though you need to hit them at the right time of budget season, they were out of money when I came knocking on their door. 
  • Goody Bags – I love “stuff”.  Nothing is more cool than to come to an event and have a bag of stuff to dig through, especially if there are gadgets that you can give to your kids when you get home.  Call around to several companies and see what they can do. Pens & notepads are essentials but you’ll also need to think about the bags themselves.  One pretty cool trick I learned was contacting the local Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Bureau.  These guys were more than happy to give me stuff branded with “Harrison, AR”, and that’s DEFINITELY something you won’t get at another event. 
  • Speaker Dinner Sponsor – Your speakers are spending their time and money to come to your event.  Although it’s not required or even expected, a speaker dinner is a great way to show appreciation as well as socialize with some awesome people.  I have spoken at events that did not have dinners and those that did.  I don’t think less of those events that did not have speaker dinners, but it is a lot of fun.  Just make sure the bar has enough beer stocked up.
  • SharePint Sponsor – SharePint (an excuse for SharePoint people to get together and drink) is usually held the night of the event.  You will find that most sponsors shy away from sponsoring the purchase of alcohol, but they are more than happy to spring for food and appetizers. 

Lastly, call some local hotels. Many would be happy to cut you a deal on rates if you can send 30 people their way.

Attendance

So, you’ve got speakers, you’ve got a venue, and you’ve got sponsors.  Now you need people to show up.  You have several options to drive up attendance.

  • Contact your regional Microsoft DE.   After all, if you are doing a SharePoint event you are contributing to Microsoft’s bottom line.  Plus, these guys have quite a network and can help advertise your event.  Thanks @chriskoenig and @pwheat!!
  • Twitter, a few tweets a week should do it.
  • Keep your site updated with information
  • Print flyers for local community
  • Blog about it
  • Call companies that you know use SharePoint and personally invite them
  • Go to user group meetings within driving distance and invite them to attend
  • Ask friends and colleagues to spread the word.

Don’t stress out too much if you don’t have a large attendance.  We had about 70 on the day of the event which is small in comparison to other events, but the people were great and no one seemed to care one bit.

Sequence leading up to day of event

So, what sequence of events need to actually take place to have an event?  Without going into to much detail, here is a flow I could suggest:

  • Pick date for event
  • Line up initial speakers
  • Book venue
  • Contact caterers to get prices for sponsors and coordinate delivery
  • Set up web site to promote event and allow registration
  • Start getting sponsors
  • Send out a call for speaker registration (Allow at least 2 weeks for speakers to register)
  • Post speaker and session information as it becomes available
  • Keep getting sponsors
  • Make Speaker Dinner reservations
  • Plan session schedule for day of event (who speaks when. You may have speakers just coming in for the day to speak. Make sure to accommodate their schedule as much as possible)
  • Open up general registration (at least two weeks before event)
  • More sponsors
  • Keep advertising event
  • Call caterers and make sure everything is on track (week before)
  • Send out reminder emails to speakers (make sure they RSVP, and have a couple of backups ready)
  • Coordinate with venue a time to meet with their personnel and plan where booths will be set up and make sure rooms are ready.
  • Take the day before the event off of work to tie up lots of loose ends (and stuff goody bags)
  • Print out signs, blank name tags, schedules, evaluation forms, and all materials for registration.
  • Be 1/2 an hour to an hour early to speaker dinner as people start to show up early
  • Don’t plan on much sleep that night

Day of event

Get ready for sore feet and running around like crazy.  Don’t even think about speaking at the event you organize and you aren’t even guaranteed to get to attend the sessions you want.

  • Wake up way too early (at least an hour before alarm goes off)
  • Get to venue at least an hour before registration.
  • Set up signs to point people in the right direction.
  • Organize registration area and sponsor booth area.
  • Make sure you have a few people help you with registration.  It’s fairly simple to sit at a desk and check people in and it is SO helpful to not have to worry about it.
  • Bring extra pens.
  • Bring printed list of registrants alphabetized by last name!
  • Bring empty sheet for walk-ins to register.
  • Don’t put evaluation forms or schedules in goody bags.  The will get wrinkled and people will grab one of the extras even before looking in their bag.  Just hand it to them as part of registration
  • Have extra evaluation and schedule forms.
  • Make sure you have coolers of ice for drinks.
  • Make sure you have LOTS of bottled water.
  • Be prepared to be flexible and go with the flow.  Something is going to happen no matter how well you plan. I had to change the timing for lunch and move one session ahead of schedule.  The speakers handled it like pros and we got through it just fine.
  • Have a plan for doing raffle prizes.  How will you pick? I used the evaluation forms, but have seen other methods used successfully.
  • Make sure you clean up after yourself.  The venue was kind enough to let you use their place.  Make sure they would let you use it again.  Unless of course they are charging an arm and a leg for the venue.  Then, let them clean it up.  :)

Some Lessons Learned

Make sure the caterer is aware of your expectations and meets them! If you are paying $7 for a sandwich, make sure it’s not two slices of wonder bread and processed cheese.

Try to determine which sessions will have the highest attendance and give them the biggest rooms.  If you can capture attendees desired sessions when they register this would help you place people in the correct rooms.  We had a few rooms that were beyond capacity.

Take time to enjoy the event.  I had a few people tell me this, and I tried to enjoy it as much as possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  I have a feeling I could have attended more sessions and enjoyed the day more if I had asked for more help.  Don’t get me wrong, a LOT of people offered to help and I did have lots of help registering people, keeping the coolers full of drinks, and cleaning up.  I just was not sure what to ask for help on.  Thanks again to all who offered!

So, that’s pretty much a brain dump of everything off the top of my head.  I’ll keep this post updated as I remember things to add or people I forgot to thank. Hope you found something useful to planning your event.

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

One last note.  My event could not have been a success without the help of all the awesome speakers, sponsors and attendees.  Thank you so much for your support and for taking the time to attend.  It was totally worth all the work, and I look forward to seeing you guys next year.

Speakers

Becky Isserman

Cathy Dew

Chad Boschert

Chris Kaveney

Corey Roth

Cory Smith

Dennis Bottjer

Eric Shupps

JD Wade

 

Jeremy Sharp

Jim Hudson

John Ferringer

Joy Earles

Kevin Hughes

Laura Rogers

Leonard Mwangi

Lori Gowin

Matt Bremer

Mike Watson

Richard Oltmann

Sean P. McDonough

Tim Tyrrell

   

 

Sponsors

Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2009 2:12 PM | Back to top


Comments on this post: Organizing a SharePoint Event: What You Need To Know

# re: Organizing a SharePoint Event: What You Need To Know
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First of all, Mark did an incredible job putting this event together. It went off smoothly, and when there were bumps in the road Mark did a great job of rolling with the punches and making seamless changes.

It was a great event to attend, and to speak at. I was honored to be invited, even moreso once he released the speaker list and I saw who else would be there. It was an excellent event for an area of the US that doesn't often get events like it, and it showed.

On that note, if you ever think that you're in too much of an unpopulated or remote location, take a good look at what Mark accomplished with this event. He hosted it in a town of over 12,000 people and got over 70 attendees. This info he's providing is an invaluable blueprint for success, especially if you work as hard as he (and the other organizers of similar FREE SharePoint events like the ones in Washington DC, Toronto, Chicago, St. Louis, and many more) did to honestly and passionately engage the SharePoint community.

And if you don't think you can get sponsors, talk to Mark and ask him how his sponsors felt about their investment in the event: he did a great job of fairly and effectively positioning vendor tables, and a large number attendees actually wanted to talk to the vendors b/c they had never had gotten a chance to do something like that before. Now THAT'S a return on investment!

All in all, I had a great time both at the event and on the road to it with my co-author Sean McDonough. I just hope I get a chance to do more of these in the future, I didn't come close to talking to everyone I wanted to meet or seeing all the sessions that I had an interest in!
Left by John Ferringer on Jul 23, 2009 4:38 PM

# re: Organizing a SharePoint Event: What You Need To Know
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Mark - Very good article. This would be great to have as a resource on the front page of SharePointSaturday.org. From what I heard, you did a splendid job. Congrats. -- Mark
Left by Mark Miller, EndUserSharePoint.c on Jul 23, 2009 5:21 PM

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