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Conference Thoughts

This week I attended an Agile Conference. I’m lucky enough to have attended many of these over the last 6 years. Some were amazing and some were lacking. As someone who has organised a conference before I know that this is no easy task. And everybody has their own ideas about who, how and what. Here are my thoughts…

Swag and bags
At just about every conference: you arrive, get a name tag and a bag with swag. If this is your first conference this is amazing. If it’s your 20th, it’s a pain and ends up in the trash.
Idea: Have a table to the side with bags, and another table with swag (sponsor stuff). Tell attendees to help themselves. This way those that want bags can get, those that want swag can pick what they will use, and those that don’t can just walk past the table. Also have a table of notebooks and pens. This way, those that forgot to bring can grab book and pen easily, and you don’t need them on every table.

Name Tags
As mentioned above, everyone gets a name tag. Usually your name and company name is showed. Sometimes your twitter handle.
Idea: Leave space for a twitter handle or, leave the name tag blank. Let people be creative and create their own name tags

Coffee and Water
Most conferences have coffee and water available during breaks. The problem is that people mingle outside of breaks too.
Idea: Always have coffee and water available.

Space to move and mingle
In between sessions and during breaks there needs to be plenty of free space for people to walk and mingle. A long passage is not a good idea.
Idea: Think of this when you pick a venue. It is important that the mingling space is close to the talk rooms, and easy to find. Having a separate room for this with a narrow door that’s out of the way doesn’t work. Perhaps use the big keynote hall for this purpose if you are stuck.

Charging Areas
Most people are on their phones and laptops. And most modern technology needs recharging multiple times a day.
Idea: Have many plugs and adapters available. Perhaps have recharging station areas? Even better have fully charged battery packs as goody bag gifts 🙂

International People
Think about people who are not local. What will they struggle with?
Idea: On the website have tips, like where to buy a sim card and data. Even better, have these available onsite for them to buy. If you have international speakers, buy them a sim card and reasonable data.

Speakers slides
Everyone wants to get the slides quickly.
Idea: Ask speakers for slides the day before the conference, and get them up on the website during the conference.

Tweet wall
Most conferences have a screen up to show tweets, its great to share and see the interaction.
Idea: have this in the communal area, not next to the stage, as it’s very distracting. Let it also show images. Often photos of slides and sketchnotes are much more visually appealing than just words.

Most conferences have the concept of keynotes.
Idea: Make sure the speakers are relevant to everyone. A talk that is too technical or to subject matter specific leaves many passengers. Also make sure you have great engaging speakers – your entire audience is in the room paying attention. And make sure there is a balance, not just white men. Also keep keynotes short (30 minutes is great and then questions). Even the most entertaining speaker can’t keep 100s of people engaged for 90 minutes.

Lean Coffee
Most conferences have a lean coffee running in the mornings during the conference.
Idea: don’t make this an after thought. Plan it into the agenda (yes before registration). Find or ask someone to facilitate this. If it is in the agenda then more people attend. Also make the venue clear on the program and well sign posted.

Activities in the evening
Some conferences have a planned event on one of the evenings for an hour or so. The best ones I’ve attended have something every night.
Idea: You don’t need to fund this event (though it’s great if you can). Just have a space for this to happen. Things like “dinner with a stranger”, or simply drinks in bar if you’re keen are great. Have a space where people can put up things. I’ve even attended morning walk and talks that were great.

Spaces for sharing learning
After x amount of talks, when your brain is full, you need space to sit and think, or sit and chat with others. This is best if it’s close to where the talks are. Most people in the agile community want to share their thoughts – help them do this.
Idea: Have wall space for people to write up books or snippets of learning. Nice way to share with community and cement learning.

What would you like to see at the next conference you attend? Please share in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Conference Thoughts”

  1. Thank you Sam for taking the time to share your feedback on Agile Africa. The program committee reviewed all this (with the rest of the feedback received from attendees); and definitely took valuable lessons out of it. You can bet next year there will be huge improvements to this things that didn’t work so well this time.

    Re: Keynotes – the idea was to have different areas of focus to appeal to a wider spectrum of the attendees. Sandy Mamoli was also a Keynote speaker, and I think she was superb. I agree however, there is a real need for greater diversity in the presenters.

    1. Thanks Oz. We think Agile Africa was a huge success and has come very far since it’s beginning, and I am sure it is in part because of how the committee has listened to feedback. Looking forward to an even more awesome event next year!

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