My recent project was organizing a conference which turned out to be the best thing that happened to me this year. I thought that it might be interesting, or even inspiring for people if I share the story and insights of this amazing journey I've been through while making it happen.
Let's do it
We've started talking about the idea of the conference with Chris and Brandon in Brooklyn last December where I was a speaker at Functional Swift '15. We were sitting with beers at a pub and Chris came up with the idea.
"We should organize a Functional Swift Europe edition next year."
At that moment, I realized that Budapest would be a great candidate, it's a beautiful place with a great community of people holding together and all being passionate about knowledge sharing. Making the decision was easy.
Since I was confident, that Budapest is a place where people could hang out for a couple of days besides attending the conference, I pitched it to the guys in three sentences and they were convinced.
If you'd like to organize a conference, you should keep in mind, that there will be people traveling there from very far away, so they're probably going to spend a whole week in the city. I knew that October weather in Budapest could be either still very hot, or already freezing cold. There should be enough activities available in the city either way. We were lucky, it was still summer! ☀️
There are a list of very important details that makes a venue perfect, and Mosaik had all of them. It's a co-working space, so it has abilities by default that help a lot. Like high-speed WiFi, with guest password already printed on small flyers, space to hang out and sit down, air, water tanks, general practice in hosting.
The most important above all, caring people.
I was in monthly contact with four, or five people since the beginning of the year. They were of course super helpful and I cannot be grateful enough for the people who were with us during the whole two days. They were a few very young people working the weekend, super enthusiastic about community events. Noemi brewed about 200 coffees for us on Saturday but she hadn't miss to draw beautiful flowers into every single latte. 🤗
I had a nice long chat with one of the guys afterwards and it was such an inspiring conversation about how they're building the Budapest tech/business community. I admire their work and attitude. 🙇
They are the ones motivating all the people to come together in one spot of the world and discuss technology. Please take good care of them from the very first moment. They put effort, travel, money, and time into being there for your local and the international community.
That's something to appreciate, support and advertise across your channels.
Let them know the abilities of the venue in advance. Screen ratio, available adapters, audio, video. Ask their permission for streaming/recording.
Help them getting around in your country.
I've sent a very long email to every speaker about details like my local dining guide, what taxi service should they use, possible danger areas, how much the currency worth, where to pick up cash, which part of the city to stay. It turned out to be something super helpful.
Organize it, this is very important. The evening before the conference is the perfect opportunity for the speakers to meet each other and a warm up for two days of networking. We had our speaker dinner in the most beautiful spot of the city so we could have a nice walk up there with several historical spots to check out on the way. Introducing traditional cuisine is also a great way to help them connect with the atmosphere and local people.
There was no official CFP for this conference, and we've been asked about this several times. We invited people to speak who we knew personally, and we were aware of that they're working on something relevant to our topic in focus. Since we've organized the whole thing without budget, all the speakers' travel were covered by their companies. I hope that knowing this might help understanding why a CFP would've been a complexity that we had no resources for working out properly.
If it's a one day one track conference, don't make a schedule without the speakers. Figuring out the schedule on the speaker dinner is I think a great tradition of Functional Swift.
We told everyone that a speaking slot is around 30 mins plus Q & A.
Don't be strict, tell them that it's flexible. Everyone will try their best to keep the schedule, enforcing it is an unnecessary stress factor.
We had a schedule on the back of our badge. We weren't even looking at our watches and somehow we managed to keep it precisely. I have no idea how.
Thanks Daniel for the lovely badge design. 🖌
Encourage it. Live coding sessions give so much diversity to a conference. It's a very nice way to follow how the given example was built up in the first place. Don't be afraid of doing it at the first gig of your life, Lisa & Gina did that and they were super great!
It's a great idea to stream the conference for people who cannot make it in person. Geri, my co-worker had been with us for the whole session day making it possible to watch it online. 🎥
It was an awesome idea by Chris, to hang out together for another day after the conference. Mosaik made it available to us, so we basically occupied the co-working area and people had a chance to discuss their inspirations they got from the session day before.
Without Bitrise, Mosaik and Ustream, this event could never have happened. If you'd like to organize just a workshop, or a meetup, but definitely if it's a conference, you'll need sponsors. Since I'm organizing meetups in Budapest, I already had the network and the experience to find help here.
Don't think about it as just money and bookkeeping, it's a statement by these companies standing behind the cause of supporting a community.
Serving food at a venue is not trivial. It needs a lot of preparation and it's recommended not to try solving on your own. Speaking to the mic in the conference room and unpacking food boxes outside are not really possible to manage at the same time. We had support from the catering company by one of them being on the spot for the whole day. This is a must, because unfortunately there's a possibility that the service you ordered does not contain tags for every food listing ingredients and allergic information.
I prefer eating something cold and basic on conferences because I usually find it uncomfortable to inhale gas for an hour in a place where I can't sit down with my plate of a whole meal. We've had delicious sandwiches, snacks and pastries, much easier to consume. 👌
This is key. Be in touch. Make sure that every speaker and attendee is up to date with what's going on. When introducing speakers on stage, think about what you know about them and share it with the audience.
Saying a few friendly words, or even fun facts is a nice way to help attendees connect to the speaker.
Also prepare with jokes (you can learn some from Chris), there's always something that breaks. The projector, the audio, or just something unexpected happens at the venue. That is extremely helpful for speakers to not lose their focus, when they get interrupted by something.
Make sure to add it to the conference's website, so people can find it easily and understand what kind of environment the conference is aiming to be. Give an intro talk before the first speaker and make it the first and most highlighted information that everyone hear, and understand its importance.
It's very very important to appreciate every help you get with the organization. If there's anything you will take away after reading this, please make sure that it's one of them.
Trust each other
By the time we first came up with the idea of the Budapest edition, I was working at Prezi. I switched jobs two times since (yes, I had a rough year) but I managed to stay on top of the organization along with keeping others' confidence in me. They remained certain, that the conference is actually going to happen. Even at moments like when I told Chris this April that I'm interviewing to a company on a different continent and might relocate.
Trust the ones who are helping you and trust the organizer.
If anything goes wrong, or if you're getting too exhausted by working and organizing at the same time, let them know. If it's your first conference, try to make it small and friendly like Functional Swift, without budget, without big pressure. Ever since we've started organizing this, I always had this safe feeling that I can stop at any moment, no one's gonna get hurt. I could easily find someone in the local community anytime to take my place as organizer helping Chris and Brandon on the spot. I would never have gotten started with any of this, if I hadn't known that.
Rely on your team
I told my current team at Ustream, that I need time off to take care of the conference that's not even related to the company, nor too relevant in our daily work. Even in their biggest need for me, they never said no, they were all there for me if I'd have needed any help. I'm not able to describe in words how much that helped to remain stress free. I'm someone who feels very responsible for her work and who rather pushes it until she collapses instead of giving it up. Having a supportive, stable, and understanding team behind is the best environment when taking an extra responsibility like this on you.
Learn to let go
I've also proposed myself as speaker and couldn't find the time to prepare a decent talk in time. I felt like I'm giving back with taking part in the organization, so I was able to let it go. I haven't felt bad, because I knew that taking too much responsibility will reflect on the results and I wanted the conference to be a stress-free and comfortable environment for everyone. It was a good decision.
Feelings are normal
Don't be afraid of getting emotional. I went for a little walk by myself after the first day. I tried to describe in a burst of iMessages how I feel about all the people coming here to my home town and how amazing it is to watch them getting inspired and excited about others' ideas.
So much feels after the first day of #FunSwift2016. I love being part of this community. Thanks for being awesome, keep it up. 💜— Agnes Vasarhelyi (@vasarhelyia) October 1, 2016
I almost started crying because I realized that this was the first time in Hungary's history to host an international conference of our worldwide Cocoa community and that I played a big role in it. I finally had an impact on something that I thought has faded away centuries ago.
Hungary, being open to the world.
I'll definitely continue organizing conferences. I have some things in mind though, that I'm going to try to do better next time.
I liked that Luis and Borja created an NSSpain Slack team where everyone could chat with each other. It helped so much to connect and to solve any questions or problems coming up, together. It also makes it possible to keep in touch with people who we met at the conference. 👏
We had a hashtag #FunSwift2016 for the conference, but I think it'd work better to have a handle for the conference next time. Unless you want to spam all your followers tweeting in every second minute, I suggest to do the same.
The email about getting around in Budapest I've sent to the speakers was such a great idea, except I haven't send that to all attendees. For all the international people it would've been super helpful as well.
If you were at the conference and have any feedback you had no chance to share in person, I'd appreciate if you'd share with me virtually. Please feel free to send me, Chris, or Brandon an email anytime.
If you'd like to organize a conference and have any questions ping us, we're happy to help.