Friday, December 11, 2015

Hosting a Professional Conference

I spent a large portion of last week at Gartner's Application Architecture, Development and Integration Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. The conference contained three days of in depth content around Enterprise Architecture, Cloud Development, Microservices and API Management, and more. But rather than dive into the technical details, which I may write about later, I thought I would point out a few hallmarks of the conference that really made it smooth and helpful for the attendees. In the event you ever need to put together an event like this, see if any of these lessons from the best might be helpful.

Event Website

I did not take as much advantage of this before the conference as I should have, but after signing up and paying for the event, a website was made available to conference attendees. It contained agendas for the event as well as the ability to click in and view the presenters and information about each session. Attendees could even select sessions on the website to create a custom agenda tailored just to their interest

Badges and Scanners

Upon registration at the conference, every attendee received some small gifts and a conference badge. From that point on, everywhere you went, you had your badge scanned for access. This did not really benefit the attendees much, but certainly helped the organizers to know how many attendees were in each speaking session, provided information and feedback to vendors on who was interested in their software and services, and allowed an easy way to track eligibility for certain pre-registered events. Kiosks placed around the convention could also be used to print off custom agendas that attendees had made on the website.

Presentation Length

Depending on the style of conference, the length of presentations may vary. Thirty to forty-five minutes per topic seemed to be appropriate, though, at the Gartner event I attended and a prior conference last month. When the presentations were scheduled in forty-five minute increments, the entire day could be scheduled in hour-long blocks, leaving fifteen minutes for attendees to make their way to the next session as well as check their email and voice mail without missing any content.

Segregated Vendor Area

I've been to conferences where the vendor booths are mixed right into the conference area between rooms. This can be handy in that you can check out one or two vendors in the fifteen minutes between sessions, but often there is not ample time to check out everything you want. One good benefit of the conference last week was a segregated vendor area and allocated times to make your way through the booths. This allowed for a nice pace to the event and a dedicated block of time to make your way through the zoo of vendors. It also allowed a perk to the vendors in that they could attend some of the sessions outside of their dedicated windows of time.

Ample Staff

The host organization for a convention has a huge task to keep the attendees happy and the pace flowing along. One area that Gartner excelled was in the number of available staff on hand to help with any problems. Additional tip: springing a few extra bucks to get them matching shirts will help the attendees to locate a staff member if there are any problems. After the first day, the volume of questions to staff may diminish, but having visible people available if they are needed cannot be understated.

I noticed a ton of other great tips and tricks that Gartner managed to pull off to make it a great experience for all of the attendees, but I had too many to fit in a single post. What feature of a conference impresses you?