For me, 2015 has been quiet regarding conferences I attended. After years with many events I needed a break from seeing all the same things over and over again (which is only a bad thing when you attend too many events).
In November, I attended TEDx Munich and it was amazing. They achieved a great mix of speakers, very good diversity (speakers, attendees) and after a every two to three talks they had a short music act that somehow was related to their topic “hidden treasures”. They also achieved to talk about fundamental humanity issues, ethics, corruption without shifting the event into a “grumpy” direction. It was very inspiring and I learned a lot about how to set speakers in scene to make an event great. They also managed to raise funds from their sponsors to give 100 refugees tickets for the event (usually 100EUR each).
“It looks like great events have a custom ‘signature’ — at Marc Thiele’s BTConf, it’s a DJ sampling tracks from the talks or a “traditional” Swedish kitchen set-up on stage at Malmö eCommerce Summit and Fronteers always highlights one design agency and gives them a platform to explain the process and how they work. I guess it’s really important to create at least one memorable thing that becomes a tradition and stick to it.”—Vitaly Friedman.
As in all the years I attended this event, the beyondtellerrand event in Düsseldorf in May 2015 was one of the best experiences. I think I love Marc Thiele’s events so much because he achieves such a great speaker/topic mix within a great atmosphere with so many little details done right. And the fact, that this conference does not only cover web development topics but goes beyond our industry in some talks, and the people I meet there make me love this conference so much. I agree on Vitaly Friedman here that having a custom signature is important.
Outside the Industry
I attended a few conference events outside of the web industry and, to be honest, we can be proud about our standard expectations. Even big, impactful events in other industries are often organized in a "unprofessional" way. Non working tech setups are common, speakers not being informed about anything, speakers not having an outline for their talk, people in the audience treating speakers like their pupils (like doctors, professors, etc giving “feedback” to a talk in the audience and just let speakers know what they did wrong to level out theirselves), food, registration, etc.
My baby: PUBKON
I made PUBKON 2015 happen (a publishing / InDesign event I’ve done for 5 years now) with my team of three organizers and it was a success, although I can see a clear difference between designers/publishers and web development and its interest in attending events. The hardest struggle for us besides selling enought tickets was to find new content and new speakers for the event as it’s in German language and a 2-track conference featuring 20 speakers but somehow we managed to find new people (Call for Papers, hours of research). We also managed to get more diversity in our speaker line-up but it still was not ideal (of 20 speakers we had only 5 women, no other ethnical type than Germans), but our audience again had about 50/50 men/women share which was amazing. In 2015, we concluded the event series and decided to not do it again in the near future. I’m quite happy and sad at the same time about this. Happy because I think it was the right time to do so after four successful events and I think events do not need to stay around forever. Sad because it’s a huge part of my spare time I invested into this and the main reason for not doing it again was that each year we massively struggled to sell enough tickets to not loose money with the event despite the fact that no one of us was earning money for the work on it. Thanks for all who were involved into the events so far, thanks so much for all the attendees who loved the event and I hope to meet at least some of you again somewhere else. Cheers!
My baby No. 2: NightlyBuild
I made NightlyBuild 2015 happen with my team of five and it was a huge success. We had three out of four talks held by women, had a strong topic focus on “work efficient, live your life” and got rewarded for that by the attendees. I learned a lot on organizing low-budget events (tickets are 49EUR) and from what people said, it’s possible to make it a great experience.
One thing that bothers me: We wanted to support people who can’t afford tickets by giving them even cheaper ones (25EUR). For that they should simply send us a reason why they need it. We wanted to give away 10-15 tickets but got only three applications and one of them actually purchased his granted ticket finally. I was very disappointed to see that as I believe there are many people (students, jobless people) who would’ve profited from that. So if anyone knows how to improve this, I’m happy to get suggestions.
“sponsored diversity scholarship at Web Directions by John Allsopp which is a sponsored scholarship donated by sponsors to enable people from different background to join an event, including travel costs and accommodation and the conference ticket.”
Maybe it’s indeed needed that if you offer a diversity ticket, travel and accommodation is needed as well? That’s definitely also something to consider.
I also spent a lot more time than before into researching what one could improve at events to make them more personal, more memorable, more cost-effective, easier and more comfortable to attend for people.
I learned that many people want conferences to be more sustainable (by gathering feedback on my events and seeing twitter timelines, feedback for other conferences) in terms of “please avoid unnecessary waste / please try to get materials from sustainable sources / ethically fair produced products”. I agree with that and this will actually my goal for the next year to figure out how to do that the best way without upsetting partners/sponsors.
I summarized a gist by Kristian Glass gathering user stories around conferences. You can get the curated, summarized and sorted version here: Conference User Stories.