I recently participated in the Oracle Developer Community Yatra tour throughout India. It is a hectic event with 7 cities covered in a mere 9 days, so you can imagine how frantic the pace was. A typical day would be:
- 7am – breakfast
- 8am – check out of hotel and leave for the venue
- 9am – speak all day, host Q&A
- 6pm – leave straight from venue to the airport
- 8pm – dinner at airport, and fly to next city
- 1am – get to next hotel, grab some sleep before doing it all again in 6 hours time
Yet as a speaker in this event, it never felt that the logistics of the event were out of control. This is mainly due to the incredible work of the people in the AIOUG (All India Oracle User Group) coordinated by Sai Penumuru. The smoothness of the organization prompted me to blog about how user groups could follow the AIOUG lead in terms of running successful events.
Every time I do an event in India, not only do I come away with a stronger network and connection with the attendees, I also gain new and strong friendships with the speakers and this is in no small part due to organizational skills of Sai and the volunteers.
So from that reference point – namely, the smart way in which Sai and the user group foster a great feeling of community amongst the speakers, I thought I’d share the mechanisms via which user groups can organize events that make speakers feel welcome and keen to return.
When I travel to India, Sai provides a recommended hotel for all speakers. Obviously, no speaker is compelled to stay there, but we all know that the recommendation Sai makes has taken in account:
- facilities the hotel provides,
- hotel price to find a balance for speakers either having company funding or funding themselves,
- transport time to/from the conference venue.
So most of us will always use his recommendation, and it makes the decision making process easy. But most of all, it is a catalyst for speakers to meet in a casual environment outside the conference hours, and build relationships.
The AIOUG organizes transport to and from the venue, and from the airport as well. And for when this is not possible, they will provide a recommended transport means (such as Uber etc) so that speakers never have the risk of picking an unreliable or unsafe transport option. For multi-city events such as Yatra, the AIOUG also recommends common itinerary for flights, once again making the entire planning process much easier for speakers.
A communication mechanism
Before a conference, AIOUG sets up a Whatsapp group containing all of the speakers, and the key representatives from the user group. In this way, all communication is sent in a consistent fashion. We don’t have to jump between email, twitter, etc to see if any correspondence has been missed. And this group also helps build the relationship between speakers and user group. Humourous stories and pictures can be shared, but most importantly, if there is an issue or problem – everyone is aware of it immediately, making resolution is fast and effective.
And perhaps most importantly, it helps accentuate the human element – messages are sent as people land or takeoff, and when people arrive at the hotel. Organizers regularly send messages making sure no-one is having any difficulties. All these things make the speakers feel more comfortable before, during and after the event.
A typical day
Perhaps the most valuable piece of information that is conveyed by the user group is ‘local knowledge’. For example, each evening a whatsapp message would be sent out detailing
- hotel pickup time,
- expected transit time,
- who to contact/what to do when arriving at venue,
- what identification requirements may be needed on site
So even though it may be a first visit to a city for the speakers, there is a degree of familiarity with what is expected to happen, and hence knowledge of whether things are departing from the norm.
The most stressful 5 minutes for any speaker is the time they are setting up for their talk. Making sure projectors work, internet connectivity, schedule changes etc – are all things that can sabotage a good talk for a speaker. The AIOUG always has someone visit the room in that critical 5 minutes, so a speaker does not have to go hunting for technical assistance.
In summary, as you can see, none of these things are particular arduous to do, but the benefits are huge for speakers. We feel comfortable and welcome, which means a much better chance of a successful talks, and makes us much more likely to want to return.
So if you are reading this, and are part of a user group committee, please consider some of the tips above for your local events. If your speakers have a good experience, they’ll be much more keen to offer continued support for your events.