Organizing a SharePoint Saturday – Promotional materials

All the posts in the Organizing a SharePoint Saturday series:
Organizing a SharePoint Saturday – My Experience
Picking a Venue and Date
Picking Speakers
Managing Sponsors
Getting Help and Communication Methods
Event Week
After Event Follow-up

Website

After picking a date, my next step is to request a site be created on the SPS Events website. This is the main hub of communication. I put all information for the event on the website and then all subsequent communication for the event will point back to this site. To make it easy for me to include the URL of the site in promotional materials, I purchased a custom domain name for the event, SPSNashville.org and then forwarded the domain to the site being hosted on the SPS Events site. This allows me to quickly communicate how people can find information and gives the event a professional feel. The custom domain name is not necessary, but I am very glad we have it.

Event Registration Website

I use the Eventbrite website for attendee registration. This allows for attendees to cancel their reservation if they can’t come and will send them a reminder a couple days before the event. The Eventbrite service also has a mobile app that allows for easy check-in the day of – you can either find the attendee by last name (surname) or use your mobile device’s camera to scan the bar-code on their ticket.

The site also has the ability to export attendee information, so it is easy to make nametags, send sponsors information about attendees who opted-in for sharing, and to gain insights on attendees by allowing you to ask them questions on their job role and work environment.

Other Services

In addition to the main website, I also create a Facebook page and Twitter account. I use these two services to communicate short messages but always point people back to the main website.

I use Twitter for reminders on the Call for Speakers, the Call for Sponsors, building anticipation for the date announcement, and interacting with people who may have questions. It is also the easiest method to reach out to potential speakers and sponsors that you might not be able to reach otherwise. You can schedule tweets to be sent in the future – I use Hootsuite – and I schedule tweets I know I will be important. For instance, I will schedule tweets to be sent out a week prior, a day prior, and the last day of the Call for Speakers. I will also schedule tweets to be sent out occasionally during the period before the event to encourage everyone to promote the SPS. Lastly, I schedule tweets right before the event to help communicate important topics to attendees such as where to park at the event, don’t forget to bring your entry ticket, and remember to visit our great sponsors!

I use Facebook to give more details on announcements – a good example of this is once we have sessions picked out, we will make a post about each session with the speakers name. This way the speaker can share that post via their own Facebook, Twitter, or other service. We also will interact with any potential attendees if there are questions or comments. I have also paid to “boost” posts in Facebook – this can be done for as little as $10, but it can be tricky to use this effectively. You can target your promoted post based on geography and other factors, but I haven’t noticed an increase in attendance due to paying Facebook. Use this, and other types of ad-type posts on any service, with caution as you could be wasting money.

Announcing the Date

Once I have the site created and customized exactly how I want it, including the event information, speaker material (telling potential speakers what type of sessions we are looking for), and sponsor information, I announce the date to the world using the main website, Twitter, Facebook, local LinkedIn groups, and email.

Groups to reach

In announcing the date, I reach out to the following groups:

  • Previous speakers – send a group email making sure to use blind carbon copy (BCC)
    • If I picked them before, I want to give them opportunity to submit again
  • Previous sponsors – another group email
    • Sponsors who are willing to be part of the community will often participate again
  • Companies who have sponsored the local user group or have expressed interest in sponsoring
  • Local SharePoint / Office 365 user group
  • Other local technology groups – .NET user group, tech council, SQL user group

Signs, Banners, and Printed Materials

Lawn signs are needed to help attendees navigate the challenge of finding parking and getting to the building where the event takes place. I use Vistaprint to create basic signs with the logo of the event and room for me to manually draw an arrow pointing to the building. Don’t put the date on the signs and you can use them year after year.

I order a couple banners to have at the registration / check-in desk. The banners have the event logo and the logos of the sponsors that are gold-level and higher. Banners aren’t required, but are a nice touch and relay the message to sponsors that they are important. I use Vistaprint for the banners and I have been very pleased with the quality.

I used a local printing company for printed schedules in the past and put sponsor logos on the back of the heavy paper stock guides. However, last year I used a shared Microsoft OneNote file that included everything the printed schedules included plus all the speaker biographies, session explanations, building maps, and sponsor descriptions. It is easy to update – sometimes you have to make session changes during the day of the event. There are web services that can provide a mobile or computer app for attendees to build their schedule and keep track of feedback. These services, such as Guidebook, aren’t always free, so you will need to evaluate if the cost is worth the benefit.

I will most likely stick with an electronic form of the schedule in the future, mostly due to the flexibility of making last-minute updates. This past year there were complaints voiced by two or three attendees who hadn’t read the 10 emails that clearly stated the schedule was electronic and to plan accordingly. I had also supplied a PDF copy of the schedule for people to print and bring with them to the event, but reading the emails would have been required to know that as well.

IT Pro Con NY 2016

On March 25th 2016, I will be speaking at IT Pro Con NY (formally known as “New York City Techstravaganza”) and I’m thrilled to be a part of the event! The content tracks include Azure, Exchange, PowerShell, Windows, and SharePoint. My session will cover best practices for SQL Server when it is used for SharePoint and will include a live SharePoint Server 2016 Release Candidate install!

If you will be in NYC and would like to get some awesome free training, then this is the event for you! Hope to see you there!

[UPDATE]
As it turns out, I presented two sessions at ITProConNY!

Building SharePoint Solutions with Out of the Box Features and No Code

Thank you everyone for coming out to my no-code presentation. Slides: Out of the Box SharePoint Solutions ITProConNY 2016

Tuning SQL Server for SharePoint

This afternoon: Tuning SQL for SharePoint ITProConNY 2016

Organizing a SharePoint Saturday – Picking a Venue and Date

All the posts in the Organizing a SharePoint Saturday series:
Organizing a SharePoint Saturday – My Experience
Promotional materials
Picking Speakers
Managing Sponsors
Getting Help and Communication Methods
Event Week
After Event Follow-up

In my experience, picking the “right” venue and event date is of utmost importance. There really isn’t a one size fits all rule for when and where a city’s SPS event should take place. Being a part of the local community and knowing the area is a key ingredient to setting yourself up for success.

Venue

Selecting a venue can be a tough decision and this year was no exception. Choosing a place with convenient access and entertainment options nearby can be an advantage. The previous two years SPS Nashville was held at a university close to downtown. The location made it easy for attendees and speakers to get to from the airport and also provided easy access to the local music scene, for which Nashville – Music City – is known.

The location must have enough rooms with sufficient seating for your sessions and be equipped with the appropriate technology to make presentations easy, such as a projector and screen. You will most likely need an area to have the registration/check-in table, an area for your sponsors to setup advertising/tables, and a place to serve food.




A great place to start looking is at universities, then move on to large businesses with enough conference rooms (this includes your local Microsoft office if you have one) and then finally with conference centers. I base this on two major factors: 1) cost and 2) flexibility. For cost, typically no one can beat the price a university will charge. This is because they are excited to have community events that expose working professionals to the educational opportunities the university can provide. Some universities may not have state-of-the-art technology for hosting an event (e.g. high-resolution projectors) while others may be leading-edge. Depending on the technology your local university has will be a factor in the fee they are able to charge – I recommend visiting the university to check it out for yourself. A critical point here is to use your sponsors’ money efficiently; it might be necessary to choose the lowest-cost venue option and not get everything on your venue wish list.

Universities can also be a great option for flexibility in dates as most campuses are not as active on Saturdays as they are during the week. Beware this can cause logistical problems as well. For instance, the campus mail center may not open on weekends. If your sponsors want to mail booth materials to the venue, they need to have it delivered during the week and a university representative will need to pick it up before Saturday.

You will need to contact your venue early in the planning phase – I have found 5-6 months is a good time-frame. This is usually the advance time facilities need for scheduling events while still getting you in early on the booking process. This time-frame will vary widely between cities and getting familiar with the event scene in your area is important. The timing also depends on your chosen venue – convention centers may schedule events a year or more out, so make sure you check with each venue for the advance notice they will require.

Date

Many factors play into picking your event’s date and your chosen date can also drive which venue you pick. My process for picking a date goes something like this:

  • I check my calendar – at this point in the process, the main organizer must be able to attend! Make sure there are no weddings, vacations, work trips.
  • Are there any other SPS events scheduled within 300 miles or so? If so, you probably want to change your date so you won’t be competing for speakers, sponsors, and attendees. Ideally, your event will be the only SPS in your region / country on that date.
    • Check the SPS website for other event dates http://www.SPSEvents.org
      • Some cities don’t list their events on the SPS Events site unfortunately.
  • Check for major events in your area – for instance: a major sporting event or a festival.
    • My first year, a college basketball tournament was taking place in town. It made finding an after-party location difficult.
  • Check the calendars for the public schools in your area – all of them. If schools are out on a break, there can be low attendee turn-out due to people traveling or spending time with their family.
  • Generally avoid holidays and the summer months for the same reasons as above.
  • Make sure you give yourself enough time before the event date – in my experience the minimum amount of time is 3 months, but the more time you have, the more planning and promotion you can do.

This year, I had a date picked and was on the verge of reserving the venue when I got word from a friend that one of the largest SPS events in the country had picked the same weekend. I could have moved forward with the date – the other event was far enough way geographically (over 12 hour drive), but I would be competing for high-quality speakers and sponsors who typically attend the large event. I decided to change my date, but my preferred venue was not available. It took an extra couple weeks to get another venue picked and confirmed, but I am confident it was worth it.

Organizing a SharePoint Saturday – My Experience

This year I am organizing my third SharePoint Saturday (SPS) event for Nashville. SPS events are a FREE one-day conference held in different cities around the world, featuring sessions from influential and respected SharePoint and Office 365 professionals.  This is the first in a series of posts about planning a technology event based on my past experiences.  This series is not intended as a “one size fits all” guide, but rather some helpful information for other organizers to use when planning their own events.

My journey to becoming an SPS organizer started in 2008 when I learned of a meeting being organized by the local Microsoft office. The purpose of the meeting was to kick-off a SharePoint User Group and afterwards I attended a meeting of those interested in being on the organizing committee. This was my first taste of “technology community” and it was awesome! SharePoint administrators, developers, business users and decision makers meeting and discussing new features, issues, and helping each other – it was a lot of fun and planted the seed of building community.

In 2013 I began looking into what it meant to be a technology event organizer. I was leading the Nashville SharePoint Users Group and from that experience, I had learned a lot about communicating with speakers, sponsors, and venues. I connected with the SQL Saturday (SQLSat) local organizer, Tamera Clark, and attended the Nashville SQLSat event in 2014 to get a behind-the-scenes look at a Saturday event. I jumped in to help and got a great feel for both what happens the day of a Saturday conference as well as how the venue worked for the event.  In fact, based on my experiences that day I chose the same venue (Lipscomb University)  for the first SPS Nashville event.

That same year, I attended the SPS Huntsville event and learned a lot about running an SPS event from Cathy Dew and Lori Gowin. There were some major differences between a SQLSat and SPS event – I won’t dive into them in this post, but it is good to know what the core fundamentals are and where there might be some flexibility in making the event your own.

Thankfully, the SPS organization asked someone to help me with my first event – someone to help guide me through the “tricky waters” of organizing an SPS event. That help came from Cathy Dew, who is a pro at this from the organizing and speaking side. She is the reason SPS Nashville 2014 was a success and in doing so, is a major reason the SPS events in Nashville continue.

In the upcoming posts in this series, I will offer details and share my experiences in the following areas:

If you see anything missing on the list or would like something specific covered, please let me know! Also, if you would like to give some commentary to be included in a post, I would love to hear it!

[More to come]