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