The Definitive Guide to a Successful DrupalCamp

Welcome to the world of conference creation --- a challenge of organizing, coordinating and planning. A lot of work leading up to just a few days of intense emotions. I'm glad you've decided to take on this challenge and I hope the conference creation experience will be as rewarding for you as mine have been. This guide was written with the intent of helping you make your conference a blast and a source of fun and excitement for organizers as well as attendees.

This guide is meant to complement some of the handbooks, manuals and guides that are already out there such as this one and this one. If you like it, please comment. Likewise, if you have questions, feel to post them in the comments section below.

Background

The first camp I initiated and co-organized was back in 2009. DrupalCamp Stockholm in May of 2009 was born out of a desire to further strengthen the local Drupal community and creating a space for people new to Drupal to see what it's all about.

We had a vague idea what we were doing. We did what we saw was needed to be done and took cues and tried to emulate what we thought a good conference should be about. The conference was a success and spurred by that initial achievement, we organized more. So far I've been involved in five Drupal conferences, ranging from 80 to 300 attendees.

Throughout these years I've learned a lot about what's a good idea to do and what isn't. I've kept it as notes, check lists, plans, schedules and just plain text. This guide is heavily based on those lessons and all the camps that came before.

This book is divided into chapters covering what I consider to be the most essential work needed to be done for a camp to be a success. In these chapters, my goal has been to include as many ideas, tips and advice as possible to enable you to make the best possible decisions. The order of the chapters doesn't mirror the order in which you plan and execute a conference and shouldn't be read "as you go." I recommend instead that you read the whole guide before starting organizing your camp.


To begin with

As you know, organizing a camp is a big undertaking. A lot of thinking needs to go into what it should be like. So before you rush ahead with creating its website or booking a venue, spend some time to reflect over some common foundational assumptions.

Decide if a camp is the best format for your event

Before you start organizing a camp specifically, think for a minute about whether a camp serves the purpose best. After all, you are organizing this event for a reason. Maybe a Drupal user group meet up serves that goal better.

Also, with the purpose in mind, set your level of ambition so you can plan the effort and be prepared for the work ahead. A camp doesn't necessarily have to have a ready speaker list, lunch, swag bag and a party. It depends entirely on the purpose of your camp, your target group, possibilities to find sponsors and your attendees' expectations and willingness to pay.

I will address each of these but before we get to that, start by answering these questions to the best of your knowledge, and where you don't know, guess. A guess can always be adjusted as you learn more. Think about format, scope and purpose of your event:

  • How many people are likely interested in attending this event?
  • How long will the event be and where will it be held? If less than a full day, you can do without the overhead of organizing a full camp. I will discuss the pros and cons of weekdays vs weekends later on.
  • Does the audience expect perks like lunch and coffee?
  • Is the audience prepared to pay to attend? If they aren't, you need to keep costs down and it might therefore be wise to make a small scale event.
  • Do you want to plan a schedule or do you want to do it "open space" or "barcamp style"? A fully planned and schedule event is a beast. In recent years, more agile and flexible conference formats have become popular. At these events, the schedule isn't fixed but set on site and content is provided by the attendees. Sometimes without much planning. The quality can differ a lot, but if the conference is held on a weekend, the opportunity cost for attendees is low and expectations likewise.
  • Do you plan to invite speakers, and if so, are they coming from far away and need to have traveling costs reimbursed? I've always liked it when we can bring in speakers from abroad. Drupal is an international community. Thanks to the generous culture of Drupal, speakers don't expect to be paid to speak per se, but you should compensate them for traveling costs.

Deciding on a date

Everything begins with a date. Well it's true for marriages and conference, at least.

Setting a date marks the beginning of much of the work. As soon as you have set the date, you can start talking about the camp and people can mark the dates in their calendars.

How to avoid conflicting dates

Finding dates can be tricky as there are always a lot of conferences going on. What you need to consider is whether there's a scheduling conflict for your selected target group. Many conferences recur on the same dates year after year which makes planning easier. Always allow a buffer so that people can travel between camps.

Camps have started to overlap a lot recently, even on a regional level. If you're a camp buff like me, you would rather not have to choose one or the other. Try to avoid overlap and conflicting dates if possible.

Here are some ways you can find out about other camps and conferences that you need take into account:

  • For DrupalCamps in the world, see the DrupalCamps Calendar.
  • Check out websites for trade magazines targeting the same group as you. These websites often feature calendars that list conferences.
  • Google for the dates you have in mind and see what pops up.
  • Ask someone who goes to a lot of conferences and works in the field. Perhaps there's a blogger who covers it and knows about all the recurring conferences and trade shows.
  • Put the date out in a small group to test whether there are any conflicts.

Weekends or weekdays?

Finally, will your camp be on a weekend? This depends on your target group. We've tried both, and even Friday-Saturday combos for our two day camps. In the end, we settled with Friday for our last one day camp. There were some complaints from hobbyists who wouldn't be able to get time off from work. We have in the past tried to cater to this group's needs and planned the event for Saturday but the group has turned out to be smaller than we expected. In fact, looking back our opinion was that more people were excluded and unable to attend on Saturdays compared to Fridays. You can use the personas (see Target Group) in the process of making this decision.

How far ahead?

We've organized camps with two months of planning and it's worked. Best is somewhere between four to eight months. That doesn't mean eight months of intense work but the sooner you can book the venue, the better. Once you have the venue, make a simple website with the date, a way for people to sign up to receive updates (a mailing list for example). Once that's done you can continue with the rest of the preparations such as getting speakers, sponsors and working on the real website.

Defining the target group

Your attendees make the event. Understanding who they are will help you make decisions regarding session content, website design and content, marketing channels and estimating the size of the audience and expected number of attendees.

We tend to be a bit insular in the world of Drupal and it's partly a good thing as it reinforces our shared values and culture, but it may seem a bit cultish to those outside. It also creates a culture of looking for solutions inside our little group, and not elsewhere. Opening up your event to others brings in new ideas and viewpoints. I recommend you try to make your event as open as possible by inviting a competing interest group, or your employer's customers, or a local politician.

Creating and using personas

One of the best ways to understand your audience is through writing a persona. A persona is a generic description of a typical attendee. It should be relatable and realistic and consist of a number of concrete facts about the person. Consider people you know and who you'd like to come and attend and use them as model for your persona. Then create a fictional character based on them by:

  • Describing the person's interests
  • Describing age and location
  • Describe how the person spends his/her days, evenings, holidays and weekends
  • Define where in life the person is (single, married, has kids, retired)
  • Describe the person's knowledge level of Drupal, web design and development
  • List expectations this person would have of your event
  • Consider what you want your event to inspire the person to do after having attended it

Once this persona is in place, you can make almost every subsequent decision with this person in mind: Would this person like this design? Would this person know what JavaScript is? Would this person be willing to pay to attend, and if so, how much?


Plan and organize

The success of any event depends largely on the quality of the planning and the work leading up to it. Starting early and having a plan is crucial to giving your event the best possible chance to be a success.

Areas of responsibility

Most conferences are organized by teams or groups of people. In our case, it's a group of enthusiasts and volunteers. We are people who are motivated by doing work that's fun, meaningful and rewarding. Ideally, so is your group. However people are motivated by different things and people who are motivated by the wrong things or desire to exert control may turn out to be more of a burden than an asset to a project like this.

A good way to set expectations and to create the best possible circumstances for the team to have fun and to succeed is to define areas of responsibility. Without these, you run the risk of some people challenging every decision. They often do it out of a desire to ensure the conference is the best it could possibly be, but the outcome is often detrimental to the work effort.

Also, by giving people clear responsibilities, you allow people to feel trusted and take pride in what they do, knowing you trust each other to make the right decisions. Being allowed autonomy is extremely motivating for someone. It's no longer everyone's job to supervise what everyone does. Instead, everyone is responsible for the results of their efforts but those results are discussed at set times according to the project plan.

How to assign areas of responsibility

We have successfully based our responsibility assignments on a document with an outline of all work needing to be done over the course of the project. The document lists areas and tasks within that area. Tasks are:

  • Described exhaustively so that the document covers everything that's needed to be done.
  • Explained so that anyone new to the project can read the document to learn how to do that particular task.
  • Written clearly in order to avoid misunderstandings and clarify who is responsible for what and under what circumstances.

The document outline is as follows:

Attendees

  • Invite attendees
  • Be the contact person for attendees
  • Handle registration at the venue
  • Organize social events in conjunction with the conference

Program, content and speakers

  • Create a speaker list

  • Make a selection of sessions from the ones submitted

  • Communicate with speakers
  • Inform speakers of relevant details and information prior to the conference
  • Create a program
  • Appoint a host
  • Decide on format and content

Venue and logistics

  • Book a venue
  • Act as contact to owner of venue
  • Order catering
  • Ensure that the restrictions regarding the use of the venue are respected and followed
  • Aid in serving food and drinks
  • Support attendees and help resolve practical matters (giving directions et c)

PR and sponsors

  • Create sponsorship packages
  • Selling sponsorships
  • Be the sponsor contact
  • Assist sponsors on site
  • Market the conference (contact media, manager Twitter, Facebook et c)

Website and graphic design

  • Create a visual profile (used for website, signage, templates et c)
  • Build the conference website
  • Create a website design based on the visual profile
  • Maintain the website technically
  • Keep the website updated and post news

Project management

  • Create a project plan
  • Call project members to meetings, create meeting agendas and lead meetings
  • Support and assist team members in their areas of responsibility
  • Write the final report with learnings from the conference

Every member of the project is assigned to an area or a series of tasks.

Why you need a project plan

Once you have assigned areas of responsibility to everyone involved, you need to plan when each task needs to be finished. Tasks often depend on each other. Hence the classic Gantt chart. But you won't need a fancy Gantt chart. A simple spreadsheet with rows for the areas of responsibility and the tasks and columns corresponding to weeks will do fine. Sometimes tasks consist of subtasks. Create this document together with the entire team at a meeting so everyone understands what work that needs to be done and who is doing what. This will avoid a lot of misunderstandings of the kind: "I thought you were taking care of that! (pointed finger)".

Sample project plan

Here's a simple example:

Nov 4-10 Nov 11-17 Nov 18-24 Nov 25 - Dec 1 Conference
Attendees
Invite attendees
Be the contact person for attendees
Handle registration at the venue X
Organize social events in conjunction with the conference
Program, content and speakers
Create a speaker list
Make a selection of sessions from the ones submitted
Communicate with speakers
Inform speakers of relevant details and information prior to the conference
Create a program
Appoint a host
Decide on format and content
Venue and logistics
Book a venue X
Act as contact to owner of venue
Order catering
Ensure that the restrictions regarding the use of the venue are respected and followed
Aid in serving food and drinks
Support attendees and help resolve practical matters (giving directions et c)
PR and sponsors
Create sponsorship packages X
Selling sponsorships X
Be the sponsor contact X X X
Assist sponsors on site X
Market the conference (contact media, manager Twitter, Facebook et c)
Website and graphic design
Create a visual profile (used for website, signage, templates et c) X X
Build the conference website X X X
Create a website design based on the visual profile X
Maintain the website technically
Keep the website updated and post news
Project management
Create a project plan X
Call project members to meetings, create meeting agendas and lead meetings
Support and assist team members in their areas of responsibility
Write the final report with learnings from the conference X

Why you need a project manager

Let's clarify: the project manager's job is not to manage.

Management is often about monitoring and control and will in a setting like this probably have the opposite effect to what you'd like to see happen. Instead, your project needs a facilitator who also has the authority to make final calls when the team cannot reach agreement. The person's primary responsibility is to remove all road blocks for the execution of the project.

This involves:

  • Staying in touch with team members between meetings to see if they need help or someone to bounce ideas with.

  • Be prepared to do uncomfortable things to make sure the conference happens, by that I mean fixing last minute emergencies and work the night to find an alternative venue when the one you chose burned down the day before the conference.

  • Having an overall understanding of the conference and be informed of what the team members are working on to be able to make decisions when the team is too divided to come to an agreement.

Without a project manager, you risk ending up with tasks that no one takes responsibility for. It's the project manager's responsibility to ensure things get done. Either by delegating, or failing that, stepping up themselves.

Effective meetings

A common mistake many make is they use meetings as a way to reach consensus rather than making decisions. If you haven't delegated the areas of responsibility clearly enough, your team members will not feel secure to make decisions without approval from everyone else on the team. This will lead to them bringing issues, small and large, to meetings to be discussed by everyone.

There's value in involving people because it's highly motivational and helps bring the team together. But too much communication risks hamstringing your project and slowing it down. It's important you make it clear that meetings are about informing and reporting. Only extremely critical decisions are to be made at meetings. Ideally the project manager checks in with every team member prior to the meeting and ask them if there's something they want to discuss. That is then added to the agenda and the project manager prioritizes it.

You do not need to keep frequent meetings. Early on meeting every two weeks will probably suffice. But as the conference draws nearer, it's wise to meet more often.

Meetings don't need to take place face to face. Skype and Google Hangout work well and combined with a web based issue tracker, allow people to participate remotely.

Some meeting guidelines:

  • Publish the agenda at least two working days before the meeting, including a deadline for input. If you are prepared to stick to the agenda in your meetings, this process will allow all to be involved, but will keep focus on preparing before the meeting and not after.
  • Inform the team that they need to tell the project manager about issues they want to discuss at the meeting.
  • Make sure everyone knows the project manager owns the meeting agenda and will prioritize issues according to what they judge to be most important.
  • Include a general status report from everyone involved. This is a great way to catch issues early on and being able to act proactively.
  • Each issue should be covered with a brief discussion to allow for asking clarifying questions followed by voting.
  • Timebox the meeting and give the project manager the authority to decide what to do about issues that there wasn't enough time for: they make the decision together with the team member raising it, or it's postponed for the next meeting or if it's urgent, a new meeting is announced.
  • Be very restrictive with agenda points like "other issues." These can easily be time sinks.
  • If possible, send out notes ahead to allow people a chance to read up on what will be discussed and given a chance to form an opinion beforehand.
  • Appoint someone who takes notes during the meeting. It's better to be verbose rather than strict when writing these. Use bullet points and pay attention to reflect the decision made as accurately as possible in the notes. Cover points made during discussion can be informative for those who read it later, but the actual decision is what needs to be reflected most accurately. Pay attention to listing the reasons given for the decision made.
  • Send out the notes after the meeting. If there are action points (task assignments), highlight them and the name of the person to remind the attendees of what is expected of them.

Use tools to keep status updates

In order to keep everyone in the team informed there are some web based tools you can use:

  • Trello, makes it super easy to create a scrum/kanban board for tracking issues that are being worked on. Be sure everyone understands how it is organized. Scrum boards have two axes usually: horizontal representing time or status (to do, doing, done) and vertical representing priority. But you might want to create a vertical columns (in Trello called "list") for each area of responsibility. This will let you show what's being worked on at the moment but not where things are in terms of degree of completion.

  • Google Docs/Drive, great way to create documents and spreadsheets to collaborate on. We've used Google Drive for meeting agenda, meeting notes, sponsor status, conference budget et c. An added benefit is that ability to download documents as files.

  • Podio, some people swear by it, I never really liked it. But it has some great features for modelling workflows and processes and if you already have a subscription, it could be a good choice.
  • Basecamp, simple yet does what it needs to do. It could work well for files and notes.
  • Dropbox, great for sharing files that everyone needs to have access to. It's worth noting that Google Drive also supports file syncing and works in a similar way.

Regardless of what service you use, think ahead a year and consider how you make your files and documents as reusable as possible. Next time you organize a conference you will want to reuse your old templates not having to write and create everything from scratch again.


Content, format and venue

DrupalCamps have traditionally been highly technical, focusing on topics like "the theme layer", "the new database class" and similar but this is changing. Take some time and consider what you want your conference to be like and find the format that fits your topic and target group best.

Deciding on conference content

When we organized DrupalCamp Stockholm we wanted to keep it open to more people, not just developers. As a result, we decided on offering a mix of topics, ranging from technology, to project management to usability and web strategy.

Here's a list of topics from our past events to serve as inspiration:

  • How to get involved in the Drupal community and start contributing
  • Public API's and what you can do with them
  • Usability advice and best practices
  • Visitor analytics --- what you can learn about your visitors based on analytics and patterns
  • How to measure the impact of using social media through tracking and analytics
  • Introduction to Symfony
  • Good practices when buying Drupal services
  • How to estimate Drupal projects
  • Applying agile practices at a Drupal shop
  • Drupal vs Wordpress

Refer to your personas when you decide what topics you think fits your conference best. What other tools have your intended audience likely worked with? Where are they in their learning curve? Are they only interested in technical talks or are they more interested in practical application and how Drupal can be an asset in their business or organization?

Also consider making a public poll and ask people about what content they'd like to see. The times we've done that it hasn't yielded much response. But attendees have been quick to point out afterwards what content they missed. I recommend doing both.

As I discussed earlier, DrupalCamps have many different forms. And you don't necessarily need to have a full day of planned sessions. You can mix and blend. If in doubt, go back to your personas and consider what your target group expects and would appreciate the most. The two most common are:

  • Planned schedule with tracks --- This is the "classic" conference format with set times and tracks dedicated to different topics. Each track is divided into slots with sessions.

  • Open space --- This format has a fixed matrix of time slots but no sessions are planned beforehand. Instead, planning is done first thing in the morning. All attendees can suggest topics. Similar topics are merged. If there are more topics than sessions, voting is used to select which ones get scheduled. These are then assigned slots. The sessions take the form of workshops where people who find that topic interesting can attend. Attendees are free to go and join sessions as they like (open doors).

Which one of these two that fits best depends on whether you want a conference about education or information, where subject experts share what they known in a distribution way. Or whether you want a conference around conversations where people meet and share ideas and experiences.

Don't forget to follow up on your format decisions by testing it with one of your personas. Will person Q find relevant topics throughout the conference? Will they find themselves choosing between two relevant topics at one time, then nothing for the next session period? Giving your format a logistical test is one very good way to give your participants an excellent experience at your camp.

Session formats

Almost all formats include sessions, and these can also have different formats.

  • Presentations (20 --- 60 minutes) --- The speaker/presenter communicates information to the audience, usually in the form of a talk supported by slides on a projected screen.

  • Panel (30 --- 60 minutes) --- A group of experts are on stage and a moderator leads a discussion. This format allows a great deal of audience interaction as questions can be more or less planned.

  • Lightning talk (5 --- 10 minutes) --- A short presentation that makes a strong case quickly. These are sometimes used when various viewpoints need to be presented as a starting point for a longer discussion. Proponents for each viewpoint hold short energizing talks to present their most persuasive arguments to the audience.

  • Workshop (30 --- 120 minutes) --- An interactive session for a smaller group of people with a clear purpose. The workshop is led by an organizer who has a workshop agenda and steers discussion. Workshops are often used in consulting sessions to help clients formalize and clarify various thoughts on topics and coming up with actionable plans. In Drupal, workshops are sometimes used to resolve uncertainty in its sub projects regarding what technology or solution to use. By setting a clear time limit, discussions are forced to be productive and help bring the group closer to a decision rather than muddying the waters even more.

  • BoF (birds of a feather) (30 --- 60 minutes) --- An adopted drupalism that's been around since... well the beginning of time. BoF's allow people with similar interests to meet and discuss in a structured or unstructured way. BoF's are usually planned in an open space format parallel to scheduled tracks at DrupalCon. These sessions are great for people who attend the conference with the goal of collaborating with others. Those who attend to learn and explore find these less helpful.

  • Open stage (30 --- 60 minutes) --- A combination of BoF and lightning talk, this session format allows anyone to take the stage to make a case or talk about something they find to be important or relevant. This can be highly entertaining, informative but also boring if the speaker is hard to understand or decides to talk about topics which aren't relevant to many.

  • Training (40 --- 60 minutes) --- A session with the express purpose of providing training for the attendees. These have a ready made course outline, and a defined topics as well as a list of things you will have learned after completing the session. If you want to include people who are new to Drupal, be sure to include a "Drupal Explained" training session which explains basic concepts and sparks the curiosity of the audience to learn more.

Finding a venue

Venues are as important as the attendee count. For that reason it's important you start looking for a venue as soon as you've set the date for the camp and have decided on the format. Popular venues get booked 12 to 24 months in advance.

Look beyond the obvious choices

When you compile a list of venues, consider venues which are less obvious, not just the highly advertised new convention center right smack in the center of town. Many DrupalCamps have been held at universities. Free or cheap venues usually impose restrictions however. Universities often require the event to be free and open, or at least free to the students at the university.

Hotels are usually good hosts in my opinion. They have the staff and capabilities to meet most of the event needs whether it be catering or assisting with the practical aspects.

Double check WiFi and PA

Certain things require extra attention such as Internet access and PA (microphones and speakers). Most venue staff and the people you will be talking to initially have no clue about these things and will promise high and deliver low. So don't settle for "it probably works". Make sure you talk to someone who knows what he or she is talking about and ask specific questions. If they cannot give you an answer, ask them when they can provide one. You will also probably have to pay for a technician associated with the venue to set up the equipment. But it's worth it.

Venues charge for everything they can, and this includes mixing tables and PA equipment. One microphone will likely be included per room. If you're planning a panel you will need to allow several microphones so that you can keep a dialog going on stage. Also, headset mikes are usually more appreciated by speakers as they leave your hands free to hold a presentation remote or use gestures to reinforce a message. If you plan to have someone introduce speakers, make sure to have one hand-held and one headset mike per session room.

If there's someone in your local community who is a performing musician, ask that person if he/she can be available to fix any issues that might occur. Mixing tables and speakers are far from trivial to fix so don't be an optimist. Non-working PA is a show stopper.

Get a feel for it

Before you make your decision it's important you visit the venue and get a feel for it. You usually don't need to spend more than fifteen minutes to get an impression. This is well spent time, trust me!

Here are some questions that will help you pick a venue:

  • What's the size of the venue and will it allow us to deal with a sudden unexpected success and getting more registrations than we initially expected?
  • Will the venue feel empty even if we only get half as many attendees as we hoped for? Good venues have plenty of space but feel personal regardless of the number of attendees.
  • What are the communications like --- is it easy to get to the venue?
  • Are there good restaurants, bars or hotels in the vicinity so that you can plan a party at a nearby bar, take speakers out for lunch and have good lodging available to attendees?
  • What time does the venue open and close?
  • Will foreign attendees have problems finding the venue?
  • Can the venue also host a party on the evening of the camp?
  • How much does it cost to keep open beyond the stated closing time?
  • Does the venue offer catering and is the price reasonable?
  • Does the venue permit you using catering from other companies?
  • Does the venue restrict you from providing refreshments or do we have to go through them for everything? Sometimes you cannot bring a few cans of water or soda for speakers yourself but must pay the venue's inflated prices instead.
  • Does the venue charge extra for WiFi? Is it easy to log on to the WiFi? Is the WiFi and Internet connection scaled to your needs? Can you pay to get extra capacity?
  • How much does it cost to hire a sound technician to set up PA?
  • What are their prices for additional microphones, tables, chairs, staff, refreshments et c? Get the whole price list and ask the venue or make a recommendation of what you need to buy based on a typical event. You will see that the cost to rent the place is 50% of the total cost. So don't go for the rent alone when picking a venue. Also, if they insist you need extra microphones, pay attention. Some of it is them trying to get addon sales, but some of it is good advice.
  • Do we need to clean and remove trash or does the venue take care of everything?
  • Will the venue let your sponsors come and view the venue prior to the camp?
  • Is the venue quick to answer your emails or calls? If they're slow, they'll likely be slow even after you've given them your money. Also, look out for their attitude and willingness to help.
  • Does the venue require money up-front or after the event? Your camp cashbox will probably be rather empty until the weeks before the event so plan your expenses.
  • How's lighting? Poor lighting is a factor when it comes to whether attendees will stay alert and focused.
  • How many sponsors are there room for who can set up booths?
  • Does the venue offer good spaces for sponsor booths, serving coffee, serving lunch, mingling, working, speaker green room and sessions?
  • Will the venue have staff on site all day to help?
  • Does the venue have flat screens or projectors which you can run a presentation with sponsor logos and other information on? We did at our last event and it added a highly professional feel to the event and it's a great way for you to offer sponsors more value.

Budget and pricing

The budget is your most important document in planning your conference. In order for the budget to be of any value it must be realistic and based on known figures. Lacking known figures, base it on projections. The projections you've made for sponsorships, the ticket prices, the number of attendees will serve as projections for earnings.

Sample budget

Here's a sample example we will we expanding on:

Item name Cost Each Cost Total Earning Each Earning Total Quantity Remark
Ticket (average price) €28/1.25 €6,720 300 €30 sales price, 25% sales tax.
Sponsorship €500 €1,500 3
€8,220

Creating a budget

I prefer keeping budgets simple and easy to read and I use one sheet and five columns:

  • Item name: This is the name of the item, keep it descriptive.
  • Cost Each: What each item will cost you (for example a lunch, as lunches are often sold by number of seats).
  • Cost Total: This is quantity multiplied by "each".
  • Earning Each: What each item will earn you. If you offer multiple versions (like full price and discounted tickets), you can make an average based on how many of each you expect to sell.
  • Earning Total: This is quantity multiplied by "each".
  • Quantity: The number of items.
  • Remark: Whether there's something to add or keep in mind

Fill in the information you've gathered so far. You may not yet know prices for food as they depend on catering and venue choice so leave the expenses out for now.

Earnings and costs

The budget should give a realistic overview of costs and earnings. It should assist you in answering question such as "how much money can we spend on the venue?" and "how much can we afford to pay for lunch?".

Your budget should balance, if not show earnings exceeding costs. I recommend you budget for a provision for future conferences and events. This allows you to make sound financial decisions and stay in the black. Set the provision to an amount you are comfortable with. As a rule of thumb, at least 10% of the total earnings of the conference.

Item name Cost Each Cost Total Earning Each Earning Total Quantity Remark
Ticket (average price) €28/1.25 €6,720 300 €30 sales price, 25% sales tax.
Sponsorships €500 €1,500 3
Lunch €15 €4,500 300
Venue €2,000 €2,000 1
Provision €1,500 €1,500 1
€8,000 €8,220

Sales tax

Keep in mind that while you likely will have to charge sales tax, this is handled separately in your accounts as any tax will be passed on and is not actual revenue. Hence, budget for the ticket price minus taxes. For example, if your ticket selling price is €20 and taxes are 10%, the price you need to keep in your budget sheet is the projected number of tickets sold times the price before taxes. The easiest way to do this is to divide by the tax percentage: 200 × €20/1.10 = €3636.36.

Similarly, you can likely deduct taxes for any costs incur such as rent of venue and catering. Deductability of taxes usually depends on what kind of organization you are. Tax laws are different in every country so if you're unsure, talk to an accountant or tax advisor.

The budget should also include expected earnings from sold sponsorships. The next section will discuss how to make this kind of forecast.

Ticket pricing

Pricing is, without exaggerating, one of the hardest and also most fascinating aspects of selling. For some interesting examples, see this article on pricing experiments.

In our case it gets easier as there's an expected price range for tickets which people are willing to pay. That range is more than zero and less than 10 lunches.

Something that makes it easier to keep the price down is that your business idea isn't in organizing conferences. The purpose of this camp is most likely creating an arena for the community to meet, offer a forum to learn and to help local Drupal businesses market themselves. Pricing becomes a matter of covering costs and influencing attendees' expectations on the camp.

When we consider ticket prices for conferences we need to keep some things in mind:

  • Ticket prices are usually not important, or not as important as you may think
  • The opportunity cost exceeds the ticket price by several factors

When I say that prices are "not important", I know it isn't true for everyone and there are limits. Different groups are more less price sensitive. A business letting its staff go will be most impacted by the opportunity cost of paying salary to people who could otherwise be billing time. Whether or not letting people attend will boil down to a return on invest calculation.

Individuals who pay out of their own pocket have no business interest in attending and will have other opportunity costs. The will weigh the price against things like dinners out or going to the cinema, or taking an evening course. In these cases, I believe it helps when the price can be justified as paying for the costs of food.

We have tried charging one lunch and also three lunches. In the first case, very little food was included. Just coffee and sandwiches. The second time, lunch was included as well as a small evening meal.

Why do I express price in number of lunches? Prices differ massively depending on where you live. A better reference I believe is the price of eating lunch at restaurant (in Sweden, generally 10 EUR or 13 USD). If you want to compare prices internationally, try the Big Mac Index (yes, it's for real).

Regardless of what you charge, bear in mind that there are pros and cons with both free-cheap and moderate-expensive pricing.

Free-cheap

Pros:

  • High availability and now threshold for anyone interested
  • Super simple administration as you do not need to collect payments
  • No risk that people feel you're potentially making money off something that's free

Cons:

  • People have very low expectations, expect your event to be poorly organized and will likely not prioritize your event
  • There's a huge risk of no show, sometimes as much as 50%. That is half of those who have signed up do not show up. This means waste of time and swag, food and more.
  • You need to rely solely on sponsors for your event, making you dependent on commercial interests
  • Speakers may put in less of an effort feeling the audience doesn't expect too much

Moderate-expensive

Pros:

  • Your event will be considered more valuable than if it were free
  • You got more sources of income than just sponsors, and therefore more freedom and less dependence on staying on the good side of your sponsors
  • Speakers may feel there are considerable expectations and put in an effort to do a good job, prepare well and make sure their performance is the best they can do

Cons:

  • The price tag will exclude some if it's too high (but you can always offered targeted discounts, see next section)

Targeted discounts

If you want to keep up the price but still keep the event available, you can offer targeted discounts. A common example is to offer lower prices to students. We've also experimented with offering this to Drupal community members (anyone with a drupal.org account). Regardless of what you do, make sure it's clear whois eligible for it so base it on something that's objectively measurable.

In both cases, if the discount is substantial there's always a risk of less honest people cheating. Verifying whether someone is eligible for a discount will consume time and effort. If the discount doesn't prove too popular it may still be worth the effort.

Students usually have a student ID so an easy way to offer discounts is to require them to bring the ID when they check in. If you want to reward people who contribute to Drupal, you can require that they have had user accounts at drupal.org for at least a year and made contributions (posted in forums, posted patches, commented) during that period. It will take some research to determine whether someone is eligible but it's not impossible.

At the last camp we set up a special email account (student@drupalcamp.se). Sending an email there resulted in an automated response that explained who was eligible. This way we could tell students to send an email to learn more about the discount. This made it easy to get the message out on Twitter and elsewhere.

Be clear about taxes

On the registration page and in the confirmation email sent to users after signing up, make sure VAT and other applicable taxes are stated. This serves as a receipt for business for whom this is a tax deductible expense.

Bottom line

When deciding on price, imagine what your persona would be willing to pay. What is his/her opportunity cost?

All in all, I believe a reasonable price is better than free. Make also sure you offer something substantial like lunch and few will feel they're paying too much. No-show is frustrating and can also be demoralizing as you put down so much work without people seemingly noticing. Even with pricing around four lunches, no show will be around 10%. This is unavoidable but it also means you can predict it and oversell, selling more tickets than the number of seats available.

Projecting the number of attendees

Time to bring out the crystal ball! No planning can be done without making some basic assumptions. In this case you need to use what you know to make educated guesses regarding:

  • The expected number of attendees
  • The amount of money you can raise from sponsors

The reason you need these numbers is to be able to pick a suitable venue that seats enough people and is within your budget.

Expected number of attendees

Attendees will make or break the camp. For that reason, it's important to be realistic when assessing the size of the audience.

One way to do this is to estimate the size of your local community. These are people you can easily reach out to and who will actively find out information about your conference. The size of your community can be estimated based on:

  • If there's a local group on groups.drupal.org, look at how many attendees there are and how many that are actively discussing, posting and answering questions.
  • Check how many people on drupal.org live in your country (unfortunately there's no field for state or region). Here's the list of people in Italy.
  • Look back at previous meet ups and count the number of attendees. At DrupalCamp Wroclaw, the organizers took detailed notes of the number of people attending each session and track. This will be very useful when they're estimating for future camps.

It's better to be pessimistic rather than optimistic when estimating these numbers. A sold out event is a sign will be seen as a sign success and energize your community and communicate that Drupal is a strong contender on the local CMS/CMF market. A half full event or one that is canceled due to lack of registrations, will be weighted against Drupal and can turn out to be a setback for the local community's morale.


Sponsors

A camp serves many purposes. The one that usually comes to mind first is to give people in the local community a chance to meet and learn. But camps also serve the local Drupal businesses, whether they are Drupal shops, hosting companies, advertising agencies or consultancies. These need ways to recruit staff and find new customers. For that reason, sponsorships aren't just about bringing in money to make an event possible, but also providing a unique service and marketing channel to these companies.

In the past years I've been the sponsorship manager and sold sponsorships for several of our camps. In that timeframe I've learnt a great deal about how to find sponsors and also created templates for things like a prospectus and sponsorship packages. I've also collected a lists of contacts. Thanks to all this, finding sponsors requires less and less effort every time we organize a camp. If finding sponsors seems like a daunting task now, remember that every effort you put in now will save you time in the future.

The core in your sponsorship offer is the visibility you're providing sponsors. Like I said earlier, selling sponsorships is a form av audience aggregation. You're a middle man, connecting businesses to attendees and also to other businesses. How effective that connection is depends on how visible a company is allowed to be. Because of this, sponsorships are usually tiered and offered at different levels. Higher visibility means a higher price. You have probably seen sponsorships offered at silver, gold and platinum levels. Each level offers a degree of visibility and also has a restriction so that it doesn't get too diluted. High level tiers are usually only available to one or two sponsors to keep them exclusive and valuable.

One of the first things you have to do is to define these levels or packages, write a prospectus that describes the packages in a clear way and then finally finding and negotiating with the sponsors. In this section, I will cover how that's done.

Sponsorship packages

Three.

That's usually all you need.

Besides the fact that three is a magical number, there are practical reasons for offering three levels (also called 'packages') to company sponsors. Offering three levels allows you to offer enough variation to give the buyers a sense of having options which will help them choose. It also allows you to take advantage of something called 'decoy pricing'. Offering too many options risks confusing buyers. Three is the optimal number in my experience,.

When naming levels, makes sure you do not use words from the absolute end of a span. If you name your levels "gold, platinum and diamond" there won't be room to add another premium level in the future. You will want to keep package offerings more or less the same over the years yet allow room to add premium and basic packages if need be.

Maximize the value you can offer sponsors

What differentiates one tier from another is:

  • Contribution --- how much a sponsor contributes (pays) for this level. We will discuss this next.
  • Restrictions --- how many sponsors are allowed at this level, this creates artificial scarcity and also prevents the exposure value being diluted as sponsors won't have to compete for attention. But it will also be a necessity if your packages offer physical representation and booth space as your venue has limited exposition space. The higher the level, the higher the restriction. A top tier level such as "platinum" usually only allows one or two sponsors. A basic level like "silver" that does not offer booth space in the expo room can allow an infinite number.
  • Perks - such as complimentary tickets, a way for the sponsor to offset some of the cost of letting staff attend, yet again the opportunity cost is usually much higher than the ticket cost so this is mostly symbolic.
  • Visibility --- this is the value the sponsor pays for and it's the topic of this section.

Ways to offer value and visibility

The immediate form of visibility that comes to mind is probably having the sponsors' logos displayed on the camp's website. We've seen this done countless times. But there are so many other ways to give your sponsors visibility, ranging from the tasteful and sublime to the annoyingly in-your-face.

Type of visibility Pros Cons Effort Remark
Logo on website Easy to implement. Extra design work to make sure the website design has space for logos. Relatively low. This is so common every sponsor will expect it, so offered it at different levels but differentiate with different sizes and more or less favorable placement.
Logo in emails Highly visible if placed high up in the email. Takes more work than adding logos to the website. Higher than average since you need to design the emails. Use a service like MailChimp to email attendees, it will make this easier.
Logo on signage or rollups High visibility, looks professional. Requires that you design, order and budget for signage. I've tried to minimize print products because of cost and environment. This offering closes the second you submit your designs to the printer. Relatively expensive. Use a rollup firm and reuse the rollups, only replacing the actual film.
Logo on printed schedule High visibility, looks professional. Requires print material which is static and takes time to design, order and distribute. Moderate, part of designing the schedule/program guide.
Logo on lanyard Very high visibility. Looks professional. Waste of resources as lanyards are usually discarded afterwards. Environmentally irresponsible. Medium. Most companies that make customized lanyards let you upload a monochrome logo as an EPS or AI file.
Sponsor-named rooms Very high visibility. Common professional conference practice. Attendees may get confused which room is which since sponsor names are more confusing than calling them "small" or "large". Very small effort save for making a venue map for the site and printing signs with room names.
Logos on venue screens Moderate visibility but looks very professional. Takes time to prepare and exporting as video files. Medium. Easy if you're good at Keynote or Powerpoint. Make sure you know what format the venue accepts. If unsure, export as 1080p video file to YouTube. That lets them play the presentation using a browser.
Exposition booth space High visibility and highly appreciated by sponsors as it allows them to interact with attendees. Takes more planning and puts restrictions on the choice of venue, placement of tables and allowing for time for sponsors to arrive, set up their gear and tear it down at the end of the day. High effort as it requires planning, communication and spending time on site to guide and support sponsors. Save this one for the top tiers. This one has a physical limitation on the number of slots so don't sell it too cheap.
Flyers or giveaways in swag bag Often requested, so it's appreciated. Usually waste of trees and resources as these are usually trashed quickly. Requires you to pack swag bags in advance and hand them out during check-in.
Present sponsors at the opening of the camp Nice touch, shows care and appreciate for sponsors and their support. Requires you to make a professionally looking presentation to run at the beginning of the camp. Medium due to having to make said presentation.
Logo on swag bag Highly visible Requires designing and ordering swag bags Same as above, basically designing swag bag. Designing for texture printing may be tricky. Ask printer for advice. Nice touch, and professional.
Logo and name on tables and power strips/power cords Medium visibility, easy to do (just print papers and place, or use simple easels, or ask sponsors for stickets to attach to strips) Good option for sponsors who want to take part but are looking for a budget option.
"Table sponsor", small easels on tables Low visibility unless someone sits down there to work: "this workspace sponsored by X" A lot of value for a rather low effort. You need to print those sheets and put them in the easels though.

Determine pricing

Recall the reasoning regarding marketing budgets? It's what it comes back to. As this depends on many factors it's hard to give exact numbers. Some of the the things affect the price sponsors are willing to pay are:

  • How big is the company's revenue?
  • How big is the company's marketing budget?
  • Does the company need active marketing efforts?
  • Are they established and want to confirm their position or are they an up-and-comer eager to gain visibility?
  • Is sponsoring the company's main way of contributing to the community or do they sponsor Drupal in other ways as well (such as letting staff contribute code, patches, support, documentation and testing on paid time)?
  • Is this conference and its audience a good fit for the company and its marketing strategy?

Sponsorships are about exposure. The technical term for this kind of business offer is audience aggregation. It's the same business model that TV and radio use. You give companies access to a certain audience in return for a fee.

The value of this access depends on what they can make of it and what kind of effect it has. For most business it's about finding customers. But for Drupal shops, connecting with potential candidates to hire is equally important.

The basis of your sponsorships price is how much the exposure you can offer is worth to a business. Drupal shops are low hanging fruit when it comes to getting sponsors. The question is how much they're willing to pay. To answer that question, you need to make a realistic assessment of the value for a company to reach your intended target group at the number of attendees you are planning. This may be difficult to do off-hand but you're not entirely without help.

Marketing budget

Some numbers that may help you is to look at the average turnover of companies that are willing to sponsor and then estimate their marketing budget based on that. Marketing budgets can range from 2% of the total annual revenue for a small business to up to 12% for a large business. Assuming this company engages in several marketing activities every year, you can make a conservative estimate that they're willing to spend 10% of their budget on your camp.

Average project budget

Another way is to look at average project budgets and estimate how many customers and projects a company could gain from attending your camp. If you are a Drupal developer, you likely know the going rates. Using this information you can calculate how much work a Drupal shop needs to stay afloat. And using the average profit margin on hours billed, you can estimate what they consider a reasonable customer or project acquisition cost to be. Appearing at your camp will come out of the same budget as time spent courting potential customers.

If this is the main motivation of a sponsor, you can offer them the opportunity to present a case for a fee. Just make it clear to attendees that this is a sponsored session and that company X will talk about case Y. I generally advice against sponsored content but every rule as its exceptions. Just be aware of the cost in trust and reputation for your conference that paid and sponsored content might have.

Staff turnover and cost of hiring

Companies also attend these events to recruit and recruitment is costly. The cost of recruitment differs from country to country so it's hard to give a fixed amount but it's often on level with a month's salary of the person hired. Imagine you can cut down this process by 50% by connecting the sponsor with candidates directly, that means the sponsors frees time to do other revenue bringing stuff.

You can sugar this offer by sharing lists of attendees with sponsors. Just be clear with attendees that you do this, for what purpose and what information you collect and share with partners. If you intend to do this, write a privacy policy and include it in the conference registration form so that attendees understand what they agree to.

Look at similar conferences

Also look at similar events and what contributions they ask from sponsors. Open source events are often open and transparent and will probably not say no if you ask about the sponsor levels or their prospectus. They may be reluctant to share sponsor contacts though as they may fear you'll be competing for the same slice of the sponsors' marketing budget.

Desire to support Drupal and its community

Businesses will want to sponsor your camp, not just for exposure but for supporting the movement that provides the platform for their business idea. This is a long-term insurance for staying competitive and about feeding the hand that feeds you. This is something you can use as a reason as to why someone should sponsor your event.

Make a sponsorship revenue forecast

With the information above, make a pessimistic estimate of how many sponsors you can potentially sign and multiply it by the sponsorship price. Do not consider sponsorship packages at this point, instead base the estimate on an average sponsorship size you've come up by using the methods above.

I've seen sponsorship ranging from €300 to €3000. We've charged €500, €1,000 and €2,500 respectively for the three packages we've offered. In the end of this section you will find examples of the packages we've offered.


Getting sponsors

Reaching out to potential sponsors might seem like a daunting task but you can usually come up with names just on top of your head. If you're in the Drupal community you certainly know of Drupal shops or individuals who can point to companies interested in sponsoring your camp.

Creating a prospectus

By now you will have most of the sponsorship information you need.

But in order to sell it you will need to package it and you will need to help those you talk to selling it internally. A great way to package your sponsorship offer is to write a prospectus.

For DrupalCamp Stockholm I've created a prospectus which has since served as a template. I am continuously refining and improving this document. The document is in Swedish but I've posted the outline below. You can also see [the document in full] but you may need to run it through Google Translate to make sense of it.

Outline with headlines
  • First page, with camp's logo and its title, date and location (city or region).
  • Invitation to sponsor as headline, followed by a few paragraphs that explain when the camp will be held and what the main target group is, followed by the demographics of the attendees, the expected number of attendees. Use the second to last paragraph to point out the many benefits of being a sponsor. End it with your full name, role ('sponsorship manager'), email and phone number.

  • About Drupal, this may not seem necessary but remember that the prospectus should provide enough information to make a decision. Chances are that the contact person you've been in touch with will need to talk to management. They will very likely print this document and hand out at the meeting. It means that they should be able to make a decision by use browsing the document and reading it quickly. The people making the decision may not know what Drupal is why this is necessary. This paragraph should be written in plain language without technology terms. We use a variation of this text: "Drupal is a tool used to develop custom publishing solutions for websites. By downloading Drupal and a number of modules, a developer or site owner can easily modify Drupal to suit your needs and the goals of your website. Drupal is used for a wide variety of websites, ranging from associations to leading newspapers as well as government websites. Read more about Drupal on: [your local Drupal group's site]"

  • Facts about the conference, at the top of a photo from the venue (assuming you've selected a venue), followed by subheaders for date, location and venue and purpose. Remember to mention the target group, what opportunities that are offered (networking, recruiting and marketing) and the price you're planning on charging attendees. Next subheader is "schedule". Even if the schedule isn't complete, you can at least tell them about what topics you want to include as well as the format and the number of tracks. This is followed by "Attendees" where you can provide in-depth information on attendees, geographic distribution, whether they're professional or hobbyists. Be as honest as you can and make your sponsors feel they know what they're buying. The final subheader is "Marketing" where you list the marketing efforts you plan or are carrying out. This is further evidence that your event is well-planned and has every chance to a success and a good investment for your sponsors.

  • Sponsorship levels. They like what they see and chances are you've sold the conference to the sponsors and they know that you know your job. Here comes the meat: this is where they see what they need to pay and what they get for their money. Remember that it's important that it's spelt out what's included. Be descriptive. If there's not enough room, add a page after this one where you explain each of the perks. I usually lay this out as a table with four columns: [empty], platinum, gold and silver. First row list price for each of the three levels. Next row lists the number of sponsors allowed at this level (if you have the time to update your prospectus you can lower this number as these are sold: "only 2 left!", to create a sense of urgency). The following rows list the perks such as advertising, logo on roll-ups et c. Please refer to the prospectus to see exactly how this is done.

  • Previous conferences --- maybe you heard the saying there's no better predictor than the past? It's usually true. The final pages are used for listing previous conferences with a short summary of each listing notable highlights, notable sessions from the schedule, number of attendees, link to the website (if it's still live), list of sponsors and target group(s). I've also added an additional detail here: a breakdown to attendees' roles and employers by analyzing the attendee lists. This is a simple frequency table which shows how many people who described their role as management/executive, project manager, developer, designer et c attended. The same is done for the ten companies with the highest number of attendees. This gives the potential sponsor a good idea about who will be there and whether they're someone they want and can sell to. If this is too much work, consider creating a word cloud for each of these data sets attendees provide (employer name, and role).

Reserved tickets

Also, in the prospectus, be very clear on how many tickets/entry passes that are included in the sponsorship. What happened to us was that a sponsor with exhibit space was disappointed that the sponsorship only allowed to free tickets. These tickets were intended for the people staffing the booth. Additional tickets were just €10 so I didn't see what the big fuss was about considering the alternative cost of allowing people to attend during work hours. The sponsor had somehow got the impression that they could send an arbitrary number of people to attend the booth as they were "working" in addition to the two passes that were included.

Whatever your policy is, be very clear about it and print it out clearly in the prospectus. In our case, I could only apologize for not being clearer and offer to make it easy for them to buy the additional tickets at €10 a piece. The problem was compounded by the fact that tickets were selling out and the venue had a strict upper limit on the number of people due to the fire code.

What's also worth keeping in mind is that if you offer free tickets to sponsors, make sure there's a registration deadline policy too. We ended up having issued free tickets to several sponsors, tickets that risked going unused while people were signing up on a waiting list to get tickets to the conference. This taught me the importance of requiring sponsors to use register their passes a week before the conference at the latest so we could make those unused passes available to others.

By using a service like Eventbrite, you can easily create free registration codes and send out to sponsors. And to make your job easier, make it clear that sponsors have to register people themselves. Some sponsors assume they just have to show up and all is ready and prepared. Yes, ideally, if the venue were massive and there's no shortage of space, it would be possible. Usually it's not and the best way to avoid violating the fire code or stopping people at the door is to keep track of the number who are there.

Keeping a master list of attendees simplifies conference organizing tremendously and makes check-in much easier. It also makes it easier to send follow up questionnaires and email marketing the next time you organize a conference as you have an existing list of email addresses to send to.

Assigning exhibition space

Not all exhibition space is equally attractive. To make sure no sponsors feels they've been treated unfairly it's important you define a policy for how it's assigned.

One way to solve this is to rate the space in order of attractiveness and have a first come, first serve policy. This has the drawback that it will give the organizers that also sponsor an advantage as they will be the first to claim the best spots. This might look fishy in the eyes of sponsors who are not on the organizing team.

You can also make a draw once all the exhibition space sponsorships have been sold, or you haven't sold out but you aren't expecting any more buyers. First, number all the spaces starting with 1. Then go to one of the websites that let you shuffle a series of words. You can then paste in the names of the sponsors, one per line, and click "Shuffle". The result will be the same list of names but with the order being completely random. Assign the spaces top down starting with one.

Regardless of what you do, be clear about it and include it in the prospectus so that there's no risk of misunderstandings.

Sample prospectuses

Finding and identifying potential sponsors

Here are some ways you can find potential sponsors:

  • Talk to people in your direct network and those involved in the camp about companies they know of and do a brainstorming session at one of your organizing meetings to come up with sponsor names.
  • Use Google and see what companies that come up when you search for relevant terms like "drupal web development".
  • Look in the phone book or yellow pages for "Drupal".
  • Look at news sites and look for companies that aren't established Drupal companies but are moving into Drupal, such as existing web agencies that are broadening the technologies and platforms they work on.
  • Remember that there's more to Drupal than just development so be creative and also consider hosting companies and companies that offer training or build and sell technologies that integrate with Drupal and other content management frameworks.
  • As more companies use Drupal they also see the need to hire their own Drupal developers to work in-house --- these companies are as interested as Drupal shops in having a good standing and attracting the best developers out there.
  • Do not exclude sponsors on political grounds unless you're certain that allowing them to sponsors can seriously damage your camp or its reputation. An example of a great sponsor that some might (irrationally) shun on political grounds is Microsoft that has had a bad standing in the world of free software but has since been working to repair its relationship to the free software movement and has been a very valuable sponsor and partner in several DrupalCamps. Having Microsoft as a sponsor has only been very positive for us.
  • Don't focus on companies only. Many camps have raised significant funds by letting attendees sponsor anything from €50 to €500 and getting recognition and rare items (mugs, t-shirts). So called "individual sponsorships" (about €70) offers a great way to let individuals contribute. By having a large number of small contributors, you make more people invest in the success of the conference and feel involved.

Tracking sponsorships

You need to keep track of what companies you will contact, have contacted and who have bought, what they have bought and if there are special terms or conditions (i.e. they didn't buy a package). The easiest way to do this is to keep a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Invoice sent (replaced by invoice number when invoice has been sent)
  • Contact status [will be contacted, contact and in talks, not interested, purchased]
  • If purchased, what package
  • Package remarks (if customized)
  • Company name
  • Desirability rating (1-10, see Following up)
  • Amount to be invoiced (be clear if this includes taxes or not)
  • Date invoiced (filled in by the person sending the invoice)
  • Number of complimentary passes
  • Registration discount code to obtain complimentary passes
  • Logo received (whether they have sent your their logo and other marketing materials you need)
  • Contact
  • Contact email
  • Contact phone
  • Invoice address (company's address)
  • Invoice remarks (do you need to provide a procurement number, reference et c)
  • Remarks

To track how many that have purchased a certain package, you can use the COUNTIF function. This is a great way to see when the options have been exhausted (some packages are sold in limited numbers).

How to contact companies

Once you've identified the right contact at the company (make sure this person is qualified to buy or second best, can connect you to someone who can), email your prospectus. To save time, make an email template but don't send a multiple recipient email. It's the worst kind of marketing you can do. People want to feel addressed personally. Don't be too personal, but still make sure the recipient feels that the email was specifically intended for them.

You can use the "canned responses" feature in Gmail to easily reproduce the same email and reuse your copy. Spend some time writing this template as it's what will catch the person's attention. It's usually better to be brief than wordy. It should take less than 30 seconds to read and a few seconds to scan. This is the template I used for our last DrupalCamp Stockholm:

Hi,

On March 8 we're organizing DrupalCamp Stockholm with up to 300 attendees --- a target group consisting of buyers and vendors of Drupal services.

We'd be delighted to have you as a sponsor. The attached prospectus outlines the conference and the sponsorship opportunities in detail.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,

How to approach different kinds of companies

Advice on contacting specific types of companies.
Drupal shops

Drupal shops are probably the "low hanging fruit" when it comes to sponsoring. They know what's being offered and why it's interesting to them. Drupal companies have their own reasons for sponsoring such as building community standing and recruiting talent. Finding customers is interesting but a camp is usually not the best way to do that. When reaching out to Drupal shops, emphasize the attendees and their professional roles and how your camp benefits Drupal in your country/region. Most Drupal shops know that attention to Drupal means attention to them and what they have to offer.

Remember, even if you are a Drupal shop yourself, don't hesitate to reach out to your direct competitors and ask them to sponsor. One of the reasons Drupal has been so successful is that companies operating in this ecosystem do not view each other as direct competition. Instead, they join forces and try to achieve change at large. Interestingly, this way of working is known to create extremely strong and successful company cultures. It's just that in our world, these cultures go beyond individual companies and permeate our business as a whole.

Hosting companies

A lot of people are looking for Drupal hosting, and their needs differ. From the personal/community/association site to the independent developer looking for resellable hosting for their customers. This market has been growing for the past eight years or so and most hosting companies are keeping an eye on Drupal, if not mentioning it in their marketing outright. They're often eager to get their name out, build relationships and find customers. When selling sponsorships to hosting companies, emphasize on the attendees that are potential hosting customers. Hosting companies are usually not very receptive to "contributing" to Drupal. Hosting is a scalable but often small margin business. They make money out of having many customers with very similar needs who require a minimum of help and technical support.

Following up

Be sure to call the person a few days later to confirm they got your email and ask if they have any additional questions. You can at this point easily gauge interest based on what they're telling you. Be prepared for these responses and have the information or follow-up questions ready:

  • "We're interested and we want package X, what more information do you need from us?" --- congratulate them on the decision, say you're excited to have them on board and close the deal (see Selling).

  • "We haven't had time to look at it yet, let me get back to you" --- thank them for their interest, reiterate the benefits of sponsoring, mention other sponsors who have said yes at this point. This works because as humans we have a strong urge to do what our peers do. Secondly, if others have chosen it, it cannot be a bad idea even if it turns out bad in the end. This allows the person who made the decision to refer to making it for good reasons and in a worst case scenario shift or focus the blame elsewhere.

  • "We're not sure if this is the right kind of event/marketing for us right now" --- ask them what marketing is the right for them, what the criteria is and what in your offer that fails to meet the criteria. Tell them that the packages aren't fixed, they're just suggestions. Offer to make modifications to make them fit the sponsor's needs better. Don't go far in accommodating this sponsor without having considered its value to you and how far you're willing to go to get this sponsor. Make this consideration beforehand and decide how much you want this sponsor. Ideally, rate each sponsor and its desirability in your sponsor list sheet.

This is where the sales work begins.

Selling

Getting sponsors is like any kind of selling. And it follows the same rules and goes through the same steps:

  1. Qualification
  2. Establishing rapport
  3. Promote your offer and educate
  4. Close the deal

You are most likely already familiar with these terms and how sales happens in practice. After all, as Drupal consultants we spend a lot of time selling. So in order to keep things brief, I will focus only how these apply to sponsorship selling.

Qualification

Qualifying the person you're selling to is as simple as determining whether the person is able to buy. Do they have the money/time/resources/power to make this decision? Do they see the need that a sponsorship addresses? When you talk to them, are there cues to needs the company sees which you can help them address through a sponsorship?

The more you know about the company, its offer and how they view themselves and their customer, the easier it will be for you to frame the sponsorship in a way that makes it attractive. It's wise to spend a few minutes browsing their website taking down notes and keywords to use during the conversation.

Establishing rapport

Building or establishing rapport is essentially down to making the buyer trust you. A well-written, nicely formatted and designed prospectus will build rapport. So will a professional approach and well formatted, grammatically correct emails. But it's also about finding common ground. It can be as simple as reading the person's bio on their site, note a shared interest and use it during the conversation as a way to add dimension to yourself, and also allow the person to talk about themselves or something they love. Reading their bio will also tell you something about their personality. Some people need to be convinced by facts, others just want to hear enough to make a judgment call. By knowing ahead what will trigger this person to buy, you can present enough information or adapt your approach to make them feel comfortable and interested.

Another way to build rapport is to refer to a shared contact or friend. If you were referred to this company or person by someone you know, it's a sure way to establish common ground. This is especially important if you're talking to an executive level person at a big company. Referrals will go a long way towards helping you get a chance to make a first impression.

Promote your offer and educate

Once you have their ear and know a bit about the needs they have your job is to explain how the sponsorship addresses that need. Knowing what you're selling is key to coming off as trustworthy. But it's also important to show how much you believe in what you're selling. There's a lot of enthusiasm and pride going into organizing a conference and showing that will help bolster your offer. If rapport has been built, they will take your word for what you're saying. So make sure you have the facts available. The kind of information they're looking for could be:

  • What venue will the conference be held at
  • What other events have been taking place at the venue (does it have a good reputation)
  • What people will be attending?
  • How do you ensure they're given the best possible opportunity to make the most out of their sponsorship?
  • What other companies have chosen to sponsor and what companies are you talking to?
  • Who the organizers are and what their experience is in organizing conferences or similar events

You can never make someone buy something they don't want. It's now how sales work. Good sales is about providing the right information and at the right time to address a need or desire the buyer already has.

Close the deal

Once the buyer has said yes to buying a package, be quick to arrange the practical details like payment and other details. Do this over the phone if possible. Closing the deal usually involves sending an invoice and for that you need the right information. The deal isn't formally closed until payment has been received. So try and make buying as easy as possible.

Negotiating

Selling often involves negotiation. Some companies will choose one of your packages and feel content with that. Others will see that the packages aren't fitting them and want customizations. Others just want to haggle, either because they need to feel they got the best deal or because it means the person you're talking to can till his/her boss that they did in fact negotiate the price (brownie points). Each of these need to be handled differently.

Prices are contributions

Language is a bit like magic. This is why great copywriters are so sough after and so well paid. They, just like George Orwell in 1984, know that language shapes perceptions. Whether you agree with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or not, you are subject to deliberate, painstakingly chosen words and sentences, every day.

Language is every human's tool so this means you can employ the same tactics. One way to do that is to call "prices" for sponsorships "contributions" or "investments." This will send completely different signals to the buyer. Prices are expenses, and expenses are costs. Good business practices teach us to minimize costs, as they are bad and can easily kill a company.

Contribution and investment are terms laden with wholly different values. A contribution will appeal to the company's desire to be more than itself and be part of a bigger movement. Drupal shops founded by developers committed to the Drupal community will likely agree with that view. Sponsors that are companies seeing sponsorships as a marketing tool are thinking ROI (return in investment) and by using their terminology, you show them that you think alike --- that you are like them. This means you will gain some rapport right away. From a sales perspective, this is extremely valuable as gaining rapport is an important step in making a sale.

So if you have time for it, send out customized prospectuses and use different terms wherever possible.

Be flexible and creative

Do not be inflexible. Remember that packages are suggestions. They're there to make the choice easier for the buyer. It's not like when you're buying toothpaste and there's one size and you have to buy the whole tube, or not. Packages are malleable by definition. They are not toothpaste. Whether you want to be flexible, however, is something you need to decide and weigh the pros and cons of.

  • Being flexible can be a negotiation tactic. You're showing good will by going out of your way to meet their requirements, in return they have to do something for you.
  • When the sponsor wants customized packages, make sure you listen to what the buyer wants. When I say listen I mean try and identify the actual underlying need. They may insist on wanting their logo on a banner covering the east wall of the venue. The actual need may be that they want to launch their new Drupal based product. If what they insist on is hard or impossible, listen for the need and come up with creative ways of addressing it such as offering them space in your email to attendees or fun swag to give out at registration. View the customer's needs as an opportunity to find creative and fun solutions to help them.
All sponsors aren't born equal

When evaluating sponsors and negotiating be aware that some sponsors are more desirable than others. Some sponsorships may be more strategic and offer opportunities such as increased recognition by being associated with an established authority.

Know your own value

Don't forget that what you're offering is highly valuable and feel comfortable as a negotiator not to accept any terms. Some people are so insecure about their own position that they will accept any terms. Expert negotiators will have a field day if you come into negotiations without the confidence of that value you're offering.

As a mentioned earlier, some may want to challenge the price. I am usually very reluctant to offer any discounts unless there's a counter-offer that motivates it. Yet some sponsors come up with remarkably transparent arguments and tactics to shave off a few percent. The best way to deal with this is to explain that there's no profit or margin for you to cut into and the conference is self-funded. Also, any profits will go into making next conference better which will benefit the sponsor as a Drupal business.

If you getting the sponsorship hinges on the sponsor feeling they got a "good deal", try and motivate a discount by changing the package terms. Say you let them get the package for €1,000 instead of €1,500 by reducing exposure such as size of logo and being mentioned in communications to attendees.

At the last DrupalCamp Stockholm we ran out of physical space in the exhibition area so some of the last gold sponsors to sign up had to accept not getting any exhibition space. But this was clearly communicated from the outset and they were happy with getting extra exposure in other channels as compensation for this missing feature.

Be clear

A lot of misunderstandings happen because we aren't precise enough in our statements or haven't checked the facts. When you're negotiating terms this becomes extra important as incorrect information might put the other party in a difficult situation. Also, if the other party is an experienced negotiator, he/she might use your mistake as leverage to get additional benefits or a discounted price. It's surprising what tactics people resort to just to feel they came out as the winner.

Sponsorship agreement

As camps grow, more money changes hands and expectations will mount. As that happens it's wise to avoid any risk of misunderstandings. A sponsorship agreement can help with that.

As with any legal document, it's best to get the help of a legal professional. Remember though that you always enter an agreement, whether you have a written and signed agreement or not. The prospectus serves as a document stating what the sponsor can expect and any communication you do, verbal or written, can be considered as terms. Not having an agreement doesn't absolve you from expectations, or even worse, liability. However an agreement can help limit that and potentially reduce the room for interpretation of the terms, avoiding costly and energy draining disputes.

For an example of what an agreement can look like, see the DrupalCamp London sponsorship agreement.


Before the event

Provide an information package

Two weeks or so before the event, compile a guide for sponsors (especially those with exhibition space). Make this a nicely formatted PDF and email it so sponsors can print it. The PDF should have all the information they need such as:

  • The time and date of the camp
  • The location with full address
  • Times for setting up and tearing down
  • A map with exhibition space assignments marked
  • Terms/rules for the exhibition space such as what signage you allow and its size limits and rules regarding noise (in case they want to run demonstrations in their booth)
  • The sponsor manager's contact details

On the day of the camp, place signs with sponsors' names in exhibitions spaces to make it easier for sponsors to find their assigned space.

Viewing

I think it's a nice touch to arrange a viewing of the venue before the event. If your sponsor has signed up for exhibition space, this is crucial. It gives them the chance to see the layout of the room and plan their presence.

It also gives you a chance to meet the sponsors, ask if there's something special they need and work on building a great relationship with them. A great relationship and trust will go a long way towards alleviating feelings of distrust and frustration in case something doesn't work as planned later on.

In our case, we forgot to include a sponsor's logo during the opening presentation. The sponsor was disappointed, with good reason. But not angry with us and understood that human beings forget things sometimes. In the end, we reimbursed them for the loss of visibility out of fairness and they were all in all, very happy with the conference, despite the mishap.

Provide attendee information

Depending on whether you've written a privacy policy that governs how you may share attendee details, and whether sponsors have asked for details, you can share a degree of attendee information with sponsors.

In our case, I compiled a simple word cloud using anonymous attendee registration information. One cloud included roles of attendees and another names of companies/employers. In a word cloud, words are scaled according to frequency in the data set. So the word "developer" was rather big and the word "founder" was much smaller.

We mistakenly used a text field for "role" so I had to process the data, remove spaces, convert to all lower-case before it was usable as input for the word cloud generator. Instead, use fixed options so the cloud becomes readable, otherwise the answers will vary too much, will require manual post processing and reduce the value of the cloud to be used to draw conclusions based on. Keep this in mind when you design the registration in form so you get the best data possible.

Other things you can compile into word clouds are answers to questions like "What is your primary reason for attending?".

How to be an effective sponsorship manager

As a sponsorship manager, your job will be a lot easier if you remember a few simple principles and practices.

  • Be assertive and confident in the value you are offering, believe in what you're selling. This will help you come off as trustworthy and competent.
  • Be persistent, keep calling back. Many sponsorship deals I've arranged came through after weeks of follow up calls.
  • Be attentive to needs and try to be as helpful as you can be, if you don't know the answer, find out and get back. This builds confidence in you and you come off as more trustworthy, professional and cooperative by admitting when you don't have the facts and offer to find them.
  • Be fair but also just, don't accept unpaid invoices and unreasonable demands. Your offer is highly valuable and you shouldn't sell for cheap.
  • Be a good listener and tune in to what the potential sponsor needs. It's not always what they say they need. Ask clarifying questions and don't hesitate to ask "why?" or be honest when you do not understand. Asking questions is a wonderful technique to help someone clarify and formulate their own thinking.
  • Be aware you're selling to a human being, not an impersonal company. It's always a person making the purchase decision. Consider the person's personality and what they need to feel and see in order to decide to buy.
  • Be a great host, an on-site guide and problem solver. If your sponsor wants to see the venue, arrange a viewing. Make it absolutely clear that your intention is to solve problems and be available so they get the most out of their investment.
  • Be positive. Smile, especially when you talk on the phone. You can tell when someone is smiling on the phone. And be polite and positive even when they say "no thanks". Thank them for their time and attention. Show appreciation, courtesy and respect.
  • Be grateful. After all sponsors make your event possible. Do not hesitate to thank them for sponsoring. Send personal thank you notes, emails or call them. Remember that you're working with people, not companies, and "thank you" are two very powerful words.

Speakers

Getting good speakers might be the most important thing you do. Without good speakers you won't get attendees, and without attendees there won't be any sponsors.

The person who is responsible for inviting speakers should be a people person. Success depends on your ability to proactively see to the needs of your speakers and making sure they have a great time.

Creating a wanted speaker list

The starting point of any conference program are the topics and the theme. Based on the chosen topics (a task which I've discussed previously) you can start looking for speakers. As certain topics will draw a certain crowd, you need to find speakers who consider this crowd worthwhile to address and who are also authorities on the topic presented.

A good way to start is for the entire team to sit down together and list the themes and topics that conference should focus on. Then freely associate these to blog posts, companies or individuals. You can use a mind map for this exercise.

Some of these names need some extra research such as companies. You will want to know who at the company is the best person to speak on the topic the company has established itself as an authority in. Same with websites. Who built it and for whom?

All speakers do not have to present sessions. Case studies where developers/vendors and end users are presenting a project are also highly appreciated and will help you draw a more diverse crowd of buyers who are eager to hear others' experiences with Drupal.

Don't focus too much on Drupal. Look beyond and consider speakers who can bring in new perspectives. At our last camp we worked hard to have one of the proprietary CMS vendors come and talk in order to learn from each other. In the end, they denied, saying they believed we had more to gain from them being present than they did.

Other speakers have included web analytics experts and usability professionals. These perspectives are highly relevant for anyone who works with the web. This didn't stop a few attendees from complaining about the program containing so much content they deemed irrelevant. They would much rather hear deeply technical sessions. But they weren't the main target group for us. There are lots of Drupal conferences that do a lot of navel gazing, we didn't want to preach to the choir, but to recruit more singers.

Building a speaker for your next conference list is something you should be aware of constantly, and it should be an ongoing effort. Keep it in the back of your mind as you read blog posts, tweets or learn about new sites built. Take note when you see an interesting session at a conference and talk to the speaker, ask for their card, hand them your card and make an impression. When you contact them again they will probably remember you and it will be much easier to build rapport and get them to speak. Many of the speakers at our camps have been people I've met at DrupalCon and there and then asked if they'd be interested.

With recognized names on your speaker list and good session titles and track names, marketing becomes much easier. It's therefore wise to spend some effort in getting a good keynote speaker. The keynote speaker usually makes the first presentation of the day. This person should be a well-known name and someone you know people would come to the conference to see. In fact, they'd be happy even if this was the only session they'd get to attend.

You will also want to consider where your speakers are from. I love inviting people from abroad to come and speak but it also means the conference needs to carry the cost of trips and accommodation. With local speakers, you avoid that cost and the work involved. Foreign speakers will also be presenting in English so your mix of speakers need to reflect the language mix you've decided on.

Add all the names to a list complete with contact details. With this in hand, you can start contacting your speakers.

Speaker prospectus

As with sponsors, a conference offers an opportunity for a speaker. I have been speaking at many DrupalCons and DrupalCamps so far and I love the opportunity to travel, meet people and share ideas. Your speakers will want to know how interesting your conference is to them. If your speaker is a highly sought after person, they will screen every request and determine how desirable it is.

Getting high profile speakers will take a bit sales work. A good way to communicate the benefits of presenting is to make a speaking prospectus. This document, formatted beautifully, lists basic information like location and date. It also lists the highlights of your conference, the number of attendees, what other speakers are presenting and on what topics. It should also list the perks speakers get like unique networking opportunities, complimentary food and accommodation. The more polished this document is, the more trustworthy will your conference appear, increasing your chances to get speakers who would otherwise turn down a request.

Be prepared to having to follow up your request, sometimes multiple times. People have busy schedules and some people refuse to commit to appearances too far ahead, wanting to keep their schedule flexible. Be understanding but persistent.

Be clear what information you need from speakers. This usually includes:

  • Name (make sure you get the spelling right, it's a matter of respect)
  • Photo in sufficient resolution (to keep these consistent, you can make them all gray scale with the same cropping aspect ratio)
  • Session title(s)
  • Session synopsis (a short summary consisting of 5-10 sentences summarizing the session, its theme and what you as an attendee get out of attending it)
  • Contact details (get the phone number just in case)
  • Dietary preferences (important if you plan on offering lunch or meals)
  • Other special considerations or requests

Writing a title and synopsis takes time and some speakers need to be reminded several times. If you can, write a synopsis for the speaker and email it. It could speed things up. It's easier for a speaker to comment on something or edit it to their liking than getting started writing from scratch.

A great experience

As an organizer your job is to be an incredible host: to attendees, speakers and sponsors. Your job is to give them a great experience.

A great way to treat your speakers well is to pay for their meals. It's also a good way to make them feel welcome and for them to meet the organizing team. At our camps we have usually organized a dinner the night before the camp, then lunch for select people at a good restaurant, away from the venue, during the camp. The lunch is a bit of a VIP event and gives your speakers a chance to talk and network among each other.

Being generous is just part of being a good host. It's also important to be available and actively reach out and ask if there's anything you can do to make your speakers' stay more pleasant.

A nice detail that has become more and more common is to offer a green room for speakers to prepare. This is a special room which only staff and speakers have access to. It should offer enough privacy so that speakers can work and prepare undisturbed by the rest of the conference. It also needs to have a policy to only allow soft talk. Having a noisy discussion in this room will defeat its purpose. Make sure there's water, coffee, fruit, snacks and other refreshments in this room.

See to it that your speakers have a great experience and they will be your best marketers.

Compensating speakers

Thankfully, our community isn't one that tolerates divas so your speakers won't expect caviar and champagne. And usually not even money's expected. In fact, asking nicely is usually enough for someone to accept an invitation to speak.

But coming to a conference takes time and effort. Your speaker pays an opportunity cost in coming. They could have been doing something else instead. They will also go through the trouble of travel and suffer a degree of discomfort.

Even if you're not paying your speaker to talk, you should compensate them for their travel costs and accommodation and budget for it. Be realistic, even pessimistic, when you make the budget.

It's also important to be a good host and ideally meet the person as they arrive and guide them to their hotel. Make sure you get a good hotel that allows your speaker the privacy and comfort to rest well and be able to prepare for their talk. By being cheap you potentially offend your speakers and you're making it harder for them to do a good job.

I've been speaking at camps with very basic accommodation and it wasn't great. I ended up paying for a hotel room myself as I needed the rest and the privacy.

When you contact your speaker, be clear about what you can compensate them for. They will probably need to clear it with their manager and while companies are often forthcoming in allowing their team members to go and represent the company on working hours, paying for travel costs is something they're less eager to do. For that reason, be clear flights and lodging are paid for.

I recommend you offer to pay for two nights at least giving a person traveling far a chance to see the city and adjust. Some people are traveling several time zones.

It's always easier if you make the hotel reservation and you let the person make the flight reservation themselves and then reimburse them. That way there's no risk that the name on the flight ticket doesn't match the name in their passport. Be helpful, and suggest flights and dates. Also, arrange flights early and be clear about the cost limit so your speakers won't buy outrageously expensive tickets. Flight tickets can be extremely expensive if you book them at the wrong time.

Be an excellent host and speakers will be lining up to speak at your next event!


Marketing

Your event won't make a dent in the universe, or anywhere, unless people know about it. You need to draw a crowd, and the right one too.


Website

The conference website is your main marketing tool. This is what people will go to first to learn more. And naturally, it's what we, as web developers, think of first.

Consider your target groups

But, first, remember who your target group is and try and think like them. Go back to the personas you made earlier and think about what questions they might have. Some of them might not even know what Drupal is and are just curious.

Make a simple first site

Many conferences websites are ineffective as marketing tools simple because they launch too late. Many conference organizers work hard on getting the site to look right before they make it public creating unnecessary delays.

While you do right to make sure your site looks great (as this people will judge your conference by its web site's design sadly) do not confuse that with it making it functionally complete. Instead, have your designer come up with a simple yet stunning grid based design and use a framework like Bootstrap and Bootswatch to get a page up quickly. Design a single page and list all information on that page.

Information you should include:

  • Title of the event
  • Date of the event
  • Location/venue (if decided)
  • A one sentence summary that captures the value attendees get out of attending
  • List of confirmed speakers if available, lacking that topics
  • Huge call to action-button for signing up to receive email updates when sign-up opens
  • Information to companies that want to sponsor
  • Background information on the general subject (i.e. "What is Drupal?")
  • Contact information for general inquiries
  • Information about the organizers

Include a form where people who are interested can sign up to be notified when registration open. Use a mailing list to email these people to build buzz (every time two new speakers have confirmed or new information is available) and remind them to register once registration is open.

Critical information that is often missing

Even when they finally launch, many conference websites fail to provide the minimum of information attendees need and expect. Here's the information I expect from a conference website:

  • News feed with updates and information for attendees. Do not publish important static information here such as changes unless you can make them "sticky." Otherwise they'll flow down with the other updates and disappear off the front page eventuelly. Make announcements visible and make them stay that way.

  • Schedule that lists sessions, topics, speakers and rooms. It's best if you can find out more about each session.

  • Session recording and slides if available. Attach these to the session once the conference is over. I recommend using a third party service for video as hosting video is bandwidth intense and requires re-encoding. Many people like being able to download videos to view at their own leisure and aren't so fond of viewing in the browser. Some video hosting services limit the number of downloads you can make so pay attention to this when you pick a service.

  • List of speakers --- if you build the site by linking sessions, speakers and rooms you easily make separate listings of speakers and sessions. This page should list speakers along with photo, title and bio. Each speaker page should have more extensive information as well as contact details, LinkedIn page, Twitter account et c.

  • Registration form page --- make sure you collect the right information from the beginning. Things worth keeping in mind is collecting people's role and ideally using a select list for this purpose to make it easier to compile statistics later. Questions you may want to include are: What's your role? (drop down), What's the name of the company you work for?, What's your primary reason for attending? (drop down). Also, if you intend to share attendee details with sponsors, include a privacy policy in the form and a checkbox for the attendee to confirm that they have read and agree with the terms.

  • Prices --- make it easy to find out what it costs. List the prices in a table. If you have discounts, base it on a clear policy.

  • All the essentials --- who, where and when. You cannot be too informative. Include the name and address of the venue. Ideally embed a map. List terms of registration and if it closes. If you got time, design a map of the venue with the rooms highlighted. List the organizers, not just to give people credit but to show that there's real people behind this which makes the whole thing seem a lot of trustworthy.

  • Language --- be clear what sessions are in what language. If you expect foreign attendees, keep the venue information in English. We've opted for a mix where sessions held in our native Swedish have been marked as such. Plan choice of language ahead so that speakers can prepare slides and rehearse in one language or the other. Do not allow speakers to change their mind on the spot. It will only create confusion.

  • Video recordings and slides --- if you make these, make them easily available. Attach them to each session page and also create a page listing these. Same goes for session slides.

  • Press information --- if you have time, write a press release. I generally believe these are a waste of time but if you can get media attention, this will allow them to easily quote and copy instead of having to write their own story, a story that will most likely contain factual errors. Assign a press contact, for example the project manager.

  • Sponsor information --- upload the prospectus to the site and create a page where sponsors can read about the sponsorship opportunities. Include the name and contact details for the person assigned to be the sponsorship manager.

  • Social media --- add links to Facebook pages and events, LinkedIn pages and events and Twitter accounts. If you can, integrate with the Twitter API to show the latest tweets.

Registration

The registration page is probably the most important page on the website. But before you create a conference registration workflow that requires everyone to create an account to register, decide if it's even necessary. As I've mentioned previously, we've used Eventbrite to handle registration instead of Drupal. They're one of many services that let you create registration forms, add custom fields, issue discount codes, collect payments and notify attendees. It's helped us avoid having to deal with credit card payments, which we saw was needed, but would require a lot of documents to be filed with the bank if we decided to build the registration workflow ourselves.

Another benefit of using a service was that the website required much less work as there were fewer pages to theme and get to look right. Also, with only administrator users you are less vulnerable to security exploits in third party modules. A lot of the security issues found have to do with users with basic permissions getting access to forms and information that should be restricted to administrators.

When setting up registration you have several options:

  • Use a dedicated service like Eventbrite that takes care of collecting attendee information and collecting payments.
  • Create a webform in Drupal (requires manual handling of payments).
  • Use Drupal Commerce to create a registration solution that accepts card payments (requires you to get this set up with your bank and payment provider).
  • Use Drupal COD's built-in registration (same problem as above).
  • Create a Google Docs/Drive form (this means you need to handle payments manually).

If you're not charging attendees then you can use the simplest possible option. But I recommend you charge a fee, albeit small as it will make less people less likely not to show up.

When you create this page keep these things in mind:

  • Avoid long overwhelming forms, if possible break a long form down into several pages.
  • Don't ask for more information than you absolutely need.
  • When providing several options, make sure there's always an "other" option and an accompanying text field.
  • Users will want to know the registration was successful and feel sure they secure a ticket so set up the website or service to send a confirmation email after sign up.
  • If the conference is sold out, provide a way for users to sign up to be notified when and if more tickets are made available. This can be as simple as a webform that collects email addresses to a list you email directly or you can create a MailChimp mailing list for this purpose. If your sponsors turn out not to use all tickets, this is a great way to get them sold.
  • Add a checkbox for confirming that the attendee wants to be informed about future camps. If you fear this box will be unchecked far too much, consider including this in the privacy terms I mentioned earlier. The purpose for this is to allow you to email them once (and only once!) next time you organize another camp.
  • Provide terms of purchase, especially a refund policy. You don't have to offer refunds, just let people transfer tickets. As long as this is super clear at registration, attendees cannot claim they weren't aware of the no refund policy.

COD or not

One of the Drupal Association's projects has been to build a Drupal distribution that can be used to create conference websites. Codename "COD", the "Conference Organizing Distribution" has a lot of nice features. It's also rather rigid in how things are done. The Drupal 6 version relied heavily on node references to tie rooms, speakers and sessions together in order to allow you to build a schedule.

It's also very geared towards a community style conference and encourages users to register, upload photos and it makes the attendee list public.

If your needs match what COD provides, it's a good match. If not, you will have deviate so much from it that using it will probably not be a time saver after all.

Regardless of whether you choose to use COD, some other distribution or build from scratch, I recommend aiming for reusability in everything you build. That means next camp will let you focus your time and energy on doing new things and no redoing the same things over and over.

Mobile version

A lot of people will access the website using mobile devices and they won't be fewer. Mobile is the future. A responsive design is almost a must at this point. To make it easier, use a responsive base theme from the beginning. I've used Skeleton combined with Panels successfully. With Skeleton, layouts stack nicely in smaller viewports and it will solve 95% of the responsive layout issues for you.

Make sure you test forms as non-working forms will prevent people from signing up. Users usually accept the mobile version of your site to be less feature rich but they still need the important information. If you have time, customize this version of your site and consider providing only the bare minimum content on the front page.

What people often forget when designing for mobile is that mobile users expect different information than full browser users. A typical example is a mobile version of a restaurant that doesn't show opening hours and a way to make reservations on the front page.

In our case, it would be wise to feature a link to the sessions list, the conference information and the registration form as highly visible buttons on the mobile version front page of the site. Keep in mind that fingers are big and clumsy so avoid tiny text links and use huge tap friendly buttons for the important links.


Social media

Social media, or social networks, provide an excellent way for your attendees, sponsors and other interested parties to stay tuned and share their enthusiasm for your conference.

Twitter

A Twitter account is more or less a must-have today. Following you on Twitter is often a first step for many who will eventually attend or sponsors your conference. However many conferences don't put Twitter to much use. They have a Twitter account but actual tweets are absent.

It's important you early on decide what kind of information you want to post on Twitter and make a plan. Ideally, consider who you want to reach and how your followers can help spread the word about the conference by retweeting you. The more value your tweets provide, the more likely it is they will be retweeted.

If you don't have a Twitter account, you will need to create one. When creating it, try and keep the username short and easy to pronounce. For DrupalCamp Stockholm, we've chosen @drupalsthlm. "Sthlm" is a common abbreviation for "Stockholm" in Sweden. Camps that are regionally specific often have handles like @drupalcamp_atl (Atlanta) and @drupalcampto (Toronto).

Things you can tweet about include: - Sessions and speakers confirmed. Include a link to the speaker or session page. - Sponsors. Thank each of them and mention their Twitter account, or their name if they aren't on Twitter. - Articles or content relevant to speakers or sessions. "Great article on keyword optimization, which @username will be talking about at @drupal - Reminders to register. As the date nears, hint at tickets are soon sold out. This doesn't have to be true but it creates a sense of urgency and helps getting them sold in case sales are gong slow. These tweets are often retweeted. - General information such as where the lunch or after party are located. - Funny remarks or other tweets that communicate a happy mood.

You can either appoint someone to run the Twitter account or let everyone on the organizing team tweet. Just be careful what you tweet as what is funny to one person can sometimes be offensive to another. Also, appoint a single person that responds to questions directed at @yourcamp or you might end up with multiple responses to the same question.

Facebook

Facebook offers two features that are of interest to us: pages and events.

Pages are Facebook profiles for companies or organizations. If your camp is intended to be a recurring event, your page can serve as a great social hub and something people can like. To make it easy to become a fan you should add a "Like" button to the conference website allowing visitors to like this page. Also, keep an eye on the page's wall in case people post questions there.

Events are time-bound and a great for people who use Facebook to plan their social life. Events allow people to invite others to come to events they intend to go to. They also let you invite people you know whom you think would be interested. Remember to post a big notice on the event's page on Facebook that states that "attending" the event on Facebook doesn't mean you are registered. Like with pages, people sometimes use these to ask questions to the organizers. So either disable posts or watch the event's wall for questions.

Linkedin

Events on Linkedin aren't so different from Facebook and work much the same way. Linkedin draws a different crowd as you know and it makes sense to create events on both.

Buffer

There's a great time saver called Buffer that allows you to queue tweets and status updates, not having to manually tweet every day. For our conference, we created a workflow that consisted of a Google Docs/Drive spreadsheet where all tweets were listed. It had three columns: A --- yes/no whether it had been queued, B --- for the tweet text, and C --- the length of the tweet (formula: =LEN(B)).

Note that URLs in the tweets will be shortened by Buffer so the actual length of the tweet will be less than what is says in the sheet.

Anyone could then add tweets to this sheet. The person managing the Buffer account then buffered them (and marked them as buffered) and made sure tweets of the same kind didn't follow each other, keeping the queue mixed and varied. Using Tweriod we then determined the best times to tweet and set up Buffer to tweet at those times.

Buffer also has a dashboard where you can see how many people clicked your links, favorited your tweets or retweeted.

Buffer now supports Facebook as well so you could have it post your tweets to Facebook too. In order to buffer tweets for longer periods than just a week you will need a Pro account but it's just $10 and well worth the money considering how much time it saves.

Spreadsheet of tweets
Buffered? Tweet Length
Yes Confirmed Session: Managing requirements and value in an agile world by Ulrika Mengshoel Wedelin 96
Yes Many thanks to our Organizing Sponsor @happinessweb #drupalsthlm http://www.happiness.se 88
Yes Confirmed Session: How Rules Panes Work and how to embed rules components in Panels by @itangalo 96
Yes Tickets are going >>>FAST! Get your tickets now: http://spring2013.drupalcamp.se/buy-ticket #drupalsthlm 104
Yes Many thanks to our Organizing Sponsor @Wunderkraut #drupalsthlm http://www.wunderkraut.com 90
Yes Confirmed Session: BRANCH BRANCH BRANCH then REBASE --- a git Workflow by Fredrik Jonsson 87

Email

Sending email to people who have expressed an interest is a great way to get the word out. Write great, informative and useful emails and people will thank you for keeping them informed.

If this isn't the first time you're organizing this

If this isn't the first time you're organizing this camp and the previous ones weren't abject failures, you probably have a fan club. Previous attendees are most likely to attend again and should be among the first you market the new conference to. A mailing list is an invaluable tool.

About mailing lists

The web has its own kind of pollution and it's called spam. We hate it. And we hate those that send us spam. You don't want your camp or your name to be associated with spam. For that reason, it's important to keep track of who you are sending emails to and why they signed up.

We have collected email addresses at several points:

  1. After announcing the conference and having a temporary single-page website where people could enter their email address to be notified

  2. During registration when users sign up for the conference, either providing a checkbox for opting out or including it in the registration terms (be clear why you want to send them emails)

  3. When we've run out of tickets and have put up a waiting list

Each of these forms has been associated with its own list:

  1. This list is sent to once the conference website is up and running and you can register. The email we've sent out has been made to be brief and informative. The attendees should be able to decide whether they're interested by just glancing at it. After all, they've let us contact them, we shouldn't waste their time.

  2. This list is used for contacting attendees with information leading up to the conference. The information could include important announcements or general advice. We also use this list to tell previous attendees when there's a new conference.

  3. The waiting list is used to notify its subscribers when tickets are available and also once when there's a new conference. They've expressed an interest in attending and we believe this information is in their interest.

The promise to communicate relevant information through email, given by you to those who have trusted you with their email address, has an expiry date. To keep that promise, each list is deleted once these emails have been sent. This means we need to collect new email addresses every time but it also means that we're not sending thousands of emails that bounce, or annoy people, unnecessarily.

If you use a mailing list service like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor, you will also be required to provide the following information:

  • Your full name
  • Your full street address
  • How the recipient's email address ended up on the list
  • Links to unsubscribe
  • Links to file complaints

Email services have more advantages, which I will discuss in one of the following sections.

If you stick to these rules and also make it easy to opt out, you will see few people unsubscribing and no complaints. Instead, people will welcome your emails and be glad you let them know about something they've been looking forward to.

Why you should using a mailing list service

I previously mentioned that email services have many advantages over sending emails yourself using the: "to: em, bcc: mailing list" method.

  • They make it more likely your email will be read. These services also have the benefit of being known for not tolerating spammers using their servers so emails sent from them will probably reach the inbox, and not directed to the spam folder courtesy of a zealous spam filter. The method I mentioned above is a sure-fire way to get relegated to "spam".

  • They make it easy to make emails that look great. I know that HTML emails aren't kosher from a technical point of view but they look great. Mailing list services usually let you create both an HTML and a plain text version of your email. The problem with email HTML is that email software has traditionally only supported a subset of HTML. So creating an email that looks good in someone's email software has been far from trivial. Just booting up Frontpage or Dreamweaver and then copy and paste to Gmail or Outlook won't work. Not only that, images used need to be hosted somewhere if not attached. Mailing list services take away that problem and offers ready-made templates you can use or customize. Their WYSIWYG editors aren't perfect but I still believe they're a massive improvement to doing it manually. These templates also look great on smartphones. If you doubt it when I say this is hard, read this.

  • They make it easy to test and preview. You can test and preview your email until you're happy, in the browser or with your email software. Not only that, some offer A/B testing in case you want to try out two different versions of your email and see which one performs better.

  • They let you see where users clicked and interacted. Most services offer reports you can view to see the number of opens and also what links received the most clicks. This is a great way to learn how to improve your emails.

  • They host a web based version for those want the shiny version but would rather use their browser. Not only is this convenient, it provides a web based archive of previous emails sent.

  • They make it easy to create registration forms. Collecting emails for a mailing list as simple as linking to the auto-generated form. You can add your own fields to your list and include these in the form.

  • They make lists portable. You can export and import from and to Excel and comma/tab/semicolon separated value lists.

You will want to use a mailing list service.

Creating an email

Regardless of what tool you use, a great email is born out of a great message and a great outline. Before you begin, consider what the number one message is. Is it that registration is open? Or is it the fact that you're organizing a new conference with world class speakers?

Write a headline that captures the message. The top headline, along with the subject line, is the most important part of the message. It needs to be attention-grabbing and make them interested, but it should not not deceiving. It should allow the recipient to determine whether they are interested or not.

Most email software doesn't load images right away as this was a trick spammers users to confirm whether email addresses in their lists were valid or not. This means that headlines and copy will stand out. Style information like colors and fonts will usually be loaded so keep this in mind when you write your copy.

If you're looking for photos to use in your email but haven't got any (in case this is your first camp), try doing a Flickr search for "drupalcamp" or "drupalcon". Some photos are available with permissive license terms, other require permission (which is almost always given when asked).

Making an outline

Once your headline is written you need to consider the structure of your email. This is most easily done using an outline. In its first revision the outline consists of keywords structured in a multiple level list with indentations. You can then replace the keywords with actual copy.

Here's an example from one of our emails (forward slash denotes a line break) --- an email that started out as a keyword outline and then became a fully designed email:


HEADLINE: We're proud and excited to invite you to / DrupalCamp Stockholm

FIRST LINES: DrupalCamp Stockholm returns on March 8. We welcome you to an entire day dedicated to sessions about our favorite content management framework and its amazing community.

BUTTON: [REGISTER NOW]

(Some people click right away, but those continuing on reading haven't decided they're interested so they want to know more before registering. This is a selection of sessions that were confirmed at that point and which showed a breadth of topics.)

TEXT: Our smorgasbord of sessions include topics ranging from code to community: The Angry Themer --- Morten gives us a tour of where Drupal theming has been and still is --- the mosquito infested marshes of div's and .clearfix'es, the weapons we got at our disposal to swat bugs as well as pointing to the future: the land of milk and honey and beautiful markup.

Drupal and Symfony --- in 2012, Drupal reached out to highly popular PHP framework Symfony. As a result the two projects now have more than the open source license in common --- Drupal 8 includes Symfony code. Tobias Sjösten, founder of Symfony Sweden, will explain what the fuss is all about.

Wordpress --- Wordwhat? Yes, your eyes aren't lying! This is a DrupalCamp but that doesn't mean we have to suffer from "not invented here" syndrome. Thord Hedengren, creator of Wordcamp Stockholm, will introduce the latest version of WP and show us what WP does better.

Managing requirements and value in an agile context --- Ulrika Wendelin, experienced speaker and working as product owner at Wunderkraut, on how bad requirements lead to projects delivering less value for the customer and how agile methods provide a solution.

Jaegirmeister! --- You built one Drupal site, then another and ten more. Then a security patch arrives and you wish you didn't have to update them all manually. Fabian Sörqvist of Wunderkraut presents a solution to managing multiple hosted sites and deploying patches and features safely.

Other sessions include Git versioning and branching, Display Suite, data migration, project sizing and estimation, how to write Drupal plugins and more...

LINK: For the complete list of confirmed sessions, please visit our website

BUTTON: [REGISTER NOW]

DrupalCamp Stockholm has grown We've scaled up the conference this time to handle demand but there's a limited number of tickets. Register today to make sure you're not left out. Tickets cost 295 SEK (VAT incl) and include lunch and snacks. Students can take advantage of the generous student discount. Send an email to student@drupalcamp.se to find out more.

Looking for lodging? The neighborhood of Kungsholmen offers many lodging options, some just a stone's throw from the venue. Connect Hotel and Stockholm Hostel are located right by the venue. If you don't mind walking 500 meters, STF Fridhemsplan also offers hostel style lodging.

BUTTON: [REGISTER NOW]

SUB HEADER: More than just sessions

(two columns follow)

[IMAGE] Swedish Drupal Awards ceremony with live voting! LINK: [Nominate today: best website, best technology, best design and drupalist of the year!]

[IMAGE] Join the AfterCamp party and mingle with your newfound Drupal friends!

[SHARE BUTTONS]

[SPONSOR MESSAGE]

[LIST OF SPONSORS]

[COPYRIGHT NOTICE]

TEXT: You are receiving this email because you have attended DrupalCamp Stockholm in the past or signed up to receive email updates about upcoming DrupalCamp Stockholm conferences.

TEXT: Our mailing address is: DrupalCamp Stockholm c/o Company Name Stockholm 11xxx Sweden

LINKS: Add us to your address book unsubscribe from this list, update subscription preferences

LINKS: Twitter follow us, Visit our website


The conference day

The day (or days) you've been planning for so long has (have) finally arrived. Perhaps you slept fitfully, mentally running your mental check lists to make sure everything is in place and is being take care of. Chances are you went to bed late, having to replace the speakers provided by the venue (which were broken) with a pair you rented the same evening. This is part of organizing a conference and something you should expect to happen at the last minute. In this section, I will cover ways you can prepare for the conference day and plan well to better handle unexpected problems.

Relax

First of all, take a deep breath. If you've done most of the things I've covered in this guide, then you're on the track for a great conference. The train is in motion. As it happens, conferences have a tendency to take care of themselves providing planning was done well. With a bit of planning, the actual conference day won't offer too many surprises.

Planning the day

Planning the actual day consists of two things: making sure the schedule is followed and assigning tasks to your team. Do not expect your team to solve this ad hoc and on site, you need to plan it. Planning helps avoid situations like lines forming at the check-in desk because there's no one from the team there.

The key document is the day schedule. And yes, it's yet another spreadsheet :). Let's look at an example:

Time Schedule Sponsors "Registration, t-shirts and ""helpdesk"" Tech track host Business track host Video Keynote Video business track Video tech track
08.30 - 09.00 Registration & Coffee Setting up, X X X X X
09.00 - 10.00 Keynote X X
10.00 - 10.30 Slot 1 + 2 X X X X X
10.30 - 11.00 Slot 3 + 4 X X X X
11.00 - 11.30 Slot 5 + 6 X X X X
11.30 - 12.00 Slot 7 + 8 X X X X
12.00 - 13.20 Lunch
13.30 - 14.10 Slot 9 + 10 X X X X X
14.15 - 14.55 Slot 11 + 12 X X X X
15.00 - 15.25 Afternoon coffee
15.30 - 16.10 Slot 13 + 14X X X X X
16.15 - 16.55 Closing
17.00 - Aftercamp Tear down, X
17.45 - 18.00

The time column lists the day in time slots, as is reflected by the schedule. The day starts well before the first session. Ideally you should be on site as early as possible so you can address any last minute problems (there are always last minute problems).

In our case, we had six different areas that needed to be taken care of: helping sponsors, manning the registration desk, hosting the tech track, hosting the business track, recording sessions for keynote and the two tracks.

The "X"'s indicate where you need one or more people assigned. The morning registration should ideally be manned by two or more people to avoid lines forming. We handled this using phones and tablets and just checked people off using the Eventbrite app. This way we got statistics on how many actually showed up. This is useful as it will let you project the no show ratio for your next camp.

The track host role can be shared among several people as it's quite taxing and require preparation. The host is responsible for introducing the speaker, keeping track of time and moderating the Q&A at the end of the session.

Session recording is something we've done in the past. The next section gives some advice on how you can do it without too much work.

Recording sessions

The session recording is always something that causes last minute headaches. Venues tend to answer yes when you ask about PA and getting an audio feed from the stage to tap into. In reality, they have no clue and you need to pay for a sound technician to set it up so you can capture the sound.

There are several ways you can capture your sessions. But weigh the pros and cons of each as it's a lot of work and involves work done after the conference. People are much less motivated after the conference than before so sessions can take weeks to be posted. By then, much of the interest has subsided and they won't garner as much attention.

Using a frame grabber

We've used the VGA2USB recorder by Epiphan Systems to record the presentation feed from the presenter's computer and the audio feed from the PA. The drawback with this solution is that you cannot see the speaker. Great speakers use body language effectively. With this solution, that aspect of a presentation is lost. On the other hand, you will get the slides looking rather sharp and clear. This is tricky when using a separate camera as the slides are brighter in relation to the room. That means the exposure level for filming the speaker is way too low to capture the slide. So when the presenter is being filmed, the slide will be so bright all details are lost, and when the slide is being filmed, the presenter looks so dark its hard to discern anything.

They have several models, they range from around €230 and up depending on what quality you need. We used the low end model (VGA2USB) and the resolution isn't great, it produces interlaced frames and the brightness takes a hit (here's an example). But the audio quality is good enough provided you got a good mike. Keep in mind that each frame grabber needs a laptop or other computer that it saves the video files to.

Using a camera

Tapping into the audio feed and feeding it to the camera while filming the entire presentation has the advantage of capturing the speaker's entire performance. The drawback is you need to switch between slides and speaker in a natural way. You can do this by using one camera and pan and zoom or using two separate cameras (or a frame grabber) and then do the cutting afterwards. This is a lot of work and not something I recommend save perhaps for the keynote.

Doing it webcam style

An option we will consider seriously for the future is to use a fixed webcam on a tripod, placed in a good position and set it up to stream directly to the web. This way, the camera will capture the entire stage and the projection. Using Ustream or Bambuser, this allows people who cannot attend to follow the conference in real time using a browser.

By setting up a camera for each track you can capture all the sessions for the day. By referencing points in time in the recorded and archived feed, you can later link to the recordings for each session of the day.

The drawbacks of this is that you're relying heavily on bandwidth being available and sufficient for the stream. The UStream and Bambuser applications will cache content in case there's no upstream connection but it will still impact the experience of those attending remotely. Furthermore, you still have the exposure level problem with the webcam being unable to capture the speaker and the slides well at the same time.

With a decent enough HD camera, you can achieve enough resolution to keep the slides readable. Here's an example from a BoF session at DrupalCon Portland that we recorded using a web camera mounted on a tripod.

Post processing

In the past we've edited videos to trim the beginning and end and adding screens. We've also branded videos. This is more work than it sounds like. It involves loading up the session video files, trimming them manually, then adding the screen and other artwork and rendering the finished file. The advantage of doing this is that you can offer your sponsors the opportunity to have their logo in session recordings and build the brand of your conference.

Communicating effectively within the team

Despite careful planning and trying to think of every contingency and possibility, unexpected things will happen. In those cases you will need your team to respond quickly. It's often not feasible to call five people to find out which one of them is available to help. To avoid this problem, set up a group chat channel on your phones and keep it vibrating and beeping so you hear when you get a message. You can use Facebook Messenger to create a multiple party conversation which distributes messages to everyone. Once you need help, just send a message to the conversation. The first person to see it can respond saying "I'm on it". It's a cheap civilian version of the Secret Service's ear phones :)


Evaluating

"Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time." --- George Bernard Shaw


The only way to learn from your mistakes is to study them, understand them and make the necessary changes to prevent them from happening again. This is why doing a follow-up is so important. It can be daunting to ask people what they about it as not everyone will have nice things to say about your event. Some people will seem ungrateful and demanding. But some people will also offer valuable insights and advice.

The easiest way to follow up is to make a questionnaire. It shouldn't be too long and it should be sent out shortly after the conference (within 1-2 days) so people haven't forgotten too much. By making questionnaires short and sending them out as soon as we could, we've managed to get responses in the 10-15% range from attendees.

We've made our surveys using Google Drive forms and sending out the link using MailChimp.

We make two questionnaires, one for attendees and one for sponsors.

From the surveys, we learned (among other things) that the venue had really poor ventilation and that the walls were so thin that sound carried between rooms. All of this is valuable information that will allow us to make the conference even better.

Follow-up to attendees

The survey questionnaire for attendees was made as short as possible. Make sure you state how long filling out will take. In case they get your email when they're busy, it allows them to plan to do it later. It will also assure them that once they start filling it out, it won't take too long. People don't like forms, as a rule. I think we've all seen these web surveys that range a hundred pages and take half an our to fill out. People would never fill them out if they knew how much time it takes.

[X, Y, Z] denotes a multiple select (checkboxes). {X, Y, Z} denotes a single select (radio). Otherwise it's a text field.

Note: the only fields that were mandatory were the person's role and the size of the company. This was so we could get an idea of what kind of content people with different professional roles were most interested in.

Follows is an outline:

  • "Thank you for attending and making this such an awesome camp. We'd love to hear your thoughts on things that were great and things that can be improved so we can make the next camp even better! Filling out this form will take between 2 and 5 minutes."
  • What's your role at your company? (required) [make this a multiple select so you can get cleaner reports later]
  • What's the size of your company? (required) {1, 2-10, 11-20, 21-50, 51-100, 101-200, 201-500, 501-1000, more than 1000}
  • Why are you interested in Drupal?
  • How did the conference fulfill your reasons for attending?
  • What was the most beneficial aspect of the conference?

  • "Content"

  • "It's not their Drupal, It's our Drupal --- Morten Birch-Heide Jørgensen" {grid of radio buttons, columns: How useful was the session's content to you?, How much did you learn from this session?, Would you like to see more sessions like this one at future camps? Rows: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5}

... One grid like this for every session.

  • Which was your favorite session? {list of sessions}
  • Feedback to a specific speaker, If you have session specific feedback, please specify the session title or topic so we can forward it to the right person
  • If you have feedback on the food, please tell us

  • "Food, Venue and Extras"

  • Venue, Was the venue good? Did you have any problems or was there something that didn't work?
  • Aftercamp, Did you attend the aftercamp? Was it good? Is there any way could have made it an even better experience?
  • General feedback, If there's anything else you think we should know or consider, please type it in here
  • "Thank you for helping us improve DrupalCamp Stockholm!"

Follow-up to sponsors

The survey for the sponsors was similar but shorter:

  • What level did you sponsor at? (Required)
  • Are you happy with the visibility and value you got out of your sponsorship?
  • What can we do to improve the visibility and value at the sponsorship level you chose?
  • If you had exhibition space, how well did it work and how can it be improved?
  • How would you rate the information you received from us and how can it be improved?
  • Please share any comments or suggestions you may have
  • "Thank you for taking your time"

Post-mortem meeting

The feedback from sponsors and attendees will probably provide food for thought why it's smart to share the feedback with everyone on the team. Once everyone has read it, call for a post–mortem. It's a meeting that's not as morbid as it sounds. This is one of the most valuable meetings as it allows you write down the collective experience of the event, and what your take aways are.

The way we've run these meetings is by sharing the feedback by email, then asked everyone to read it and note things they think are worth to consider. At the meeting, we've let everyone share what they think went well, went less well and how it can be improved for the next time. Those who cannot attend should ideally send in their notes by email. All suggestions are then written down in a shared document that can be used when planning the next conference, making sure those lessons aren't forgotten.

The ideas and suggestions that came out of that meeting have been extremely valuable. They've formed the foundation for much of the advice you find in this guide. I hope you will apply what you've found in here and share with us what worked well and what didn't and how you think it can be made even better.

Celebrate

Organizing a conference is a lot of work, and you often forget to celebrate your achievement. Once evaluations are done, videos have been posted and photos have been shared, make sure you get everyone together for a great meal. You've done something awesome so don't forget to relish the feeling of achievement. You deserve it :)

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Amelia Berkeley for proofreading and providing invaluable suggestions for improvements.

Also, I'd like to thank Shannon Vettes for proofreading and providing feedback.

Any errors, omissions or incorrect facts are entirely my own. Feedback is however much appreciated. Drop me a line at: www.jakob-persson.com

License

This guide is available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.

About the author

Jakob Persson has been involved with Drupal since 2005. In 2008, he co-founded NodeOne, a web agency which was a driving force in establishing Drupal in Scandinavia. He's currently the CEO and founder of Sveyt, helping companies innovate faster through prototyping and applying lean startup principles. He speaks regularly at Drupal conferences.

You can reach Jakob through his website www.jakob-persson.com or follow him on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jakobper

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - 14:04

Leave a comment

Welcome to my blog. My name is Jakob Persson and I'm an entrepreneur and consultant. I work with companies to create measurable change by focusing on users, customers, market strategy and pricing. I'm a deep and broad specialist-generalist with skills in business strategy, digital marketing, pricing, interaction and service design as well as project management and software development.

This is my personal blog where I write on topics that interest me such as design, value-based pricing, marketing and technology but also on personal interests.

I am the founder of Leancept which makes companies more competitive through value-based pricing and customer intimacy.

Follow me on Twitter to get updates and links that I share.

If RSS is your preferred way of reading blogs, check out the RSS feed.

See the contact page for how to get in touch with me.

Best,

Jakob

Table of contents