2014 Lessons Learned
Code4Lib 2014 Conference Planning -- Lessons Learned (and Ideas)
Venue planning and negotiation
- A conference services planning organization, like CONCENTRA, has significant experience in contract details that volunteer planners would unlikely have.
- Venue negotiation takes a significant amount of time. Total of nearly four (5) months of visits, informational calls, and negotiations.
- Hotel block negotiations are valuable, especially in the fine print of cancellation clauses, re-selling of unsold rooms, penalties of underselling, and scheduled kickbacks at certain increments.
- When looking at space capacities, make sure you find out how many attendees can REALLY fit in a given space. The advertised numbers seem to be artificially inflated; ask to see a room layout graphic with A/V in place (we lost 15% of stated capacity at least to A/V).
- Regardless of how strongly we communicate to the venue the pressures we'll be placing on their wifi, they almost always have trouble keeping up with our connection weight (especially hotels).
- Overall, the 2014 group began working on venue negotiation and sponsorships in June 2013 for a conference taking place in March 2014.
- The venue of C4L2014 could hold 350 people
- To ensure registration Presenters, Preconference Organizers, and Sponsors (Platinum, Gold, and Table), initial registration was capped at 325. This filled in approximately 48 hours.
- Demand for Code4Lib 2014 was 420 based on registrations and wait list.
- Local registrations by the hosting libraries (Duke, NCSU, UNC) was 41 registrations.
- CONCENTRA's registration system had some technical limitations as to data input and flow, but CONCENTRA handled all processing with little assistance by volunteers.
- Waitlist was well-handled by a Google Form, as the registration system didn't have built-in waitlist functionality.
- 46.8% of the estimated cost of C4L2014 was provided by sponsorships. The registration cost of $165 per person covered another 46.8%. The remaining balance of C4L2013 covered the remaining 6-7%.
- To keep registration costs low, it is critical the Sponsorship Committee raise a minimum of $50,000 per year.
- The Sponsorship Prospectus was a significant tool in raising money this year.
- Getting sizing that works for everyone is hard.
- Nevertheless, there is value in providing as diverse a selection of sizes and cuts as is practicable.
- There may be some design fatigue in the community.
- Consider some other type of swag that doesn't involve sizing difficulties -- like re-usable coffee mugs (then attendees could use them all conference!)
- When putting out a call for any graphics, ensure that the formats submitted are usable in production.
Food and Beverage
- Coffee in unlimited quantities is valued more highly than food at breaks.
- Using negotiation to buy "off menu" will save money.
- Make sure that you ask about dietary requirements during registration so that you can accommodate vegan / vegetarian / gluten-free, etc.
- Consider a winnowing process for pre-conferences to limit them in advance of registration to the number of rooms that you have. Could either do advance voting like with talks, or say that you have x number of rooms and take the top x pre-conferences, etc. We set a 5-person registration minimum for A/V support this year, and found that all the pre-conferences met that limit (all 19 of them!) so it was not particularly useful. (Adam Constabaris [first dot last, lowercased at gmail] from the 2014 committee has a working database schema and a vague idea about incorporating voting on preconferences into the Debold-o-Tron)
- Ask ahead of time to find out if pre-conf organizers are planning to open their pre-confs to non-conference attendees.
- Some preconferences work a lot better with special seating arrangements, enrollment caps, etc. Some support for allowing preconf presenters to request/implement such arrangements would be worth considering.
- Pre-conference organizers will likely want to know before registration opens whether or not their pre-conference is actually going to happen (relevant if there are two many proposed for the space to support).
- Communicate early and often with organizers and have a plan for *having a solid plan* as early as possible (this can help some organizers provide the needed justification to their instituitions for travel support).
- When talking to sales folks, get the REAL numbers on how many attendees will fit in a space (this means WITH A/V included, which could be 15% less or more than advertised capacities).
- While you're at that, find out as much as possible about the rooms at the venue, including the layout and suitability to different session styles, *and* wifi and power availability up front.
- It's helpful to have a local representative on all volunteer committees to help grease the wheels.
- A Google Calendar worked well this year in establishing all deadlines across all committees.
- A regularly occurring meeting of some planning group helps keep things moving.
- See and timelines for 2014 volunteer committees.
- Pay attention to the IPs you are assigned, make sure they are not PRIVATE (eg. 10,172.4-31,192.168)
- Start the process to get the freenode limit raised a month before to plan for any kinks!
- Announce channel logging a month or more ahead of time
- It's useful to ask nominees about their availability and willingness to attend before voting so that the community is only voting on real candidates (as opposed to wishful thinking).
- Lanyards for whether it is OK to take photographs
- Add chairs to the front of the room so that lightning talk presenters can sit before they talk
- Do not place a conference goer near the hospitality suite! Maybe make the hang out place a different area in the hotel or conference.
- Another possibility could be to have the room next to the hospitality room be reserved for a "suite steward" or "host" volunteer - aka a person that can look after the room in terms of cleanliness, drink/food stock, etc.
- Make the podium laptop desktop background a plain color with good contrast. After every group of presenters clean off the desktop to keep it quicker and easier for presenters to find their slides.
- Put someone at the front of the room who is responsible for helping presenters with the presenter computer.
- Consider precombining lightning talks into a single slide deck to keep the flow going.
- Consider live closed captioning software for talks and streaming
- IRC channel shown on screens when no presenter is up
- Consider switches at the tables
- Add a Code4Lib logo to the podium
- Have someone whose job it is to collect questions during a presentation and that can then ask them. Allowing for anonymous questions may lead to more folks asking.