Starting your own mini-conference can be a great experience. Mike Street shows you how to get the ball rolling
This article first appeared in issue 230 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.
Conferences are great. You get to meet fantastic people, you learn amazing things, you gain experiences and forge friendships that would never have happened without you attending.
However, not everyone can afford the big ones, not everyone can justify spending one or two days away from the computer and not everyone can convince their boss it’s a great thing for the company, even when their boss is them.
So let’s start a new type of event – a cheap, small, evening event open to everyone. To set one up, all you need is motivation and a concept. It may seem like a daunting task putting on an event, but once you break it down into simple stages it all falls together.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People in this industry are always willing to give you a hand – be it venue finding, website building, sponsoring or any other tasks that need doing.
When putting on your mini-conference, one thing you have to think about is ‘who’. Who is your event aimed at? Who will attend? Who will speak?
Make sure you have a strong identity and a brand to develop, as ultimately, your event is a product that you are trying to ‘sell’. Pitch to the right people – search for users on social networks that are in the location and industry of your event.
The other ‘who’ to consider is who is going to present. How many speakers are you going to have and what will they talk about? Make sure you have plenty of variety. If you’re struggling for speakers, all you have to do is ask.
Another thing to contemplate is ‘what’. Will there be just keynotes? Will there be extra activities? Is it just a social meetup or will it be more structured?
Make sure you allow plenty of time for people to mingle, network and to stand up and have a toilet and drink break. The other thing you need to consider is that people are not always going to want to participate, especially in front of strangers. Try not to force anyone to stand out or speak up, especially if they don’t want to.
In my experience people tend to turn up to mini-conferences to sit, listen and learn, and unless you state clearly that people will be expected to participate in an open discussion or show and tell, they won’t.
The location is always one of the hardest things to sort out. Trying to search for small venues with suitable facilities is a difficult task. I’ve always found venues which offer desk or office space for individuals or startups to be the best place to start as they often have big meeting rooms.
Make sure that your venue is easily accessible – not everyone drives or just gets the train to conferences, so think about both parking and public transport. Try not to set your heart on one venue as the best ones are usually snapped up quickly! If you are certain you want a certain location, make sure you book it well in advance.
Once you’ve got the venue decided, you need to settle on when. One approach I use is to decide roughly when you want to do it (for example, the last week in July) and then contact your speakers and venue and see when they are all available.
As always, there are certain things you need to think about when planning a date for your mini-conference. For example, think about payday and when people are most likely to have money – not just for tickets but for transport as well.
The other thing to consider is other events and conferences. Make sure that your target market isn’t heading off to any other conference!
‘Why’ is the biggest question you have to answer when doing a mini-conference or event. Why do you want to put on this event that will use up your time and money? Do you want it to help others? Do you want somewhere for people to practise their speaking? Or do you want to learn things?
The important thing is that you have a reason for putting on your mini-conference. If you have a reason, you can be passionate about it. If you’re passionate about something, you do it well.