Drupalcamp organization DOs and DON'Ts
On the 26-27th november 2011, I had the pleasure to host the Drupalcamp Toulouse, as a part of a big free software event: the Capitole du libre. I'd like to use that experience to present you what worked / what didn't, or what I could / should / shouldn't have done.
Some general advice
Choose your audience
Are you doing a specialized camp (like Berlin theming camp)? Is it community centered or do you want general audience to come?
Learn to delegate
If you're alone to organize such an event, well it's simple. You. Will. Fail. Or your event will succeed, but the toll on your life (you know, the one you're going to get back to after all) will be too high.
Find a good team (around 5 people is sufficient), and give them tasks. They will help (just have a backup plan, in case they won't).
Don't organize your event at the same date as... let's say... the local game show. General audience will always choose fun and a family event over something (even remotely) looking like work, even when the community is fun enough. And you don't want to frustrate geeks.
Remember to rest
During the event, rest when you're tired. Nobody will hate your for running off the night parties before the end, whereas people will expect you to show up to open the morning after.
Before the day
- The different steps to a well-planed event are:
- communication (website, poster, social networks, medias)
- goodies (T-shirts, welcome bag...)
What would have been extremely useful to me: a timed checklist. I didn't have it, but was very lucky to benefit from the experience of @Artusamak and Toulibre, the Toulouse association for promotion of free software.
French people are notoriously bad at speaking english. Having a complete english track was a tough decision to make (since we targeted general audience as well) but allowed us access to some great technical speakers, and was a way to broaden our audience as well (english folks would not have come for only 2 sessions). Seeing the affluence to these sessions, I don't regret it at all.
I put speakers first because having great speakers could motivate sponsors to donate or donate more, but sponsors could be a way to pay for travel expenses for speakers, so just consider looking for both at the same time.
Ah, yes... Just remember to have some backups speakers (or be ready to present something yourself), you will have one or two cancellations. You may prepare some interactive sessions just in case (where no speaker is needed, people just exchange ideas about a topic). If it's too hard to find speakers, just go commando and organize a barcamp, there are always people willing to speak about something ;-)
Having the president of the french Drupal association was an easy way to collect sponsor contact really fast. We decided to not adress them all so they would be able to sponsor future french Drupalcamps.
Our mistake was to NOT prepare separated pack from sponsoring. As we were associated with an existing event (Ubuntu Party), we followed the same path they took every year: just ask for money. Even as we had a big doc regarding was would be provided for sponsors, the first question of every people I talked too was "What are your different sponsoring packs?". Sponsors love (and need) to differentiate themselves from the other. I encourage you to prepare different packs. Another way to have them being clearly identified is make them pay for a peculiar thing or event (night party, coffee, food, goodies, ...).
Since we targeted general audience, we needed a poster, ready at least 5 weeks before the event (to have some time to distribute it everywhere). Sponsors, and eventually the program have to be on it, so you need to have them before. You need some designer to make it, so count at least a week, better two, to have it ready. That makes it seven weeks before the event.
A month before the event, tweet from time to time about everything you can: the sponsors, the speakers, anything. The point is to make people acknowledge there's a camp in your city. Otherwise, they won't show up.
But the main point is the website. You should have a website clearly stating the location of the venue and travel options to it, as well as a detailed program of the event (detailed presentations of the conference, not just a subject line). It's really important so people can decide whether or not they will go there. I repeat, just to be sure: it's REALLY IMPORTANT (yes, I even shout it).
Having some nice hotels around the venue (and eventually negociating a fixed price with them) is a nice-to-have (if you still have some time after dealing with everything else ;-)).
This part is not mandatory at all. It's just a tradition, and it's a nice one. Just pick a thing that is local (rugby ball), and if you haven't, mugs or stress ball are always appreciated.
T-shirts are a nice addition, a way for people to proove they were there. Just remember you will need some time to have them marked and delivered (often 2 to 3 weeks).
Remember you can always sell goodies too. I was really surprised to see there were some people wanted to buy some T-shirts during the camp.
- 4 months before: venue
- 3 months before: speakers & sponsors
- 2 months before: poster
- last month: Goodies, preparation of the event (buy furnitures, prepare individual programs, everything you will need on D day).
During the session day
Speakers are passionate. You sometimes need to stop them. Assign a time-keeper per room, and you'll be fine most of the time.
Have fresh water in every room. Try your furnitures some time before the start (have a spare projector, just in case).
Don't hesitate to advertise other sessions or sprints when talking to people. They don't always know what they will see or do.
As your audience is essentially composed of men, you could be tempted to hire hostesses. We did ;-). Jokes aside, think of the people who will come to ask general questions about Drupal, and be sure to have some of your staff always available in the welcome hall to guide / answer them.
During the sprint day
Four words: Free. Food. Free. Coffee. You're pretty much covered ;-) For the food, ordering pizzas is a great way to adjust the number of participants. Just note that coffee is more important than food (you will always find food somewhere when hungry, but the Drupal community is a damn huge coffee freak).
For the sprints themselves (translation, code), prepare some directions, have people help you drive each sprint, and everything will be fine.
After the day
Thank your sponsors, speakers, help, quite everybody actually. Try to get feedback from others about your event.
Gather the slides of your sessions, so people who missed the camp can still be a part of it. If you have videos, post them.
Go to other people events, they will be more enclined to come to yours.
I'm tired, but I very much enjoyed seeing everybody happy during the event. Come [to Drupal] for the software, stay for the community. You won't regret it.