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Reflections on running a first conference

When I started talking to Gavin, who ran both DIBI and Industry Conf, he said that “running a conference will be one of the most challenging things you ever do”, he wasn’t wrong.

Niels Leenheer — on stage at FrontendNE flying a drove via JavaScript photo credit Ashley Baxter

It seemed a natural progression from running a regular meet-up but I maybe underestimated the amount of work there was to do.

You can check out a few more details on the conference at https://2018.frontendne.co.uk/ and our regular meet-up at https://frontendne.co.uk/

For the conference as a rough guide we had these areas:

  • find a venue
  • find speakers
  • find sponsors
  • run diversity fund
  • run call for speakers
  • promote conference

When I say something like finding a venue, once you’ve done that you need to work out food, AV, filming (maybe) - most of these tasks take place over a number of months and require a lot of attention.

There are lots of takeaways but I’ve outlined what I think are the important ones.

Venues, Venues, Venues

A lot of what you decide to do will be driven by your venue — this isn’t a bad thing it can provide constraints that will shape your day.

Our first venue decided it no longer wanted to be a venue in January — while this was a massive pain at the time it turned out to be amazing news.

The new venue we used provided food, set-up, sound engineer and preferred supplier for video.

This helped reduce our load that we need to take care of in the days before the event.

An event where I can have fruit and yogurt for breakfast and a scotch egg for lunch is the sort of day I want.

Know your numbers

The biggest take away from my point of view was knowing your finance back to front — as much as we had a break-even point we needed to make sure we had enough money at the right time to cover costs.

Ticket sales will boomerang — I think the last two months we sold 70% of our tickets — this creates a massive cash flow bottleneck.

For a 200 person event, we are talking the potential to have massive issues, thankfully this didn’t happen.

Speakers and content

Every speaker we had was absolutely amazing. We spent a long time debating what would make a good front-end conference.

We could have easily filled a 2 or 3-day event with speakers but we agreed to do a single track, with 7 slots. I think from being to other conferences single track makes a lot of sense, as you don’t miss out.

I didn’t know how call for speakers would go, but sorting 100+ talk submissions isn’t easy — it takes time to review each one and see how they fit but it gave us topics I never even thought about!

Our speaker offering was simple, £1,000 for speaking with travel, and accommodation covered seperately.

Front-end as a whole allows for really mixed content — I think we hit a good balance of talks.

Timing is everything

Nothing happens instantly, most steps involve multiple contact points over many months — you need the time to manage everything successfully.

I sent the first e-mail about venue booking in February 2017, while that lead in time is maybe too much it gives you some idea of the time period it happened over.

You could condense this to maybe 3–4 months but from looking for replacement speakers a lot of people had already been booked. Much like most projects — we set out a time period for stuff that needed to get done by a certain time to keep track of them.

Remember to have fun

It is easy to get caught up in needing to do stuff, but you should remember why you are running a conference. My own goal was to put on a great conference in Newcastle, something we as a community could be really proud of.

Diversity

Another important part was making sure we could be more inclusive — we talked to a few companies about sponsoring our diversity scholarship, but it didn’t come too much.

A few details of our diversity scholarship are at https://2018.frontendne.co.uk/diversity-scholarship.html

Some of our speakers donated part of or all of their fee to the fund, which meant we could support people with either tickets or tickets and travel.

Working out who gets what and if x is more important then y is really difficult. We thought this would happen organically but we struggled, so we reached out to some local coding groups.

Whats next?

We got amazing feedback about the event, both from speakers and attendees.

I have no idea if we’ll do an event in 2019 — but if it sounds like something you’d like to support on, drop me an email at [email protected]

One final thing — special thanks to Sam Beckham for keeping me sane over the last 6 months.

orginally published on medium

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