5 tips to a successful company-internal tech conference
No matter how prepared you are, you’re going to forget to check the mouse batteries.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I organized an internal conference at Dynatrace, and I summed up why it makes sense for tech companies to do something like this in another blog post. Now, I’d like to share some tips I learned the hard way, hoping this might help others organize similar events.
Organizing an Internal conference is quite different from an external one. Many of the challenges you can run into with an external conference kind of disappear. You may not have to worry about the venue, the materials, or even organizing travel and accommodation. On the other hand, you are organizing something for your colleagues, people you see and work with every day, so your personal reputation is definitely on the line.
Start planning as early as possible & set dates as the first thing
You don’t always have the chance to start planning an event like a conference with months to spare, but you should take as much time as possible if you can. For our first-ever internal conference, I had about three weeks to organize everything, and it would have saved me a lot of energy had I had more time to plan. That’s why I am already now (in July) starting to prepare for our next conference in October or November.
Although the timeline can be a bit laxer than for a large external event, you should aim for 2–3 months of planning time, especially if you have people coming from other offices around the world.
Besides the date of the event itself, it’s vital to fix deadlines as soon as possible.
Guests may love to participate in events, but for some reason, they like to keep their options open until the last moment, so I wouldn’t count on their full cooperation. Speakers and presenters can also be fickle so try to give clear instructions. When do PowerPoint slides need to be ready? When should the schedule be ready? At what time should everybody be there?
Budget extra time in between sessions
When you create the schedule, don’t make every session back-to-back. Add a couple of minutes of break in between sessions for attendees to stretch their legs, grab a coffee, and talk to each other. Everybody will thank you for it. Also, something always goes wrong, batteries run out, connections fail, and the world of IT can sometimes be surprising and unforgiving.
No matter how interested everyone may be, we all have limited attention spans, so it’s best to aim for slots of at most 45 minutes. This is good practice because it’s hard for people to pay attention to talks for long periods of time without any breaks and because one of the essential aspects of conferences is getting the chance to talk to people you don’t work with daily.
Learn how to use the equipment
The day before, I spent time checking that all the computers and microphones were working. However, on the day of the conference, some things went wrong anyway. I thought I checked everything, but the batteries in the only mouse we had died after the first keynote. So suddenly we had to take an unplanned break while I looked for new batteries.
Every setup is different, and sometimes the functions can be a little overwhelming, practice the “tech set up” until you know what to do.
If I could go back, I’d try to book some time with the speakers to rehearse the conference at least once. This is an excellent option if you are working with people that aren’t used to speaking in front of crowds. It can make timing easier to organize, and sometimes speakers don’t realize if something is good or not until they have heard it out loud. This was not possible this time due to our time constraints. I could not get everybody at the same place at the same time the day before.
Plan a fun activity for after the conference
Since it’s an internal event, you may not think it’s essential to plan a networking event — everybody should know each other anyway. But it makes sense to plan some activity, mainly because it gives everybody the chance to let their hair down after a whole day of sessions and workshops. If done right, it can function as a company team-building event as well!
Also, I think that the best discoveries and inventions often occur in front of some good food or after a glass or two.
Furthermore, if you have people coming from other cities to the conference, it’s also nice to give them a social event to attend in the evening. 😊
Don’t be afraid of spamming your speakers and attendees
To make everything run smoothly, you will sometimes have to put on your general hat and give orders, send out reminders, and literally spam people with emails and messages. If you manage it, subliminal messages probably won’t hurt… And it’s nothing to be worried about!
Don’t forget that you are organizing this conference for the attendees’ benefit! Not for yourself. And if they want the conference to be successful, both speakers and attendees need to do their part.
Things need to be done by the deadlines you set, and there will be occasions where you need to send out reminders to people if those deadlines are not met. However, you need to ensure that you explain everything correctly to avoid any confusion.
Extra tip: Ask for actionable feedback afterward!
It’s essential to ask for feedback. You can do this in various ways. As we were 35 people, we did a quick test and asked the attendees to answer some questions by raising their hands. This is a useful strategy to get real-time feedback and to understand better what the overall mood is. If you want to get in-depth information, you can do this by sending out a survey after the conference. This is especially necessary if you plan on organizing more in the future.
Good questions to ask, for example, are:
- What did you think of the overall organization of the conference?
- What changes would you like to see in the next edition? (timing, structure, activities, duration, information, instructions)
- How long should the conference be?
- How would you prefer to attend (in-person or remote)?
- How often would you like to have this type of conference?
- Which agenda items did you like the most?
- What type of evening activity would you like in the future?
I learned that I would do better next time to get people more engaged beforehand for the workshops.
I tried to create some slack channels for every workshop, so people could have a space to share ideas in preparation for them. But since we didn’t have a lot of time, they were not used at all. I will surely try to find a way to make this more engaging next time!
If you’re still wondering whether you should take the step and organize an internal conference, let me convince you with my other blog post: Why your next conference should be company-internal
5 tips to a successful company-internal tech conference was originally published in Dynatrace Engineering on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.