27th October 2017

So, having been with a tech company for about a year I was now familiar with what to expect from a tech event, having been to a few myself including Cloud and DevOps World at London’s ExCel centre in June. These type of events are relatively simple to organise, you pay a fee to the organiser for a section on the floor, you bring your stands and merch and you spend your time at the event to talk to new people and hopefully grab some new leads.

When it was time to start thinking about our own conference, Agile Delivery, it dawned on me that I was the organiser and therefore responsible for every section of this event – completely new territory for me.

A little background on Agile Delivery, we had previously held this conference in 2016 in a school hall with talks from the likes of Three, BBC and M&S. The conference received positive feedback and as a result, it was a no-brainer that Agile Delivery would return for 2017.

Back to this year’s conference, having never organised an event this size before I was unsure of where to start. Having looked at the different elements that make up a well-structured conference, I came up with the following:

1 – Finding the right venue

Without a venue, you simply cannot hold an event so I thought this would be a good place to start. So, what makes a good venue? Considering we sold over 300 tickets last year I knew I would have to aim for Agile Delivery 2017 to host at least 200 people. There are a few options to keep in mind when looking for a perfect venue, these include:

  • How many people does the venue hold? You want to ensure the venue accommodates enough people for your target audience. Too small a venue and you will have to restrict a number of tickets you can sell and therefore risk breaking your budget/having to spend less in other areas to make up the reduced budget. Too large a venue and you risk not having enough people attend and having the conference look empty.
  • Does it come with its own equipment? Ideally, you would want your venue to provide its own PA system, tables and chairs. This saves on the extra spending on equipment and the logistics in having to find a supplier to deliver and pick them up before and after the conference.

Luckily, the first venue we looked at seemed to be perfect for what we were aiming for as it held 200 people and supplied multiple rooms and equipment. It was also close to a tube station which was beneficial for our delegates, no one likes to tackle a maze on their way home.

2 – Your speakers

Your speakers, in theory, make your conference as they will drive interest and ticket sales for your event. Try and secure two or three solid speakers with good talks early. This way, your first announcement will spark an early interest in your event and initiate ticket sales. It is important to keep in mind the length of your event as you want to leave enough time to have regular breaks and not have your speakers feel rushed if they are used to talking for around 40 minutes.

We settled on 6 talks with an interactive activity to end the conference and the timings for this worked well as we gave each speaker between 30-40 minutes each. This left enough time for breaks and a networking session at the end. The speakers included CEOs and Product Marketing Managers and covered a mixture of topics to target a wide range of delegates. Another thing to mention would be to try and secure speakers from reputable companies, for example, we had speakers from PwC and Companies House. This will also entice people to buy tickets to your event as those brands have significant weight behind them and people will justify spending money on hearing talks from those brands.

3 – Sponsor packages and getting people to sponsor your event

If you create interesting and beneficial sponsor packages, you will entice companies to sponsor your event. Think about creating a sponsorship package to send out to companies which outline the details of each package. The main motivation for companies to sponsor will be to get their brand out to their target audience and hopefully generate some leads whilst at your conference. Keep this mind when constructing your sponsorship packages, think about opportunities for companies to showcase their branding or company across your event marketing material and during the conference.

For Agile Delivery 2017, we offered a number of packages which were beneficial for companies to take up. These included branding across the event marketing material, sponsorship pitches before and after talks and opportunities to sponsor elements which delegates will directly engage with such as the goody bags and coffee.

4 – Catering/ Refreshments

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, food and drink can make or break a conference as people will be interested if there will be a good lunch and decent coffee on offer… maybe that’s just me. If you are hosting an all-day event you will have to keep in mind that you will want to offer regular breaks so guests can use the bathroom and get a drink (especially if your event falls on a hot day!). Usually, you can find a number of companies that offer a tea and coffee service for a decent price but keep in mind the turn-around time as if you are keen to offer fancy lattes and cappuccinos, you will not be able to serve a lot of people in your break time. The better option, I found, was to hire a coffee service (Shout out to The Little Coffee Van) which supplied filter coffee and tea, as this meant it was a self-serve bar and a lot of people could be served over a short amount of time.

When it came to thinking of the catering options, one thing I was very conscious about was serving a high number of people at the same time and for the food to not get cold whilst we were waiting for a talk to finish. The first thing you want to do is contact a number of catering companies to inquire if they have the capabilities of catering for 100+ people at the same time and they offer food suited to your event. You don’t want to offer a black tie suited menu to a casual tech conference, also you want to keep in mind if you don’t have access to a fridge, you wouldn’t want food sitting out if its time sensitive.

After contacting a number of catering companies and deciding what type of food would go down well at this year’s event, there was a very easy answer staring me in the face… pizza.

Pizza was the best option for our event as we found Voodoo Rays, who were able to supply 22″ pizzas and could meet the large order demand. It was also a good option as we could cater for those with specific dietary requirements such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. And come on, who doesn’t like pizza…

5 – SWAG & Other

After you have secured the main foundations of any event – venue, speakers, tickets and refreshments, it is now time to think of any additional options which will really make your event stand out. I have been to a few conferences and large events before and I have always noticed the smaller details do make a difference. Again, I was conscious of the budget as I did not want to spend all of our money on the smaller details- this is where your sponsors come in again!

Remember what I said earlier about your sponsors wanting to put their brand out to their target audience? Well, why not ask your sponsors if they would like to donate any marketing materials to put in your delegate bags, this may include flyers, promotional games and gadgets. This not only adds items to your delegate bags but also offers another benefit for sponsoring your event, as delegates can take their information away with them at the end of the day.

Another option to consider, and it did not occur to me until mentioned by another member of the team, was who will be hosting your conference. You may have someone who is an amazing public speaker and would be a perfect fit for your event but I am not what you would call an avid speaker. In this case, you may want to hire an external MC (or master of ceremonies) to do this for you and a quick search on Google will bring up a number of reputable people. In our case, we luckily had a contact who was happy to MC at Agile Delivery for us and he did an awesome job!

After you have ticked all the boxes and have your conference foundations in place, it’s safe to say your conference is pretty much sorted. You will now only have to manage the day itself, this includes:

  • Ensuring the materials and deliveries arrive at the venue on time.
  • The set-up of the venue is correct.
  • The talks are within time and do not run over, thus throwing your whole schedule off.
  • The food arrives on time, not too early or too late.
  • There are no accidents.

Now, let me tell you this, you can be the most organised person on the planet and still have things go wrong on-the-day as I found out. One factor I did not consider in my planning for our conference, was transport on the day and this will always change day-to-day. Traffic, especially in a big city, will always be crazy and this can throw your planning off if not added to your schedule. I learnt this the hard way as we arrived late to the venue because we did not account for the traffic on the way to the venue but I also learnt that it also helps to choose a venue which is flexible and has a man on hand to open the venue for you. This helped us, as whilst we were still commuting our sponsors and catering could start setting up, therefore not delaying the start of our conference.

So, what did organising Agile Delivery 2017 teach me?

Firstly, I have a huge respect for those who organise conferences which cater for thousands of people instead of a mere 200 people. How do they do it without superpowers? I also learnt that you will also need to be very organised and to think of every angle and option which can be given but at the same time to expect the unexpected as you cannot control everything.

And lastly, pizza will always be a safe option for a large group of people as I stand by the fact that you have to be crazy to not like pizza.

If you would like to re-visit the slides from each talk, you can find these in the handy links below:

Paul Clark – Agile in Financial Services

Valerie Andrianova – Baking boards: Tweaking the recipe for Agile Development

Paul Wilford – From a small experiment to “DevOps” in the cloud, making a commitment with over half a billion in turnover

Nick Brown – Coaching in a Data-Driven World

Ben Lidgey – DevOps in Disguise 

Jenny Martin – Death by User Stories
(With narration)

About Kayleigh Tiernan
Marketing Executive at MagenTys