This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
- A brief history
- Committee oversight
- Access to resources from the first nz.js(con);
- Funding and the budget
- Core aspects
- Less critical aspects
- Extensions to the format
- Diversity and accessibility
- The website
- Communications methods
- Team management
- 1 year to 6 months remaining
- 6 months to 3 months remaining
- 3 months to 1 month remaining
- 1 month remaining
- The week before
- During the conference
- Next few days after the conference
A brief history
Access to resources from the first nz.js(con);
There is a gmail account and a google drive account that contain valuable resources from the first conference such as the budget, art assets, vendor communications, and several forms. Upon being selected as the organising team for the next conference you'll be granted access to these resources, and you can ask Jen to point out things that should be reuseable.
Funding and the budget
The first ns.js(con); cost approximately 65k, with 25k coming from ticket sales and 40k from sponsorship. Unless some of the big line items for the next one are much cheaper (venue, catering) you'll need to match that. Gathering sponsorship is described more in the roadmap, but in the meantime here are some basic principles you'll need to bear in mind for the budget generally.
The conference is not-for-profit. We don't want to end up making a big bag of money, that's not what the conference is for... but on the other hand we certainly don't want to lose money. Because of this it is a good idea to aim to have a bit of contingency (a few hundred or maybe even a couple of thousand) in case of emergencies or something not being accounted for properly.
Because funding exceeds the magic 60k number, the society has a GST number and has to file appropriately. What this means for you is twofold: all money coming in needs to have a GST component, and all expenses should in theory get a GST refund.
For ticket sales, GST should be included in the ticket price, and you should only treat the non-GST portion as income you can actually utilise.
For sponsorship, you should tack the GST on top of the amount you're requesting - as a business they'll get a refund on the GST later. That way you can utilise the full amount you asked them for and just leave the extra GST on top alone.
When suppliers invoice you, they will usually treat you as a business and give you GST exclusive prices. As we'll get a GST refund later that should work out fine, but it's worth bearing in mind as we need everything to balance out at the end. Note that we don't get GST refunds for any costs through international suppliers.
Paying for things
The person who has the ability to make payments from the society bank account (note that there is a dedicated account for the conference to make the accounting easy) is the society's treasurer. You'll need to pass any invoices that need paying along to that person. For smaller amounts, it's usually easiest for you to pay it yourself and then put in an expense claim - make sure you keep reciepts for everything.
Invoicing (usually of sponsors) is performed through Xero, and you should be given an account to use that. The committee can give you an overview on how to create an invoice, and there are specific invoice templates for the conference to ensure the correct bank account details are on the invoice.
Keep per attendee costs below ticket costs
A good rule of thumb when creating a budget is to aim to keep costs that scale depending on how many people are attending (like catering and t-shirt printing) less than the cost of a full price ticket.
There's more suggestions about budget creation in the full roadmap below.
These are the core aspects of the conference and shouldn't be changed without a good reason.
Having two tracks is what opens the conference up to being able to support quite technical content. If it was single track, it could potentially be alienating to have very technical content that an attendee has no choice but to sit and watch. It also means that a broader range of topics can be covered thoughout the conference.
Two days, during the week
Again, two days === more talks === a greater potential range of topics. I'd actually originally envisioned the conference as being at the weekend but disucssion at the Loomio group convinced me that during the week was the way to go. The number of companies that bought blocks of tickets and flew their staff to the conference certainly bore this decision out. 2017 was on a Thursday and Friday, which I think is ideal, but a Monday and Tuesday combination also wouldn't be bad.
Some general programming talks as well as JS specific ones
Again, tying into the fact it's two days and two tracks, allowing talks that are about software development or culture more generally is an important part of the format. Certainly there has to be a balance here, but broader topics can be refreshing to the audience (from an attention span perspective). More importantly, as developers we are also social creatures and how we learn and interact also deserves consideration.
Low cost tickets, even cheaper student / unwaged tickets
Ticket prices for 2017 were $125 standard and $60 student / unwaged. Sans GST that's $108.70 and $52.17 respectively. You should be aiming for similar prices - if the standard ticket price needs to creep up by another 10 dollars or so that's probably OK, but the student ticket prices should probably stay fixed. Unlike the aiming-to-cover-costs standard tickets, the student / unwaged tickets are subsidised by sponsorship money. Incidentally there was no verfication that a particular individual is actually a student or unwaged - it's a honesty based system (and in fact for 2017 we got emails from two different people who had originally bought an unwaged ticket but since gotten a job and wanted to pay the difference).
Code of Conduct
The conference's Code of Conduct is taken from the creative commons Geek Feminism event Code of Coduct. This is a well thought out and battle tested CoC and you shouldn't mess with it.
Videos of talks released promptly
Using a video service that got videos online quickly (more on this later) is very helpful in making it possible to continue conversations from the conference.
Less critical aspects
These were this way mostly for cost or simplicity reasons, and could easily be open to being changed if the budget can be made to encompass them or someone could take on the organisational burden:
Find your own lunch
Catering is expensive, particularly if you are using a venue that has a locked-in catering service. So the one and half hour lunch break for attendees to go get their own lunches was definitely a cost saving measure. Having said that, if your venue is well situated for it (lots of options nearby) it can actually be a nice social thing, and it also gets attendees out of the venue which can help with their ability to stay focused in the afternoon sessions later.
No travel fund for speakers
Again, this is all about affordability. Supporting a travel and accomodation fund for all speakers would very likely push the ticket costs up precipitously (or require a significantly larger sponsorship fund), which would break one of the core tenants of the conference (low cost tickets). In lieu of a dedicated speaker travel fund, encouraging speakers who would struggle financially to get to the conference to make use of the diversity and financial aid fund (and preferencing them in the fund selection process) can help. Make sure that your diversity and financial aid process is up before the CFP closes so speakers can utilise it.
Cash bar at social event
There wasn't much money left for the Thursday evening social event in the 2017 budget, so we organised a free room at a function centre with some sponsored bits of food but only a cash bar, no pre-paid drinks. I'd suggest that beacuse these sorts of events are only utilised by a subset of conference attendees, that's actually right form a budgeting perspective - but the thing that could change that would be securing a specific sponsor for drinks at the social event.
Extensions to the format
Now that the basic format of the conference is established, there are certainly additions to the format that could be made. I'd suggest picking only one or two at most, so that they can be done well. Here are a few suggestions of things that I thought about but ultimately dismissed due to lack of money/time/opportunity for 2017.
Dedicated extra trainings and workshops day
The two workshops at 2017 were added via direct conversation with the organisers, rather than through any kind of CFP process. I don't doubt that if we had a CFP process for training sessions community members would step forward to offer that.
At this point I can offer my experience with having a dedicated training day at Kiwi PyCon 2014. First, your need a different set of spaces compared to the normal conference tracks - universities often have good spaces. More rooms === more cost, which if it can't be absorbed into the budget generally can be offset by charging a token fee to attendees (like, $10). Actually having a small ticket price can help with having people actually show up, especially if you were opening trainings up to non-conference attendees. 3 hours per session is generally a good length.
There are two basic formats of lightning (quick) talks that it might be possible to incorporate. 15 minute talks should be proposed through the normal CFP process with a normal abstract, and are just an opportunity for a brief overview of something interesting. Placing four of these slots back to back can give a nice variety of content, that you'd generally schedule for the whole audience rather than having another track running at the same time.
The alternative lightning talk format is 5 minute talks that conference attendees propose during the conference (usually on a whiteboard or similar) with a countdown if the speaker runs out of time. These can be a lot of fun but the quality will inevitably be pretty variable.
More variety of talk lengths generally
At the 2017 conference there were two talks (other than the keynotes) that were 45 mins long, by request of the speakers. I hadn't given the facility in the CFP system for speakers to directly chose a 45 minute slot, and granting this ability in the CFP process would have probably resulted in more submissions of this length. Having more longer talks could allow some more in-depth explorations of topics, but does make it harder to get a balanced schedule.
Offering childcare is pretty expensive, but it can be a massive boon to any parents wanting to attend the conference. Debatably it's not as needed as if the conference were at a weekend, but still it's something to think about (and potentially poll if attendees would consider it valuable). For financial reasons you might need to consider just subsidising the full costs as opposed to fully funding. It is also important for liability reasons to engage an accredited service.
Live streaming of talks - with captions
I'm personally a bit ambivalent about live streaming (most people not at the conference will be otherwise engaged while the conference is in session) but live captioning is a pretty fantastic service to any deaf or hard of hearing members of the community. I've seen this done at other conferences (e.g. JS Conf AU) but I've not looked at pricing.
An alternative to a drinking event is a conference dinner. This should be a ticketed event where the attendee does pay for their own meal (usually prepaid so a booking can be made). The difficulties here are finding a suitable restaurant to fit a substantial portion of attendees (not everyone will want to attend, but still), and that you have to pick a particular cuisine that won't meet everyone's tastes or dietary requirements.
In terms of the logo design and other associated design collateral for the conference, there are some parts that should remain fixed, and others that have a lot of leeway.
The conference logo
It is not necessary to reuse the same colour palette (green) as 2017. Within the constraints of the wordmark described above you can do quite a lot - for example for 2017 linework was used within the letters, it could be possible to do something quite different this time around. See this image of the different ways Melbourne reuses the same branding with different patterns and colours. If you don't have someone with graphical design skills on your team you should consider hiring a designer (see services, below).
Using a different colour palette and a different rendering of the logo is a good start to making the branding distinct from 2017, but it might also be a good idea to work the '2018' into the logo too. Maybe nz.js(con, 2018); ?
T-shirt and sticker design
This can be radically different from 2017 if you like. Again, if you don't have someone on your team comfortable with the design need work needed for these components, consider either hiring a designer or seeing if one of the sponsors will contribute design time.
Diversity and accessibility
Diversity has always been a core value of both the conference and the society. The conference promotes its commitment to this in a number of ways. First, the code of conduct establishes that harrasing behaviour will not be tolerated. Second, there are cheap student and unwaged tickets. Third, gaining a sponsor for the diversity and financial aid fund can enable those who can't financially manage it to attend, and also reassure diverse applicants that they are welcome. Fourth, ensuring that as much as is possible is done to create a gender balanced and racially diverse speaker lineup. All of these are explored in more detail below. I also recommend the article "Increasing Diversity at Your Conference".
Accessibility is a somewhat different set of issues that needs their own consideration. As discussed above, there are some assistive technologies such as captioning that are benefical, but it can be difficult to find budget for these. However, at a very minimum you should be ensuring that the venue is wheelchair accessible, and you should publish a contact method on the conference website for those attendees that would like to reach out to find out how you can accomodate them.
I did consider writing an all-singing-all-dancing custom site in Node and React with a custom ticket sales and paper submission flow, but to be honest I had other things to think about. So, the website is Jekyll hosted on Github, with a workflow whereby pushing any changes to master just regenerates the static files automatically. You can change this if you like, but don't get too bogged down, the website is a communications tool and if it's doing that it's working.
The repository is hosted on the society's Github account and you will be given write access.
Before handing over the site I'll be working to make the 2017 version accessible as an archive.
Most of running a conference is sending emails (a lot of emails - over 500 in the lead up to the 2017 conference).
For the long haul of that initial three quarters of a year of planning, a small team of 2 to 5 people is ideal. You may need to scale that team up towards the end, either through a general volunteer pool, or ideally particular specific individuals stepping forwards for particular areas of responsibility (e.g. a volunteer co-ordinator, or someone being in charge of the social event).
Project tools such as Trello can make sure that tasks have owners and serve as documentation of things that have been achieved.
1 year to 6 months remaining
Propose a budget
I'd suggest starting from a copy of 2017's budget and deleting out all the 'actual' costs and generally updating to reflect any new aspects. The budget has several sheets: an overview, a list of all incoming funds (ticket sales and sponsorships), a list of all outgoing costs (venue costs, other supplier costs), and a summary of what financial aid funds have been spent.
In the outgoing and incoming sheets, there are columns for both your educated guess ('estimated') of what something will cost (and how many you need of it), and for filling out later what something actually cost ('actual'). The overview sheet can summarise the total incoming and outgoing, using actual costs where they're available, and falling back to your predicted costs where they aren't. In this way you can propose both how much money you'll need to raise through sponsorship, and how many tickets you'll need to sell.
Don't forget to account for the 'free' tickets that sponsors, speakers, and one or two lynchpin volunteers will receive.
Your budget should cover at least the following items (you're probably going to have to do some catering and venue cost investigation to be able to fill these in, but 2017's values are a good starting point):
- AV services
- Video recording services
- Flights and accomodation for keynote speakers
- T-shirt printing
- Sticker printing
- Programme printing
There is a sponsor prospectus from 2017 that can be updated (for example to say this is the second conference, with some photos of the first). I'd recommend leaving sponsor levels roughly where they are, which is:
- Platinum: 10k, max of one, all perks as per Gold but with the addition on their logo on the Youtube videos.
- Gold: 5k, max of four. 5 free tickets, logo on t-shirt, prominently displayed elsewhere e.g. on slides between talks.
- Silver: 2k, no maximum. 2 free tickets, logo on website and on slides between talks.
- Bronze: $500, no maximum. 1 free ticket, logo on website only.
In addition to that you can take on board specific sponsors, for example a diversity sponsor (for 2017 this was 4k which worked out perfectly - you might want to push this to 5k as you'll have more publicity in advance this time around) or a venue sponsor (that would be the venue itself providing a substantial discount). These special sponsors probably shouldn't get free tickets.
You'll get a list of last years's sponsors and contact information for them - chances are they will be likely to want to support again. You should also reach out to other businesses, in particular businesses local to your city.
Finding a venue
The constraints on a venue are as follows:
- Needs to support two presentation spaces
- One of those spaces needs to hold all of the attendees (this gives you your max capacity)
- That max capacity should be at least 250 attendees (2017 was 320) but preferably 350 or more (up to about 500 - I don't think we should aim for more than that in order to grow the conference sustainably)
- The second presentation space should ideally hold at least half of the maxiumum capacity
- Room for catering in the breaks that won't get insufferably crowded
- Seating with power for collaboration and sitting with laptops for those taking a break from the presentations
- Decent projectors and audio capabilities
- Wifi that will stand up to a technical audience
As well as that some nice-to-haves are:
- A quiet space away from the rest of the conference for those that need time out
- A lockable room for the organisers to keep things securely
- Raked (slanted) seating can make it easy to see the presenter no matter where you sit
Check if the venue has vendors lock-ins for AV and catering services - must you use their preferred supplier, or can you pick your own? It's not the end of the world iff it's locked in, but you'll certainly need to make sure you're okay with their supplier's pricing as you've little room for negotiation.
Universities can make quite good spaces for conferences but beware as some of them have quite outdated AV capabilities that can make life difficult. If you are following the pattern from 2017 of not catering lunch, you also need to pick a location that has plentiful and varied food options nearby. Consider how easy it is to get to the venue - is there good public transport? How easy is it to get to the nearest airport?
Check if your venue offers liability insurance - if it doesn't you should take out a third party policy.
You will probably need to pay a deposit once you have confirmed with a venue - so you should try to have at least one sponsor lined up early.
Picking the dates
2017 was held on March 9th and 10th but originally we'd looked at November 2016 (and had to punt that when JS Conf AU announced the same date we'd planned the day before we were about to make our annoucement). Which is to say that the dates aren't super important other than that you should:
- Put it far enough out that you have enough time to get all the other stuff on this roadmap done. At least three quarters of a year.
- Keeping it as a summer conference can help encourage international attendees
- Avoid clashes with other conferences, no point in starting a turf war
- Make sure there are no major sporting events or gigs (e.g. All Blacks playing) that will totally clobber your attendees abilities to find accomodation (Jen made this mistake in the past...)
- Stick to your announced date once it's announced - people will book flights and accomodation around it
Once you have both a set of dates and a venue locked in, you can announce both of these things. This is a good opportunity to start talking about the conference in public a lot. There are a bunch of tools at your disposal for this.
- Website. The first cut of your updated website should go live, with a news post announcing the date annd venue. If you don't have the full website ready, at least get a placeholder up.
- Mailchimp. You probably don't have tickets ready to go on sale at this point, but you can user the conference mailchimp account to set up a mailing list signup to gather emails so you can tell people when they are.
- Facebook. The committee can grant you access to post to the society Facebook account. This has a small audience right now, but can be effective for reaching those not on Twitter.
- Local meetup groups. Meetup groups from around the country are an excellent way of communicating about the conference, in particular for encouraging talk submissions.
- Universities. Student programming groups often have communications methods that can help you reach out to students, so long as you time it so they aren't on break.
6 months to 3 months remaining
Approach vendors for key services
Your venue will probably either have a locked-in vendor, or at least have a suggestion of who to use for audio visual support. If you're using a university they probably have built in gear and it could be tempting to just hope that it just works, but I'd certainly suggest at least having their technician on call for the duration of the event. Other types of venues probably don't have built in projectors and you'll need an AV service. This can tack on a substantial cost on top of the venue costs, but you'll generally be getting a higher quality of gear and service.
You will need at least one headset or lapel mike and one handheld mike per track. Other things to consider: will audio out for presenters be supported? Is there ethernet or dedicated speaker wifi available? Does the setup include a video switcher box for seamless transitions (not strictly necessary but can be nice)? Will speakers have a display to see what is up on screen without having to look back over their shoulder (they should)?
A further note is that if you used the suggested video recording supplier (see next section), they can act as a liason to the AV supplier on your behalf.
There are two basic types of video recording company you can opt for - a traditional video recording service, or a service directly aimed at tech conferences. A traditional service will have the best quality of recording, but will usually fail to realise how much editing work is required and / or be very expensive. A tech focused service will often use live editing and direct capture from the presenter's laptop in order to both produce results faster and at a more reasonable cost.
Suggested supplier: Next Day Video is based in Australia and thus incurs some additional flight charges, but is still very cost competitive. Ryan uses volunteers from the conference volunteer pool (they need to be dedicated to that one task as they need training up) to check audio levels and live cut between the speaker and their slides. He can also act as a liason the the AV supplier to ensure that the AV company are providing a suitable service and not over-quoting. His automated workflow post conference ensures that videos are online rapidly.
If your venue has locked you in to one supplier you've certainly got less to think about here, but you should still ensure that the catering will meet your budget, and cater for the major special dietary requirements. If you're not locked in you can probably find a more cost-competitive service, but you'll need to ensure that the venue will grant acccess to any facilities that the caterers might require onsite.
You should definitely think about providing an onsite coffee cart (which will probably incur both a setup and staffing cost) and if the budget permits, tokens which can be exhanged for coffees.
There are a number of art assets from 2017 available, but as already discussed you'll need someone with at least some print design skills to produce new collateral. If you don't have anyone on team or from the wider community that could help then you can pay for a designer. Jen spent around a thousand dollars in 2014 for a t-shirt and sticker design for Kiwi PyCon 2014.
The tasks that you might need a designer for are:
- The logo design generally (within the constraints described in the top section).
- A t-shirt and bag design. The fewer colours the cheaper the print will be - two or three colours on the front and a single colour on the back for the sponsor logos.
- A sticker design. This is usually derivative of the t-shirt design.
- A programme design. This is also based on the design of the other items, and can reuse 2017's basic layout.
Get them started on at least the general logo and t-shirt design early.
Launch a call for papers
If you're sticking with a simple website, the two basic options for a call for papers is Google forms, or PaperCall. For 2017 we used PaperCall. It has some good things and bad things about it:
- Good interface
- Free service ample for the amount of submissions you'll recieve
- Attract international speakers
- Free service permissions for reviewers not great - can't easily have submitters review papers
- You don't get your accepted speaker's email details until they affirmatively accept your offer to speak - you could probably avoid this by asking up front for an email contact in the Notes section.
- Attract international speakers
You'll note that "attract international speakers" is in both lists... that's because it's a bit of a double edged sword. You'll get some great high quality international submissions where the speaker has read that you don't have a travel budget and they are fine with that (usually that means their employer is happy to fly them), but you'll also get a bunch of submissions where they've not noticed that (but have an otherwise great proposal) and even a bunch of submissions that haven't had much effort put into them at all. The best thing to do where you're unsure if a speaker will be able to get themselves to the conference is ask directly, preferably in advance of your review process so you have that knowledge in hand.
If you're going to support trainings or workshops make sure your CFP process supports that.
Find keynote speakers
Taking suggestions from the community generally can work well here. You're looking for someone who is both a 'name' in the community but also has a proven ability to give a high quality presentation. Keeping with the 2017 format would mean two keynotes of 45 minutes each on each morning of the conference. You're looking for original content rather than something that's been presented elsewhere and you want something that is at least broadly accessible to the entire conference audience.
From a budgeting perspective, you can probably afford two speakers from the US west coast, or one from the east coast and an Australian, or a Kiwi and someone from the EU, or some variation thereof. Getting them confirmed early can help a lot with flight costs. You should be offering return flights, accomodation, and a conference ticket. You probably can't afford flights for their partner/family, sadly, but you can at least offer them a conference ticket.
Keynote speakers are the one part of the speaker lineup that you do have direct full control over. If at least one of your keynote speakers isn't a woman, you're doing it wrong.
3 months to 1 month remaining
Start selling tickets
For 2017 we used a service called ti.to for which we have an exisiting account which has community (discounted) pricing applied. It's a great service, I would say the only downside is if you want separate ticketing for any training you'll need to set up separate events for that. Our ti.to account is directly intergrated into the conference bank account via Stripe. Both of these services do take a percentage of all transactions so don't forget to account for that.
Don't forget to add the GST number for the society to any generated reciepts (this is something you can enable), and to make the prices GST inclusive.
You'll need to manage individual pools of the different ticket types. 50 student / unwaged is a good starting place, you might need to adjust later. The numbers of standard tickets should be [venue capacity] - ([student & unwaged] + [likely number of sponsor tickets] + [likely number of speaker tickets]). Make sure you rebalance if those values change - you might want to initially deliberately have too small a number of standard tickets on sale to make sure you don't blow out.
You need to attach questions to the tickets (via 'Data collection'). I'd suggest the following questions as a good starting point:
- Dietary requirements - liase with your catering supplier for a list that works for them
- Tickbox for agreeing to abide to the Code of Conduct
- Twitter handle for namebadge
- Tickbox to indicate being williing to be contacted with more info about volunteering
- Swag selection - canvas bag or t-shirt, with selector for different t-shirt sizes (and a link to the sizing chart - probably you're going to be using ASColour, make sure you pick the women's style that goes up to a 2XL)
For sponsor tickets, you can set up 'secret' unique URLs that have sets of free tickets attached to them, which you can then email the sponsor to collect. To prevent confusion, set up that ticket type so that the minimum and default amount is equal to the total tickets available.
You may get emails from companies requesting to be invoiced as opposed to paying by credit card. I generally allowed these on the condition that they paid the invoice within a week and they were buying at least 5 tickets. Invoice them through Xero in the same way that you would a sponsor, but make sure the GST is inclusive and the due date is at most a week. Split out some tickets from the standard pool and set them up like sponsor tickets with a secret URL that you can send though once their payment has shown up.
Diversity and financial aid fund
It's good to launch this reasonably soon after tickets go on sale if you can manage it. While the CFP is ongoing you'll also want to make sure potential speakers know they can apply to the fund, too. You can either secure a single specific sponsor for the fund, or draw money from the sponsorship pool generally, but either way you need to set a cap on the amount of money you can make available through the fund. Check the 2017 budget to see how much funding we had available for financial aid, and how many people that helped.
There is a google form from the 2017 conference available in the drive folder, you should try and stick reasonably closely to the same format as it seemed to work pretty well. The key ideal behind the form design was to avoid making the applications process onerous - people applying for these types of funds can often feel a lot of imposter syndrome and making the form straighforwards (as opposed to requiring applicants to 'prove' their worthiness) can help ease that.
I recommend that rather than waiting until the final close of the applications, you approve applicants on a weekly or fornightly schedule. This makes it a lot easier for applicants to make accurate guesses about how much travel will cost them, and it also means you can get a better ongoing idea of how much of the fund has been allocated.
You are unlikely to be able to afford to foot the travel costs for international applicants, and you should definitely favour NZ based applicants as you'll be able to get more along for the same money. If you do have diverse international folks applying that you'd like to help out, you can suggest partial funding where they fundraise the rest of the amount themselves.
Once someone is likely to be approved, email them and ask if they are okay with prebooking and supplying receipts for refund (which you should sort out in a timely fashion). If they are fine with that it's certainly easiest from a paperwork perspective. Tell them that they are approved to within a few tens of dollars of what they originally guessed (if it looks like it would end up being substantially more they should let you know that first) and encourage them to make the bookings soon.
Alternatively they may need you to book on their behalf. This involves a bit more back and forth (make sure you have their name exactly as it is on their ID for any flights) but also shouldn't be an issue.
Both of these methods (as opposed to a process where applicants are refunded cash on attendance of the conference) are more accessible but have a small risk of fraudulent behaviour. With the small numbers of applicants that you're able to support and the amount of one on one communication you have with them, chances of that happening are reasonably low, though.
You need to publiscise the fund a bunch - the people it is most likely to help don't necessarily use the same communications channels that those of us already knee-deep in the industry do. We had good success with Summer of Tech retweeting details of the fund. Make sure you keep on mentioning that the fund exists and is taking applicants every time you're talking about tickets being on sale.
Although you may have one sponsor for the fund, you maintain organisational control over it. You can release general statistics about the fund, but applicants details should be kept private. No-one else should know that they needed it, they should be treated like normal conference attendees.
Getting some different perspectives here, rather than leaving it to a single person, is ideal. I'd suggest somewhere between 3 and 5 people. At least one or two of those people should ideally be from outside of your core organisational team.
If you're using PaperCall, it offers two reviewing modes, stars out of five and good/neutral/bad. For 2017 we used the latter which worked fine. Get your reviewers to comment roughly on what they liked or didn't like about a particular submission. Encourage them to go back and adjust if they later see a submission on the same topic that they prefer. Once everyone has done a passthough, one person should probably move everything over to a spreadsheet, sort by PaperCall's % rating, and then manually move things up and down for duplicate topics or one speaker having multiple submissions. Then get the full paper review group to check it and discuss.
You have the power to make your lineup not all white dudes - if two talks seem roughly equal in quality, but one is from a guy and the other is from a woman, pick the talk from the woman. Representation is important. For 2017 I specifically didn't turn on anonymisation in the CFP because I wanted to be able to make sure I was picking out those talks from folks with different perspectives and backgrounds.
Like the shortlist of accepted papers, get one person do a draft, then invite commentary from the rest of the team. Here's a few things to think about (and look at 2017's schedule for a working example - I accidentally put in an extra 5 minues in a couple of places but otherwise it's solid):
- Keynote speakers and the closing talk(s) on the final day should get the whole audience.
- Think about how close together your two presentation spaces are in regards to how long you need in between each talk within a block of talks - if they are close 5 minutes is fine, if not you might need longer.
- You usually want to keep general interest or intro level talks in track one, with the principle being that the most inclusive track should have the capacity to fit all attendees - it would be a bit rubbish if you felt like the only track that had room for you was confusing or alienating.
- Never schedule more than 1 hour 30 mins of content at a time - audiences need breaks or they lose attention.
- Don't run too late in the day - 9 to 5 at the most for talks. Consider that sometimes less is more.
Speaker internet access
Ideally you're going to provide a different method of connecting to the internet for speakers compared to the rest of the attendees. One drawback of providing ethernet connections for speakers to get reliable internet is that modern laptops often don't have an ethernet port any more. If you want to sidestep this you can proabably set up your own access points using a small network device - check with your AV provider that that won't create any problems. Set them up to be passworded and give session chairs the credentials in your volunteer handouts.
Once you have some accepted speakers you'll want to contact them with a few details. You don't necessarily need to do this all in one hit, if you are waiting on some bits of info you can split it up.
- Remind speakers that they are also beholden to the Code of Conduct and ask that (although it's not in the Code of Conduct) they refrain from swearing in their talk content.
- Give technical details for AV support - tell them there will be hands-free microphone, that they can get audio out support if they need it, what the projector ratio is, if they need to have their laptop have a particular output or dongle for such (HDMI usually but check with your AV support).
- Describe what kind of internet access they can expect.
- Tell them they have X minutes and that it's up to them if they want to take questions from the audience (and if they do that that needs to be subtracted from their time allotment e.g. a 30 minute slot with questions might be 25 mins of talk and 5 mins of questions).
- Give them some hints on designing good slides.
- Tell them that they should be in the right track for their talk at least 10 minutes before they are scheduled to go on.
- Finally, ask them to tell you now if they have any other special requirements for their talk.
You should aim to have stickers for all attendees. Get a few extras too.
Suggested supplier: Sticker Mule is a US based company so you'll need to order in plenty of time for postage, but their prices and quality are good.
Ensure website contains useful information
Flesh out the website with details that your attendees will need. How should they get to the venue? What accomodation is nearby? What food options are there nearby?
Now is the right time to start planning this. Pick an evening (2017 went for Thursday evening because it makes it easier for out-of-town folks) and think about what you want to do. Make sure you don't spend too much budget on this, as only a subset of your audience will attend. There is some more discussion back up at the top of the document about drinks evenings, or conference dinners, as potential options.
Line up a t-shirt printer
Hopefully by this point you've got a design of some sort, so now you need to get quotes for the t-shirts and bags that you'll be printing.
Suggested supplier: Surreal Creations did the 2017 printed goods and they have reasonable pricing, decent turnarounds, and most importantly they are very responsive to enquiries. Check what their latest date to recieve the order would be.
Get lanyards for the namebadges
You want one colour for normal attendees and somthing different that stands out for your volunteers.
Recommended supplier: Lanyards Only actually have their prices visible on their website which is always a bonus.
1 month remaining
Design namebadges/programmes and line up a printer
2017's programmes doubled as namebadges with a fold out style - the files for this are the google drive art folder. It probably won't be too much work to adapt this exisiting design. It's created with Adobe Illustrator and uses named variables to substitute in the wearer's first name, badge number and optionally a twitter handle (there's two versions of the layout to cater to this). 2017 did not have last names on the badges, it seemed pretty superflous to that actual use case of the badges, but you could change that if you wanted. The badge numbers were needed in the abscence of a last name so that there was a unique identifier on each badge. Alongside the design files you'll also be supplying a csv with columns named after the different variables.
You probably want to pick a printer local to your city so you can line up the print run for the last possible minute before the conference and then pick up in person. You'll be looking at a digital print run, and make sure you get at least 20 blanks (in case of last minute ticket swaps, people losing or damaging their namebadges). Get quotes for several printers, and I'd suggest going for whoever is the most responsive and helpful to your query as opposed to the absolute cheapest option. Get a physical proof to make sure you're happy with the quality.
Update CoC reporting proceedures
Make sure all the reporting proceedures in the Code of Conduct are up to date for your city. You should either pick up a cheap phone, or if one of the organisers has a dual SIM slot, at least a SIM card, to provide a dedicated emergency contact number for the duration of the conference.
Liase with committee about awards
Assuming that the 2018 nz.js(awards); will be held at the conference, you should talk to the society committee to check what you need to do to support that process. If it's the same as last year that will be handing out voting cards during registration, writing a news article pointing to the nominations process, describing the voting process at the conference opening, and announcing the winners at the end.
Get t-shirts and bags printed
You should know when your cut off date for providing the t-shirt data to the printer is, make sure that you hit it, and make sure that you warn attendees that that cutoff is coming. Once the cutoff has passed, take a copy of the attendee data out of ti.to - that becomes your source of truth about who gets what sizes (you'll need to re-integrate it with the final attendee list later). Set the question in ti.to to now only have one option, for the bag, and order enough bags on top of the data you already have to cater for your max capacity (unless you don't think you're going to sell out, in which case just order as many as you think you'll need and if you pick up any extras on top, tough luck for them).
Call for volunteers
You should have a list from your ticket sales of potential volunteers. Contact them and ensure they are still keen - you'll probably get about a 50% drop out rate at this point - get them to email you back.
The majority of your volunteers are paying for the privilege of attending the conference and you should do your best to value their time - the more volunteers you have the less time any of them need to be 'on duty'. So you might need to try and pick up some more folks on top of your current haul - do a news article asking for more volunteers (make sure that you emphasise that they should already be attending the conference) and tweet about it.
Whomever is going to be in charge of the volunteer team during the conference should start liasing with these volunteers to try and fill specific jobs. There are some example communications and info sheets for volunteers in the google drive resources. Broadly speaking, you need the following types of volunteer:
- Registration desk staffers. This is the easiest job, and you need a bunch of people for the initial registration and for the swag distribution, and then a rota of at least two people on the desk at all times as a point of contact.
- Session chairs. These folks keep the conference running on time, provide intros for speakers, and help take audience questions.
- AV volunteer. If you're using Next Day Video or another similar supplier, you'll need to provide full time volunteers for video recording. It's a pretty cool job and there are usually folks keen to do it. They sit outside your normal volunteer pool and might need to show up a bit early for training. You'll need at least 2 per track.
You'll want to organise your volunteers to turn up at least 30 minutes before the start of registration, so you can give them a briefing. You generally always want to pair volunteers up, so they have someone to talk to and more importantly someone to dispatch for extra help if needed.
Final confirmations with suppliers
Your caterers probably need to you to provide final menu requirements and special dietary requirements numbers at this point. When you are picking food items it's a great idea to always have at least some savoury items available, in 2017 we went for a mixture for each break.
Are there any special setup requirements for venue? Have you organised car parks at the venue for organisers to do any dropoffs that they need to?
Ask the venue to put up signs on their restroom doors with the following wording (or print them yourselves and place them): "nz.js(con); respects your right to use a restroom facility that best fits your gender. Please respect other attendees choice of restroom."
The week before
At this point you've got speakers and attendees and even if a few minor things go wrong you're still running a conference!
Mailchimp attendees final details
If you haven't already, you should export all you attendees data and import it into the conference Mailchimp account as a list, and then use that list to create a campaign in order to message all the attendees. This is your chance to emphasise that they should get to registration as soon as they are able rather than at the last minute, and to point them at the venue directions.
Print nametags (plus blanks)
Get your data to your printer!
Configure ti.to to notify you for any changes to ticket details - now your namebadge order is in you want to know about those.
Bag and tag
You should recieve your swag order. See if you can find a nice big space (presentation space at a company one of you works for?) in which you can run your bag and tag. The alternative to pre-bagging and tagging the shirts is that you just have stacks of a given size during the conference but I'd suggest avoiding this because a) you won't know if you're missing some from your order of a given size and b) it's super easy for the wrong size to get distributed accidentally and then you have unhappy people.
So, in order to run a bag and tag you need the following ingredients:
- Plastic bags. There are some left over from 2017, or you can pick them up in bulk from a catering supplier.
- Preprinted labels, one for each attendee. Each label should have: a unique numeric sequenced ID (ti.to has this as one of their columns), the attendee's full name, and that they get a bag or a t-shirt (and which size). You'll probably want to use some sort of mail merge to produce these, and you'll save yourself soome headaches if you sort them by shirt size before you merge and print them.
- A printout of the master t-shirt and bag data with a summary of how many of each size you expect.
- A bunch of tables to lay everything out on.
- A handful (I suggest 6 to 8) of detail oriented volunteers.
- Pizza and soft drinks etc. for your volunteers.
Split the label sheets up between your volunteers. Instruct them to not to rush too much, make sure that they are double checking what they do as they go along - if there are labels they can't fulfill those should stay on the sheet for later reconcilliation. It's usually good to have teams of two, with one person getting a bag ready, the other getting the right item, and then the label should get stuck on to seal the bag. Try and roll the lip of the bag down so that the label is nice and visible. Don't stick down the handles, the attendees will use them later. Once packed, all the bags should go to one side sorted by their number. Once all the bags are packed, put them back into the boxes the t-shirts came in, keeping sequences of numbers together and labelling the boxes accordingly.
If you're offering pre-paid vouchers for hot drink redemption, make sure you've got these ready to hand out (split into the correct amounts and only the amount you need). You can buy rolls of admit one tickets from the Warehouse Stationery - make sure you get enough. Treat these carefully, they are essentially money.
Print a bunch of things
You'll want to get printouts for:
- Your registration tick sheets (see the example in the attendee data folder in the 2017 data) - don't fall into the trap of trying to do everything digitally, it's slower. The tick sheets should also have the merch bag numbers on too.
- Volunteer info sheets. These should have contact info and intructions for the session chair role.
- Run sheets for each track. Again, see 2017's example, but these should contain all the precise timing information and speaker bios that the session chairs will need. Get them laminated.
- If you don't have the stash of stuff from 2017, you'll also need to print and laminate some 'time's up' warnings for the session chairs: really big font, one for 5 mins remaining, one for 1 min remaining, and one for 'finish now'.
You'll need slides for the opening, closing and for between speakers. The closing slides can have some detail filling in later but it's a good idea to have a rough outline in place you can fill out.
For the opening your should probably at least be covering:
- Emergency response info (venue will tell you what)
- Social media stuff
- Code of Conduct and reporting process
- Brief thanks to top tiers of sponsors
- Swag available from morning tea
- Voting for nz.js(awards);
- Intro to first keynote speaker
The slides that go between speakers are going to need to run on a machine - there is one Intel compute stick from 2017 you can use but you might need a latop or other small machine for the other track. Liase with AV to figure out the best method for showing this - technically with a video switcher, or the session chair hot swapping. These slides should run in a loop with at least some of the following:
- Conference logo
- Sponsor logos (might need 2x slides)
- Social media hashtag, slack channel
- Some other reminders like use the middle of the rows, how to ask good questions
For the closing you should probably at least be covering:
- Results for nz.js(awards);
- Thanks for sponsors (call them out by name)
- Thanks to speakers, volunteers, attendees
Airport pickups for keynotes
If you can manage it picking up your keynote speakers from the airport is a nice touch.
Make sure all the organisers have ways of contacting each other
Phone numbers, slack channel, whatever works best for you.
Ensure there is stationery available
There is a box of stationery available from 2017 that you can contact Jen about shipping up. It includes an inkjet printer (it probably needs some more cartridges to be bought) - if you can manage it, having a printer onsite is great for last minute stuff (depends on if there is good place to locate it near registration).
If shipping up the box of stationery isn't working out, the kinds of things you will need are:
- Tape on a dispenser
- Permanent markers
- Some post-it notes
- Coat check tickets (for luggage on day 2)
During the conference
Organiser jobs that need covering
- Volunteer team co-ordinator. First point of contact for volunteers if they need to escalate anything, makes sure all the jobs are being covered.
- Social media prescence. Someone to take photographs and tweet about what's happening.
- Registration troubleshooter. Someone who can look stuff up on ti.to if someone isn't showing up on the checklists, or fix other unexpected dilemmas.
The registration desk
You probably want two teams of two plus a runner for getting help during registration. Split the attendee list up into two halves of the alphabet by first name and have a team on each - one person to look them up on the list, check them off, and provide the namebadge, and the other to hand them the lanyard, sticker, any coffee tokens, and voting card.
I recommend not giving out swag during registration as it's already hectic enough trying to get through everyone on time. Make it available from morning tea onwards. You will need to remind people a bunch of times to pick it up, though.
On the second day it's very helpful to out-of-towners if they can store luggage at the reception desk (you'll need to tell people that facility is available). Use the coat check tokens as basic security (tape them on and give half to the owner).
Code of conduct reporting
As much as you hope it won't happen you need to know what to do if there is a code of conduct violation. I'd suggest enouraging your volunteers to escalate up the chain rather than dealing with things directly themselves. For you the organisers, you need to be prepared to act if necessary. Discuss amongst your core team how you will respond to violations - it's better to at least have a sketchy plan in place beforehand. You can also lean on the society's committee members at the conference to provide support.
Next few days after the conference
Make sure you take a breather! But there are a few time sensitive things that you should sort out reasonably soon after the conference.
Thank your sponsors
Write every sponsor an email to say thanks. Include links to photographs and videos from the event (or pointers to where they will be available soon).
This is a great way of keeping people talking about the things they learned.
Send out a survey
Send all you attendees a survey - what did they like? What did they not like? What would they like done differently, or do they have suggestions?
Pay all the things
Last but not least, you undoubtedly have a bunch of invoices that need sorting out :)