Issue #25

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Today’s Topics: Having quiet/social areas at after parties… should you have alcohol at after parties… what speakers can do to respect the organizers.

Organizers 😊

It’s important to create the right environment for your after party and networking events. There are a few tips to throw out (we will go into many other aspects of after parties in future newsletters, there’s a ton to cover).

There are two particular areas that can contribute much to an after party or social event, no matter the size of your event.

“Quiet Area” And “Social Area”

If possible try to set aside two “areas” for networking events (or at least the main after party) – one area that would be where the noise and action would likely be located… the other is more of a quiet place.

“Social Areas” – This is where most of the noise, action, and movement for an after party would be located. It might have the lightning and atmosphere to set a certain mood. While I believe in not having an area TOO loud (you shouldn’t have to yell to talk to someone 5 feet from you) there’s nothing wrong with having music and voices that would fill a particular space. This area is normally where food and drinks would be served, a photo booth or other social party-related activities would take place.

“Quiet Areas” – This isn’t a place just for introverts, but a haven for those socially or physically drained from the conference. Some people just want to relax, have a nice drink, and unwind… but still have the option to duck into a more social scenario when they are ready. Quiet areas can be nothing more than comfortable seating away from the main action… where a one-on-one conversation can take place where both parties can speak in a normal volume. In addition, quiet areas are good for new mothers who need to breastfeed or do similar things.

It’s important to have signage that point people to either location (so those people who go to the social area know a quiet area exists and vice versa). Make sure both areas are accessible. Send an email out to attendees prior to the event to let them know both of these areas exist, even if you don’t need to set aside the space. One conference was held inside a hotel and it was obvious you could find a quiet space somewhere in the lobby but conference organizers made it a point to set aside an area regardless and it made some attendees feel more appreciated.

Too Serve Or Not To Serve (Booze)?

There been some debate about this and I’ll try to summarize both sides:

  • Serving alcohol is inviting risk, danger, or unnecessarily expense to a conference after party. It may increase the potential of inappropriate actions by some attendees – perhaps based on past experience of some individuals or something in the history of the conference itself. Some point out consideration of former alcoholics that might feel uncomfortable if alcohol is served. There is also the viewpoint of “you don’t need to have alcohol to have a good time”.
  • Providing alcohol at social gatherings is fine (this is assuming those attending are responsible adults) and some conferences will limit this to limited amounts (perhaps one drink via provided drink ticket) to a cash bar (attendee pays so there’s somewhat of a limit) to an unlimited “drink what you want” scenario (paid by sponsor or conference).

No matter which thoughts I share, I’ll likely to hit a nerve with someone with a different opinion but that’s the way it goes. There’s no REAL right or wrong answer… it depends. Depends on the conference organizers, attendees (surveyed hopefully), religious and social environments, geographical region, etc.

Yep, sadly I’ve taken a conversational parachute here. But I’ll offer these thoughts (for now, I feel there’s a need to expand this into a future newsletter):

  • Spending money on alcohol should literally be the last thing on your budget to spend money on. Especially for WordCamps. I’d rather give more tickets away then spend conference money on drinks.
  • Consider the venue and the atmosphere. I tend to lean toward being more open to considering alcohol if the location is well-lit, able to be staffed well with volunteers, accessible, and overall safe.
  • Get the opinion of your entire team (another good reason why having a diverse team works out well).
  • No unlimited – even if you have money to burn. If there is a bar where attendees should pay, consider putting a cap on drinks. There are always places outside the conference for people to take their personal parties to.
  • Make sure non-alcoholic beverages are PLAINLY visible and EASY TO GET without asking for them. Soda, coffee (yes! coffee!), tea, and water (for those avoiding sugar).
  • Let attendees know what is being served, what’s available, drink ticket info, etc. before the event starts. Have an open channel of communication (email or direct messages – doesn’t have to be purely public) so that attendees can share any concerns.
  • Hang on to extra drink tickets instead of showering them to attendees who already used them – you can usually redeem them and get some conference money back.
  • “Quiet Areas” are very important for those who don’t want to be physically around alcohol (don’t serve them in these areas).
  • Especially if you are a family friendly conference (all WordCamps are) you should ERROR ON THE SIDE OF CAUTION. Which means at times making sure that any alcohol is VERY distanced or access limited, and sometimes means not having it all.

So yes, I have allowed alcohol at after parties (WordCamp and non-WordCamp) in what I and my fellow organizers believed to be a balanced and controlled setting. So far in 12 years, no problems to speak of. But you always have to be on guard, have plenty of volunteers and supervision, plans to execute in case things don’t go the way you plan (good advice even if you aren’t serving a drop of booze). It’s ok to change your opinions. Input from your team is vital as well as keeping attendees informed.

Speakers 🎀

Last newsletter we covered three ways to be considerate to your fellow speakers. Here are three ways to be considerate to your organizers, especially if you want to be recommended for future conferences!

  • Promote the conference, not just yourself – Of course you’ll tell the world you are speaking at a conference, but make sure to include or add additional mentions about the conference itself. The conference isn’t awesome BECAUSE YOU ARE THERE. What made you sign up for it in the first place? What positive things can you say about your fellow speakers and the tradition of the conference itself? Can you share any good experiences of previous times you attended the conference? Don’t make “promoting” obviously about yourself. Coordinate with conference marketers and social media folks. You being somewhat selfless in promotion will make you still stick in organizer’s minds a bit more (in a good way).
  • Watch your time and your manners – Take time if possible to appear at VIP or after parties even if it’s brief. Be early enough to the conference day and your talk slot. Obviously be well rested and deliver a finely prepared talk (unless you are a last minute backup speaker). Don’t go over time. Thank the organizers when you are on stage. Understand organizers are human and they might be dealing with emergencies you don’t know about, so be mindful of your manner and tone.
  • Prepare and share slides like a professional – Don’t tweet “creating my slides for my talk tomorrow LOL” on the night before the conference. That’s unprofessional, even if it’s not true. Share your slides with organizers on time if they request a copy to review (common for WordCamps to make sure promotional and CoC violations are looked for). If there are any special considerations for you or your part, let organizers know DAYS before the conference and not when you ARRIVE at the conference.

Attendees πŸ™‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ

Force yourself to meet new people. It’s hard, but often times you’ll find you’ll get the most “bang for your buck” (literally, if you are spending your own money at a conference) if you don’t stick with the friends you know or co-workers you came with. Maybe go to a different talk or break out session, eat lunch with someone new or find a big group you both can sit down with (don’t feel pressured to be a part of the conversation). Every destination requires you to move and that always starts with a first step.. so at least have an open mind to meeting new people, which could lead to new opportunities, relationships, experiences and so much more.

It’s also important to try to communicate and network with a diverse set of people – don’t always hang out with people that look like you or come from a similar background.

Misc. Stuff πŸ€·β€β™‚️

These tips were written and/or gathered by David Bisset, someone who’s been helping organizing conferences (such as WordCamp Miami, but others too) and meetups for over a decade. He’s still learning so share any of your tips and it might be included in a future newsletter.