Will "the Mighty" Strohl

Organizing the Day of DotNetNuke 2009 – Thoughts on the Experience

Day of DotNetNuke I would hope that all of the 3 readers of my blog know that there was an event being planned called the Day of DotNetNuke® by now.  If you don’t know, we had a full day code camp type event this past weekend which focused 100% on DotNetNuke®.  Now, I am going to tell you how it went.

The Beginning

Last year, we were lucky enough to have the OpenForce Connect – Orlando event in June.  Since then, we have been eager to repeat the event.  Unfortunately, we were not able to get us and the DotNetNuke Corporation together to make it happen.  This is no surprise to anyone, as we all know what they have been doing during the past year.

For the first time since I have been attending code camps, I decided to go to the 2009 Orlando Code Camp after party and mingle with all of the great folks that put on such a great event.  During the event, we finally decided to put the event on ourselves – and why not?  We have plenty of resources to do so.  Joe Healy, our local Microsoft Developer Evangelist, quickly offered up the Microsoft Sales Office in Tampa, Florida.  At this party, the Board for the Day of DotNetNuke® was born – though it was first called the DNN Firestarter.  We changed the name later.

The Day of DotNetNuke® Board consists of the following valuable and knowledgeable people:

Out of those of us that were there, they quickly nominated me to plan the event.  At the time, it was only supposed to be a single track like the year prior, but I immediately saw an opportunity to make this event much larger.  The rest is history… Well, now it is. :)  Now you can see that I really had an outstanding support group backing all of the decisions that I would make going forward.

The Planning

The planning at first looks like a small job, but as you get closer and closer to the event, the planning begins to consume your time throughout the day and night.  Here are some of the numerous details to think about when planning such an event:

  • Set-up and clean-up logistics
  • Routing people to the event (road signs, and deployment)
  • Recruiting volunteers, assigning individual volunteer duties, and volunteer schedule
  • Recruiting and Managing Sponsors, making sure that they get their paid exposure
  • Recruiting Speakers
  • Picking Speakers and Sessions
  • Assigning sessions to rooms
  • Setting and staying within the varying budget set by the sponsor recruitment
  • Printed materials (signs, prize cards, agenda, sponsor raffle cards, etc.)
  • Choosing the speaker shirts, volunteers shirts, and attendee shirts
  • Designing all of the event shirts and signs
  • Marketing the event (Twitter, newsletters, other user groups, Craigslist, Community Megaphone, Facebook, INETA, CodeZone, etc.)

Volunteers getting ready to re-issue raffle tickets (Erin Morgan, Don Vickers, Jim Begley, Bob Vargus) Those are only some of the duties that we had to get through.  Although some of those items look like they are really easy to take care of, they aren’t.  One thing I have learned about community events is this… Even though it is a free event, attendees are highly critical of every detail that went into the event.  And things go wrong, no matter how much you plan.

Something sounding as simple as assigning a track or session to a room can be incredibly difficult.  You have all kinds of details to plan through to get it right.  How many people will attend the sessions in the room?  How many attendees will attend the other sessions in the other rooms?  How many people does the room seat?  What is the layout of the room?  Will it properly accommodate the speakers that you know will be in it?  Are there extra chairs available, just in case the room gets overfilled?  You cannot always plan accordingly to answer all of those questions accurately, but we have to try.

The Speakers

Tracy Wittenkelley, Will Morgenweck, Will Strohl (Me) Getting speakers interested to speak at an event like this is usually easy to do.  Choosing the right speakers to fill the available slots is not easy.  Scheduling the speakers to fit into an agenda with multiple tracks is even more difficult.  Finally, things happen with speakers.  Sometimes, the do not like the time of day they are speaking, some have to drop out, and others might have more than one session in a row when they don’t intend to do two sessions back-to-back.  Luckily, out of all of the people that will show up at these kinds of events, Speakers are the most understanding.  They have a really good idea of what it takes to make the event happen.  They are more than willing to work with you to make the schedule and sessions fit the right way.

The Volunteers

Charles Teague, Fabio Honigmann I am not sure how we were so lucky to get the number and quality of volunteers that we had.  It is my sincerest hope that we can repeat next year with volunteers that work at least half as hard as ours did this year.  We had some of the hardest working volunteers that I have ever seen at any community event.  It was incredible and refreshing to see them take the event over for me, and ensure that everything moved smoothly.  I only know of a single problem that occurred, and it was quickly remedied thanks to the volunteers.

The Sponsors

Don Vickers speaking to Tony Valenti of PowerDNN Out of all of the groups of people that need to be managed and pleased, it was my experience that the Sponsors were the most difficult to please.  That’s not saying that the Sponsors were difficult to deal with, but businesses are not always fast at getting things done, and are not the best at having effective communications for events like this one.  The part that needs the most detail, is getting the best value package created for the sponsors to: (1) garner interest; (2) get excited about contributing.  Without that piece of the puzzle worked out, the event will fall on its face.  It’s a reality that events such as this require money to be successful, and the sponsors are how the money gets gathered.

I looked for and solicited for sponsors from everywhere that I could think of.  I went through a private list I have compiled of DNN vendors and DNN service providers.  I went through the other code camps and events in the state.  I also went through the list of sponsors, advertisers, and other contributors on the DotNetNuke® website.  I was very surprised at how receptive and accommodating the majority of the possible sponsors were.  There was nothing hard about asking all of them for two reasons.  First, the worst that could happen is that they might say no.  Secondly, we needed the money – pure and simple.

The Venue

Microsoft Sales Office, Tampa, FL Unfortunately for me, I had never been to our venue before the morning of the event.  I wanted to have a walk through before the day event, but schedule conflicts made it impossible.  That being said, if you have the chance, you will really want to have a peek where your event will be held.  It makes planning the logistics of the event so much easier.  This allows you to properly determine where the meals will be staged and distributed, plan for the size of the rooms and sessions, determine the common areas and sponsor areas, and more.

Our venue was at the Microsoft Sales Office in Tampa, Florida.  It is on the edge of one of the bays in Tampa.  It has such an amazing view.  So much so, that you wish you were on the beach.  I don’t know how they can work there.  Our rooms were all great for the event.  At times, the sessions would have too many people in a room, but it was unavoidable.  I didn’t hear any complaints about it though.  I am surprised.

The Value

The Day of DotNetNuke Prize Table Events such as the Day of DotNetNuke® need more to their formula in order to properly rope in the right kind of sponsors, speakers, and volunteers.  I had a heck of a time planning ways to offer value to all involved.  It is a tricky tight rope to walk, as everyone expects something different.  Sponsors are looking for things from the event much more differently than a speaker, and a volunteers might not expect to get anything out of it – but we still want to offer value to get the minimum number of volunteers recruited.

In order to offer the right value to the sponsors, I took a real close look at all of the other sponsor information I could find at all of the Florida events.  I stuck with our regional events, as any local sponsors would already be used to sponsoring in a specific way.  So I felt compelled to provide that to them to make sure that we had the highest possible chance of gaining their sponsorship.  I also had to overcome the reality that I was mostly a “nobody” asking established companies for money when they knew nothing about me, or the event.  A first time event is certainly not the ideal event for any vendor to contribute to, as there is no track record for what it had offered sponsors in the past.  Companies want a return on their investment, so it is imperative to make sure everything is thoroughly discussed and planned from the beginning.  One thing I learned that really surprised me, was that many sponsors are willing to pay a premium for some exclusive exposure.  You will want to plan for that in your events.

Don Vickers, Darren NeeseHaving been a volunteer myself at other events, and also having run one myself now, I find it amusing that I am not 100% clear on what a volunteer is looking for in value.  It was my experience that they didn’t really expect much.  They just wanted to help.  We had the best group of volunteers that I have ever seen and could ever hope for.  I wish I could give you some tips and suggestions on how to properly recruit good volunteers, but I am convinced that our success in gathering volunteers was pure luck.

Attendees are pretty simple for the most part.  In general, the expect only a few things: good sessions, a free t-shirt, a free breakfast and lunch, the possibility to win something cool, and for the event to appear to be well-organized.  Unlike before, the simplistic descriptions here are indeed simple in concept.

The Marketing

Aside from putting the plans and value in place to make the event a reality, the most important thing that events like the Day of DotNetNuke® must do is to market the event.  This is much more true with the Day of DotNetNuke® than most other events, as DNN is more of a niche technology event right now.

I used Twitter, Facebook, area user groups, Live groups (thanks to Ken Tucker), craigslist, an add on the DotNetNuke® site, and pretty much every avenue I could find to promote the Day of DotNetNuke® that I could find.  The only method that I saw return the kind of immediate results that we needed was through twitter, and my blog.  Luckily, the 3 people that read my blog came through for us. 

That being said, I used our marketing channels the best I could to maintain a steady stream of excitement and interest every week preceding the event.  For instance, I did not plan everything, and announce it all at once.  I released 1-2 announcements at a time.  This proved to be an effective way to have others on twitter remarket our message for us.  It was obviously a very successful marketing campaign.  I guess I should have studied marketing in school. ;)

The End

Me, Exhausted One piece of advice that stuck with me throughout the planning process and helped me to not stress too much came from Dave Noderer.  Dave is a community power house in Florida, and runs the largest code camp that Florida has to offer.  He told me that while planning and running a code camp wasn’t an easy thing to do, once the planning process begins, it runs itself.  I really did find this to be true.  That’s not to say that I didn’t have to do anything.  There was a ton of information to sort through, organize, and disseminate, and even more decisions to be made.

Well, this is the end of my random thoughts on planning and running the Day of DotNetNuke®.  My next blog entry will talk about the day of the event.  I am still exhausted two days later, but I am already looking forward to next year.  Now, we have more than 2 1/2 months to plan for it.  :)  Anyone want to volunteer?  Hehehe…

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