I recently shared initial thoughts around Local conferences: Big potential! In this follow-up blog post, I want to share practical information on the specific format that we've been organizing Django Day Copenhagen around -- aaaand finish with some good old motivation 🥕️
With a practical focus, I hope that the blog post can make people consider for real that doing a small local conference is easy, fun and worth-while!
In October, we hosted a little event called Django Day Copenhagen. It was the 4th time that we hosted the event, which attracts around 50-60 people to the venue and an additional ~100 live streamers. After the event, the live stream is watched many times more (2022's live stream had 1.3k views), and each of the talk recordings already have some 100-500 views.
More importantly for this blog post, we can compare with our experience from a large international event since we hosted the DjangoCon Europe 2019 in Copenhagen, a 3-day event for 400 people. So we know a lot about larger events.
Having local conferences isn't meant as an alternative to all larger conferences. It's meant as a reminder to communities that unnecessarily converge on only large conferences: There are alternatives for community and educational events that we are missing out on. I'll get back to this at the end of the blog post.
Let's start with a definition of the format of our small local conference:
...and with that said, I think everyone should adjust this to their needs and their venue.
Along with the conference format, it's always good to keep in mind why you're interested in doing a conference, but more importantly a local one:
Let's go through some practical ideas about how organizing a small local conference could look. This doesn't mean copy this "1:1", there's guaranteed to be parts that you can do better or differently or not at all.
Let's start with the most simple aspect of the setup: In order to sell tickets and pay for things, you should probably consider running this through a real legal organization (as opposed to a private person). Typically that means a member-based association or non-profit.
Note: You might be able to skip all this, if you can identify an existing financial body to run the event! Maybe there's an existing Open Source organization in your area that you can ask to host this?
If you are just getting started, then set aside time to register the organization and its bank account. But don't let it stop you, just ensure you have enough time for the bureaucratic procedures that are necessary before you can sell your first ticket.
By working as an association, we have become eligible for cultural and municipal venues, which are exclusively for non-profit activities. This is a big advantage. At the same time, an association can act as a company and sign up for various banking and online services that we need.
If you want to do this as a private person, it's possible but not very recommendable. It will severely limit your reach. It will be hard to sell tickets online, and many attendees prefer to have an invoice. You'll have to be creative on a level that's going to take away focus, and it's probably more suitable to consider doing a "meetup" format where all costs are handled through donations or contributions from local companies.
Having a real sponsorship program implies a lot of tasks. You need to define exactly what the sponsor gets in terms of visibility and implement special ways to care for this.
We simplify this work by offering a simple one-size-fits-all "Corporate Supporter" ticket. The ticket gives a standard experience for all supporters:
We finish Django Day Copenhagen with a party. Everyone gets some time after the event to go and get dinner somewhere and recharge, then we meet again after a 2 hour break for drinks and pub quiz.
We have done this in 2 flavors: Either we have a venue that can also accommodate a party where we sell our own drinks in the bar, or we book a big pub somewhere close to the venue.
It's a big advantage to host the party: It's fun to be in the the bar for volunteers, and the profits from hosting a party are enough to ensure that the event finishes off with a little extra financial boost.
The disadvantage of hosting the party is that you'll have to shop everything for the bar. For all our events, we shopped all drinks and everything that wasn't sold at the party has been sold off afterwards. So we never had any issues with unsold drinks. To generalize this: Running a support-party is fun and very risk-free.
Outreach: We didn't do any direct outreach for the event, despite our knowledge of several companies using Django that do not attend.
Posters were too much effort: We printed posters but people weren't interested. We conclude that probably it's not worth the money and effort to add physical merchandise on this level.
We also put up posters at 2 local universities but no one attended the event because of this. Advertising the event at universities requires a presence there, for instance by visiting relevant lectures and inviting students. We consider making it extremely cheap for students to attend, since the generational overlap is critical.
The evening before the event is for watching TV: As an organizer, I fell into the trap of doing stuff the evening before the event. I simply don't have the extra deposits of energy currently to pull through a full-day event like this without getting an insane headache. So I would say that anything that isn't done before 19:00 on the evening before will not get done.
The ticket sales should close no more than 3 days before the event, as many people seem to forget to buy a ticket. We introduced "late bird" tickets which tackles the issue of people buying too late by offering them an option without food. The ticket doesn't include any discount, so there's no reward for buying too late.
To do all this, you need to assemble a team, and you need to organize all tasks on a practical level. Here are some example columns for a project Kanban board:
Daniele Procida has previously written a very nice Community conference organisers’s handbook, however this guide is written for large events and will probably make organizing a conference look overwhelming to most people looking to organize a small 1-day event.
I would like to offer to do a simple practical handbook for getting started with Local conferences. If you're interested in seeing a more practical step-by-step handbook, please get in touch and motivate me!
So, to finish off this long list of practical stuff, let's just talk about the need for large conferences vs. smaller local events.
The audience and the speakers all travel to one location somewhere on the globe or on their continent.
Would this work in a cultural space? No, not really. Artists travel to their audiences, although as mentioned in my previoues blog post, a recent episode of BBC's The Climate Question concluded that even though it's the case that artists tour around, then the most significant climate impact of music festivals remains: audience travel. So that's what we need to focus on.
Adding calls for more diversity, more first-time speakers etc., I propose a hypothesis like this:
If our tech communities grow more local communities, more speakers will appear. If we have more speakers, we can afford a conference model with more speakers available to travel to local conferences, and audiences can converge on local events rather than big international events.
This is how cultural events work: Musicians travel, stand-up comedians travel, circuses travel etc. The show comes to your local community, and so should tech events.
By growing a local tech scene, we can adapt the whole system to depend less on expensive and climate-intensive shit like airplanes and hotels, and we can build more sustainable communities, both in social terms and in terms of the environment and the future economy of tech.