Monday, May 07, 2007

Day of .NET in Ann Arbor: RECAP

The Day of .NET in Ann Arbor 2007 Edition is over!  Like its predecessor last year, this event turned out to be very well received, and therefore, I think very successful.

The conference was again organized by three .NET user groups in this area: GANG, NWNUG, and AADND.  Specifically, the following people are who performed the day-to-day activities in bringing this event together:

  • John Hopkins (president of GANG): overall chairman of DoDN/AA 2007
  • Jason Follas (president of NWNUG): speaker/session coordinator
  • Darrell Hawley (program chair of AADND): registration coordinator
  • David Baldwin (AADND webmaster): sponsorship/public relations
  • Scott Zischerk (AADND): the DoDN webmaster (and T-Shirt designer)
  • Dave Redding (vice president of AADND): sponsorship
  • Chris Kotsis (secretary of GANG): sponsorship

The day of the event, we had some attendees who volunteered to help out with registration (and ended up missing the first session as a result).  Many thanks go to:

  • Dan Hounshell, Telligent
  • David Patow, Compuware

In all, we're pretty confident that there were actually 205 people in attendance!  This represents less than a 20% dropoff from our registration numbers.  For a free event like this, and for weather being as nice as it was, that is actually a great number (speaking from experience in having organized several events like this). 

However, we were anticipating a greater dropoff rate, and as a result, we ended up a little short on food at lunchtime.  Our sincere apologizes to anyone who might not have gotten any pizza, but we truly were trying to avoid last year's problem of having way too much food (which we even had a hard time trying to give it away to people passing by).  For full disclosure, we were anticipating the need to feed 180 people, not 205, to give you an idea of the challenge that we faced in trying to plan meals.

Another hiccup the day of the event was the fact that the campus facilities deactivated the air conditioning units in order to conserve energy (because WCC is in between semesters).  So, while there was airflow in the rooms, it wasn't necessarily "cool air".  The result was a very sauna-like experience while attending some of the sessions.  Let me just say that this very much took us by surprise as well!

We also considered people's feedback from the prior year, and tried to make little changes to improve on the experience this time around.  One thing that we tried hard to avoid was raffling off 100+ books during the closing.  So, we pre-selected book/software winners based on raffle tickets, and staged a giveaway in the hallway leading to the event. 

This actually worked well, but was not clearly communicated to all of the attendees as to how it worked (i.e., we didn't have enough books for everyone this year, so only the posted numbers were actual winners).  Also, we had unclaimed books when it came time to go into the closing session, so they were boxed up and left in the hallway in case someone came to us after the event to claim a winning prize.  To my surprise, all that was left afterwards were empty boxes, so even remaining valid winners were unable to claim their books.  I just hope that they went to good homes, and won't show up on eBay or Amazon.

Up to this point, I haven't heard anything negative about the Vendor Sessions that we inserted into the lineup.  I'm very much in agreement with the "Code Camp" mentality that our attendees shouldn't be over-marketed to by sponsors.  However, our sponsors are what make this level of event (which truly is a conference and not just a gathering of geeks who have nothing better to do) totally free to the attendees, so we have to show some love to them. 

In the past, I've often received inquiries from sponsors asking if they can have a breakout session to show off their products.  I've always had to deny such requests because I felt that sessions should be somewhat neutral in topic with concern to third-party products.  Otherwise, there might be a sense of mistrust by the attendees as to what the motives of the event organizers might be.

The Vendor Session, though, was the attempt to satisfy both worlds.  This was a dedicated timeslot where only vendors were presenting concurrently with one another.  The goal was to offer value-added sessions, and not just blind marketing, because session audiences would probably consist of current customers, or people who have already started researching the products.  These timeslots were also 1/2 the length of normal sessions, which helped to focus the presentations, and also helped to prevent boredom from developing in the audience.  More than anything else is the fact that there was no pretense involved: you knew going in that the content would be centered around a vendor's product.

The organizers will be having a post-mortem conference call tonight to discuss how we can improve upon this experience for next year's event.  If you happen to have any ideas, we would be glad to hear them!