An event is an opportunity for individuals to be given a platform for delivering and sharing a message that other people can benefit from. They also help people come together into the same space to do business, share ideas and build networks with others doing similar things, but to do this we need a mutual understanding of how events can help the community.
In this talk, Adrian Moisey focuses on delivering some practical steps that sponsors and attendees can use to maximise value at an event.
[00:10] Adrian: So my name is Adrian. I’m going to talk to you a bit about the tech ecosystem in Cape Town and a little bit globally. So first of all, I’m a systems engineer at a company called SalesLoft. I do full time DevOps kind of work and I’m remote, they’re based in Atlanta. So if anybody wants to speak about remote work and culture, come speak to me afterwards. My company has the best culture I’ve ever had in a company, the CEO signs off his emails with, “I love you all, Kyle.” I was in the office for two weeks and I can tell you he genuinely means it, it’s great.
[00:48] So working remote for a company in Atlanta is a bit tricky because of time zones, but luckily I have an amazing team and we figure it out. So a little bit about the community that I’m involved in, mostly DevOps as you can see. We run the DevOps meetup, it’s roughly monthly. There’s multiple organisers, about four or five of us at the moment, and our attendees range anywhere from 20 to 120 people. So logistics around venue sizes can sometimes be tricky.
[01:14] Generally we have 120 people when it’s somebody from Facebook speaking, that’s quite cool. Then the other thing that I’m involved in is the DevOpsDays Cape Town. It’s kind of a conference similar to this, mostly focused on DevOps and technical and cultural aspects of it. It’s an annual event, there’s less organisers, but it’s a lot bigger and there’s more work, and we have about two to 300 attendees.
[01:39] So just a quick pause, this kind of event is really tricky to organize and so if you see any OfferZen people, particularly Candice, please give them a big high five because they put a lot of effort into this, and I know that firsthand because I’ve done this sort of thing. So the third thing I’m involved in is kind of new to me and it’s also one of the things that I struggle to explain to people because it’s a bit different.
[02:00] I’m on the DevOpsDays Global Core team. We’re a team of 16 people globally distributed, so we’re all remote, and our task is to support people around the world in running their own DevOpDays conferences. So we enable these people to run an event like this, putting your sunglasses please, because this slide is bright.
[02:27] There we go. Okay. Sorry about that. I’ll be brief, 2019 there were 80 DevOpsDays events in the world. I don’t know how many people attended these things, but it was 705 organisers, and 947 talks alone. As the core team, we are very hands-off, and we have minimal touch points, but it’s nice to be able to influence these sort of events at this kind of scale. So what is a community? When I have this sort of question, I just Google, define community and I have the definition, it says, “A group of people having a particular characteristic in common,” much like us, we all have tech in common.
[03:12] So we’re all responsible for playing our part in this tech community. The thing that I bring to the table is organising events. It’s something that I enjoy doing, it’s something that I’m willing to give my free time for. Other people may have different roles in the community, you don’t need to be involved in the same way I am, you could attend and network and interact with people.
[03:33] I think it’s our responsibility to at least try though, don’t be passive about it, see if you can be active about it, and try and do something if you can. Some examples of communities which may not be obvious to you are just a group of friends. I’m on many WhatsApp groups with technical people, some local, some international, and it’s great to have the small tech community, we are just a small bubble within this bigger space. There’s also the local South African community, which I think this conference is representative of, then you also get the global ones such as the DevOps, their global team I’ve spoken about. In addition, you also get a group’s based on a topic, for example, PI-Con, it’s a conference about Python, you get RubyFuza, which is about Ruby, you get, I think SUGSA, the Agile group, and so people will gather together in different ways in different forms.
[04:29] You also get chat rooms, I don’t know if anybody’s on ZATech, but I think there’s about 8,000 people there now. Just the way to interact with people online, you don’t have to meet in person. In addition, I feel as though my coworkers are all part of my community, and so because I’m in Cape Town and they’re in Atlanta, we remote call each other over Zoom and it works great. So these are just examples of the communities that we can join and get involved in, and they’re part of this larger tech community, which I think this conference is trying to speak about.
[05:02] So why should the community be important? We’re not just here to code, right? I don’t see anyone coding now, so I guess there’s something else going on. So meeting people helps us grow our network, bigger networks means more job opportunities, sorry, OfferZen. But referred employment is often a better fit than via recruiter, maybe OfferZen has changed that though, I think they might have.
[05:28] I personally have put people in buckets, people I would definitely work with, people I definitely would not work with, and then people in the middle, and these people are all from my tech, my community, my network. It also, the community exposes us to technologies that we may have never heard before, and it also pushes us to learn a new skill. It also gives us the ability to ask questions, whether they’re technical questions or non-technical questions, we have this audience of people that we can go out and speak to. I really enjoyed the moment at the beginning where you had to interact and poor Stephen struggled to get people to stop talking, that’s a good problem to have.
[06:11] Everyone has their own journeys and their own views on tech. Your experience is very different from somebody else’s experience and you can learn from one another, and I think you should put some effort into that, and all of these things create value for ourselves. So a little agenda, what I’m going to talk to you about, first of all, how to attend a conference. You don’t just arrive, get your swag bag, sit down and leave at the end, there’s a little bit more to that I think. And then the second part is how to sponsor a conference, and I think this also applies to everybody. If you understand what the sponsors there and what they’re doing, it’ll give you an insight as to how you can get more value out of your conference experience.
[06:52] So goals of attending a conference, this is just my view on it, I think everybody’s going to have a different view. Go there looking to learn something new. I’ve been to some talks where the topic might not have been what people wanted to hear, and people just kind of moan about it afterwards. But somebody came to me and he’s like, “This speaker was actually trying to tell us this thing,” so try and find the heart of what they’re trying to talk about, not just their technology, that stuff’s easy to learn. There’s normally a message or something behind that, try to look for that, and see if it’s possible to learn from somebody else’s experience.
[07:25] We all have our own unique experience, so if you can learn from somebody else’s experience, it gives you a headstart, it gives you more to learn from. See if you can network, chat to people, I know it’s scary to talk to people, but try it. If you also have questions you’re struggling with, share it, ask people, “Hi, do you know how Kubernetes works?” or whatever it may be. At the DevOpsDays conference, the second half of the day is open spaces which tries to facilitate the topic and the discussion. We all break up into different rooms and talk about particular topics and try… If a conference doesn’t have that, try and do that in the hallway.
[08:06] What is not the goal of attending a conference? Don’t attend a conference and just push your products, “Hi, I’m Adrian, I’ve got the sweet product, you need to try it out,” build connections, make the connection first and then tell people what you’re doing, if they’re interested, they’ll ask you questions about it. It’s not a dating club, so treat the conference like a family reunion, you don’t date your cousin. So I might be a matchmaker between sponsors and attendees, but not romance.
[08:37] So, there’s all these horror stories going on the Internet, so here’s a short horror story that I experienced. I’m going to remove all the names of the people to protect their safety. We had a very brilliant speaker from Facebook at one of our meetups, she’s a Capetonian, she moved to San Francisco, she’s probably on the top of her game, her talk was amazing, she presented well, everything you can want from a speaker, very technical, very good public speaker, literally the best. And the very first question, this person puts up his hand, “Hi, do you have any brothers? Because how did you get into tech?”
[09:17] No, this community’s for everyone, don’t do that. And so think about your questions before you ask them, if you don’t want those awkward moments. In this guy’s defense, I’ve asked dumb questions, so just think a little bit. How should you behave? Read the code of conduct. At DevOpsDays we pushed the code of conduct quite hard, the way you act around your friends might not be the way that you act around in this community. If you behave correctly, you’ll get the most out of this event. Just read that code of conduct is not just fluff on the side, live it out, it’s normally not very difficult to do so.
[09:56] And I think this is very important, we don’t want to exclude people from this community, you want to be very inclusive of the community and that everybody feels safe in the space. If you’ve ever felt left out of something, think of that feeling, you don’t want that on other people, then don’t do that.
[10:12] Conference organisers have a code of conduct and have a plan to work on that. If something happens, just don’t be a jerk, thanks. In a more positive note, so attending the conference, listening to the speaker, the speaker put some thought into what they’re trying to say, it doesn’t just happen overnight. All speakers please don’t brag about how you threw your talk together the night before, organisers don’t want that and attendees don’t want that, put some effort into it. If you hear something new that you don’t know, take a note, Google it later, I find that very useful for myself, all these new technologies and techniques and whatever, Kubernetes, go Google that.
[10:55] When you ask a speaker a question, try make sure that it’s beneficial for the general audience, if it’s something very specific it might not be a good question. Speak clearly, you don’t want this international speaker with this foreign accent hearing, “How’s it, but I’ve got a question for you” they don’t understand that, it just makes for an awkward moment, so just speak clearly, articulate your words. Wait for the microphone, you can’t hear me now, speak into the microphone, don’t speak away from the microphone. So put up your hand and wait for a microphone, a good speaker will repeat the question… Wow, sorry for the sneak peek.
[11:37] So a good speaker will repeat the question so that it’s recorded or whatever and the general audience can hear it. But wait for the microphone, it’s just good etiquette. Some tidbits gamify it, speak to five people with pink shoes, I don’t know, speak to people with OfferZen t-shirts, so that’s everybody, don’t do that. Speak to, I don’t know, gamify it, set yourself a challenge, go see if you can do that. And be welcoming, and there’s Pacman, and Pacman’s very welcoming, it turns out he is.
[12:08] If you’re in a group of people and you’re standing in a circle, that’s not welcoming, people can’t join that. So open up a space, good old hungry Pacman there, and let people join your conversation. Go to the evening events, I think that’s where people are more relaxed, speakers have made their talk and they’re not as nervous as I am right now, and you can hang out and talk about cool things, so definitely do those things.
[12:33] Next slide. Okay, so how to sponsor a conference. This is for everyone in the room is not just for sponsors. If you understand how the sponsors are operating, you can hopefully get the best out of your conference. Swag, we all like swag, right? Sponsors aren’t here just to give you swag, even though you might think at an OfferZen event, there’s so much swag, it’s all about swag, it’s not about swag.
[12:58] So sponsors, here’s some tips for you. So why does it matter? I think you want to have those good interactions, you want to be able to sell your product or sell your company or whatever it may be, and you want to get the most out of your conference experience. And if you understand how to sponsor, I think that’s really a good way to do it. What is your goal? So they normally have a reason why they’re giving you money, “I’ll give you money, you give me something in return. I don’t know, connections to people or whatever, a desk so I can speak to people,” so try and give them a reason to do that. So they want to expose their company, they want to expose their brand.
[13:43] And I think as a sponsor, don’t just try and sell your thing, try and make connections, talk to people, understand problems, understand what people are doing in the space, don’t just push, give people a reason to come and talk to you. Have a thing, a competition, waffle on a stick, I had one earlier, I never knew that that was a thing.
[14:08] Just a… That emoji did not turn out right. So just a shout out to Zappi, they’ve been sponsoring DevOpsDays for four years. They take the gold sponsorship, which is the one where you get the cool desk and you can talk to people, never taken that once. They take it because they’re supporting this community, they just want to give back to the community. How many people have had coffee today from Zappi? It’s not as many as I thought, but go have the coffee it’s great, thanks Zappi, we appreciate it, companies might also want to do hiring.
[14:45] Next slide, excellent. So again, as a sponsor, how should you behave? Well, read the code of conduct, it’s all in there. Make your table look interesting and welcoming. No names mentioned, but at the last DevOpsDays there was a sponsor with an empty table and four bored looking people, yeah, no one approached them. Give them a reason to part with their precious email address, “I know you’re going to spam me if I give you my email address, but if you give me a cool thing, I will give you my email address,” so give out those cool things, not just a thing, but something cool, it’s tough to be creative, but try it. Don’t ask the organisers for a list of email addresses, as a organiser, we’re not going to give it to you, get them yourself by handing out those cool things, I guess OfferZen already has all of our email addresses.
[15:36] Make connections at your table, talk to people, ask questions, be interested, don’t just push. See if you can get involved with the conference somehow, I’ve seen OfferZen do this. They help out at the registration or coffee or snacks or whatever, be seen, really helps get more than just your table from your money. So in conclusion, this community’s important, this is the larger tech community, just be a good attendee, be a good sponsor and have fun, we’re all here to learn and be here together and that’s it. Any questions?
Please note: The audience questions for this presentation were not transcribed but start at 16:12 of the video.