[ Originally pubished in Datafile, Vol 14 No 5, October/November 1995, page 20. ] An Inside View of HHUC-95 by Craig A. Finseth, member #745 firstname.lastname@example.org (Apologies to non-US readers: this document is written in the American dialect of English. I did not attempt to translate nouns that differ.) As most of you are aware, I organized the recent handheld's conference. These conferences happen about once per year, so you would think that we, as a community, would have a fairly good idea of how to organize one. Well, as a community, we might. However, I found precious few precedents to follow. This article will put forth what I experienced and learned. BACKGROUND: I purchased my first HP, a 45, just after they came out. I then purchased a -12C and -16C as those came out. I then fell in with Steinmetz & Brown, and they got me hooked. I have attended the 1991 (Corvallis), 1992 (Philadelphia), and 1992 (London) conferences and was a member of the 1994 (Amsterdam) conference. I am the author of the HPDATAbase and the freeware Freyja and Loki products. I also haunt the relevant Internet newsgroups. GENESIS: In, I believe, November of 1993, my wife and I were visiting London. We met up with Wlodek for dinner, and, while walking to the restaurant, I got the idea that having a conference in Minneapolis would provide a convenient excuse for inviting Wlodek to visit us. After breaking the idea to my wife (:-), we all thought that it might be worth pursuing. EARLY STAGES: In the winter and spring of 1994, I thought about the idea some more. I also asked around to see if anyone else was thinking of holding a conference. I targeted the (then) May Amsterdam conference as the first "commit" point. I.e., I should know by the end of that conference if anyone else was thinking of running one in 1995. However, that date was missed, so I decided to wait until the June CHIP all-nighter. THE CHIP MEETING: I brought the idea up to the people at the CHIP meeting. All thought it good, and no one knew of any competing plans. I sought input in a variety of areas, from the focus of the topics to the dates to the constraints on the site. I also discussed the idea with Hal Goldstein of The Palmtop Paper. He agreed to handle registration services. (Little did he know that this was a major job...) THE FIRST MAJOR EFFORT: During the late summer of 1994, I did the first major organizing. The "end product" of this phase was the (rather lengthly) "flyer" that described the conference, the site, and other details. I decided that it would be ready for the rescheduled Amsterdam conference in early October. The major pieces of this effort were: - obtain commitments from some "name" people - select dates - select site - identify hotels and other arrangements - set prices - write the thing All of these tasks happened in parallel, of course, but I will discuss them separately. DATES: Hal and I reviewed the calendar. We wanted to avoid the major summer events such as Comdex and the 4th of July. I wanted it before mid-August, because my daughter would be starting Kindergarten that (this) September and I wanted to be able to focus on that transition. In the end, we wound up with the 5-6 August date through the process of eliminating all other dates. SITE: That the conference would be in the Minneapolis/St Paul area was a given. I started the site selection process by reviewing the criteria: - hours that suited us (9am to midnight Saturday, 9-9 Sunday) - good for 100 people - good area for vendors - good people control for registration, etc. - good restrooms and support facilities (parking, etc.) - food allowed in the lecture area(!) - reasonable access - decent acoustics - air conditioned - good security - separate place for conversations (not on my original list, but suggested to me: the rotunda (failed to) served that purpose) I quickly settled on a couple of possibilities. One was a typical low-cost University lecture room. Advantages were low cost. Problems were hours, lack of food (both availability and the ability to bring food into the lecture area), and difficult access. The other was the Mall of America Event Center. It met all criteria, but was fairly expensive ($3,000: see budget presented later). [ Actually, I had the MoA in mind as I came up with the idea. However, I hadn't checked into it at all yet. ] I ran through a variety of expense projections and eventually decided that the high cost of the room rental would require a higher registration fee. However, this higher fee would be offset by attendees' not having to rent cars. This decision was to prove to be a good one time and time again. One of the first ways was that it eliminated my providing food: I knew people could just get what they wanted. This was an important reduction, as I did learn from past organizers that providing food was a major planning headache as well as a major expense. And, since there was only one person doing the bulk of the planning, eliminating a major chunk was quite attractive. The second way that the Mall site proved useful was in arranging hotel and airfares. I obtained referrals from the Mall person, and gained instant credibilty. My conversations started "Hi, I'm Craig Finseth and I'm organizing a conference at the Event Center..." (I also contacted other hotels, but the deal at the MoA Grand was the best by far.) Ditto for the air fares. Unfortunately, only three people used that fare. The Mall site did have a couple of oddities, however. First, they originally asked me to buy liability insurance (this is the US, after all). However, given the nature of the event and the fact that I already carried substantial personal liability coverage (this _is_ the US, after all (:-)), they agreed to waive that requirement. Second, they originally asked that all vendors be "pre-approved." They are worried about competition with existing Mall vendors. However, as this was a "closed" event and as none of us were in competition, this proved to be a minor problem. I dealt with it by the simple means of running vendors by them for approval: they quickly quit asking. Third, the Mall people are _very_ concerned about competition in the area of food. This includes giving it away. Actually, it _especially_ includes giving it away. We did not have a problem in this area. [ For those around on Sunday, you probably noticed that coffee and rolls showed up. These were donated by HP Singapore. Many thanks! ] I developed a budget and contingency plans during this time, and circulated it along with drafts of the flyer among a half-dozen people for comments. All this planning was done via e-mail. (Actually, the use of e-mail was critical to success. I would not have been able to do it if I used the phone.) I had no idea about banquet sites, so I just plugged in a number that sounded reasonable from past conferences and left it until later. More on this topic later. That's about it for this phase. I obtained a few commitments for speakers, and a $1,500 loan from Hal to help cover early costs (space rent deposit), and had the flyer ready by October. As one can see, running a conference does require substantial up-front cash. It thus helps to be an established club, a business, a friendly nearby HP office (as with Amsterdam) or from personal finances. For calibration, I spent about $5,500 before I received any funds. THE LONG DORMANCY: Once this effort was over, nothing much happened until February. The flyer made it into the Amsterdam conference proceedings and DATAFILE. I also sent out the flyer a few times on the net, but that's all. THE PACE QUICKENS: Starting in February, we had our first attempted registration (thanks, Jake!). He attempted to register and this forced us to get our registration procedures in order. I also started "pinging" HP since, in earlier messages, Khaw had asked how he might be of assistance. As it turned out, I never heard back directly. I assume, however, that my requests wound up affecting HP's interaction with others. During this period, Wlodek also started tracking down speakers. (See the full list of credits at the end of the article.) It became obvious that it would help to have a US technical contact: apparently, not everyone was as well attached to the net as we were. For the next conference, net access should be pretty much ubiqutious. That does not mean that everyone of interest reads the same newsgroups... In April, I asked Richard Nelson to be be US technical coordiator. He agreed. During the period of April to June, we continued the process of tracking down speakers, monitoring registrations, and making lists of activities. During June and July, I sent all who registered a mailing that contained an updated schedule, directions, and other information. THE FINAL MONTH: During the last month or so before the conference, preparations kicked into high gear. I investigated and arranged for things in these areas: Procedings: I cajoled Brian into giving me a guess for the page count, then located a printer that would do the proceedings in the time (two days, at most) and for a reasonable cost (i.e., not Kinkos). I also purchased ACCO covers. After I received the master from Brian (on the Tuesday before the conference), I quickly wrote and added extra intro material for the proceedings and the attendee list. Then it was a matter of dropping off the master and picking up the copies. Don't forget to have them 3-hole punched. During this time that Brian had a last-minute panic, both because he had received some last-minute submissions, and because he had not found the time to write his own submission! Future Proceedings Editors should consider themselves warned to write their own submission early, and to be rigid about the closing date. Possibly remind speakers twice early on, once near the final date, and one final time a couple of days before. It might even be worth offering prizes for early submissions. I looked for and found someone to handle at-the-door registration (in exchange for a free membership). This position checked off people as they came in, gave out stuff, and tracked money. The person was "on-call" throughout the conference, so he earned his keep. If the conference was much larger, I should have had a second person in this role. I monitored the hotel room status, working with the hotel staff to ensure that we had enough rooms and did not tie up any more than necessary. I would have done the same withe airline, but they aren't set up for interactive queries. Working with vendors approved by the Mall, I rented furnishings. One vendor handled the tables. Final cost was about $13.50 for table and linen (each). They would have handled the chairs ($.80 each), but those wound up being supplied by the Mall (don't ask). The other vendor handled the A/V equipment. We rented an overhead projector, large screen and Kodak Carousel projector w/long throw zoom lens and remote with a long cord. Someone brought an overhead adaptor for the 48. (Thanks to whoever you were.) In the future, I would expect that a _color_ overhead LCD panel for IBM PCs, etc. should be considered mandatory (quoted rental cost was over $500 for two days: should drop). I didn't learn of the requirement for one until late, and wound up making do with a 17" monitor. But you may as well borrow one or build it into your budget. We also wound up renting a P/A system at the last minute (again, made possible by the Mall connection). I also looked into providing Internet access for the attendees. Cost would have been $25 per hour for use of a room full of PCs. I wound up not using it because the budget was tight. But again, future conferences should consider this service as all but mandatory. I found someone and had arranged for them to do a conference swap disk. However, they wound up not showing up (:-(. With the net, it is not clear that this service is as important as it once was: no one seemed to miss it much. Or if they did, they didn't complain to me about it. Prizes: The early conference budget had amounts for prizes (door, best speaker, and best paper). Thanks to generous donors, I did not have to purchase these. The banquet: The initial banquet ticket price was a guess. As I explored banquet sites, I realized that the banquet could go in one of two directions. First, we could take over part or all of a regular restaurant. This path would be less expensive per person, but has a limit to the number of people: many restaurants can't handle over 50 people and very few can handle over 75. Second, we could go with catered facilities. The problem is, this can get pricy (looked like $20 to $40 per person) and needed a lot (say 50-100) people to spread the fixed costs over (i.e., get them down toward the $20 end). I also needed to commit to an exact count long before the conference itself (or pay for the priviledge of being vague). This was one area I missed: I did not specify an early cutoff date for banquet tickets. I lucked out. I suggest that future conferences state that the supply of banquet tickets is limited, and tickets will be sold on a first come/first served basis. This also encourages early registrations. In this way, you can keep the number to such that you can work with an (affordable) restaurant. (Of course, always have a stock of a few extras for important last-minute people. Build this stock into your budget.) I had considered doing cakes at the conference, a la the London conference (five sheet cakes, one for each of the Voyager models). However, I dropped this idea because the Mall was skittish about the idea of non-bakery cakes (bakery cakes would have cost a fortune) and we ran out of time in the schedule. Finally, I decided that there should be a conference momento. I got the idea from the HP-41 keychain from a long ago conference. The reason was simple: if _I'm_ doing the conference, I'm going to do it right. The only thing that I would have changed would be that I would not include the conference-specific information on the item. THE CONFERENCE ITSELF: For me, the conference was two days of worry. I probably only heard about a third of the talks. (I'm looking forward to seeing it on Jake's tapes.) Most of Saturday was spent tracking receipts and cross-checking records, such as the count of banquet tickets. I also troubleshot problems as they came up, such as the (lack of a) P/A system and getting someone to do a Kinko's run. And I worried. Sunday was similar, but there were fewer problems. It is important to have someone whose job it is to keep speakers on schedule. In my case, as of Friday night, I was about $2,000 in the hole (all expenses were in, but not all revenue). I knew that I would make back much of this, but it still wasn't easy to sleep... AFTER THE CONFERENCE: Afterwards, there were still tasks to be done. I had to: - Sort out boxes of stuff that I brought home. - Send copies of the proceedings, etc., to the people who were not able to attend, but who had memberships. (Don't forget to include this in your budget: overseas airmail for a proceedings was $12.00 each!) - Do the final accounting, both for receipts and for expenses. I suggest allowing about $500 for after-conference expenses and adjustments. I.e., consider that you break even if you're $500 ahead at the end of Sunday. LIST OF OBJECTS BROUGHT: I wanted to make sure that we would have whatever we needed. So, I packed and brought these items: - assorted pens, markers, pencils; pencil sharpener(!) - assorted pads of paper, sheets of paper - floppy disks (for sale if people needed one for the swap disk) - camera, film - AA, AAA batteries - stapler, staples, staple puller - tape: masking, Scotch, plastic packing, duct - Post-It notes - paper clips, pins - tape measure, scissors, utility knife - rubber bands, paper clips - screwdrivers, assorted - 3-hole punch(!) - aspirin, Sudafed - speaker timer - tickets for door prize drawing - boxes, trash bags, paper towels, assorted extension cords - various forms, etc.: * badges, both pre-done and blank * badge holders * speakers certificates * large sign (22" x 28") * "Wall of Fame" sign * "these items are free" sign * signs for vendor tables and clubs table * price lists * detailed list of pre-registered people (database dump) * sign-in lists * list of "special people" for the at-the-door person to watch for (they owe us money, we owe them money, etc.) * registration summary sheet * forms to record sales * banquet tickets * ballots * probably a few more... Things I forgot: - Kleenex - overhead transparencies, markers for - cups for water BUDGET Here is an _approximate_ budget for the conference. Many people contributed time and funds which were not reimbursed. In particular, it is more-or-less traditional to not reimburse for long distance phone costs (although, if anyone had asked, I would have). Amounts in US$. Receipts registrations 3,875 vendors 350 banquet 925 cash donations 214 others 536 ----- 5,900 (In the past and at this conference, Hewlett-Packard has graciously paid conference memberships for employees that are speakers. This is one of the many ways that they have supported conferences and was appreciated.) Expenses space rent 3,000 equipment (A/V, talbles, display cases 575 copies (flyers, last-minute) 225 shipping (including $60 after conference) 125 CoGS (proceedings, tags) 1,000 banquet 450 supplies (miscellaneous) 125 other adjustments 400 ----- 5,900 Net $5,900 - $5,900 = $0, well the net is really $16.39. THINGS TO DO DIFFERENT: Here are areas that, in retrospect, I would improve. Publicity was poor, especially among palmtop users. I should have found someone who was good at publicity and turned it over to them. To me, it was obvious what the conference was about. But it was not obvious to others. It would have helped to have a short, clearly-written statement of the conference focus. Relating to both of the above, it would have helped to have a list of speaker topics or titles well in advance. Such a list would help provide the missing focus. I set the at-the-door price way too low. For that matter, I set the last-month price far too low. Everything has to be sized and ordered in advance, so those people who insist on making the organizer's life miserable should pay for the priviledge. In this case there were few locals, so everyone who showed up at the last minute had already made airline and hotel reservations, or at the minimum travel plans: so why not conference memberships? We wound up with way too many speakers, 25 speakers and 36 non-speakers. This means that each non-speaker was carrying about 3/4 of an extra person. I suggest that for future conferences, speakers get a reduced membership rate (say, 25-50%), but not get in free. This would also help solve a major problem: many speakers did not actually register, which means that: - They did not get into the attendee list (as I only listed those people for which I had a positive "ok"). - They did not get the pre-conference mailing! We could go back to free for speakers when we get back to each non-speaker only carrying about 20% of a person or so. Or offer refunds to speakers if the conference makes too much money (:-). Proceedings: I had 75 copies made. This was just the right amount. 65 were given to people with memberships and 10 were sold. (People with memberships who did not attend still received proceedings by mail.) I received a number of complaints about not having enough proceedings: apparently, people came expecting that there would be extras for sale. Again, it costs real money (about $13 each) to duplicate the proceedings: I kept the number on the small side because I was concerned about expenses. For future conferences, I suggest allowing people to pre-order proceedings or ask people to do as I have done and register for the conference as a full member. All that said, a few spare ones (let's say, 10 for the sake of argument (:-)) are a good idea. CREDITS: These people helped or contribued in many ways other than those listed. Jeff Brown graphics Eric Crane at-the-door registration Jim Donnelly planning consultation Hal Goldstein registration services Keng-Joo Khaw much support Wlodek Mier-Jedrzejowicz technical program, moral support Richard Nelson US technical program Colleen Rodibaugh person at Thaddeus who did the work... Jake Schwartz planning consultation, video Jeremy Smith planning consultation Brian Walsh conference proceedings April Street, Inc. prize donations EduCALC prize donations Global Connections prize donations Hewlett-Packard prize donations Richard Nelson prize donations Richard Nelson & Friends prize donations If I missed someone, my apologies.
I am Craig A. Finseth.
Last modified Saturday, 2012-02-25T17:29:04-06:00.