Monthly Archives: February 2015

Tech event planning checklist

Someone speaking at a tech eventThis is mostly a reminder for myself when planning future tech events (meetups, hackathons, etc.) but others might find it useful too. Just print it out and cross off the bits that aren’t relevant. It’s based on my experience as an organiser, speaker and attendee but if I’ve forgotten something please leave a comment.

Early planning

Name and topic
Consider a hashtag when you choose the name, and of course make sure there’s interest in the topic first!
Speaker list
You can get provisional buy-in from one or two speakers and use that to attract others. Speakers always want to know who else is in the line-up.
Date & time
The hardest part. Accept that you’ll never find a perfect date. Work with the locations available to you and check the calendar for other similar events.
Diversity/fairness policy
After a few controversies, more events are making clear their diversity policy and attracting a better variety of speakers and audience. Here is a sample diversity statement and sample code of conduct, both available under a Creative Commons license.
Location
Choose when deciding on dates. Visit in person in advance.
Budget
Lucky you! Plan for unexpected expenses.
Schedule
Allow ten minutes at the end for questions, a summary or just a buffer in case of overruns. Also include a break for events longer than two hours.
Sponsorship
Takes time. Be ready to tell the sponsors the event details, what you need the funds for and how they will benefit. Your life will be easier if you can manage without sponsorship.

Promotion

Main blog post/event page
Good idea to create a shortlink (e.g. with Bitly for easy sharing).
Map & transport
Date, time & duration
Cost
Free will save you a whole lot of hassle. Even so, make it clear whether people need to register or not.
Target audience
And the benefit of attending.
Hashtag
Perhaps incorporate it into the event name.
Contact details for more info
Whether they’ll be a video or live streaming

Preparation

Volunteers & helpers
Make clear that their help is voluntary but be sure to show your appreciation. Reserve some snacks or swag for them if you can.
Chairs for everyone
Make sure you reserve some for the speakers near the front.
Snacks
John Allsopp (Web Directions) says good coffee is a must.
Signs for the event and the bathrooms
Make the text big. Here’s a bathroom image you can freely use.
Welcomer
Somebody to welcome and help the speakers.
Inform security/building reception
Keep them happy and in-the-know.
Lanyards or stickers
Or stay anonymous.
Power supplies
Lots! If it’s difficult to spread them around the room, have a charging table or two at the back.
Wifi
Goes without saying. Make sure it’s more reliable than you think you’ll need.
Projector & screen
Don’t forget where the speaker will stand and a power socket for them.
Mics & audio
Clip-on mics are best but require a bit of setup time. If possible, also have a hand mic for audience questions.
Timekeeper
Decide in advance if you’re going to be strict or if you’ll give the speakers a few minutes leeway. In any case, someone needs to be ready to stop them if they get carried away.
Water for speakers
Sponsor logos
Be ready to show them on screen before/after the event and during breaks. You may also need a table for sponsor stickers and goodies.
Have marker pens, paper, scissors and duct tape ready. Any event, always.

Speaker communication

Length of session
Also whether they need to leave time for questions.
Target audience and size
Adaptor reminder
Macs!
Power & internet availability
Remind them to have an offline version of their slides and demos.
Costs you’ll cover, if any
Photo/video permission
Only if you’re planning this

Start of event

Welcome & thank you (speakers, helpers, sponsors, host and attendees)
Wifi access point and password.
Have this on a sign as well. Don’t forget the hashtag or IRC channel.
Photo policy
Let people know if they can’t take photos. Check people are OK with you publishing event photos.
Bathroom location
Emergency exits
Smoking area

During the event

Check Twitter
Gauge the atmosphere and be ready to ask the speakers to speak louder, slower, etc.
Walk around the room (discretely)
Do people look too hot or cold? Can the people at the back see and hear?
Take photos
Think of your post-event blog post.
Repeat questions
Always make sure the speaker repeats any questions from the audience to ensure that everyone can hear.

At the end the event

Thank you (speakers, helpers, sponsors, host and attendees)
Further info
Tell people where to go for slide links, next event details, etc.
Tidy up
Ask the helpers to stay a bit longer to get it done.
Take down the signs
Don’t forget any outside.
Get feedback, either informally or by using a questionnaire.
Share out leftover snacks
Give your hard-working helpers priority.

After the event

Publish photos
Ideally have a blog post with a brief report and thank you note.
Slide links
Try to ask speakers at the event or by mail afterwards to add to the event page.
Spread the word
Continue making a buzz to get people eager for your next event!

Screen readers 1, humans 0

Spoken version: MP3 | OGG

Yesterday I sent out a one-question survey on Twitter about screen readers. I’d had this fantastic idea for a website plugin that would enable blog editors to easily record an audio version of their blog posts when publishing [1]. Vision-impaired users would rejoice, website traffic would shoot up and I’d be rich and famous. To double-check, I asked the following question which was retweeted and replied to by several kind souls:

I expected replies along the lines of “stupid question, of course a human recording is better but we have no choice”. How wrong I was.

If you’re not sure how a blind or low-vision user can “read” a webpage, listen to the following short video showing a screen reader in action.

When I’ve seen friends use screen readers it’s always struck me as sounding difficult to understand and likely to get annoying after a while. Where’s the warmth or personality in that mechanical voice?! But I was enlightened as to how incredibly empowering this technology is and the replies I got were pretty unanimous — screen readers win hands down.

Benefits of screen readers

  • Ability to control such as jumping forwards, backwards or elsewhere in the page
  • Ability to check spelling
  • Ability to listen by word
  • Ability to change reading speed (humans are too slow)
  • Ability to follow links

Some of these are also possible with JavaScript, e.g. changing the speed of an audio file, but it would add an extra UI to the interface that the user is already familiar with. I suppose it’s similar to my beloved Kindle — I now feel the limits of books printed on paper compared to ebooks with their dictionary lookups, highlighting, linking, etc.

The only non-unanimous opinion was for fiction where a human narration is sometimes preferred for continuous reading and to feel emotion.

So another day older, another day wiser and thanks to everyone who sent comments.

Footnote

  1. When editing a blog post, it should be possible to use getUserMedia to record the audio, send that to the Web Audio API and export it as a WAV file using the Recorder.js library. Then get the WAV file transcoded to OGG or MP3 via an online API such as Encoding.com (no affiliation) and uploaded to cloud storage. The resulting URL could be inserted into an audio element at the top of the blog post, a bit like this one.