DDD Melbourne 4 thoughts

A few weeks ago we held our 4th DDD Melbourne event. The feedback’s all in (thanks Mahesh for consolidating it) & I wanted to jot down some of my thoughts on what I thought went well & what er didn’t work quite so well. This is my opinion & may or may not be shared by the other coordinators & helpers 🙂

First of all we asked what delegates overall rating was of the conference:

  • 37% of people were very satisfied
  • 47.7% of people were satisfied
  • 13% dissatisfied
  • 2.2% very unsatisfied

We haven’t really tracked this previously so it gives us a good basis to see how we improve in the future.

I have to say from the feedback I think some people probably haven’t been to too many conferences & might have some unrealistic expectations from a $25 community run conference but I like a challenge!

This was by far our biggest event and we had over 320 delegates, speakers and organizers. I have been running user groups, conferences and events for a long time and we normally expect around a 30% dropout for free or low cost events – it’s been very consistent over the previous years at both a DDD & user group/event level.

This year however just 12% of registered delegates didn’t turn up! – which is awesome but also gave us quite a few more people than we were expecting.

Our day probably didn’t get off to the best of starts with one of our coordinators falling sick (although he bravely still talked later in the day). Unfortunately he also had most of the food & snacks in his car which were instead kindly delivered by John Azariah – thanks John!

For a DDD event the start of the day is always the busiest with putting up of signs, unloading of vehicles and registration of delegates. We accidently left our nice printed direction signs amongst all the other items we had to bring which meant a mad dash to pick up some card board and to draw up some direction signs!

After a rushed start I think the registration process was pretty smooth – I know a few delegates missed out on a conference bag but suspect some people must have been pinching an extra bag as we should have had enough for all the delegates grrr.

This year we had a key note speaker – Joe Albahari Author of C# in a nutshell and LinqPad. From the feedback we received I know a lot of people really enjoyed Joe’s talk so we will certainly be continuing with something similar in future conferences.

I personally like that our DDD events are a mix of well known, experienced speakers and also some new guys – everyone has to start somewhere and it’s great to see some new people getting out there & doing a talk.

I know some people didn’t like the conference being split across two buildings but it seemed a shame not to make the most of the big ATC building (where the keynote was). I guess ideally we would probably restrict everything to one building but having the bigger room also enables us to open the conference up to more delegates.

We also moved our registration from the engineering to ATC building which I think may have confused a few people – however it seemed silly to get everyone to register in one building and then go to another for the keynote. Something we need to plan better from the start.

Some commented that we could open up the event to more delegates. I have to say I fight this battle with my fellow coordinators Lars & Mahesh every year J

I’m glad we didn’t. The logistics become so much more complicated with more money, vehicles, people etc that we are better off increasing our numbers gradually and learning how to handle the larger numbers.

Probably the main area we received feedback about was the food (51% saying it was good but not enough of it). In previous years we have ordered pizzas but this year decided to try something different with professional caterers.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the food – not in terms of the quality but just the amount that we got. I know that some people missed out entirely on food – sorry!. Believe it or not we spent around $3500 on morning tea & lunch & this isn’t taking into account the snacks and drinks. One individual involved in running dev events recommended to me that we need to order 25% more food for developers than a “normal” group – I suspect they might be right!

I really don’t feel there was a lot of food for the money. The catering company also didn’t provide any plates (they apologized for this) which meant a quick dash to buy some throw away plates. Sadly due to this myself and a few others had to pick up some of the dropped food which was a particular low point in the day for me 😦

Vegetarian options should also have been properly labelled (it’s not something that occurred to us) and probably should have been done by the catering company but it’s something for us to think about in the future.

We received some comments about lack of vegan & diabetic friendly options – we’ll always provide a vegetarian option but I’ll be honest in a community run event with limited funds & resources we are going to struggle to cater for specialist diets. I am open to ideas about how we could cater for these sorts of requirements through?

Amusingly last year we received feedback that some wanted healthier options and this year some said they wanted the pizzas back – maybe a mix next year?

The other item we received some feedback on was lack of afternoon tea – this was actually my fault as I put out the food the break earlier & it had pretty much all gone by the next break. Either way we need more food so we have enough to last throughout the day.

This year was the first year we tried to have more interactive workshop based sessions. We received mixed feedback on these – some people loved the idea and others thought they were too short to really work. This will be something we talk about with the other coordinators but I suspect we may keep it albeit in a slightly different fashion.

Some people said there was a lot of web content – this however reflects what people voted for (there were a number of sessions I would have liked to see get in which didn’t) & we are never going to be able to please everyone.

Finally this year we introduced an after party with sponsor funded drinks. It was great to meet some new people and we had a good night however not as many people as we hoped turned up so not sure we would be putting funds into this next year.

In summary my list of todo’s for next year:

  • More food & snacks (obviously!)
  • We could do signs earlier in morning so it’s all set up
  • I liked the idea of people submitting ideas of sessions they want to see prior to call for content opening
  • We need to be clearer about cut off times for voting
  • Drop out rates were much lower so need to take into account for show bags etc
  • I liked the pre conference guide LAST conference put together – a pdf with lots of info on speakers etc people could download saving printing costs
  • Not sure showbags were worth effort
  • Need more helpers and to divide work up better as this year it felt hard work and was exhausted by end of day
  • After party didn’t really work – let’s go down pub instead

Overall I think the event went pretty well and thanks to all the helpers, sponsors and everyone that came to make the day a success.

DDD Melbourne will be back in its 5th year probably sometime around May/June 2014.