How to Plan Your Community Event
Table of contents
- Please, PLAN!
- Event Purpose
- Date, Time, and Venue.
- Event Agenda
- Event Content and Slides
- Collaborations and Partnerships
You can organize different types of events for your community. The amount of effort you put into each event depends on the event type itself, your community's size, and what you want to achieve with the event.
Generally, physical events are more demanding to plan than online events. We need more efforts to gather people in one place compared to getting people to join an online event.s
Either way, don't just start hosting the event. First, plan it.
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
The importance of planning can't be overemphasized. Many community events don't turn out well because of no planning or because the planning could be better. Yes, there are event dynamics and some things might not turn out as expected. But for the many variables you can control, please plan effectively to ensure a good event.
Planning is like being in the event before it happens. Because in most cases, as your event is taking place, you might not have the chance to follow up with the event as attendees are. At event time, you would be busy with ensuring that the next agenda is ready.
With planning, you take note of various parts of your event. Check that each section has been prepared. And possibly have a backup in case some inevitable failures happen (like speaker absence).
Don't host events because events are hostable.
Define what you want to achieve with the event you are organizing. What impact do you want to make? What awareness do you want to create? What do you want attendees to learn newly?
Clearly define your objective(s) for the event. You might be growing a tech community and you are following your already set event calendar. If you don't have such a calendar, you still need to state what impact you want the event to have after it must have taken place.
Event purposes could include (but are not limited to):
Explaining how to go about a particular task (like contributing to the community, for example.
Inspiring community members to consider a particular technology.
Motivating attendees to keep up with learning.
Showcasing what community members have built.
Teaching a particular programming language, skill, or technology to attendees.
Date, Time, and Venue.
Please choose a date at least two weeks or a month away from when you start promoting your event.
Please read that again. It is not at least two weeks from now. It is two weeks from when you start promoting.
The reason is for community members to adjust their schedules and prepare to attend the event. People are busy and they already have what they want to achieve in the nearest future.
If you schedule an event within three days, the attendee count won't be as optimum as it would have been if you had been announcing the event for two weeks or more.
A month might be small for announcing your event if you have a big community or if you are expecting a large number of attendees (like DevFest).
The specific day of the week where you choose your event depends on you, your community members, and expected attendees and guests. You might want to have your events on weekends since, during the week, people might be busy with school or work (especially if you are planning a physical event).
You can also deliberate the date choice with your core team and or community members. Such deliberations are preferable, especially with the team, because they will help with carrying out demanding tasks during the event, which you alone cannot do. So their opinions greatly matter.
Sometimes, if you target peculiar speaker(s), reaching out to them first to confirm their availability might be necessary before scheduling a date. This is especially if that particular speaker is a busy or an important person.
Two weeks or more preps for an event might be too much if you have this event in regular intervals (like weekly for example) or if it is a closed event (just for a few persons to attend).
So you've picked a particular day. Up next, you have to choose the time.
Mornings or during the day is preferable if it is a physical event. As such people can come from different places and go back before night time. Tech events that occur at night are rare. In most cases, such events will span multiple days.
If you are hosting a physical event in the morning, consider setting the time to be late morning, maybe 10 AM, or towards noon. This is for you and team members to have enough time to set up the venue that morning.
For online events, the preferred time is more liberal. Some communities prefer having their online events in the evening or night times because by then, everyone would be comfortable at home to stream the event. So there is no one-fits-all recommendation.
Besides, we can't compare event timing for virtual events with in-person events. Virtual events usually last for a short while. There is not much chitchat. Agendas are straight to the point (max of 2 hours or less on average).
With physical events, agendas are usually long. Plenty of engaging and fun activities make time to pass without being noticed. (Making morning preferable).
As with the date, choose event time with the core team and or community members too. It is community stuff so people's opinions should influence decisions.
Your speaker(s)'s availability might also affect event timing.
For online events
Pick a platform that your community members are comfortable with.
Recording availability and attendee control are features that could influence your choice of video conferencing platform too. Attendee control means removing or muting attendees who spam or distract the online call. You might want to keep event recording for those who missed the event to catch up. Also, the recordings serve as a track record of your community's activities.
Google Meet doesn't permit recording nor does it give you control over attendees in the free tier. You would need to pay for Google Workspace to have those features. Google Meet, however, doesn't place limits over how long the call can happen.
Microsoft Teams is free for up to 60 minutes and 100 participants and natively supports recording.
Zoom permits recording and gives you great control over attendees. But on the free tier, your event can only hold for 40 minutes. Participants will have to join back again immediately with the event link, after 40 minutes elapse.
Messenger Rooms and Telegram Video chat are also great platforms for video conferencing. But with these platforms, recording is not supported natively. You will have to record your screen while the online event is ongoing.
You might not need to make a platform choice because your organization already has a platform for itself. For example, it makes sense that Google-related communities use Google Meet (or Bevy), Microsoft Learn Student Communities use Microsoft Teams, Facebook Developer Circles use Messenger Rooms, ...
Talking about the free tiers of various video conferencing platforms is crucial because we are talking about community. It is all volunteer and we might need it as free as possible given that the event could equally be free.
If however, you have access to paid event platforms, or you can pay for the features, or you have sponsors for them, please don't hesitate to enjoy what you have.
Twitter Spaces is another viable option but it is audio-only and may not give you the opportunity to present slides. Youtube Live is another good option, especially if the event is for a large audience. But remember, people can't interact with voices.
For physical events
Venues for physical events are hard to get. First, they might not be free. Secondly, they might involve protocols to book a peculiar date.
You may not need to pay for a venue if the event is happening in an academic environment. So you can leverage classrooms, school buildings, or university auditoriums.
If the tech community is not student-centered, you could leverage buildings in religious places (like church or mosque halls) as those may need little or no cost.
Tech hubs in your locality are also places you can choose for your event. Though you might have to pay. You can also collaborate with them and use their hub for free.
Paying for venues should technically not be an issue. You will get event sponsors. Besides adding a little ticket fee to cover up crucial event expenses like the venue is very okay.
Your hall choice depends on the event. You have a rough estimate of your community's population. You would choose a venue whose capacity is close to this rough estimate. You can't be going for an extremely large hall when your community's size is 20% of that hall's capacity. Likewise, going for a 50-capacity hall when you have a population of about 300 people doesn't make sense either.
You can also check if the venue has a stage where speakers can stand and face the audience. The control of hall lighting affects the visibility of projected slides. So consider that too. If you are rather hosting a workshop and members need to be in clusters, you technically do not need a stage for your event.
At times, you might choose to host the event in the form of an outdoor happening. So you look for lawns or parks in your locality and use them for your event. Such events could fit demo days where the public's attention is captured. It could also be a get-together after some long-term intensive learning or a picnic to meet and greet with other communities.
Factors affecting venue choice are vast.
You will definitely choose one venue for one event.
With in-person events, you might end up using the same venue for many events. Simply because your community is already known for that particular venue and you all are comfortable with the place.
The event venue is another reason why you should schedule your events very well on time. The reason is you want to be sure that you don't have clashes on that venue for another event by another program that might have been scheduled before you. In fact, you should follow up on your event venue as the event approaches to ensure that you won't have venue issues on D-day.
Agenda is the chronological order for programs during an event with the estimated for each program.
Preparing your event agenda should be done close to (if not at) the same time that the event was scheduled.
From your event purpose, you already know the core programs you want to host. Maybe a speaker session, a codelab, some presentations, ...
This should take most of the time in your event agenda. Other programs are welcomed but they should not exceed the event's core programs.
You should showcase your agenda way before the event while promoting the event or on the event website (if you have one). Showcasing might entail just mentioning the core programs, not necessarily every detail.
Such agenda showcase partly encourages event attendance. Attendees already know what to expect during the event. They would be willing to attend given that they are sure that their time won't be wasted.
Showcasing also makes you and the team accountable. If during the event things don't go as planned, and the degree of parity is much, everyone will definitely be unhappy. Besides the event agenda helps you develop a checklist for the event that will guide your planning.
Social media breaks and or taking pictures should be part of your agenda. Please don't forget. Ask attendees to post or tweet about the event. This helps with promoting your community.
Following are three example agendas
1. Example Agenda for an online speaker session
Welcome Delay/Introduce Speaker: 5 mins
The speaker speaks on the chosen topic: 20 mins
Questions: 5 mins
Short Trivia: 5 mins
2. Example Agenda for a physical workshop
Welcome & Networking: 15 mins
Codelab part 1: 1 hour
Short game break: 10 mins
Codelab part 2: 30 mins
Questions: 15 mins
Pictures/Social Media Break: 10 mins
Refreshments/Close: 10 mins
3. Example Agenda for an online hackathon
Hackathon announced: 10 mins
Competitions take place: 1hr 30mins
Short speaker session: 15 mins
Winners announced and awarded: 5 mins
Giveaway session: 5 mins
Event Content and Slides
Curate content and prepare slides as you plan the event. You shouldn't do this very close to the event date. You should prepare and get others to review them early enough to have time for other preparations.
You can delegate the preparation of your event's content to someone in the team or community. Then crosscheck and improve the work when they are done.
You might not need slides for some events, for example, if the event is an outdoor gaming session. You might not also need to prepare any content if the speaker will prepare their slides.
Yes if you have speakers, their slides should be ready. Whether you, them or whoever prepares their slides, their slides should be available. This partly confirms their commitment to being available during the event day.
Event content could be codelabs or step-by-step procedures to be used during the study jams or workshops. Event content and slide should be of quality. You are planning a great event, so let everything about it be great too.
It might not be hard to prepare the slides given that you might already have some slide templates for your community. So you just make a copy and get it edited for each event. You can also share the template with the speaker to use to prepare the content.
A popular slide management mechanism is to have just one slide for an event that will have every program in it. Then you add the speaker(s) to the slide so that they could edit the part they handle in that slide. As such event content is centralized and projection or sharing of slides can be done from the same place.
If need be.
Get them if you need them. Get them ahead of time.
They are people with their own schedules, so reaching out to potential speakers and blocking their calendars early enough are must-do if you need them.
In our online world, speakers are easy to get. They could be anywhere in the world and join your online event. That's great.
With physical events, speakers would have to migrate and possibly sleep, in order to be part of the event. This might be easy if this is a huge (and maybe paid) event where the speaker's expenses are possibly sponsored. And might not make sense if it is for a small community event.
You might want to use community members as speakers. Yes, give them the opportunity to grow. It might be their first time addressing a crowd and they may learn secrets of public speaking from there. After all, that is why it is a community. Everybody gets an opportunity.
To be sure that speakers are preparing for the event, you may want to place a deadline on when to submit event slides. Maybe a week or 3 days before the event. Review the slides and give them feedback. This helps to keep event content with community guidelines. You can delegate this task to someone on the team or a volunteer.
Especially for online events.
Consider scheduling a mini-rehearsal with the speaker(s) and moderators and be sure that everyone on stage is comfortable with their roles.
If your event involves presentations by community members (like on a demo day), then the presenters should also rehearse before time to ensure an optimum presentation.
Collaborations and Partnerships
If need be.
These are not mandatory. Without collaborating, you will still organize good events.
Collaborations are working together with other tech communities around to pull an event. Collaborations come with many advantages. You learn from each other. You get to achieve more as there are more heads and hands working towards the success of the event.
When collaborating, contributions should be well-defined. This is crucial to successful collaborations, or else one party ends up being stressed by the collaboration.
Not only two communities can come together. 3 or more can join hands too. However, the more the number, the harder the control.
Tech communities each have their branding. When partnering with others for an event or a program, flyers or graphics for that event will include brand logos/colors of the involved communities. Have this in mind when mixing up.
Also, each community has its policies and code of conduct. So respect each other and avoid crossing boundaries.
If you want to go fast, work alone. But if you want to go far, work with others.
This is the most demanding part of planning. It is a continuous process in itself and you will keep promoting the event even till the event date.
In general, you will have some call-to-action. Probably a form or a website where people can RSVP for the event. You can harvest emails and or phone numbers to send reminders as the event approaches.
Graphics and social media will greatly help you to promote your events too. Setting up a subteam just for promotions is another common practice. Community members can equally share the event regularly.
If this is a physical event, then you should take pictures during that event.
The pictures serve as social proof. Your community can also use it for its promotions or when advertising for the next event.
Photography is serious business. Depending on how your event is unfolding, you will either get a volunteer to snap pictures with a phone in the event OR you will hire a photographer(s) to snap (and record) sessions.
Photography is more serious if you want to stream the event. You will need a complete setup for media-related stuff and switching. At the bridge you will cross it. Just plan for photography too if you need it.
You can find photographers in your locality nearby or by searching online or by asking around. If they are expensive or you don't really need them, you can also check your community members for those who have cameras and could volunteer for photography during the event.
If you are serious with photography, then you could have a big backdrop for pictures. This backdrop could be somewhere around the venue's entrance. The backdrop usually contains logos of event sponsors.
So equally plan on getting the backdrop towards your event date. Design and print it ahead of the event or delegate this task and check up on the person to do it later on.
If this is an online event, screenshots or recordings of the event could suffice.
Remember, please PLAN your event.
There is no guarantee that all you prepare will happen exactly as you planned. Many things change with time and unforeseen circumstances can easily arise. But if you adequately plan your event, it will be a successful one, and you will be a step closer to achieving your goals.