Three and a Half Years of Conference Chats

In October 2019, I put out a call for conference organizers to join a discussion group.

I think I’m going to start holding some regular conference organizing chats. No agenda, just an open audio or video chat for whoever wants to talk about running tech conferences, regardless of experience level. Maybe starting one evening next week? DM me if interested in joining.

This group has met monthly since then (now with two different monthly sessions to accommodate different time zones and schedule availabilities) and is now known as Conference Chats. This blog post contains some informal thoughts on my experiences with the group so far and where I hope it’s going.

What even is this thing?

From my perspective (and I’m sure other regular participants have their own views here), it serves several purposes:

  • Primarily, it’s a place for conference organizers (past, present, or future) to share news, experience, and advice with each other. A sounding board of sorts, with the goal of helping everyone help each other.

  • It’s also a support group of sorts. It’s good to have a group of people with a shared experience that one can discuss challenges with. One of the marks of a successful conference is that the parts that go wrong are not visible to attendees, so organizers may not have many venues to discuss the difficult aspects of running events.

  • Finally, it’s social. I’ve made some great friendships through meetup and conference organizing, and this call is a great excuse to catch up with people I don’t otherwise see, especially having attended fewer events than normal these past few years.

Who attends the calls?

We’re still a relatively small group, with most calls ranging between six and twelve participants. Like most long-running communities, meetings are comprised of regulars, recurring attendees, and infrequent / one-off attendees in different proportions depending on the month.

The group still skews pretty heavily toward Python community conference organizers. This is largely due to network effects and the group that we started with. While this is a great foundation, I’d like to see a broader group of participants as we continue to build the community. Most of the mechanics of running events are the same across many different communities, and I believe we can all help each other more effectively with a bit more cross pollination.

What value does one get out of the group?

I can only answer for myself and what I’ve heard others say aloud here. A few things come to mind:

  • The social aspects I mention above.

  • Topic discussions where no one has a correct answer yet. These are incredibly valuable on a long time scale. Most notably, I think this has helped at least a couple of events improve their online experience more quickly than they would have in a vacuum.

  • Questions that an organizer on the call has a specific answer to. These often come from organizers looking to take on something new, and they allow the asker to skip a lot of the mistakes involved in learning a topic the hard way. This is a broad category, and we’ve talked about everything from sponsorship to handling finances to finding speakers, and more. This is the most “immediate gratification” kind of value that the group sees. As a host of the group, it’s a lot of fun to see these questions punctuated with “this is super helpful and has saved me a lot of work”, which is a sentiment I’m seeing expressed on pretty much every call in recent months.

Should I join? Should I start something like this for myself?

“Probably yes” to both. As the Conference Chats website says, the only requirement for joining is an interest in planning events; if that applies to you, you can find our Discord link on the site. If you’re looking to start something like this, I can only say that I’ve found it to be enjoyable and rewarding so far. If you can find an existing community to contribute to, I think that’s a great starting point. If not, start one up, tell your friends, and keep at it.