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Auckland, New Zealand
Smurf sized geeky person with a penchant for IT, gaming, music and books. Half of industrial duo 'the craze jones'. Loves data, learning new things, teaching new things and being enthusiastic.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Conference planning 101

It's been a busy 2½ years helping out first with OSDC (Open Source Developers Conference) and then immediately jumping in to helping run lca2015 (Linux Conf Australia). Looks like another may be en route as well... watch this space...

Whilst it's very rewarding helping to run a conference, there are also some traps for new players that I've learned about on the way. Luckily the first conference was a lot smaller than the second, so the lessons learned weren't quite so brutal as they could have been if they were discovered during lca2015.

These pitfalls can be especially hard on those with certain mental illnesses and anxiety disorders, so I've come up with a top 10 list of how to protect your head space when helping to organise a conference.

  1. Make sure you have a 2IC/team for anything you're working on so that if you need to, you can take a month or two out without any feelings of worry or guilt. Remember to keep in touch with the team though so that they don't forget who you are. :-)
  2. Ask for help immediately if you're finding you have too much on your plate or if something isn't getting done as fast as you'd like, whether it's your own or someone else's job - this helps to avoid that gut wrenching anxiety feeling that you're letting folks down.
  3. Don't take on too much. If it's a big job - just focus on the one thing.
  4. Trust other people to do things. This is the hardest one for me as I want everything done perfectly so have to force myself to not step in and do something that takes me 5 mins when someone else is taking several hours. You just have to let them do it their own way. It's frustrating as hell but don't give yourself extra work.
  5. If someone else starts stepping on your toes, be polite but firm, tell them it's all under control and refer them to note 4 above. 
  6. Don't be afraid to stand your ground if something isn't right, but on the same note, if something isn't right but the majority don't care, just go with the flow and let it drop - life is too short to dwell on things.
  7. Don't dance around topics. If there is an issue - raise it in a matter of fact way so that something can be done about it and so that people understand what the issue is. Don't use 500 hundred words when 10 will do. No-one will thank you for spending 2 hours listening to you ramble whilst trying to work out what your problem is. Just tell us what you want us to do to help solve your problem without any histrionics.
  8. Take nothing personally. People get really stressed out and even the nicest person snaps occasionally. If you're the one who snaps, apologise immediately to diffuse the situation. This will also help stop you from cycling it over and over and over and over and so on... in your head whilst trying to sleep.
  9. If you make a mistake - fess up immediately, again, this will stop you from dwelling on it and building it up into more of an issue than it is. 
  10. And to repeat No. 1 - If you need a break, talk to the conference chair and then take a break. It's better to have you take 2 months off and then come back refreshed and eager to continue, rather than have you struggle on and do a half-arsed job that you won't be happy with either. 

Do you have any other ideas/suggestions for ways to protect yourself when running a conference? Leave your ideas in the comments so that others can benefit from your experience.

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