Cover image by #WOCinTech Chat

Why Host Events?

Events are a fantastic way to grow, activate and retain your community members and are engaging for employees as well. When I worked on the developer community team at Keen IO from 2015-2017, I helped host a ton of events. By the end of my time there, I think I'd personally helped to host at least 30 events in our office. Many more took place without my support, in part because of this handy guide and checklist I put together for our internal team. I've had it up on GitHub where it was gathering digital dust, so I figured I'd give it a little refresh and share it here on dev.to where it can be widely used!

Hosting events can be time-consuming and resource intensive. From finding speakers/selecting activities, coordinating logistics like food and seating, and being empathetic to attendee wants/needs, there's a lot to consider.

The following is a guide to empower you to take the reigns and organize your own events in your office’s events space, grow and diversify your community, create a safe space, and thrill attendees! It will be especially helpful to startups without a dedicated events team. Assumptions are being made that you have proper A/V equipment (a projector, screen, mic(s) and speakers), a place to store food, and supplies like folding chairs, tables, dedicated guest Wifi, and gender-neutral restrooms.

NB: This guide will contain some specifics to the Bay Area in 2016, and to our specific office set up at the time, but I refreshed some of the links along the way, and there’s plenty of valuable knowledge and resources in here to make event planning easier and more successful for just about anyone!

woman knocks a door, hides, and a doggo sticks it's head out of the doggy door

An Event Opportunity Knocks!

An event opportunity is on your radar. You think hosting this event would be awesome. Cool! Why? Does your event align with your company’s mission and values? Is this something you’d want to attend? Will your attendees have a great time and be glad they came?

If you think this event will be beneficial for your community and the events’ attendees themselves, your next step is to choose a date. If applicable, check your company events calendar to see what’s coming up.

Now that you have a date, let’s start going through planning!

Moira Rose from "Schitt's Creek" says, "One must prepare for any event"

Tasklist: 3-4 Weeks (or more) before Event

✔ Pick your event date
✔ Unsure what time your event should be held? Check out this great article on an alternative to the usual evening tech meetup:


Book the time on your company’s event calendar
✔ If the event is open to employees, be sure to send a calendar invite to everyone in advance so everyone can be aware of and plan for the event.
Capacity: Be sure you know your event space capacity in advance, so know what total registration numbers should be capped at. Usually, for a free event, you’ll get between 30% and half your registrations that will actually show up for the event.
✔ Now’s a great time to secure resources: Typically, a successful event requires a team of 5-6 (Emcee/host, “Stage Manager” to act as a speaker/sponsor resource and ensure everything is running smoothly, two folks to greet and welcome guests and keep the space clean and drink tub full, and one to two people to register guests at the front and stay at the door). Send any volunteers a calendar request so they don’t forget their duties!
✔ If you find yourself having trouble securing the team of 5-6 needed from your internal team, consider allocating some budget to hiring Taskrabbits to help with event tasks.
✔ Consider having your event recorded and edited? Hiring a videographer can get expensive, this article from Vimeo is full of ideas on getting a videographer or film crew together on a budget.

Andy Samberg wearing glasses and nervously holding paper mouths some words

Speakers

✔ Will your event feature any speaker(s)? Do you know who they are?
✔ If you have one speaker confirmed, but would like some more, please be mindful of featuring underrepresented speakers whenever possible. White women (who, as an aside, are underrepresented in programming communities and less so in marketing communities - something to keep in mind depending on the topic of your event), women of color, men of color and non-binary folk should comprise at least 33% of your speaker roster or panel (if 3 or more people), ideally 50%.
✔ If you have a speaker from your company, it’s always nice to add non-company speaker(s) to open the event up to a wider audience, grow your community and add to attendee value for your event.
✔ A great and growing resource for underrepresented speakers looking to speak!

Miss Piggy spinning around with the caption, "I'm sorry, did somebody invite me to something?"

Event Page Creation

✔ Once you’ve confirmed your speakers, I recommend using Eventbrite or Tito to manage RSVPs. Both are free - Tito has some great analytics and tools, and Eventbrite gives your event an audience boost when published publicly. Choose the one that works best for you!
✔ Your event page should contain the following information in something close to this order (check out our past event pages for inspiration):

  • Compelling event photo: Great sources for stock images are WOCinTech Chat (please provide attribution: “Photo by #WOCinTech Chat”) or Unsplash.com. PS: Here are some great overall inclusion resources that may prove helpful in your event planning and overall developer community management.
  • Brief description and pitch: what overall topic is this event about? What is it about this topic that’s interesting to attendees? Why would they want to attend? What questions will be answered?
  • Speaker list: Name, photo and short 3-4 sentence bio for each speaker
  • Agenda: This is where you can include useful information about food and drink (or lack thereof). Sample agenda:

    • 6:00pm - 6:30pm: Drinks, nibbles and hobnobbing
    • 6:30pm - 7:30pm: Talks from our speakers
    • 7:30pm - 8:00pm: Panel
    • 8:00pm - 8:30pm: More drinks, nibbling, and hobnobbery

✔ Be sure to include a link to a Code of Conduct (Keen’s can be found here) with some contextual information. An example taken from our Focus on Allies talk in September 2016:

“Focus on Allies: Diversity and Inclusion for 2016 is an event for people from many different backgrounds. As such, all attendees,
speakers, sponsors, and volunteers at this are required to agree
with the Keen IO code of conduct.”

✔ Be sure to clarify whether or not your event space is truly accessible: wheelchair-friendly entrances and ramps are essential, but so are restrooms on the main floor, elevators if there are multiple floors, plenty of space to navigate a wheelchair or mobility aids around the room and between tables and chairs, reserved aisle seating for those with mobility aids, chairs that can accommodate larger sized bodies comfortably, and good lighting, among other considerations.
✔ Make it clear that bathrooms will be gender-neutral. (Perry Eising wrote this amazing post that goes into more detail about gender inclusive tech events here. Read it!)
✔ Consider hiring ASL interpreters to make the event open to the hearing-impaired community. I have used Linguabee, and they are fantastic!
✔ Consider adding the following suggestion to your event copy:

“In the spirit of fostering diversity and inclusion in tech, consider bringing a friend with that doesn’t look like you. Men, bring a friend that’s a woman. White folks, bring a POC friend. Straight folks, bring a friend from the LGBTQ community. Able-bodied folks, bring a disabled friend.”

Eventbrite-specific tips (that will save you time and confusion):

Ensure your tickets are capped out at one ticket per name, otherwise you run the risk of one person buying 20 tickets and showing up with 3 people.
Ensure your ticket sale start and end dates correspond to your selling period and lead up to the day of your event.. Often, Eventbrite will default to weird dates here so it’s important to check this.

Tasklist: 2-3 Weeks Before Event

Don Draper from Mad Men typing the words "Cut to Hashtag"

Promotion

Go forth and promote! Here's your promotional checklist:

✔ If your company has an events calendar, be sure your event has been included.
Tweet about the event. Try to get tweets coming out of your company twitter account if possible for greater reach! If appropriate, consider a hashtag for the event.
✔ Be sure to include speaker twitter handles, and any twitter handles for companies they work for in your promotional tweets. It's a great way to ensure retweets!
✔ Want to schedule some tweets? Add some cool graphics? Try getting a few tweets scheduled through Buffer, and use their cool social image feature, Pablo. Tweets with images have been proven to be more engaging (more retweets, likes, etc.)
✔ Search for and reach out to local, thematically-relevant meetup group organizers for co-promotion. Lots of meetup groups are happy to share relevant events with their communities.
✔ Reach out and invite underrepresented groups in tech. Not only are they eager to hear about new events, expanding your community to a broader set of folks will enrich it!
✔ Ask your Marketing and Community teams if a limited email blast or inclusion in an upcoming newsletter might be relevant and timely for the existing customer and event community.
✔ I've typically seen the majority of registrations happen within the last two weeks leading up to an event, so your best bet is to plan to push for registrations in the two weeks leading up to the event. Folks that register closer to the event are also more likely to show up, especially for free events!

Tasklist: One Week Before Event

Reach out to your speaker(s) with an email asking the following questions:

  • Do they have what they need?
  • Can you get a sneak peek at their material? (nothing like a surprise[ [offensive slide]!(https://www.businessinsider.com.au/atlassian-atlas-conference-gender-gap-tech-horror-2014-6))
  • What kind of expectations do they have for tech specs: do they want to present off their own computers? If so, be sure to ask them to arrive early to have their presentation setup and A/V checked on your equipment, and have them send you a backup of their presentation (ideally via PDF or Google drive for formatting consistency. Keynote and PowerPoint files sent over email are recipes for disaster)
  • Ask if they have their own “clicker” (official technical term) to navigate through slides or will need ours (be sure to have one in office, at Keen we used this one that has worked on every machine we’ve connected it to)

✔ Encourage speakers to send their slides via Google Drive or Dropbox by noon of the event day or the evening before, and run all presentations off one machine. This prevents awkward pauses and potential technical glitches when switching computers between speakers.
✔ Know the specifics for your projector. At Keen, our projector connected easily with Macbooks with thunderbolt ports or HDMI. Speakers may need to provide dongles for any other configuration.
✔ Book some time with your designated emcee to make sure they are feeling comfortable about the flow of the event, the agenda, and the content they are presenting, which can be:

  • If relevant, a territorial acknowledgment is a way to pay respect and homage to the indigenous territories where the event is being hosted. (Thanks Alain Wong for this suggestion!)
    • Short speaker bios
    • Housekeeping info about code of conduct,bathroom location and food/drink location (if not obvious) are usually musts)

✔ If applicable, plan to briefly introduce your company and product to the audience before the speakers begin.
✔ How are your registration numbers looking?

  • Always assume that for any free event (and 99% of events held in your space should be free, assuming you are looking to build community, not make money off of events), you will have anywhere between a 30-50% attendance rate.
  • Registration goals should, therefore, account for this. If you’d like to see 50 attendees, plan to promote until you’ve hit 100-150 registrants.

✔ Ensure you have plenty of nametags and sharpies for attendees to write out their names! Order some if needed. Nametags may be cliché but legitimately great networking/icebreaking tools!
Provide pronoun stickers or buttons. Everything you could possibly want to know about pronoun stickers and buttons in this fantastic article:


✔ Make sure you have the desired amount of swag available to distribute at the event. I won't get into what that swag should be, but let's avoid things like this and lean towards things like this.

Tasklist: 3-4 Days Before Event

Panda eating bamboo in the forest

Catering the Event

✔ You should have an idea by 3-4 days prior to the event of where your registration numbers are headed, so start to consider catering options. Please note, in some cases, the vendors recommended are specific to San Francisco.
✔ No matter your budget, diverse dietary needs can and should be accommodated: vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free.
✔ If you have the budget, consider fine, tasty and nutritious catering from Bi-Rite, which gets excellent attendee feedback and leaves people full, healthy and happy. Apprx $1500 to feed 100 people.
✔ A great mid-tier budget option is La Mediteranée to feed 100 people for $900.
✔ If you have less of a budget, you still have options. Try EZCater (available in most large US cities) for tacos or many other options. 🌮 Pizza is fine every now and again, just be sure to order several varieties and include a gluten-free pie for every 50 or so guests. 🍕 You should also include salad options with pizza. 🥗
✔ Plan for ~.75 alcoholic 🍻 and ~1 non-alcoholic beverage 🥤 per attendee (since not everyone drinks and many people will want a mix of both). You will usually need to over-order in order to ensure variety because most beers are sold in 6 packs or dozens.
✔ Plan to offer a large selection of non-alcoholic beverages* (water, juices, LaCroix, diet and regular sodas, and if you can, mocktails) as well as wine and beer (hard alcohol at public events can be a slippery slope and is generally not recommended in most circumstances 🤢).
✔ If you don't have access to reusable plates/utensils in sufficient amounts, Food vendor orders should also include biodegradable plates/utensils wherever possible, make sure you specify when ordering.
✔ Don’t forget to pick up or order ice! ❄️

Tasklist: 2 Days Before Event

✔ You should have a good idea of attendee numbers at this point, so now’s the time to order your food. Order enough food to cover 50% of your registration numbers (100 RSVPs = food for 50 people).
✔ Ensure you have colleagues and volunteers prepared to work the door for the night, and have clear instructions on how to escalate any incidents. Ensure all people working the door have the organizer’s cell phone number.
✔ Prepare placeholder slide with wifi information
✔ Prepare introductory slides with your company logo and event name (if applicable)

Nervous looking sock monkey

Tasklist: Day Before Event

✔ Send out a reminder about the event and its relevant information (location, directions, accessibility, food, etc) to all attendees. You can do this directly through Eventbrite or Tito.

Tasklist: Day Of Event

Cat poking sleeping person with paw

AM:

✔ Order beverages and ice on Instacart (if you’re in SF or other Instacart markets), or go buy your groceries, the old fashioned way.

Kermit the Frog flails his arms about

PM:

Housekeeping!
✔ Empty current garbage/compost/recycling
✔ Place bags in containers
✔ Tidy events area and ensure anyone working nearby relocates
✔ Receive groceries, place supplies near food table area
✔ Print event sign for the door
✔ If needed, bring down two barstools/seats for check-in volunteers to sit on
✔ Setup and test projector/slides
✔ Ensure “clicker” is ready to go on the computer being used. The speaker may provide their own “clicker” (there's gotta be a better term for this)
✔ Turn on and test mics/speakers if needed (we only used them for events with 50+ attendees due to the acoustics in our space)
✔ Set up and arrange folding chairs for events with speakers
✔ Set up food table and drink area (I recommend covering your tables with craft paper which looks great and makes cleanup a cinch, and buying 3 beverage buckets like these
✔ Ice the drink buckets an hour before doors open (place drinks in buckets first, pour ice over after - trust me 😂)
✔ If you’re distributing t-shirts and stickers, lay them out neatly at a table towards the back of the room (away from food)
✔ Prepare laptops/iPads with Eventbrite or Tito accounts/lists open and ready for check-in at the check-in area near the entrance
✔ Layout name tags, sharpies, pronoun button/stickers in check-in area for attendees
✔ Brief any attending employees to be on extra high alert for attendee happiness, and if anyone seems to be running into trouble, to interject or report it to a moderator

Gollum freaking out

30 minutes prior to the event:

✔ Breathe and have a glass of water. Try to take a moment to eat before the guests arrive because I promise you won't eat if you don't eat now. If anything is going to go wrong, and it probably will, you can handle it. 🙌
✔ If videographer was hired, they should be arriving and setting up
✔ If possible, playing some great, low-volume instrumental ice-breaking music for guest arrival (lyric-free ensures you won’t run into any sexist/racist/triggering lyrics! Jazz is always classy!)

✔ Cover any snack/drink/other areas that aren’t accessible to guests
✔ Catering should be arriving now
✔ Ensure food is set up and looks yummy and clean
Important: Ensure all food is labeled with dietary specifics/allergens (contains gluten/gluten-free, contains shellfish, contains egg, contains milk/dairy, contains nuts, vegan/contains animal products). Most caterers will label for you if you ask, but you may need to label items yourself. If you’re unsure, always assume the food may contain an allergen.
✔ Check-in volunteers should get into place and open doors 10 mins before event kickoff for early arrivals

Magical purple creature at rainbow door opens door and waves hello

EVENT KICKOFF!

✔ It's the moment we've all been waiting for! Open those doors! ✨
✔ Check-in and welcome guests!
✔ Be on extra high alert for attendee happiness, and if anyone seems to be running into trouble, interject or report it to a moderator
✔ If you have been the driving force behind the event, now's the time to mix, mingle, and network... enjoy the fruits of your labor, and let your volunteers be the ones managing the event details. You've worked hard and you deserve it
✔ Your volunteers should be:

  • Ensuring anyone who looks shy or lonely gets welcomed and introduced to someone
  • Replenishing drinks/ice
  • Handling any spills/messes
  • Tossing empty bottles/cans into recycling as the event is underway

Tasklist: End of Event

✔ Clean up- all bottles/cans
✔ Empty any overflowing garbage/recycling/compost
✔ If possible and food will not spoil overnight, consider having a Food Runner collect any leftover food the next day to be redistributed to the homeless
✔ If applicable, fold up chairs and store them
✔ Ensure office/space is secured before leaving

Flower costume with caption, "you did it!"

Tasklist: Follow-up/Post-Event

✔ You should send a followup email to thank your attendees for coming. You can do this through Eventbrite or Tito
✔ If your event was recorded, it’s usually nice to wait until you receive the recording to send to your attendees
✔ Consider having the recording transcribed through Rev.com, this helps tremendously in writing a recap
✔ Consider writing a blog post recap on your company blog! Unfortunately, since Keen IO was acquired, my event recaps are no longer live on the Keen blog. Here's a super old tumblr we used to use at Mashery for all our hackathon recaps. Don't tell anyone it's still live 😂

Now, pat yourself on the back. You did great!

Beyoncé nodding her head, saying in caption, "Thank you"

Am I missing anything? What would you add? Comment below and I'll add it!

Thanks to Perry Eising for more resources for gender inclusivity at events, as well as helping me to consider the needs of folks using mobility aids

Was this post helpful? Want the spreadsheet version of this task list to run your own inclusive office event? Message me and I'll hook you up!