SharePoint Saturdays: Hosting Ideas

SharePoint Saturday events provide free technical training, create networking opportunities, and allow vendors to introduce and demonstrate their products to a defined audience. After attending my first SPS in Tulsa, it’s been my privledge to speak at several great events, including SPS Ozarks, Kansas City, New Orleans, and Houston, and I’m looking forward to one whale of an SPS (over 1000 attendees registered!) in Washington DC.

Working for an agency tasked with providing training events for large numbers of people, I’ve witnessed the tremendous amount of work required in the planning and coordination of these types of events. There are venue, food, scheduling, transportation, speaker, sponsor, and registration tasks to be wrangled. Kudos to the organizers of the SPSs I’ve attended—they made all of this look seamless and effortless, all while still performing their full-time jobs.

Local user groups are usually the primary organizers of an SPS. Tulsa and Oklahoma City groups are discussing hosting one together, as the two major cities are only a 90-minute drive apart.

If your user group is considering hosting a SharePoint Saturday event, be sure to reach out to founder Michael Lotter and some of the Chairs of past events at SharePointSaturday.org. They can provide invaluable advice on every aspect of the event coordination.

Here are some ideas your group might consider:

Provide a PowerPoint template. A standard template can lend a cohesive feel to the presentations. It also allows all the speakers to deliver consistent info on housekeeping items, such as the procedure for session evaluations and the prizes available to be won. Some presentations may not lend themselves well to a template, however, so flexibility is urged. You can always provide a template, but make its use optional.

Separate evaluations from the papers used to draw for prizes. This allows for anonymous feedback, which may be more honest regarding areas that need improvement. You can accomplish this by using two forms or by designing the bottom part of the evaluation forms as detachable (either perforated or with provided scissors) and create two boxes…one of the evals and one for the drawing. An optional section can be included on the evaluation where attendees can provide their contact information if they wish to the speaker to have it.

Make sure the social aspects of the event, such as SharePint, are well advertised in advance. Networking at these events is almost as valuable as attending the sessions.  #YAHBN

Use EventBrite or similar online registration service. This will give you attendee information to create mailing lists and name tags. You can optionally add questions to be answered, such as type of attendee (newbie or advance, dev or IT Pro) and whether contact info may be shared with vendors, speakers, and/or user groups.  

Create computer-generated name tags for speakers and pre-registered attendees. Sticky name tags will work for walk-ins, if printing on site is not an option. Tip: Print the FIRST NAME in a large font size so that it is legible from several feet away. This is particularly helpful to speakers answering questions in large groups and for networking folks who may need several reminders before they commit a new name to memory.

Get ladies’ sizes on shirts for female speakers. I’ve heard the comment often enough: “Wow, there are a lot of women at SharePoint events [as compared to other tech confs]!” and it’s true. Houston managed this, and my SPS Houston shirt has been worn to work. The rest are patiently hanging in the closet, waiting for the day I sprout chest hair or polo mini-dresses come into style. Encourage your vendors to carry a variety of sizes and styles in their give-away shirts as well.

Require attendees to visit sponsor booths. Sometimes folks are a little nervous to approach vendors if they don’t know the product, they are not the decision maker/purse-string holder for their company, or they are just new to SharePoint. Kansas City tried requiring vendor attendees get their drawing entry stamped by a certain number of vendors. This provided increased interaction for both the vendors and the attendees, because it added a social aspect to the process. The SPS vendors I’ve met weren’t “booth babes” (although they are adorable!).  They’re tech people who actually know the product they are representing, so they’re worth visiting.

Ask the speakers to provide their slide decks to be posted online after the event. Presentations can be saved in PDF format so they are read-only. Also consider asking for copies of any handouts and a write-up of Questions and Answers brought up in the session, both those with answers and those requiring research and follow-up. Event volunteers or fellow speakers can provide note-taking for these questions during the sessions.

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About Joy Lavigne (Adkins)

SharePoint Administrator for a mid-sized organization. Frequent speaker at SharePoint Saturday events. Teller of terribly corny jokes. View all posts by Joy Lavigne (Adkins)

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