Well, our 2016 Stir Trek show is over. Based on our own experience and what we heard from all of our attendees it was definitely one of our best events yet. With even a huge success there are always things to improve. Now that we’ve had a few days to decompress and reflect we thought we would share some of the details about the event; some things we learned and some ideas we have for future shows.
Things That Worked Well
This year we used Slack for the first time, both for board communication and for volunteers coordination during the event. It worked incredibly well, and was much better than past years’ uses of walkie-talkies (which didn’t work well in the theaters) and texting. It’s not just for the organizers of the event, though. We also had a lot of participation from attendees. If you’re not there, feel free to join Stir Trek on Slack.
The board plans and organizes the entire Stir Trek event with a weekly video conference call that begins after Codemash in January and ends the week after Stir Trek (for a review and retrospective). We’ve used a variety of tools for this in the past, but currently we’re really loving Sococo. The ease of use and quality are both great – check it out if you’re looking for a team video conferencing solution.
This year, we chose to put the morning breakfast and coffee tables at the ends of the theater hallways, rather than in the main atrium. The goal of this was to eliminate congestion in the entryway and encourage attendees to spread out within the theater and interact with the sponsors more. This seemed to work very well, with some assistance from some people movers directing traffic as people entered the atrium in the morning.
Our food drive collected 126 items, which were greatly appreciated:
Registration went smoothly. Very few attendees needed to do anything at the theater the morning of the event, because materials were shipped ahead of time. We got a lot of great feedback on the swag we included in the box, with pics like this one from speaker Chris Love:
— Chris Love (@ChrisLove) April 28, 2016
Speaking of stuff in the box, most attendees had no idea what one item in the box was, at first. We sent a team Iron Man or Captain America Stwrap in each box, and during the event sponsors got in on the action as well. Attendees were invited to try and collect as many Stwraps they could:
— Rick Kierner (@rkierner) May 6, 2016
The movie was great, too. If you haven’t seen it yet, we definitely recommend checking it out before someone spoils it for you.
Of course, there were things that didn’t go well, and things we need to work on.
Things To Improve
The parking issue. There was an issue with the theater regarding use of their parking lot, due to some complaints from previous years. They wanted to reserve the lot in front of the theater for non-Stir Trek movie-goers coming for evening showings. Some of us were aware that this could be an issue, but the final status of this issue wasn’t communicated to all of the organizers for the day of the event, nor was it communicated to attendees. Basically, we were hoping the theater wouldn’t make good on their plan of blocking off the lot in the morning, but it turns out they were serious.
This was annoying, and we felt like our customers (you fine attendees!) were being punished, despite paying a premium to rent out the theater for the day, as well as purchasing thousands of dollars worth of movie tickets and concessions. Not allowing our moviegoers to park because other moviegoers had complained made no sense to us at all. But on the whole this would have been a minor aggravation (it wasn’t raining – in fact the weather was beautiful – so for most attendees the slightly longer walk wasn’t a huge issue).
Unfortunately, without any further instructions on where they should park, attendees parked wherever they could nearest to the theater. This included some nearby store and restaurant parking lots adjoining the theater lot. It turns out that about 1500 people showing up to a theater that’s blocked off its own lot requires a lot of overflow spaces. And one of these restaurants’ managers coming in to get ready for their Friday lunch business was surprised and unhappy to find their parking lot nearly full before 9am. They informed us that they were worried that when their boss came in, they might consider towing some of the cars if they were keeping their customers from being able to park.
Armed with this information, we felt it was important to spread the word to attendees that they should move their cars. Unfortunately, in our communication efforts, we dropped the ball. What should have happened at this point was an announcement after the first session (around 1015am) that people parking in the restaurant lot should move their cars. Instead, the sense of urgency surrounding the communication was higher than perhaps was necessary, and announcements were made mid-session that resulted in a mass exodus of attendees heading out to move their cars (and some angst among speakers as well). This was our fault and we apologize.
Well that was the first time I've ever had my talk interrupted for someone to tell me that my car was about to be towed #StirTrek
— Jon Kruger (@JonKruger) May 6, 2016
For next year, be assured that parking will be one of our top priorities. You will hear about parking. There will be maps. Signs. Valets. Moving sidewalks. We’ll just include your parking spot in the box with your badge. Trust us, we’ll figure something out.
Aside from the parking situation, there were some bottlenecks in the halls, especially in the morning. A couple of sponsors did some really cool things with their booth space, resulting in crowds around those areas that made it almost impossible for others to pass through these spaces. We were able to adjust things enough to dramatically improve the congestion by lunchtime, and next year we will make sure we don’t place sponsors in the narrower parts of the theater hallways (we intentionally only fill a portion of the possible booth locations sponsors can request, so eliminating a few of these won’t adversely affect the number of sponsors we can accommodate). We did get some feedback from attendees that the conference was simply too crowded this year, but we think that with these changes we’ll be able to maintain our current size (we don’t plan on increasing the number of attendees while at this venue).
Another thing that could have been better was the name portion of the badges. These had a print defect resulting in their printing black, instead of white. We had a tight deadline to ship the badges out, so we were unable to correct the issue (but hey, we sent everybody a black Sharpie to write on it with, so #winning!). Our plan was to have silver paint Sharpie markers available the morning of the event, but these didn’t arrive in time. So we ran to the store and bought some markers. But the ink from these didn’t appear on the dark name badges, either. So, that was frustrating. Attendees had to actually talk to each other to figure out one another’s names. It was downright medieval.
Better communication. On so many things. Did you know there was a food drive? Did you know that if you brought something, you’d get a custom Stwrap? Did you know what a Stwrap was? Did you know that our vendor shipped out the registration materials over the course of a week, so you saw your friends tweeting about getting their stuff and you had a whole week to wonder if yours was lost in the mail or not? What about parking? Did we mention we would be talking to you more about parking? What about the game night, on Stir Trek Eve, did you know about that? Did you know it was awesome and Stir Trek paid for snacks and drinks? Did you know there was an after party at the Keystone Pub next door? Maybe we should have done a better job of telling you about some of these things. Or maybe we did and you didn’t read the whole thing because we rambled on and on and — oh
Mark your calendar now. Stir Trek 2017 will feature Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and will be the first Friday in May (May 5th). Look for our call for speakers to go out in January and tickets to go on sale in March. They’ll probably be a bit more than this year (our A/V costs have increased dramatically), and they’ll probably sell out within minutes. If you’re interested in sponsoring, which includes some tickets guaranteed, let us know. We already have some ideas for ways we can help our sponsors engage more with attendees, and vice versa. We hope you enjoyed the show and we’ll see you next year!
— Anthony Russell (@DotNetRussell) May 7, 2016