Speaker Gallery was one of the most requested features in shdlr.com
A conference is judged by the quality of the speakers who are going to be there. In fact the speakers *are* the stars of any conference. Having a nicely formatted and informative page displaying the speakers who are going to be there at a conference can be a big selling point for a conference. Speaker Gallery was developed with exactly this in mind.
Take a look at the demo : http://demo.shdlr.com/speakerslist
This however was not the biggest change which we did in the code. The biggest change was also not something which the end users can see immediately but someday these tweaks are going to keep the site running for the end users when all other sites would just crumble under the load, check what the guys at http://seo-is-war.com/ said about it. The user facing portion of the app has been re-coded to use caching and the database can now be spread across many servers if need be.
Do use speaker gallery for your conferences and events. As usual feedbacks and comments are most welcome
Delegates and Speakers coming into the city of the event can be demanding and even a little worried as far as travel and accommodations are concerned. In fact, most of them will only confirm their presence if they have a clear confirmation that their travel and accommodation arrangements have been properly organized.
It’s true that a majority of people, especially those who have never been to major Indian metros wrongly assume that arranging travel and accommodation in India is going to be a difficult and disorganized task.
Well, this assumption is not true but just like everyone who decides to visit a foreign country or city, it’s best to be prepared, find out exactly what our needs are in order to ensure that our stay will run as smoothly as possible. The same applies for conference participants, especially since they are coming in for business purposes.
First of all, unless we’re dealing with a very small and closed group of attendees, the best advice with regards to finding a hotel or apartment is not to book any accommodation on their behalf. The reason is simple; each person has their own preferences, needs and possibly demands. Moreover, handling sudden changes such as dates of arrival, guest numbers, or even delays and cancellations can become a real nightmare for the organizers. Instead, thinking practically and contacting several hotels to negotiate special rates and discounts remains the smartest and most cost-effective move.
Also, as previously mentioned in another post, the conference handbook and venue guide should have all the required information about transport to the conference location ready and updated, including the various modes of transport as well as the overall fares.
Speakers, on the other hand, especially if invited and paid for, are a different matter altogether. The conference committee should arrange for dedicated local transport for them and ensure the absolute best in terms of organisation. The team should have put together a hospitality committee for this purpose and ensure that all tasks — from the choice of accommodation to the different facilities are met. Ensuring that the team members responsible for the transit have all the necessary details about the flight arrivals and departures is always helpful.
The hospitality committee should also ensure that the speakers and invitees have been provided with their local contact information. A spreadsheet with responsibilities clearly defined and distributed to all team members is a good way of keeping everyone on the same page. You can always try more complex project management tools if you so wish.
More importantly, the details of stay and transportation should have been transmitted to the assigned speaker prior to the beginning of the conference in order to avoid all sorts of misunderstandings and mix-ups, which could seriously delay and affect the course of the conference.
Little gestures and extras like installing military flags go a long way especially when you want to stand out from other event organisers. What you want is, turn these speakers and invitees into regular attendees and offering little luxuries such as a free pick-up from the airport—unless they themself decline—is going to impress them and make the crucial difference.
Conference participants are usually stressed-out about the whole logistic of the trip and like nothing better than when everything has been properly taken care of, especially mundane tasks such as ordering taxis to get to a hotel in a foreign country for instance.
Include local attractions
Playing good host with foreign participants who are coming into the country or city for the very first time is extremely important, both for the well-being of the participants as well as the reputation of your event. Offering genuine information about the traditions and customs of the country to the delegates as well as invitees of your event will make a great impression on them. Conferences can be long and daunting and squeezing some local tourist information in between business talks will be much appreciated.
Also, arranging sightseeing tours and local landmarks visits for the participants’ partners is a great way of showing them your own gratitude and appreciation. Most of the time, participants are far too busy to arrange tourist trips for their partners, and this little extra perk is certainly going to impress them.
Organizing travel and accommodation is not just about booking rooms and flights, it is about being good hosts. In this difficult economic climate, competition is fierce and playing excellent host will certainly not go unnoticed with them. Over-delivering is also a great way of keeping the participants happy like we did for example with the guys from WoodPursuits.com. The bottom line is, happy participants are straight lines to procuring the sponsorship for your next event.
shdlr.com wants to be the easiest conference schedule software/app. Continuing with the iteration of features we have added some new features and tweaks
The biggest re-factor was adding Speaker profiles, For the more technically inclined we have coded speakers as “has and belongs to many” talks. The UI for adding speakers to a talk has been kept as simple as possible, in fact it is very similar to adding recipients to mails in popular web-based mail apps. This re-factor also added vanity urls for the speakers, taking an example from the demo: http://demo.shdlr.com/speaker/tariquesani
Since we have speaker profiles we have given the conference admins an easy way to see speaker lists and export them as csv. The speakers can be filtered by speakers with selected talks, scheduled talks and a couple of more. This we see as being very useful for contacting speakers during various stages of talk selection.
For conferences with a large number of talks it is easier to select talks and then schdule them later. Ability to short list talks and publish them as a list of selected talk has been added
Even in a connected world there is a demand for offline/downloadable formats. As a starter, we have added download pdf of the schedule grid, More file and other schedule formats will be added soon.
We tweaked the embedded schedules and eliminated the ugly windows, now everything is done using CSS modal boxes
Every app needs a logo that is representative of what the app does. In addition we had requirement that the logo has to be just two colors and without gradients. We truly feel that we were able to get what we wanted with this logo!
Today if I saw a conference without a conference website I am most certainly going to give that conference a miss, more like such a conference will hardly be noticeable. The conference website is the single most important source of information for all the attendees, be it delegates, speakers or sponsors. The conference website should be put online as soon as possible and have the relevant information outlined in an easy to find manner.
Start with preparation as early as possible. It is not unusual for event teams to start almost a year in advance. While not 100% essential it is best to use a CMS for maintaining your website as CMS makes it easy to manage changes right through your browser., My current favorite CMS is WordPress (Yes! it is a CMS) if you have the expertise you can try your hand at using Drupal, Joomla or the likes. Website designing is a professional’s job but most CMS system offer templates and themes which are very flexible. It is generally a good idea to keep the design minimalistic so that the content gets undivided attention. It is very desirable to hire a designer if your budget permits it.
Keep your site up-to-date. A frequently updated site promotes your event while all the time helps you save time by avoiding unnecessary inquiries or ambiguities.
Be sure to have the following on your website –
- General info: What is the event about, who is the target audience, what is the theme of the conference (in general or specific for the year), who is hosting the conference, when will it happen, and why it would be a good idea to submit a talk or participate as a delegate. All these should be either linked to the appropriate registration forms or mention dates when they can be accessed.
- Timeline: Put up a timeline with dates for various participants. Speakers, Delegates, Volunteers and Sponsors.
- Information for Speakers: The quality of talks and speakers are the most important factors in the success of a conference. To attract the best speakers ensure you have all the relevant details on your website a quick list would include
- Call for Papers – Mention what kind of talks, demonstration or workshops are expected. Also make clear what is a *no no* e.g.; advertisement of commercial services or products.
- Process of selection – Clarify who will select the talks, what further materials may be asked before the selection is final
- Important deadlines – This should be part of the timeline shown to the speakers. It may include things like, Call for papers opens, deadline for initial submission. Publishing of first reviewed. Call for details (clarification and slides etc). Ensure that you are giving adequate time and heads up to the speakers.
- Venue Guide: Make this more than just about the venue, list information on how to get to the venue from important locations in the city like from Airports, Railway station, Bust stand etc. Modes of transport available and approximate fare charged to reach there. Also list out accommodation available near the venue. A link to the city guide if your city has one is a great idea!
- Delegate registration: These days ability to register or buy tickets online is a must. Sites like Eventbrite make it super simple to sell event tickets online. Check out alternatives available for your country. DoAttend and Aayojak are two popular similar sites in India. Group discounts and Corporate benefits should be listed on this page. Also list related items from the timeline here like – dates for Early Bird discount offers. Furthermore, the deadlines for registrations and the early bird rate should be on this page If you want to highlight any acceptable payment method do it here.
- Conference schedule: shdlr.com can be your one stop shop for creating event schedule. It not only gives schedules in multiple format including a mobile website and subscribe-able iCal files which are supported by every standard Calendar application be it on desktop or mobile, shdlr.com also has downloadable formats of your schedule which can be used for printing the Event Brochure.
- Contact us: This page is a must and should have clear information on all modes of communication including Social media pages.
Each conference will have its own unique bits of information and you should customize your website for them. Do comment and feel free to add anything that you feel is particularly important, but I have missed.
Shdlr was born to itch a need… now that we have got people using it as a conference schedule maker I started wondering what more can be done? Organizing a conference is not just about scheduling nor can everything be made into an app. What can I do about the scores of bits of knowledge accumulated over the decade? How can I let this knowledge be used by someone else wishing to organise conferences? The best way I thought would be to write a series of blog posts on conference planning, hopefully the result will be a handbook which can be useful to conference planners.
I do plan to go over every milestone of planning and perhaps also ask some friends to contribute a post or two, the posts may not be in the correct order for now, but here goes the very first topic: Choosing date and location for your conference
- Similar conferences: Research a bit for similar themed or similar topic conference taking place somewhere else at the same time? This will impact your target audience and number of attendees
- Holidays, fairs and events: Get information about local holidays, other conferences, fairs like this one for men’s tungsten carbide rings for example, and events in your city. Mid December to Mid January is usually an inopportune time, Several events at the same time make it hard for the participants to get accommodation at reasonable prices, in turn making it hard for conferences to get participants.
- College and University exams: If the target audiences are college students get information on Exam dates and ensure that your conference dates do not clash with them
- Venue capacity: This should be an obvious one, but can get overlooked. Inspect the venue, find out what is the advertised capacity. Will the venue administration allow more than the advertised capacity if more people want to attend than expected?
- Accessibility: Is the venue easily reachable by public transport? Is the venue accessible by physically challenged people, you may not need this, but it is nice to have.
- Venue Layout: If your conference is going to have multiple concurrent sessions, then consider the layout of the venue and the distance between various halls / locations. Delegates often change from one hall to another, but these can also be minimized by planning your schedule such that similar talks are bunched one after another. Shdlr provides an easy way to do this by way of using talk tracks or talk types.
- Free Internet access: This is a must for almost every technical conference. Most venues will say that they have wifi access, but these are almost never meant to handle any substantial concurrent traffic. Plan and budget for getting extra bandwidth from ISP. To give a hint HasGeek and Foss.in have had 20mbps fiber connection for their recent conferences.
- Fire safety: Get information on emergency exits and fire safety equipment and pray you never need to use them. Ensure that the additional plug points which you may provide for hackathons etc are rated for the loads they will carry. More on this in a later post perhaps
Have I missed something important? Do you want to add some point? Please feel free to add them in the comments…
At shdlr.com we strive to listen to our users and implement what they want in an online conference schedule maker or creator.
The feature which was most often asked was drag and drop re-scheduling of talks – this has been implemented and should be available for all the conferences.
Other features which were implemented in this release were:
- Ability to add a URL for custom CSS in the embedded schedules. This will help webmasters to match the colors, typography and any other style to their own website.
- Ability to hide empty rows in a schedule. Many conferences have registrations and welcome a day prior to the full day programs. This resulted in a mostly empty screen for the first day. To remedy this there is now an Option in the new Publish Settings to hide empty rows in the schedule.
- We have also added options to show the simple grid on your front page apart from being just able to embedding it.
- The new publish menu also allows you to decide what schedule formats you want to show or hide and then some more.
Do try out and holler if you find something missing!
I had wanted foss.in to be the first conference to be scheduled and completed on shdlr. The primary reason being that shdlr was born out of the pain we have experienced over the years in trying to have a system which allows flexible scheduling for conference and events. When you put out a service which you know is going to be useful to a lot of people you cannot make such assumptions. TIM 2012 conference thus became not just the first but also with 84 scheduled items larger than the foss.in schedule.
That said foss.in was still special because not only was I there taking notes and feedback, unknown to many Rakesh Temburne, our developer also was attending the conference as a delegate. The major end user pain points which became apparent were
- The speaker name should be shown right away with the talk: We implemented the simple grid embedded view almost immediately to address this
- Speakers need to have profiles: Currently this is being handled by linking to speaker’s website. This clearly is not enough, we are developing a feature which will not only allow speaker profiles but also multiple speakers per talk
- Usability of the mobile version is good but not excellent: The mobile version will be completely rehauled
- Availability of a printable version: This feature has already been coded and soon users will be able to download PDFs and PNGs of the schedule if the conference owner allows it
For the admins the most asked for features were
- Drag and drop rescheduling: Currently there is a click and drag interface but to reschedule a talk you have to go through a two step process, this will be eliminated by the ability to drag and drop a scheduled talk to an empty slot –
Being coded; coming soon!DONE!
- Adjust schedule for delay in start: Tardy starts to events are not just an Indian phenomenon, Admins will be given a slider control to adjust timings for delayed start. We are not really sure as to how we will handle the time made up later in the day as yet…
Apart from outright requested features there were some insights which were gathered. Everyone wanted to know the commercial status of the project. It would be great to keep shdlr free for everyone and forever, sadly reality dictates otherwise. Shdlr will continue to be free at least till 19th September 2013. The pricing page will be live very soon. Instead of just 2 tiers Free and Paid it became apparent that there is a market for additional classes of users viz: Event Managers/Agencies and Enterprises asking for White-labeling, yes at some point they will be catered to….
A live event wall which displays the currently on going talks and upcoming talks along with tweets is being considered. A deep integration with the ticket vendor sites to allow the registered delegates to choose talks and create their own list of talks they would like to attend will definitely be there. The selected list of talks will also be available as a personal iCal file. This will not only be useful to delegates but also to the organizers in helping them decide which hall/room to put the talks in. There were several occasions when it was said “lets switch the halls….”
There was a lot of appreciation too but we are not getting carried away by that. There were some persistent talks about partnerships and some about getting shdlr funded – thanks but at this stage “No Thanks!”
If you were there at foss.in and have some suggestions – do comment, it would be very much appreciated.