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Organizing a Successful Meetup - Tips From vodQA

Over the last three years, vodQA has evolved and matured as a Software Tester’s Conference in India. ThoughtWorks hosted its 6th edition of vodQA, Pune on Saturday, 19th October 2013. The theme this time was – Faster | Smarter | Reliable. This was by far the largest vodQA we have hosted so far. We had 500+ attendee registrations, 45+ speaker registrations and over 130+ attendees (not counting the ThoughtWorkers).

In between the keynote by Jayram Joshi, and the closing note by me, Anand Bagmar, there was a packed and intense schedule of various 30-minute talks, lightning talks, workshops and Open Spaces. We interspersed the schedule with a good number of breaks, to allow for attendees to interact with one another, and have follow-up discussions with the speakers.

In this blog I will not talk about the specific sessions from the day (follow our vodQA group on facebook for more information), but would like to discuss the organization and groundwork required for events such as these.

The Organizing team

In order to make any community event successful, you’ll need a hardworking, motivated team to back it up. ThoughtWorkers volunteered to be part of the vodQA organizing team. Each one of them is fully staffed on a project, but they take the extra effort to contribute to this event - to plan, and execute it as smoothly as possible.

The team first identifies the various tasks to be accomplished and their timelines. Tasks include deciding the event theme, arranging logistics, calling for speakers, promoting the event through social media and other forums, just to name a few. The team members then sign up for tasks and get working on them. We have regular standups to catch up on the progress of each task, and call out concerns and potential blockers, so that the entire team is on the same page.

Apart from the core vodQA organizing team, we also get a lot of valuable inputs and ideas from ThoughtWorkers in the Dev/BA community. We are also helped by our office’s Admin team to ensure that logistics-related work happens effortlessly.

The Attendees

The energy and enthusiasm the attendees bring to the event is our success criteria. To me, it does not really matter how many people attended vodQA, what matters is the level of participation. Questions I think about are:

  • Did the attendees learn something new?
  • Did they share their experiences and knowledge with others?
  • Did they network with people they don’t know, or did they just sit in the groups they are comfortable with?
  • Did they participate with an open mind?

This time around, to ensure that attendees network with people they don’t know, we had an icebreaker game. This turned out to be a huge success. The slot for Open Spaces ensured that attendees could also contribute to the event by sharing their valuable knowledge and experiences on topics of their own choice. This activity promoted a lot of networking amongst attendees.

No event can hope to be successful if the organizing team doesn’t actively get feedback. We had both paper and electronic-based feedback systems in place for our attendees. Attendees were urged to give their valuable feedback after every session/talk and of the event as a whole. This not only helped the speakers and event team assess their work but also triggered valuable conversations during tea breaks.

I have never been disappointed with the quality and enthusiasm of the attendees. They are always so eager to know more about testing, while networking and sharing their experiences in the testing space. Their energy and participation gets better with each passing year.

Meetup Dilemma: Registration Vs. Attendees

The eternal meetup dilemma – so many registrations, with only a part of them actually attending the event. We usually have 500+ people register as attendees -- why is it that only a fraction of them actually attend the event?

A couple of things that happen with the registration numbers:

  • Since we host the event in our ThoughtWorks office, space is limited. We need to make sure we can accommodate all the attendees and speakers and make them feel comfortable.
  • Very few of the registered participants, who are not able to make it to the event, reach out to the vodQA team to let them know that they won’t be able to make it to the event.
  • So, when we have a high number of registrations, we eventually need to close registrations at some point, and start declining some genuine requests for registrations that come in later.
  • Also, we plan for food and snacks based on the estimated number of attendees, which then gets wasted if a fewer number of people show up.

One of the reasons I think that some of the registered participants do not show up, other than for genuine reasons, is that they have no vested interested in attending the event. “It is a free event. So what if I don’t go?” I would love to be proven wrong on this thought.

So we are thinking of innovative ways to ensure that this divide between number of registrations and actual number of attendees reduce in the future. Maybe it should not be a free event and should have a nominal registration fee?

If you have any thoughts on how we can make it happen, the vodQA team is listening!

Feedback and Retrospective

One of the things the team thrives on is Feedback and Retrospective. Immediately after the event, we had a retrospective about the way this edition of vodQA was planned and executed. What went well, and what could have been better. The feedback that the attendees give is very crucial for us to plan the next vodQA better, and more importantly, based on what you think it should be! So if you have not done so yet, please share your feedback about the event.

Here is a subset of the team that made this vodQA happen!