DDD South West 2: On The Day

Saturday 5th June 2010 saw the second DDD South West and this time it was at UWE in Bristol. These events take a huge amount of organisation and there are many people to thank but the heroes of the day are surely our speakers. The sessions are proposed by anyone in the UK community and are voted for by the community. The result was an excellent variety of subjects delivered by a talented and inspiring set of speakers. The event feedback forms showed that the quality of speakers was one of the highlights of the event. I must admit that as I attend many events and run a user group I've noticed this quality many times and I really feel that this community is blessed with an unusually high level of speaking talent. Well done, guys, you are a credit to yourselves and our industry. And on the congratulations front we have to congratulate our top speakers, Gary Short for the second year running (Top Speaker For Presentation Skills) and Mark Rendle (Top Speaker For Knowledge Of Subject). You can see the top 3 speakers in both groups here. I was especially pleased with our New Speakers. We give priority to what we call 'new speakers' (people who have not spoken at a major event before) in order to ensure that our talent base grows. There were some really good scores from our newcomers and the feedback was equally impressive - well done, guys, a great result. One of last year's New Speakers made it into the top 3 speakers and it really shows that it is possible to break into this world.

There are a complete set of statistics on our Statistics page which make interesting reading particularly when compared with last year's statistics. One of the obvious ones is the number of attendees which was up by nearly 40% on last year. Unfortunately we cannot accurately say why the attendance is up because we made so many changes that could have influenced attendance:-

  • It was the second year
  • It was in Bristol instead of Taunton
  • It was not on a Bank Holiday (we listened to last year's feedback)
  • There was a public Call For Speakers
  • There was public voting on sessions
  • There were 6 tracks instead of 4
  • Twitter is significantly more used in the community and we took advantage of this

The Alternative Track was back again this year. The Alternative Track is a set of sessions which do not follow the standard 'one presenter with a slide deck or set of demos and a projector' approach. Like last year the most attended session was the Balloon Debate. Two of last year's contenders (Eric Nelson and Gary Short) who featured on last year's video were back to battle it out again. Steve Sanderson gave the funniest and most original argument but like last year the voting of the audience is mercurial and Eric Nelson had to surrender last year's crown to the new King Of The Balloon Debate: Gary Short.

One of the new ideas we had this year was the "Getting Started In .NET" track. The goal behind this track is simple: to get people who are not in .NET into .NET. We had hoped that we would use existing .NET community members to advertise the track to colleagues who needed to get up to speed. Fortunately/unfortunately DDD South West 2 was full up (250 registrations) within 5 hours of registration going live (we had 100 registrations in the first 10 minutes). We released another 80 places after this but those were taken in the next 2 days. We reserved 50 places for UWE students but it became apparent that these would not all get taken so we released 25 new places 1 week before the event. The problem that this popularity gave us was that we didn't really have a chance to advertise this track to its intended audience before we were full up. Despite this we were pleased to see that it was reasonably attended and managed to reach an audience that would normally find most of the sessions at a typical DDD event too high level. Thanks to the training companies (WebTech, Rock Solid Knowledge and PC-Talk) who gave their time and their courses freely to make this track possible.

The event feedback forms were very useful to us and a number of themes stood out in the "What Did You Like Most About DDD South West 2 ?" and "What Did You Like Least About DDD South West 2 ?" questions:-

  • Like Most: It's free, variety of subjects, top quality presenters, 6 tracks
  • Like Least: Queue for cream teas, rooms too hot, lack of coffee in the morning

So let me take a moment to answer some of the "Like Least" answers. "Queue for cream teas" - yes, sorry, this didn't really work as well as we had hoped. We'll take the feedback and try to make this work as well as it did at DDD South West 1. "Rooms too hot" - this is a tough one. It was a hot day so the rooms were hot. We can't do much about the rooms themselves but we are considering holding the next one in a month when it isn't so hot. "Lack of coffee in the morning" - this one is about money. We originally wanted coffee on arrival and then again in the mid-morning break. We simply didn't have enough money. The bottles of water we provided were what our budget allowed. There are two points that arise from this. We budgeted for 300 people attending DDD South West 2 (the catering information has to be decided a fair bit in advance of the date). At the time we had 330 registrations with 15 people on the wait list and potentially 50 students attending. As such 300 seemed a reasonable number. Even on the day before there were 309 registrations plus an unknown number of students. What transpired was that 218 people attended giving us a drop out rate of 30%. The consequence was that we had many lunches and cream teas left over. It is interesting to note that the cost of these wasted lunches and cream teas would have paid for coffee in the morning. Next time a colleague signs up for a DDD event and simply doesn't turn up (or gives us less than 1 week's notice) you might like to mention the consequence of their actions to them. As an organiser of events I dream of a world where it is socially unacceptable to register for events and then not turn up (or withdraw so late that it makes no difference). The second point that arises from this is that there is clearly a demand for coffee in the morning (we provided it in the afternoon). So, if your company would like to make a big hit with attendees of DDD South West 3 next year why not sponsor "Coffee In The Morning" ? (Sorry, couldn't resist it).

Before I finish this post though there are some essential people to thank (beyond the fabulous speakers already mentioned):-

  • Our hosts, UWE, who provided us with more rooms and equipment than is reasonable for any conference
  • Our sponsors who made this event possible. DDD South West 2 is funded by our sponsors and this is absolutely black and white for us - without them there is no DDD South West. We are very grateful to them and to the sponsors who provided 60~ items of quality swag (software, training courses, books) for our attendees (that's not including the items of t-shirts, pens, mugs etc.). Out of interest that means that there were 218 attendees and 60 pieces of quality swag - that's a better than 25% chance of something very valuable.
  • Our army of helpers. We had so many people helping us out on the day. Most of them were room monitors but some got lumbered with jobs that no one wants to do and everyone lumped in and helped us out and we can't thank you all enough for making it work.

Perhaps my favourite memory of DDD South West 2 though is an example of the nature of our community: all day long people kept coming up to me asking "Can I help ?". DDD events have a mantra "By The Community For The Community". These people truly epitomised the DDD mantra for me.

You can find pictures of DDD South West 2 here (by Jose Simas) and here (by Craig Murphy, DDD Founder And Grand Master).

See you at DDD South West 3 in 2011.

The DDD South West Team

  • Martyn Fewtrell - Registration
  • Chris Myhill - Location Manager
  • Steve Sanderson - Speaker Dinner and Geek Dinner
  • Ross Scott - Catering
  • Jose Simas - Graphics and Printing
  • Adam Towler - Alternative Track
  • Guy Smith-Ferrier - Coordination

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Posted by: GuySmithFerrier
Posted on: Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 2:51 PM
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