Aloha on Rails Debrief


I wanted to drop some knowledge in the hopes that it might help others with their own conference. Here's
what I learned from putting on Aloha on Rails:

* People wait until the last minute to sign up. I thought I knew what
this meant, but it's quite literal. Certainly, people signed up with
the early bird discounts, but I had signups all the way through the

* I sent out marketing "care packages" to user groups (including
posters and hawaiian chocolates), however I don't get the sense this
actually helped with registrations.

* Oddly enough, a lot of my marketing was through Twitter.

* I did exchange sponsorship for advertising with Ruby Row, and I know
that some people signed up because of those ads.

* I invested a lot in hiring and working with a professional Design
firm ( This helped make the conference look
professional and legitimate. I can't stress the importance of having
a professional firm handle production of badges, banners, and

* Food is very important, don't skimp on food.

* Strike a deal with your venue. Shop around, and use that as
leverage when negotiating with your venue. They will most certainly
give you discounts here or there. Don't be afraid to ask.

* Theme your conference around your location. The conference is both
a trip and an event. Work to help orient your attendees to your
location, give them tips on where to stay and certainly what to do.

* Find a local travel agency if possible. This offloads the work of
helping people find good deals on travel and activities.

* The half day two session, half day one session format seemed to
work. I didn't hear any complaints with that. It let us squeeze in a
few more talks, yet still run a lot of single track talks.

* Work to bring in speakers and topics that are new to Rails. This
adds spice and interest to the conference (e.g. we had Yahoo talk
about Hadoop)

* Pick A Theme!! This is what I should have done even more. With so
many conferences out there, you can't compete on speakers (since many
travel the conference circuit). Instead, compete on location and
theme. Revolve everything around your theme.

* We tried out an online card game, to help get people talking and for
fun. The game idea worked really well, but the online execution was
tough due to delayed emails from gmail. Next time we'll print the
cards out. In any case, build something into your back-channel. A
game is perfect for this. Our cards were Hawaiian themed. Again,
keep everything tied into a single theme.

* Your wireless mic's will run out of batteries! Keep lots of extra
batteries around (your hotel will provide them)

* Be sure to ask for Twitter names during registration.

* Be sure to ask for t-shirt size during registration (that was a FAIL
for me, oops!)

* Not sure why (economy, new conference, etc) but I landed sponsors
through word of mouth or by exchanging services. I had a Sponsorship
Prospectus, but that didn't help land any sponsors. So be prepared to
simply exchange things like advertising or work for sponsorship,
instead of simply money.

* Have a separate speaker registration line.

* 15 minute breaks between sessions are a minimum!!

* I could have bumped up the talk length to 45 minutes, up from 40,
which would have been a bit more standard. But I would have kept the
15 min breaks.

* Put out dessert in the middle of the afternoon, the hotel simply
delayed the dessert delivery from lunch. I didn't have to pay for a
afternoon snack.

* I learned that people are tired of black t-shirts.

* Don't give away books simply by pulling names out of a hat. It
takes too much of everyone's time. Devise a way to make the books a
prize and them give them out at the end.

* Run music during session breaks and during lunch. Theme it with
your conference.

* I spent approx 10 months working on the conference. It is non-trivial.

* We offered a grant for a local high school student. Use the
conference as an opportunity to reach out to the local community.
This is a perfect example of how to get a sponsor (as they will want
to sponsor the grant)

There's a lot more, but that's a good start. Feel free to email me
with follow up questions.

Thanks to everyone who has put on a regional Rails conference before
Aloha on Rails. You provided the inspiration. It's a great model and
I hope to see it continue!


ps if you are interested in running your own regional Rails conference, let me know and we can invite you to the Regional RubyConf Organizers Google Group.
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