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Conference Planning 2012, Bricks and Mortar


The Fifth Element of Conference Planning


Accomplishments Friday

Though I’m writing this on Sunday, our work started on Friday, with the plan being to have the program committee get a head start before the networking and other activities. I arrived not long after the scheduled 2PM beginning, took stock of the room layout (electric outlets being at the top of the priority list) and began to “ramp up”. My initial idea was to try the iPad as my main device, and while it worked for a few minutes with the website where the abstracts are managed, subsequent queries returned no values; hence I retrieved my laptop to be more productive.

One of the handouts we were given for deliverables for the weekend was to come up with a “Top 5” session list, once the selections were complete.  To get a jump on this, I took the word processing document provided and turned it into a wiki page on the site. Several of the SIGs had their preliminary picks done, so I was able to fill in the first cut without too much effort. Others needed to be completed during the weekend, then adjustments made as our selections are refined. As has happened before with the ASUG wiki tool, at least one person had a glitch which rendered (no pun intended) the page unusable – all of the HTML was reformatted into “double vision” as “<” were turned into “<“, etc.


This might have been the first year in a while where there were no new volunteers on my team. Atul Patankar is filling a new role with our community, but has been an active ASUG volunteer for many years. That meant I would not have to devote too much time to one-on-one training, and could spend more time on content management. As each volunteer arrived, we went through the agenda for the day, figuring out where the blank spots were and what needed to be done first.

Missing and delayed party members

A few volunteers had let us know that conflicts prevented them from attending the planning meeting, but as inevitably happens, we heard about last minute cancellations. Weather was a common theme, no surprise for January, though other excuses were more surprising. Our program committee chair was coming in from Seattle, where an ice storm had jumbled flight schedules and cut power to many homes. She was able to find a flight, though it turned out her luggage didn’t.

We made a first pass on the scheduling grid, on paper, where each SIG picked their top 6 abstracts. My community has 10 SIGs, with 6 tracks distributed among us, and we were given 4 rooms to start with. If this math is already confusing, consider that each track had different counts of submissions to review. The program chair has the unenviable job of mediating the splits, as it doesn’t always make sense to give equal weights to all topics.

After gathering as many of the initial pass as we could with the data available, we started filling the time grid (see photos). The conflict resolution that occurs here is to prevent the same speaker being scheduled in 2 (or more) places at once, and avoid bunching any topics in a short time. Influence sessions were reviewed later, which caused a few more session time swaps. The 2 worst times seem to be the very first (as keynotes seem to never end on time), and the last session on the last day (attendance tends to be the lowest).


Saturday – starting gun

After saving our work and getting the short list of what to do next, we retired to the San Antonio exterior for socializing. The first thing Saturday morning was a kick-off meeting, and then we got back to planning. I completed more of the “Top 5”, more of the grid was populated, and networking and training continued.


Work on the grid continued through the day, with the expected interruptions from new arrivals, distractions such as wandering staffers and volunteers, and required breaks for food, drink and fresh air. With minor urging from Atul, I had a short walking field trip to the Alamo. I would have liked to see and hear more of the local history, and legends, but the pull of “not done the work yet” kept me on a short yo-yo string back inside.

Webcast fixes

An ASUG webcast with SAP Mentors had previously been canceled due to unforeseen circumstances. Since I volunteered to get it back on the calendar, I kept looking for the right staff to manage the data entry, the messaging, and ensure that those who had registered earlier were contacted. A small item, in the midst of the bigger picture, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to “close the gap” while I had the chance. Eventually I ran into both staffers who I needed and we had a conversation. More steps need to be completed in the back office, but hopefully nothing will fall through the cracks.

“The Tool”

I’ve written about the new abstract management tool, and won’t belabor griping about that. You’ll notice in the photos both paper sheets and spreadsheets, but I don’t think many of us spent any time on the online approval software. This means we’ll need to get cracking on transcribing the other work into the tool; I just don’t see any other way to get the grids workable yet. Ideally, there’d be a visual building-block interface that allowed us to collaboratively do what the paper versions do. However, we’re only able to single thread queries into a multiuser database.  Tune in next year to see if any progress has been made.  SAP developers, are you listening?

Pre-conference set up

My colleague proposed a pre-conference session, for the entire day on the Sunday before the keynotes and other fun begins. I can’t disclose the content, and it’s still unclear if this topic will be selected, but I can share some of the challenges in preparing this content. One issue is that since we don’t know if this will be on the schedule, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, given the other required work that needed to get done. On the other hand, without a clear idea of what we want to share, the chances of selection are lower. We did (or my colleague Manju did) a lot of prep work for speakers and topics, so we had some sense of the content. During one conversation after another, we refined the idea as much as we could.

I decided to quit emailing the text around, and put the draft ideas into a wiki page.  That’s worked out fairly well, helping to communicate the proposal to others, and also highlighting what is missing.


The misunderstood tweet


I spotted an interesting quote in older planning material share by Tammy Powlas, and then tweeted it.

1 “Break times need to remain constant across all seminars so that one group does not eat prior/post the others as experience …” #BITIteam 1
2 (continued) “… experience indicates this results in no food for some participants.” #BITIteam 2 of 2


It seems that quote was taken out of context, as people assumed I was having trouble getting food, not that I was working on a plan to have others be fed successfully next May, during the preconference.  The idea was to make sure all sessions got breaks at the same time, keeping the food lines equal. What I realized was it also makes sure that added networking can happen during the breaks, with attendees from all pre-conference sessions being able to mingle with the others.

Hopefully, the misunderstanding is now resolved.


SCNotties 2011, delayed


While at dinner Saturday, we were able to complete the Bollywood “SCNotties” awards, delivering “The Lagaan” trophy to BITI colleague Sue Keohan.  Her idea that the award title is translated as “Workflow Goddess” was an interesting guess, but inaccurate. Abesh and Somnath should give Sue the back story. I did the best I could.


Next steps


Next, fix the discrepancies in the schedule, such as typos, funny characters, and grammar, then make sure the final versions are synched with the online tool, and that all of the required marketing content is clear. And, if SAP steps on any of my text with the “One Voice” Big Brother editor, put it back the way the speakers and facilitators intended.

If our preconference topic is selected, I’ll not only have more work to do preparing for the conference, I’ll lose another Sunday to be inside the convention center. It will be worth it to our members.














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  • LOL

    Great recap

    Hopefully others will see what it takes do this work.

    It was great seeing everyone.  Enjoyed the last SCNotty award presentation.

    I didn’t know about the misunderstood tweet until now.