Last Saturday myself and some of the other UK based SAP Mentors and Friends hosted SAP Inside Track Sheffield. It was the second time we’ve had an Inside Track in The North of England and feedback was very positive from speakers and delegates. We had 55 people in attendance. Not a bad number some may say but I was slightly disappointed by the turn out. We set up an Eventbrite page and attendees had to register for a free ticket. We had 135 people register for a ticket but, despite regular contact from us, 80 people still decided not to bother attending. Yes some people were polite enough to send me an email but the vast majority didn’t. So, why did so many people not turn up? We put this to some of the other delegates over a beer later and the two main reasons were:

It’s on a Saturday. Let’s face it, if you’ve had a really bad week at work or a few too many beers on a Friday you may wake up and not feel like attending an event. In my view it should remain on a Saturday for a number of reasons but that’s for another discussion.

It’s free. According to some of our delegates, the fact it is free means they feel less committed to actually attending. This got us on to the subject of should we charge people?

SAP Inside Track is a community event that, historically, has always been free to attend. It’s funded by a mixture of event sponsors, a bit of “beg borrow and steal” and there is also a €500 donation from SAP if you have the patience to pursue it. I’m told it is easier to get hold of this if an SAP employee is in attendance at your event. So what are the arguments for charging people say €20 to attend?

  • More commitment to attend. If someone has paid money they are more likely to attend
  • Easier to predict numbers. This year I found it very hard to know how much water to buy, what rooms to put sessions in as we had no way of knowing how many would show up
  • More money for refreshments / give aways
  • More money so we can look at technology to record / stream sessions
  • Money left over to donate to a local charity

What are your thoughts on this matter? Have you attended an Inside Track and would you pay next time?

SAP Inside Track Sheffield was a real success and we will build on this next year. We are planning live streaming and recording of sessions and also working closer with Sheffield Hallam University to maximise on publicity and hopefully reach that magical number of 100+ attendees! Read Steve Rumsby’s review here: Inside Track Sheffield Review

Below are some more pictures of the event:

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We would like to thank everyone who attended or presented at SAP Inside Track and also our sponsors iTelligence UK and Zoedale Plc

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36 Comments

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  1. Tammy Powlas

    I agree and have seen this too many times.  But it gets complicated if you are co-locating with another group (such as an ASUG chapter event).

    It’s a shame that people sign up but don’t show.

    I think they did charge for the first Inside Track.  But as an accountant that too becomes complicated – do you accept PayPal, debit, credit, or cash? 

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    1. Tim Guest Post author

      I agree Tammy, it takes it up a level in terms of organisation and we’re busy enough as it is. How do we deal with refunds for example?

      One idea is maybe a smaller fee €10 and we say this is simply a fee to get your commitment and all money raised in this way will go to charity. No refunds.

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  2. Matthias Steiner

    Tough question and an evergreen! Haven’t thought it through completely, but why not just charge no-shows? That would double the reason to attend: get free education and your money back!

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  3. Steve Rumsby

    I’d prefer it to stay free, if I’m honest, but the lack of certainly about numbers was certainly a problem.

    If we must charge, I’d like the fee to come back to those who attend via the provided meals and refreshments so that only the no-shows end up paying (credit to Matthias Steiner for that suggestion). Any surplus from the no-shows should go to charity, and I’d nominate MSF as the Mentor’s “adopted” charity, although a local Sheffield charity would be a good second choice.

    With a level of maybe £10, that would cover lunch and refreshments during the day itself, still leaving opportunities for external sponsorship for the evening activities. Perhaps the bar tab wouldn’t run out so quickly in that case 😉

    Steve.

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      1. Steve Rumsby

        What I meant was, if the lunch and refreshments were covered by the attendance fee, the sponsorship that covered those could have been used instead to stretch the bar tab to two drinks each, perhaps!

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  4. Gareth Ryan

    Hi Tim,

    As someone who has attended (and spoken at) both of the SIT events you have organised, and also having my own event (SAP CodeJam on UI5) happening tomorrow, I have an intimate understanding of your plight.  I think you joked with me last week that based on turnout rates for SITSheff, I should expect about 4 people tomorrow…

    I have a newfound respect for anyone who makes a living (whether full time or part time) organising events such as this.  The basics about knowing how much food/drink you need, what size rooms, seating layouts, etc all take a lot of time & effort to resolve and then if the expected turnout is completely different to reality, it can leave you seriously hacked off.

    I’m not sure making people pay a small amount (€10-20) would necessarily make them turn up, however it does then ease the challenges around food/drink and potentially means more for those who do turn up.

    I go to a monthly JavaScript meetup in Liverpool and the numbers vary wildly, even though people do also respond with a positive to the invite.  I honestly think if there was a small charge, numbers would drop off – however Inside Track events are once, maybe twice a year so in the grand scheme of things €20 is nothing.  Each month, the JavaScript group organisers try to give a book away on the subject of that month’s talk, as an extra incentive for people to turn up.  Maybe more incentives like this, as you’ve suggested above, would be a good idea, assuming you can get buy-in from SAP and/or other sponsors?  I know I can think of people who would be keen to help out in this case…  I’m not sure you want to go down that sort of commercial event though?

    As for moving it away from a Saturday, I had originally started to organise the CodeJam event for a Friday but immediately had some feedback from DJ and others that it would be difficult to get people to attend, as that means holidays/training days/time off work.  A weekend is always going to be better for this sort of informal, community type of event.

    Turning the problem on its head, what about leaving drinks/snacks/refreshments out of the picture and simply arranging the venue and content?  That is essentially free (assuming we can stick to a free venue) and then the attendees can choose what food/drink they want for themselves.  It’s not a “nice” setup but could remove some of the problems.

    Some of this depends on what you want out of the day – if you are looking for quantity of attendee’s, it’s a bigger problem than if you are looking for a quality result for those who do bother to attend.  As I’ve said before, I ended up getting a new job after last year’s event in Manchester and this year, networked with great people that I never would have met otherwise.  On top of that, I learned loads about parts of SAP I wouldn’t have (I’ve spent the morning with our marketing manager figuring out how we can implement the “Guttometer” in our CRM system 😉 )

    In short, the days in their current format are brilliant from my perspective and I get loads out of them.  If people choose not to attend, it is genuinely their loss.  With the potential improvements for next year we are already discussing, the event will go from strength to strength.  I’d suggest you give up on those not bothering to turn up, and keep focussing on those who do.

    Cheers,

    G.

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  5. Paul Doherty

    Hi Tim,

               Rather than just giving up on the non-shows so quickly, can’t you follow up with an email to the non-attendees to get their reasons/excuses?

    I’m just guessing that the event might have had better attendance if it was a tad South of the Watford Gap. I’m still a big Sheffield fan though and enjoyed the event.

    regards,

    Paul

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  6. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Hi Tim,

    Maybe the approach taken by ALDI stores where you need to deposit 25 cents (in the US) to get a cart and then get it back upon returning the cart would work? 🙂 Although this also presents an accounting problem…

    For me personally having the event on a weekend would be a no-go as it would involve complicated rearrangement of the “spending quality time with the kid” duties. (I wonder if it’s the same reason there are only 2 females in the pictures?) Since this qualifies as an SAP  training, I could easily do it during work hours, but others might be in a different situation. Having to pay a fee (however small) on top of that would just make it less appealing for me. Granted, then I just wouldn’t register but it’s likely not what you’re trying to achieve.

    This is really a tough one… Our ASUG meetings have no additional fee and there is always a good chance to win nice prizes as well as load up on free pens and such from the vendors. Still I’m sure quite a few people register but don’t show up. I feel though that the turn out was better when the agenda seemed more exciting. Simply sprucing up the headlines could do wonders.

    Although I’m really not sure why seeing Steve Rumsby in person is not enough of a reason to show up. Inconceivable!

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    1. Tammy Powlas

      Excellent, as always Jelena!

      At the last ASUG Chapter Meeting we hosted back in late April (or was it early May) the registration closed 1-2 days before at about 75…but then the day of the meeting registration was at over 100!  Later I spoke to the ASUG Chapter volunteers who said 90 showed up.  That is impressive.

      To attend an ASUG chapter meeting you do have to be an ASUG Member (generally, some exceptions apply).  We generally go if we register.

      But I was amazed 2 years ago at the co-located ASUG Chicago/SAP Inside Track, where we had 2 tracks of hands-on sessions – and about 50% showed up.  No fee, free workshop with hands-on training.  Only a handful had e-mailed the Volunteer.

      Then last year she sent out several e-mail reminders, saying there was a waiting list – and almost everyone showed up.  That does take extra coordination and administrivia, and for something you don’t get paid for – it’s all in community spirit. 

      On this:

      “Although I’m really not sure why seeing Steve Rumsby in person is not enough of a reason to show up. Inconceivable!”

      I couldn’t agree more 🙂

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    2. Steve Rumsby

      You’re right – it was a very male-dominated event. I had noticed that, but hadn’t made the connection with it being Saturday and with men maybe feeling more able to escape from “family time”. Not that I disagree with you. I wonder if “free beer tasting” also sends an unintended male-oriented message?

      I don’t believe the event itself was particularly uninclusive (is that a word?), but maybe the marketing could be better, and maybe we need to rethink the post-event activities? Perhaps the organising committee need some female input 🙂

      Steve.

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  7. Eduardo Chagas

    I agree with you Tim! I was thinking about that when I heard that usually 50% of the registered go when it is free. So it is hard to organize something like that! Because if you consider 50% and all decide to go… it could be a disaster.

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  8. Stephen Johannes

    Maybe the folks in the Saint Louis area are just more polite(despite what you have seen on CNN lately 😉 ), but the inside tracks in St. Louis didn’t have a severe problem with no-shows.  We did however once we hit capacity we did send out an e-mail to people before the event asking if people needed to cancel.  We also held our event on a Friday, which wasn’t a problem with attendance as people could count as part of education/conferences.

    I would say our no show rate was maybe 10%, but last minute folks kept us at capacity.  We didn’t have a happy hour the last one, but we did have Ted Drewes frozen custard instead 🙂 .

    Take care,

    Stephen

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  9. John Appleby

    I’ve run a good few events through the years. With a free in-person event, the average attendance is around 30%, up through 50% if you do well. On a Saturday it’s at the lower end of the spectrum. Events are tough like that.

    Given what the Inside Track is about, charging for it would destroy the whole purpose, in my opinion.

    It would be nice if there was a pay £20 and get it refunded when you come policy. That could be fun. Or even £10 and you get a free T-Shirt/Beer when you attend.

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  10. Fred Verheul

    Hi Tim and others,

    I see a couple of problems with charging money for the event:

    • It’s against the spirit of the event
    • It’s hard to pull off in a practical sense: Eventbrite for instance only let’s you organise a paid event if you pay Eventbrite for that service yourself. You don’t want to go there for Inside Tracks IMO.
    • Only charging people who don’t show up is even harder: how do you get their money if they just refuse to pay? Short answer: you don’t. It’s really not worth wasting your time on.

    My own experience so far:

    At sitnl we always say (on the wiki) that we charge €20,- for the event. But we don’t really. Maybe that helps to keep the most opportunistic types away, because we tend to have 80-90% of the registered people turn up. I certainly don’t recognize John Appleby‘s numbers (but we might be an exception, living in a small country where everyone knows each other). You could try that trick next year.

    In Bonn 2010 Thorsten Franz and Tobias Trapp charged €10 (IIRC), to be paid cash at the event. That’s also a possible (and workable) approach.

    Otherwise I’m afraid you just have accept that not everyone is as civil as you’d like.

    Oh, and on the ‘day of the week’ topic: sitnl is always on a Saturday, which works quite well. And almost all our Dutch CodeJam events (around 10 by now) have been on a Friday, generally from 1PM – 7PM, and that has also worked out quite well so far. Since I compare a CodeJam event more to training than an Inside Track, that makes sense for me.

    Fred

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  11. Kumud Singh

    The same thought of charging the free events has come up as a decision repeatedly after attending SITs and codejams in Bangalore last year.

    Personally, I would not like these events being charged.

    However, if we look at this year’s data, attendance at different locations for SIT has been extremely good. I would rather use the word excellent. I am only talking about attendance, even though the gap between no. of people who registered and attended could vary much.

    This difference could be due to the agenda, topics, exciting prizes and likewise. Once, it happens in Bangalore, I would be able to comment better.

    Similarly, codejams, as I see from the FB page, has been conducted in various different locations of India and the attendance looked good and better than last year.

    So instead of making the event chargeable, we could think of factors that compel people to participate in these events, IMHO.

    We would definitely like to know opinions of Dipankar Saha Somnath Manna  Craig Cmehil on this topic.

    Regards,

    Kumud

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    1. Craig Cmehil

      SAP Inside Track is community driven so what each organizer decides to do is their concern.

      From experience the idea of charging for a community event is completely acceptable in my opinion provided it’s done to cover costs and not going into someones pocket. In the past the very first ones charged a small lunch fee.

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      1. Tim Guest Post author

        Hi Craig, the cost would simply be to inspire a bit more commitment. I like Matthias idea of a fee that is refundable if you attend the event.

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        1. Craig Cmehil

          From the SAP side I can tell you now – fee (whether to keep or refund) is legally a nightmare to deal with which is why I’m happy the CodeJam events have done so well because I don’t have to think about it or even try to deal with it.

          For SIT I would say it depends on each organizer and their ability to “collect” which whether anyone realizes or not is actually quite complicated.

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    2. Somnath Manna

      My very first SIT at London in 2009 did have a charge to cover for the lunch. We did charge attendees for SITs at Bangalore (collection at venue on day of event) though last year it was really bad and organiser had to pay from his pocket to cover for the bill given by caterer.

      According to me anything free (unless its online and at your own pace – like MOOCs) means less commitment from signed-up participants. To that point from organisers standpoint charging a small fee covers expenses more than commitment while for participants it is a commitment. But then advance cost of collection being high it is left for collection on day of event which at least in India means no commitment 😀 .

      If there is a vote then I always press the button for small fee to be charged.

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      1. Suvonkar Bashak

        A small fee might not be a bad idea for covering the lunch and basic expenses. However, if we see the participation in Chennai, Gurgaon and Hyderabad this year, its quite overwhelming. I kind of feel, the organizing committee/ group should do a bit of online marketing specially over social media before the events.
        Spreading the word regarding the event over twitter, linkedin, facebook groups etc.
        Many SAP consultants and enthusiast don’t even know regarding the events and they miss out the enormous free knowledge sharing sessions. We can create better awarness among the SCN members and also non-member who are related in a way to SAP technology and encourage them to join SCN and participate in SIT events.
        A bit of marketing should create a huge difference in participation.

        Regards,

        Suvonkar

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  12. Andy Silvey

    This is a difficult one.

    There are two questions here which influence participation and attendance:

         . day of the event

         . covering the cost of the event

    Day Of The Event

    Speaking as a husband and father, using the weekend for a SAP conference is a hard sell

    Speaking as an employee, using a week day a working day for a SAP conference and chance to be exposed to new knowledge and techniques is not a difficult sell

    Covering The Cost Of The Event

    Rather than charging entrance, personal preference is to attract sponsorship from local companies operating in the SAP area

    When we did SIT Prague last year (yes I know we are overdue on 2014) we debated these two subjects for a long time. Which day to run the event ? In the end we chose a Friday for the event, using the arguments presented above for choosing a Friday over a Saturday. Entry cost or sponsorship, we opted to go out and find sponsorship, and we were extremely successful and thankful to get the SAP Office in Prague on board who kindly hosted the event and provided refreshments including lunch from outside caterers.

    My 2 cents are, go for a Friday, and get sponsorship to cover the costs. There are enough companies in most major cities who can give a little back by helping with sponsoring and contributing to the costs of running a SIT.

    Raising the sponsorship was actually good fun, and it’s not a difficult sell, there’s going to be a room full of local SAP influencers who would all be very grateful if your company would help in some way with hosting or refreshments.

    Best regards,

    Andy.

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    1. Tim Guest Post author

      Andy I would prefer a week day too. I’m not a fee earning consultant and I have a family so weekends away for SAP stuff is a tough one for me.

      I’m thinking this calls for a Poll!

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      1. Andy Silvey

        Hi Tim,

        I don’t necessarily agree that a poll is the solution.

        Regarding discussions further up about fees etc and the mechanics of implementing fees and managing accepting payment etc, let’s remember a few things:

        1) SIT has it’s origins in a Community based activity, by the Community for the Community.

        If money and fees are mentioned, for me, Community and fees do not compute, and it begins to look like one of these myriad of commercial SAP events that I get spammed with and always wonder who attends

        To keep it as a grass roots community activity, fees should not be required

        2) Timing

        The choice of day needs to work for employees, (self employed consultants can make their own mind up. And no I am not biased I was a contractor for 14 years). I want to see employees attending SIT and getting value from it through the sharing of knowledge and learning experience.

        For most employees, a Saturday will be harder because of being taken away from family time, and a weekday, eg a Friday, would be possible to sell because of the learning opportunity and the reasonable costs, ie, none.

        3) Hospitality


        The group organising the SIT should rise to the challenge of getting sponsorship in the form of hospitality:

             . A Room at an Office or Hotel

                  . somebody from the organising Team should call system integrators and hotels and ask if they will support an event for the SAP Community. When we did SIT Prague, we had a simple strategy for getting the sponsorship of a conference room, we started with SAP and explained what we were doing and what we were requesting, and the simple plan was, if they said no, then we would phone up the next largest SAP system integrator, and so on and so forth until one of them agreed. As luck would have it, SAP liked the idea.

             . Food and Drink

                  . Again, somebody from the Team should be asking for systems integrators represented in that town/city to provide the bottled water and donuts

                  . If food and drink sponsorship is not possible, it can be communicated, bring your own sandwiches as a snack, and at lunchtime we are all going to the local pub which costs xyz per head, if we were at work we’d have to pay our lunch, so why not at SIT ? We’ve got a day out of the office and we’re going to learn things at SIT, so paying a lunch is not the end of the world.

        4) Marketing

        As more and more people sign up, every week or two weeks on the run up to the event send them an email with the news, of what will be the agenda, what subjects will be covered and the plan for the day, keep the visitors warmed up and interested to attend

        Ok it can be fun to have a poll, but I think the underlying grass root principles should not be forgotten, and chasing sponsorship is fun which anybody can do, just ask nicely.

        Andy.

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        1. Steve Rumsby

          Just to be clear, the reason for considering charging a fee is not a lack of sponsorship. This year’s event charged no fee, provided lunch, refreshments and the first drink at the bar afterwards, all thanks to sponsors. The venue was provided free of charge also. The reason for considering a fee is simply to address the drop-out rate – people with “skin in the game” are less likely to drop-out. Hence the suggestion to provide equal value back somehow to those who attend so that there’s no nett fee. Only those who book and fail to attend will end up paying.

          If there’s a better way I’d be all for it. I’m not a fan of charging at all, even if you end up getting it back somehow. Perhaps changing the day would work? Perhaps we need to improve the marketing so that people have a better idea of what the event is? Or maybe we just need to plan around the uncertainties and accept we won’t know until the day exactly how many will turn up?

          Steve.

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          1. Andy Silvey

            Hi Steve,

            thanks for explaining the whole situation.

            In that case since it wasn’t a question of hospitality, then open question is was attendence lower than expected as a result of running SIT on a Saturday and was there potential for more marketing, ie, regular fortnightly and closer to the event weekly email reminders with tasters of what’s to come to keep the audience on the boil so to speak.

            Best regards,

            Andy.

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  13. Martin Steinberg

    Hi everyone,

    I read this great blog a couple of days ago and since then I’ve been thinking about that topic. First of all I am scattered that so many people did not show up – if there had been even a bit of politeness they could have given a message like “Hey, I cannot come because…” or much easier by removing their name from the attendees list on the wiki page (by activating the “notify everybody” box a message is being sent out and so the organizers can see the deregistration).

    Some things might be easier if we had a consistent platform for registering and de-registering as well without using Eventbrite or Google spreadsheets in combination with updating the SCN wiki page of the Inside Track event. Maybe there are some ideas about that…

    The heart of the question is if we should charge for attending an SAP Inside Track event. In my point of view we can use tricks like mentioned above but primarily it should be an event with a extremely low entrance barrier – thus no entrance fee. At #sitMUC last year lots of students came by and I am sure some might have double thoughts about coming if a fee had been raised. I do not know for sure because we did not research the willingness for paying, maybe a good idea for our next “post Inside Track survey”.

    What about a survey asking the not-show-ups for their reasons to stay away?

    It’s possible that you can split the SAP Inside Track audience into several slices – the enthusiastic ones who would pay whatever they have to because they know what benefits for all attendees are inside this great community event (I know by myself that an SAP Inside Track can change your working life completely;-)). Others (especially the 1st-time-attendees) come by just to try out and have a look. IMPOV those people could be kept away by raising fees, and this group contains the people we want to reach and potentially come again next year. Of course there are others stepping by and just come for free lunch or beverages, but this we do not have under control (and if true, I think it’s only 1-2% of attendees).

    On the other hand for doing a free event you need sponsors – and those are hard to find. If there is not sufficient money for holding such an event there is no other way than raising a fee.

    Saturday is a great day for an Inside Track. During the week many people need to take a leave and that’s a high barrier for potential attendees. And nobody comes on Saturday if she/he is not really interested in all these topics being presented.

    Maybe we can use this blog for sharing information about this topic. I’ll keep an eye on the “not-show-up-rate” and post it here after our sitMUC.

    Best regards

    Martin

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    1. Steve Rumsby

      A post-Event survey is a good idea. Tim Guest – you can still do that via Eventbrite even though the event has passed, right?

      We should ask if you didn’t attend, why not? If you did, what was good, what was bad, what would you like to see done differently next time, what topics you’d like to see covered, etc. Also, would you be prepared to speak?

      And if we’re considering changing day and/or duration, we could ask about that also.

      Steve.

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    2. Martin Steinberg

      Hi everyone,

      last weekend we had the SAP Code Jam “ABAP on HANA” and the SAP Inside Track Munich. We had 57 registrations for the sitmuc event. 7 did not come, but 4 of them told us about that in advance (sickness, birth or even no time), so we were able to consider this. So in the end there were 3 people not showing up for unknown reason.

      On the other side we had several people coming without registration so we compensated “the loss”.

      Regards

      Martin

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      1. Gareth Ryan

        That is a good turnout.  I ran a CodeJam on OpenUI5 a few weeks ago and out of the 24 sign ups, only 14 turned up on the day.

        I guess people in the UK are just worse at attending these sort of events?!

        Cheers,

        G.

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        1. Fred Verheul

          IMO it’s more to do with the fact that these events appear to be relatively new in the UK. This was not the first sitmuc.

          Besides, Martin and Gregor (and maybe others) run a monthly Stammtisch, which ensures that a lot of networking is already done on a regular basis, which leads to a more cohesive (if that’s the right term) local community.

          Please regard this as mandatory prerequisites and proceed 😆 .

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          1. Martin Steinberg

            Completely agree with you, Fred. We do not know how our SAP Code Jam events and SAP Inside Tracks here in Munich might have been without having the “back-up” by the local SAP community here in the city. Our “Stammtisch” is our base and without that great people I do not know if there would be such a cohesion (I think that is the right term).

            So, I would suggest to try to create a local community – maybe we can do a “Stammtisch-exchange”:-)

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            1. Gareth Ryan

              Thanks Fred & Martin – I’m already thinking that there needs to be something more regular, to keep the interest and momentum up.  Plus, the guys who organise the Inside Track events are learning all the time, as I am I about the CodeJam sessions and I’m sure with time they will get better and better and attract more attendees.

              Part of the problem in the UK is more down to the logistics of it all, as you have people living & working scattered all over the country and thanks to our wonderful transport network, it can be difficult to travel and get together on a local level for regular meetings.

              Anyway, I’m just making excuses now – basically we just need to try harder 😉

              Cheers,

              G.

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