I run a remote meet-up called Agile in the Ether. A while back I asked twitter followers if I should extend it out to a conference and they said yes, so I did and it was great. This is what happened and what I learnt.
Remote meeting is a hot topic, remote meet-ups and conferences are starting to pop up all over the place. Virtual spaces are not new to me, I ran an online art space in the late 90s, which included a virtual gallery and live streamed events. My dissertation was even all about telepresence and cyberspace. I studied fine art, what can I say? I’ve also been running the Agile in the Ether remote meet-up for almost a year and have learnt a bit along the way.
I started the meet-up, when travelling for work made it too difficult to carry on with my physical meet-up. The meet-up has been going really well and I wanted to see if I could extend it out to a day long conference.
What I set out to do
I wanted to create a conference that:
- Is inclusive because it’s remote
- lets people learn new things (as a conference should)
- has chances for people to network and meet new people
- is programmed around the environment
- is fun
This is how it did on each of these…
Is inclusive because it’s remote
One of the huge benefits of a remote conference is that people can attend from wherever they are. This opens it up to people that can’t travel for different reasons and brings together people from all over the world. With the added benefit of reducing the carbon footprint of air travel.
We had people attend from the UK, Germany, Denmark, Italy and USA.
Diversity and inclusion is important to me (I set up the diversity charter for events). The speakers and facilitator gender split was 50/50, this was reflected in the audience (perceived) gender split, which was also 50/50, something I rarely see at conferences, but ofter get at my own events. We were also briefly joined by a dog, two cats and a rabbit. 🐶🐱🐰There is room for improvement, and I will be specifically reaching out to people that weren’t represented next time, because more diversity will only make the event better for everyone.
Being remote, meant that those with children to look after could attend. One of the speakers was particularly happy to be speaking at a conference that she didn’t have to travel to, while pregnant.
The software I used also has additional accessibility features, although we did not need to use them for this audience.
lets people learn new things (as a conference should)
We had three awesome speakers, Aino Vonge Corry, Tessa Cooper and Abisọla Fátókun. All three had talks that fit together and overlapped in really wonderful ways. The talks were interspersed with smaller discussion groups on topics chosen by the participants, as well as some energisers and lots of breaks.
Everyone went away with lots of new ideas from the day
“I feel like a giant sponge with all the input from the day”Agile in the Ether participant
“Lots of suggestions to start people thinking and talking about Diversity and Inclusion issues – “Heard, Seen, Respected”, book clubs and others sound really usefulAgile in the Ether participant
“Aino’s short talk on learning preferences made me realise there is so much to learn”Agile in the Ether participant
Has chances for people to network and meet new people
One of the best things about conferences is that you meet new people. I wanted to replicate this as much as possible with the remote conference. This wasn’t about people sitting at home passively watching talks.
This meant finding ways to encourage interaction and break down the group into smaller, more focused groups.
I have a fair bit of experience of this at the meet-up already and I always smile when I see people who have met at the meet-up talk on twitter. I’ve found that being clear about a few rules up front can really help. Specifically: one person per laptop; cameras always on; saying people’s names if you want to ask them something, and using hands-up if people want to say something, but can’t find a break in the conversation.
I also made use of the zoom breakout rooms for smaller discussion groups and pairs during one exercise. This gave people the chance to get to know each other better.
In a retrospective, I asked the question “Do you feel like you’ve met anyone new?” and people said:
Yes, everyone 🙂
Yes – I think Abisola and I (Tess) could learn a lot from each other & help one another to do great things in our work! ✅
Yes new people with great ideas like Tess’s meet up
Yes for sure! The pairing and small groups were great for that. ✅✅✅
“So many ideas and felt more intimate & connected than some physical ones.”Agile in the Ether participant
Success! I’m really happy that this worked.
Is programmed around the environment
Remote conferences are different than physical ones. Being in one place for a long time makes it hard to keep engaged. I kept the talks short to help with this, added an icebreaker, an energiser, breakout sessions and little challenges to collect household items throughout the day. Partly this was to break things up and partly to get people to move from their chairs.
The conference was 5 hours from start to finish, with 4 breaks and was still a bit tiring.
“Bit tired after the day – even with breaks, being present remotely gets tiring”Agile in the Ether participant
I definitely wouldn’t make it any longer, but may time the breaks slightly differently next time. And I will keep the would keep the challenges as they really helped to break things up.
It was fun! This is what people said.
“Really friendly, well-run, got everyone involved and made good use of remoteness”Agile in the Ether participant
“Loved it! I will steal that :-)”Agile in the Ether participant on the break challenge
“Nice chats over lunch”Agile in the Ether participant
“Really fun activity “Agile in the Ether participant on the energiser
I like to be open about where the money goes on these things. So here is the budget for the conference. I donated my own time putting it together and running things. The facilitators, Ian Ames and Stephen Walker did too. Any tech and tools were covered by my company Tacit London and everything remaining went to the speakers (aside from £2.49!)
There were 25 slots, 1 host, 2 facilitators and 3 speakers. I sold 19 tickets in total. 4 of those people did not attend.
Which breaks down as:
|Ticket sales |
|19 @ £40||£760|
|Speaker fees||3 speakers||£600|
|VAT on tickets||19 x £6.67||£126.67|
|Paypal fees||19 x £1.56||£29.64|
|Exchange rate round ups||For non-UK transactions||£1.20|
|Organisers fees||Emily (no fees)||£0.00|
|Website hosting and design||Emily / Tacit London||£0.00|
|Zoom fees||Emily / Tacit London||£0.00|
|Payment gateway plugin||Emily / Tacit London||£0.00|
Would I do it again?
Yes! I think I will. It was a great conference, because it was remote.
There were lots of things that worked really well and a few things to tweak for next time. Watch this space (and sign up to the mailing list).