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TAC interview - learn to organize a conference from the pro’s

TAC interview - learn to organize a conference from the pro’s

The Actionscript Conference (TAC) kicked off in the middle of September and was a big success. It is a community based conference and we wanted to learn more about how one goes about to organize a community conference and make sure it's a success. In this interview, TAC's Lionel Low interviews conference organizer Hu Shunjie who explains The BIG 5's of putting on an event like this.

Flashmech.net: Hi Shunjie, thanks for the taking the time for this interview. Let's begin with the main motivation for The ActionScript Conference (TAC); how did the idea got seeded?

Shunjie: The main goal of TAC is to provide an opportunity for the Singapore audience to meet with world renowned Flash gurus. We started small in 2008 with the help of Powerflasher GmbH and together with their continuous support, organized the 2009 version with much additional support from the community.

Flashmech.net: This year's conference was a blast, it must have taken months of planning? When did the planning for the conference first start?

Shunjie: It started way back at Adobe MAX 2008, as I gathered the dates for this year's conferences like Adobe MAX 2009, FOTB, FITC to ensure that TAC 2009 would not clash with any one of them. After that, we started having monthly meetings since January to plan the logistics and search for sponsors and speakers.

Flashmech.net: Of all the months, why September?

Shunjie: TAC 2008 was held in October last year, one month before Adobe MAX 2008, which was in November. Since this year's Adobe MAX is in October, I choose September. Preferably, I wanted to have it one month before Adobe MAX, so that it would actually be easier for the speakers to schedule their flights. This year particularly, we have speakers coming down for our conference, then flying off for FOTB and thereafter followed by the biggest conference of all, Adobe MAX.

I would not want to have TAC after Adobe MAX, because that is the period when people take their conference breaks.

Flashmech.net: Great decision. Let's talk more about the event. What were the challenges faced when choosing a venue?

Shunjie: Well first it had to be at a central location, easily available to everyone. Last year we had it at the National Library of Singapore, although that area was not enough to fill all the requests for seats when the conference was a sell out. This year, we aimed for a much better place, providing more than 400% bigger seating space for the conference. The auditorium in Marina Boulevard is both professional and spacious in this sense. What's even better for some of the attendees is that their offices are just a street across. One of them even mentioned that his office is just 2 storey above!

Flashmech.net: With that bigger space, the rental would have definitely gone up as well. Let's talk about the cost. How do you strike the balance between the conference ticket price and overall cost of the conference?

Shunjie: Being a community centric conference, we always thrive to bring the best for the attendees, while trying to push the price of the ticket to as low as we can. When organising a conference, we always have to check the BIG 5s; organisers, sponsors, speakers, attendees, and media. We must have an estimated number of how many attendees we are going to attract and the number of sponsors we will have, taking out the venue's rental cost and the cost for bringing in the speakers, before deciding the ticket for each attendee.

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Flashmech.net: Could you first share with us the most important of the BIG 5s - attracting sponsors?

Shunjie: The biggest sponsors came from Adobe, assisted by John Koch and his community team. They helped us a lot in terms of exposure and  gaining traction. Some of these sponsors are avid supporters of the Singapore Flex Usergroup, who had attended our monthly meetings and found it useful. Other sponsors are recommended by some of the speakers. We are very lucky to have very supportive sponsors which have helped us along these two years and we will always strive to keep a close and good relationship with them.

One has to be mindful though, when it comes to the selection of sponsors. Take last year for example, there were several sponsors that we had to turn down unfortunately. The reason was simple. We need our sponsors to have relevance first in the Flash Platform field, followed by the RIA field. It is a delicate control because we obviously need the money to support the conference, but we also don't want the conference to turn into a marketing event for various products which probably have not much relevance to the attendees.

Flashmech.net: Let's talk about the next important aspect, which is getting the speakers. Compared to last year, which was a one day conference, did this year's two days conference cause difficulties in getting more speakers?

Shunjie: This year has been a great one as we have several speakers who are keen to come to our conference and share their expertise. Our sponsor, Powerflasher GmbH, has also helped us to spread the word about it via their blog and thus increased awareness. We did cold calls for some of the speakers and except for those who already had plans, all the rest agreed to drop by. It is indeed great to be part of the Flash community which is full of people who love to share their knowledge!

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Alex and Alvin, showing Multi touch table

Flashmech.net: One can do all the preparation for the conference, but still not have the turnout intended if the news fail to reach the community. Which methods of media did you employ for this TAC 2009?

Shunjie: Foremost is definitely through social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter. That's the easiest, fastest and most cost efficient. Then we got the community to blog about the conference and spread the news, so more people became aware of it. We have also received tremendous help from usergroups in the local region, like CreativeCrew.sg, Hong Kong Flex Usergroup, Malaysia Flash Usergroup, Indonesia Flex Usergroup and Philippines Flash Usergroup. Local partners like e27 and SG Entrepreneurs have also helped us in this area.

Flashmech.net: From the experience that you have gathered this year, how effective has it been to reach out to the target audience via social networking websites?

Shunjie: From the local scene, it may only reach to about 50%-60% of our target audience. Social networking websites like Facebook will also help more than Twitter because the pick up rate for Twitter here is still slow. Of course, if the conference were to be held a place like the US, leveraging social networking is a definite plus, where it is already so prevalent.

Flashmech.net: Great to know that! The way to measure the success of a conference is by the number of attendees. Have you got any strategies in the meanwhile to grow the local community?

Shunjie: The most important strategy is to have regular usergroup meetings. When the meetings are regular, the word will spread and people will come, thus growing the local community. We also have a sister conference, which is named RIAction, which focuses on the technologies which are used to build RIAs.

Flashmech.net: Let's talk about the final important aspect, the organisers.

Shunjie: The organisers are basically the folks from the Singapore Flex Usergroup. These members, which includes me, are Alvin, Lionel, Alex, Bok, Arul Kumaran, Arul Prasad and Kenneth. Unfortunately some of them are unable to make it to the conference due to their work commitments. Having said that, I still think it was a great job done because all of us have our own work commitments and it was all out of our personal time to contribute to the conference. Big thanks to all of them!

In addition, we are also thankful for the volunteers who took leave to help out at the conference. Although we were not able to reward them monetarily, we do however extend invitations to them for the speakers' and organisers' dinner, and post-conference celebration.

Flashmech.net: Seeing that quite a number of folks were unable to attend TAC because it was on two weekdays, what will be the plan looking forward?

Shunjie: We are definitely trying to juggle the days of the conference so that the entire schedule will fit well, which includes the conference itself and the pre-conference workshops. The next event will most probably be on a weekend so that we can better assess and compare the situation for both the volunteers and attendees from the local community.

Flashmech.net: Any other post conference pointers that you wish to highlight?

Shunjie: One of the lessons we learnt is that we recorded the videos in the venue's hard-disk, and the venue's owner had burnt them into DVDs for us. Right now we have to rip the DVDs back to our hard-disk for processing, which is a very time consuming process. For the next event, we will bring portable hard-disk so that the sessions will be recorded straight to ours, which eliminates the additional two steps.

We are also currently in the works of building a microsite to hold all the slides and conference videos for the attendees, so that's something for all to anticipate in a few weeks to come.

Flashmech.net: Very cool. Thanks for your time Shunjie!

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Creating a local conference is great for community building and we hope this article inspired you to put on a local conference in your area. Do like TAC - start out small and expand as fast as the sponsorships will take you. TAC had about 100 attendees first year and they nearly doubled this in their second year. Kudos to the TA team for sharing their knowledge and daring to put on such a good conference with both international and local talent! Images in this article is from the TAC Flickr page, with permission from Lionel Low. Click here to see more images from the event.

 

About Lionel Low

Lionel Low is the founder of Flashmech.net, a company which provides development and consultation services for the Flash Platform. He is also providing training courses as an Instructor at Vox LAB School. Winner of both international and national awards for his works, he is always on the edge of technology by experimenting with all that the Flash Platform has to offer.

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