Tips on Hosting a SharePoint Saturday Event

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While there have been a number of posts out in the SharePoint community about how to put together a SharePoint Saturday (SPS) event in your local community, I thought I’d share my experiences. As the co-chair of back-to-back events in Northern and Southern California earlier this month. I’ve been approached by a number of people looking for hints and tips on how to get started. I’ve put together a list of my own key learnings:

  1. How do I get involved?
    Your first stop is to talk to your local SharePoint User Group (SPUG). You don’t have to run the local group to take the lead on coordinating a SPS event, but getting the SPUG involved will be the key to promoting the event – so reach out to them early. Let them know your plans, and coordinate to find the optimal Saturday, and to get names of other volunteers. Next, reach out to Michael Lotter at SharePointSaturday.org to confirm there are no planned events in your area, and no calendar conflicts with other industry events. Michael will also want to get to know you a bit, and follow up with members of the community to ensure you’re legitimate (another good reason to know your local SPUG).
  2. Do I need a committee?
    One person CAN pull it all together, but you SHOULD identify a committee of 3 to 5 members and split up the responsibilities. We all do these events as volunteers, we all have full-time jobs, so spread out the responsibility. My recommendation is to diversify the companies that are represented on your committee so that no single company monopolizes the event. One of the worst things you can do to a SPS event (or a SPUG) is treat it as your own event, or your company event. You’ll have trouble attracting sponsors, as well as attendees. The committee should agree on speakers and keynotes, and everyone should help reach out to local and national sponsors. This is truly a community effort, so get people involved.
  3. How do I find sponsors?
    There are quite a few national (and international) sponsors who are involved in most of the SPS events. Michael Lotter can point you toward some of them. Another suggestion is to reach out to other SPS event hosts and ask for help. My advice again is to work with your local SPUG to identify local sponsors, first and foremost. SharePoint Saturday is about building out the local community, so give the local product and services companies the right of first refusal. Once you have a high-level budget, you should determine your sponsorship goals – and try to stick to it. Just because you CAN raise a lot of extra funds doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Try to keep that attendee-to-sponsor ratio as high as possible, raising only the funds you need, so that your sponsors get the best value possible out of your event. At the end of the day, the event should be about the great content and building your local community, not raising money. Sponsors are what make these events possible – and free for attendees. Be sure to thank them repeatedly for participating.
  4. How do I find a location?
    This is probably the hardest part of putting together a SPS event. Some SPS events are held at training centers or schools, with the venues providing use of their facilities in return for in-kind sponsorship. That is a sweet deal – take it if you can get it. In larger, metropolitan areas, you may have no other choice than to go with a hotel. Most of these venues make their money on the catering, so expect to do some negotiating. Make sure you keep the menu simple, and let them know you are representing a non-profit (SharePointSaturday.org) as they will sometimes give you a break on costs. Make sure your final price includes the necessary audio/visual setup for your speakers. Most large venues will require money up front. If your company is unable to front the cash, one strategy is to reach out early to prospective sponsors and work out a deal where they provide the funds in return for a major sponsorship.
  5. What is my budget?
    Well, that depends largely on your event location. If you have the benefit of being near a Microsoft location and can use their facilities – and IF those facilities can support an event your size, then your costs will be dramatically less than holding it at a hotel or event center. After venue, you need to think about food (light breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, with coffee, sodas, and water throughout the day), and some raffle items. Nice to have (but not essential to a successful event) include speaker shirts, a speaker dinner, attendee shirts, and attendee bags. These nice-to-have items really are just that – nice to have, but not essential to your success. Your goal should be to bring great content to your community. Don’t worry about the frills.
  6. How do I promote my event?
    The SharePoint world is connected through Twitter. Promote your event using the #SharePoint, #join2010, #SharePint, and #SharePointSaturday hash tags. Create a Facebook fan page and start promoting to your local friends and contacts. Create an event page on LinkedIn and point people within the major LinkedIn networks toward the event. Once your venue has been verified, your event will also be added to the SharePointSaturday.org calendar, which will do much for spreading the word. My advice is also to take advantage of the free press release tools on the web, reach out to local schools and recruiting firms to let them know of this free, all-day conference, and – once again – employ the help of your friendly neighborhood SPUGs. In fact, reach out to any other SPUGs within your region, as people will sometimes drive or fly in to attend a SharePoint Saturday.
  7. How do I find speakers?
    SharePoint Saturday is a great place to begin a SharePoint career. As such, there is always a long list of willing speakers for these events. As soon as your date is listed on the SharePointSaturday.org website, people will approach you and start sending you their abstracts. Send out a formal “Call for Speakers” and work with your event committee to identify the topics and schedule for your event. Try to arrange a mix of well-known experts and MVPs and local experts. Make it clear to all speakers – especially those who are new to SPS – that it is inappropriate to use these sessions to promote their products or services. Topics should be unbiased and focus on best-practices. Speakers who disregard this rule will not be invited back (word spreads quickly to other SPS events if a speaker is known for abusing this rule). Remember that the speakers, like you and your committee, are volunteers, and are joining this event on their own dime. Thank them again and again.

Hopefully none of this discourages you from taking on the challenge of coordinating a SharePoint Saturday event in your city. There are many of us in the community who are willing to help – just reach out to us. They are a lot of work, but the benefits to the community are enormous, and its a great way to help you raise your profile both locally and within the broader SharePoint community, if that is your long-term goal. For most, its just a great opportunity to give back to the community.

Personally, I am going to continue my involvement with the SPS East Bay and Los Angeles events because I enjoy it, and am working with Owen Allen and Greg Frick to put together the next SPS Redmond. I am also interested in seeing west coast events happen in Boise, Portland, Salt Lake City and Sacramento. If you’re in one of these areas and would be interested in spearheading an event, please reach out to me and let’s get the ball rolling.

Musical Note: I have been listening to the remastered debut album of Duran Duran in my car the last few weeks, and if you are a fan – I highly recommend it. The box set comes with 2 music discs and a third video compilation. My favorite is the second disc with the original demo versions of Girls on Film, Is There Anyone Out There?, and a couple previously-unreleased tracks that showcase their dark, guitar-centric beginnings.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.