Of course it's virtual because let's face it, nobody is going anywhere at the moment. Plenty of you aren't even going into an office any more let alone fronting up to a conference with hundreds or even thousands of people. That sucks for you because you end up both missing out on events and sooner or later, suffering from cabin fever (I've always found that difficult across many years of remote work). It also sucks for companies like NDC Conferences whose entire livelihood is running the very events that people are now avoiding at all costs. It's a crisis, no doubt, yet...
Crisitunity! The opportunity in all this is that we take the events online, massively expand their reach and price them at a fraction of what they would have previously cost to attend which is entirely feasible because the overheads of online events are massively less than in-person ones. I've been spending a significant portion of my days recently talking with fellow speakers, conference attendees and organisers working out how we can proverbially not just "keep the lights on" with these events and get through this crazy time, but actually rise above it and make them better than what we could have done in person. I want to talk about 3 upcoming events which Scott Helme and I are going to be running our Hack Yourself First workshop at starting with this one:
This is an extra special event that we've only just decided to run. We'd run a security event on the Gold Coast around this time the last 2 years anyway so in a way, we're just continuing the "traditional" GC event but online and workshop only. It'll run from 9am to 5pm Sydney / Melbourne / Canberra time or an hour earlier for me here in Queensland. The $800 price (all of these prices are excluding local taxes such as GST, by the way) is well less than half the normal early bird ticket price for the 2 day in-person workshops we run in Australia ($1,790). The website is up and running and you can go and register right now.
NDC Copenhagen would have been a "traditional" in-person event with both workshops and conference talks. I wasn't going to attend this year as I'd promised myself to keep a few months free of conferences (which, ironically, obviously now isn't happening!) but due to it going online, it looks like "I'm going" to Denmark! You can buy tickets to Hack Yourself First as well as a bunch of other workshops being run online and there'll still be a 1 day conference at the end of it too. Workshops will run from 9am to 5pm Denmark time and tickets are priced at KR 4,000 for the online event where they were previously KR 7,900 for the early bird tickets so almost half the cheapest previous price. The existing NDC Copenhagen website has all the pricing info reflecting the online numbers.
And... I'm also going to Portugal. I also hadn't intended to go to NDC Porto in person (although I've been to Porto before and it's lovely), but yeah, online now changes all that. This is pretty much the same deal as NDC Copenhagen in that it was initially your usual in-person event with 2-day workshops followed by a 1-day conference and it's now all online. It'll also run from 9am to 5pm Portugal time and the cost is €500 for the online version where it used to be €800 for early bird and exactly double at €1,000 for regular priced tickets. The NDC Porto website also has all this information already on it and you can buy the online tickets right now.
How They'll Run
So how do you take something we'd normally do in-person and move the whole thing online without it becoming just a boring webinar? There's a bunch of things we're going to do differently and much of this comes from Scott's and my experiences running them online in the past. It was 2 and a half years ago I announced I was now offering online versions of the in-person event and that's given us a heap of experiences we've used to continuously improve this delivery channel.
One thing we've learned is that 8-hour days talking into a computer make it really hard to maintain energy and enthusiasm. I started splitting the 2-day event into 4 half days which not only made it much easier to maintain focus, it also made it much easier to work across diverse time zones (i.e. I could do one at 9am London time and it would be 7pm on my end and I'd wrap up before 11pm). But the NDC events really need to run over 2 whole days, so we came up with a better idea:
Scott and I will be tag-teaming the 2-day events. For Australia, Scott will do the first half of day 1 and day 2 from his home in the UK then for the European events we'll reverse it and I'll go first from Australia to avoid me needing to run until stupid o'clock in the morning. This not only makes it much more manageable for us, but we're convinced it'll also be a more fulfilling experience for the audience. We're going to work on shuffling the order of modules to ensure we each deliver the content we know best (i.e. Scott can go way deeper on content security policies than I can), plus we'll also be spending some time during the workshop together which brings me to the next point.
Scott and I will be doing an "unplugged" session together over the lunch breaks. Questions can be asked on any topic anyone feels like and we'll both be there responding together. Or don't ask anything and we'll banter away as we normally would anyway which people always seem to love when it happens on my weekly videos. We're really conscious that delivering content online risks losing a lot of character and personality and this will ensure attendees get the full experience of being there in the room with us.
Another thing we've learned doing these sessions is that you've got to have the right communication channels that encourage not just discussion with us as presenters, but between the workshop attendees themselves. Most video conferencing software is not particularly engaging as a chat channel so we'll be using Zoom for video (hey, at least someone is doing really well out of the pandemic!) and also having a private Slack as a back channel for discussion.
It wouldn't be an NDC event without a party so at the end of day 2 whoever was on last out of Scott and I will be hanging around having a couple of beers and discussing whatever the workshop attendees feel like. Might be workshop related, might be industry related, might be how Scott seems unable to pronounce the word "foot" without it sounding like something completely inappropriate:
And finally, Scott and I will be doing a free, public (also unplugged) session this coming Thursday the 19th in the Aussie evening which will be the European morning. We'll be taking questions via Twitter and talking until, well, either people run out of questions or we get bored! As much as it sucks being stuck at home, there's still a wonderful community out there and the technology to bring us all together so let's have a bit of fun with it and see the current situation as an opportunity to catch up and have a bit of banter. I'll post details about that event tomorrow.
Lastly, I want to touch on how important it is to ensure the sustainability of events like the NDC conferences through this period and that really requires community support. I've had a glimpse into the impact of all the cancellations on this corner of the industry and it has the potential to be absolutely devastating not just for conferences, but for all the periphery services they rely on and the people both directly and indirectly employed by the industry. If we as a community don't support these organisations, they may no longer be around once we come out the other side of this event and that would be a real loss for all of us. As I mentioned earlier, this is a period where I was planning on sitting on a beach doing very little and I'm putting that aside to help out so my ask of the community is to get involved in events like this. Get involved not just to ensure the events long-term sustainability, but because it might also be the best thing you can do with your time whilst we're all feeling isolated.
I'll leave you with an interview of NDC's General Manager where he was quizzed about a blog post of mine from a few years ago on 10 ways for a conference to upset their speakers. I referenced NDC in the post because they consistently just get these events right, not only for the speakers but for the attendees as well. Jakob and I along with the other staff at NDC have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks planning these online events to ensure we absolutely nail them and I wanted to embed this video here as a reminder of just how important a positive conference experience is to all of us, regardless of how or where they're run.