Lessons learned at satRdays Amsterdam 2018

By Roel M. Hogervorst | 2019-01-04

In this blogpost we look back at our satRday in Amsterdam 2018. We pull out the lessons we learned and which could help you when you are organizing a satRday. We will definitely use this document for our next satRday. This document is not meant to be a full on evaluation of the entire event, we feel those will never be read. This is a highly skimmable document with the most important pointers for new and returning organizers. If you are only interested in the steps for organizing a conference skip to the important steps further down.

In this post you will find:

  • What are satRdays, why are we organzing this and what is it like?
  • Important steps in organizing a SatRdays conference.

What makes satRdays?

SatRdays are community led events that celebrate R and its useRs. In general a satRdays is slightly larger than a typical meetup but smaller than a multi day conference. SatRdays are one day events and the tickets should cost less than a full day of minimal wage work. The goal is to have a small gathering of r-users and speakers. Think of it like multiple meetups stacked on top of each other into 1 day, a Saturday.

Our satRday in Amsterdam was a great success. We had 13 talks and very happy useRs. The event ran very smoothly and almost everything went according to plan. We had space for 100 attendees, and every place was used. The main event was indeed on Saturday 1st but we added a tutorial day on Friday and also an open source day on Sunday. We wanted a tutorial day, so that novice R-users (for a great description of skill levels see 1) would feel empowered to enjoy and be part of the next day. We added the open source day because we had the event location for the entire weekend, and we figured we should capitalize on the empowerment and energy created on the main day (which really worked!).

Important steps for organizing a SatRdays

It is really boring to describe every step in chronological order so here are the main points you might consider when you want to organize a satRday and how we solved those points.

Finding a committee

You and your co-organizers do not only divide the tasks but the members of your committee are also your entrance to speakers, companies and your audience. You need to think about setting up general communication, sharing of documents etc. to setup the event.

We were brought together by our Gymleader / pokemaster Vincent. Vincent invited rladies, his colleague, and me (Roel) to think about organizing the event. We used the general satRdays slack channel, and google drive to share documents. Although we all live in the Netherlands we live and work around the country. We used skype for most of our weekly updates. Through our mutual contacts, via Rladies and the satRdays promotion we were able to get enough speakers in sessionize to fill all our speaker spots.

Size of the event

How many people do you want at your event? This determines your location or your location sets a limit to the number of attendees. With bigger size comes bigger (financial) risk. If the whole thing fails, someone has to pay the costs. Also consider the event flow: do you keep to 1 track or will there be parallel speakers? If you do, people have to walk from one place to another, and talks that run out of time hold up everyone who wants to attend a different talk. If you choose a single track, you will have to think about the level of the talks. A mix of talks that cater to an audience of novices and experts.

We set the upper limit of attendees to 100, because that fitted in the location. We decided on a single track, mostly because it was our first time and we wanted to keep it simple. We could have divided up the room into 2 but decided not to. In fact there were many people, who considered themselves advanced useRs, who said they would never had gone to the dplyr talk if they had an other option, but they were pleasantly surprised to have learned new stuff.

How to find help

Talk to people, over Slack, email, phone or read in the knowledgebase.

Picking a date

Picking a date can be difficult but there are a few guidelines. There can not be two satRdays at the same time in the same geographical area. If there is a satRday in Brussels you can not have one the next week in Amsterdam (they are both in Northwest Europe). You also need to think about other events: UseR!, Statistics conferences or other R/data science events, because those events draw from the same pool of attendees and speakers.

We picked the date of September first, which was not ideal. Because it was summer holiday, we had trouble contacting sponsors, promoting the event and finding speakers. We would generally advise against organizing such an event in the summer holidays.

How to find speakers

It’s nice if you have a better known speaker (keynote) for your event, that speaker will draw more people and possibly other speakers. You can contact speakers and/or you send out a call for papers. Don’t forget to call upon people you know (even only vaguely).

We set up a list of potential speakers that we wanted to see. We had arranged for Mara Averick to be the keynote speaker very early on so that helped us a lot. We used the Rladies network to contact potential speakers and used common slack groups, Twitter and even Linkedin to connect to speakers. We also set up a ‘Call for speakers’ via sessionize. This system allowed us to receive and order the responses that people send in. We also used sessionize to send our speakers information, confirmation and modify their talk length. This worked really well.

How to promote the event

You do not organize this event solely for yourself to listen to your favorite speakers, you want other people to enjoy those speakers as well. Think about your audience, who do you want to reach? students, professionals? on what level? in what field?

Our attendees learned about our event through Linkedin, Twitter but also through announcements in meetups. In the future we could send messages to other R user groups, student associations, and professional organizations. Our audience was mostly beginners and novices with a few advanced useRs as well.

How to find sponsors

The satRdays are supposed to be cheap. But even so it helps if there is some money other than the money from the ticket sales. You can make list of things that can be sponsored: stickers, video, website advertisement, breakfast, goodies, posters, lunch, drinks etc.

Sponsoring is a trade between a company and your event. You make the company look good and they give you money. Make that trade CONSCIOUSLY, SatRdays has strong ideas about inclusivity, diversity and creating a safe space to learn. The companies that advertise on your event need to reflect those ideas too. A company that behaves in way that is not in line with our code of conduct is not a good choice for sponsor.

We had a hard time finding sponsors, many spokespersons in companies were unavailable because of holidays. To help us in negotiations we made a list of things to sponsor: video editing, food, advertisement on the webpage etc. We did not want posters, banners or promoted talk at the event, because we felt that no one really wanted to listen to promoted talks and posters and banners wouldn’t really work. We did have a sponsor that was unfit in hindsight.

What did our visitors think of the event?

A week after the event we send evaluation forms to our attendees and also spread it via Twitter. Unfortunately we only got 10% response rate. During the event we spoke to many attendees and the general sentiment was great! They seemed very happy, which was a pleasure to see. We highlight a few questions we asked our attendees. The price (EUR 40,00) was right for most people. Most attendees payed for themselves, some were sponsored by their employer.

Who came to our event?

We tried to estimate the R skill level of our attendees. Because many people are having a hard time placing themselves in a beginner, novice, intermediate, expert categorization, we thought up a different classification: (1) just starting, (2) using functions from packages, (3) building a package and (4) maintaining multiple packages.

Which in hindsight might be a combination of skills and not really a scale. Most of the attendees said they used functions, we will classify them as ‘users’, 14% of the respondents create their own packages which we will classify as ‘builders’. some are completely new to R. It was a good mix of the general useRs we think.

Why do attendees come to this event?

Many attendees came for personal development, but also for the content or specifically for the speakers.

Where did the attendees come from?

We aimed for a local presence, which worked out, because some respondents actually answered Amsterdam, instead of a country. Most attendees came from the Netherlands, but there were also people from neighboring countries such as Germany, and Belgium. Some people came from further away.

How did people hear from our event?

Attendees had heard from the event through newsletters, work, meetups, the SatRdays network, R-ladies but mostly through Linkedin and Twitter.

What did the attendees think of the event?

The sentiment about the entire event was very positive. Attendees especially liked the 10 minute lightning rounds, the speakers in general and the diversity of topics. And they liked meeting other people.

Attendees also pointed out some things they did not like. We started too early and there were too many talks at the end.

Closing remarks

We had a great time along with the attendees and speakers. We hope to organize a similar event next year, and we want to thank everyone.

Tess Korthout, Steven Nooijen, Ilse Pit, Vincent Warmerdam, Janine Khuc & Roel Hogervorst

See the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFzfUdCKhwk

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