Libraries, the universe and everything

SLA NY Conference and Expo, September 18th 2014
November 7, 2014, 12:00
Filed under: CPD, Events, SLA NY | Tags:

Well over a month after the event, it is high time I blogged about the SLA NY Conference. Given the amount of my time and energy the planning and preparations for the event took up, and the fact that I moved apartments the week after, it has been rather nice to take a break from it all, but September 18th is rapidly receding into the distant past, and I wanted to capture a few thoughts before it got away entirely.

By pretty much any statistical measure the day was a success:

  • feedback both at the time and subsequently has been excellent, from business partners as well as attendees. The post-event attendees survey response rate was 30%, and over 90% of respondents rated the event 4 or 5 out of 5 – in summary the event successfully provided quality learning and networking to Chapter members, and plenty of opportunity for meeting business partners too.
  • ticket demand exceeded supply, and almost everyone who booked showed up (we had around 170 registrations)
  • a modest surplus was realised for the Chapter, to be reinvested in events planned for the rest of the year
  • in the end 10 business partners attended as exhibitors, they were located in the main event room which most of them seemed to really enjoy – not only did this maximise their contact time with attendees but also meant they could listen in to several of the sessions without leaving their stands!

In terms of lessons learned for next time, we were quite surprised that most people opted to attend for the whole day. We had provided a range of registration options, including half-day tickets, but by far the most popular choice was the full day. People clearly felt that it was worth taking a whole day out of work to get the most benefit from the experience, which was a tremendous compliment to the program and speakers, and I think it made for a more consistent event too.

However, many of them didn’t book until just a week or two beforehand, which made for a few anxious weeks, and I think the bi-weekly communications emails were worth the effort they took to produce in order to generate and maintain interest. Our regular Monday email focussed on the benefits of hearing a single speaker or panel, whilst at the suggestion of one of my co-chairs the Thursday message was more thematic, containing 3 brief points highlighting one of the topics, one or two of the sponsors with some connection to the topic, and a related fun fact. For an event with a heavy emphasis on social media we didn’t do as well as we could on other platforms – there were a number of reasons for this which I won’t go into now, suffice it to say that we can certainly look to improve this in future.

On the day itself we were caught out by the fact that many attendees arrived early, despite the 8:30am keynote start, and had failed to order coffee – this was by far our biggest complaint, and one which we’ve definitely taken on board for the future! As far as I know this was the worst of our on-the-day issues though, which is testament to just how hard everyone worked in the run-up to the event.

My own personal experience of the conference was completely disjointed, and I spend most of it either at the registration desk or roaming the halls. Having focussed on the communications aspect before the event, I took responsibility for monitoring and contributing to the twitter feed throughout the day. Because I had created it I was responsible for our rolling slideshow of session times and room allocations, which played on loop in all the rooms we were using, and this needed updating a couple of times. I was also the self-nominated event photographer, so tried to get into as many of the sessions as I could for a few quick snaps as well as taking a load of pictures during the breaks. I am by no means the greatest photographer but I was quite pleased with some of the results, and one or two others contributed their photos too – you can see our gallery from the event on Flickr.

In addition to all this I was moderating a panel discussion on twitter for information professionals, and as this didn’t begin until after 1pm I spent the morning stressing about how it would go. Of course in the end I needn’t have worried, as my panellists were all excellent  – they spoke eloquently about the wide variety of interesting ways in which they use twitter, and even took their own questions – so other than a few introductory and closing remarks I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride, even taking the opportunity to send a few tweets (and a picture) from the stage.

I did try to attend one or two of the sessions, but my brain was so scrambled that I didn’t really take anything in, although I was so pleased to see other attendees concentrating, participating, and asking really good questions. I almost completely failed on the networking front too, other than making conversation with people I already knew, as I wasn’t really in the zone for chatting to strangers, although I did manage to make one connection which has lead to a great new volunteering opportunity for me!

Looking back I am so proud of our achievement – my two co-chairs were brilliant to work with, our wider committee proved to be dedicated and committed assistants, and the event was clearly well worth all our effort. I was also blown away by the calibre of our speakers, all of whom agreed to participate without payment – some of them are well-known, others not at all, but they were without exception engaging, generous and informative. (They were also all punctual, which we very much appreciated!) Being complete suckers for punishment we are already talking about doing it all again next year, and two of our committee members have stepped up to take co-chair positions – I’m planning to sit on the committee, but in more of a supporting role this time!

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