The Impossible Conference

I had tons of fun yesterday at INNOQ’s first Technology Day, our very own litte online conference. The idea was first discussed exactly two months ago, when my co-worker Martina approached me and suggested we might do something for our customers (and for our marketing) by assembling some of the awesome people we have on board, asking them to present something they’d possibly presented this year elsewhere, or wanted to present for the first time, and adding some interesting interactive formats that highlight how we work these days.

She and I met (virtually) for half an hour and decided that essentially, there was really no way this could be made to work, as we’re typically all quite busy near the end of the year; she herself was very interested in developing this, but had almost no time at all because she was super-busy in her project; essentially, without a dedicated team of people, it would probably be best to postpone it for a year.

But it couldn’t hurt to explore the idea a little more in what we labelled a conference creation bootcamp. We quickly identified a number of people we knew might be able to help as a program committee, but of course we also knew if we tried to find a date that worked for all of them, we’d be looking at something like 3 months from now. So we decided to pick a date a week later, where the two of us could free up a day and see how far we’d get. We’d invite the others, if only for half hour here and there. The goal would be to create something that allowed us to make a decision about whether to move forward or not at the end of the one day workshop.

The workshop was highly productive, with people dropping in and out as they could, the group splitting in two somewhere mid-day, and reconvening later. By the end of a day, we had created a little FAQ answering the most important questions (and thus forcing us to make the most important decisions). Everything felt good, so we decided to recommend moving forward, with a final decision due two days later. After a little more internal discussion, we made the final decision on the next day: We’d be running a conference, aiming for 400-500 attendees (including about 150 INNOQ employees).

In the next few weeks, an ad-hoc team, without any clear structure or decision process, created a 7-person program committee that met multiple times; acquired 30 speakers among our staff; considered about 25 different external keynote speakers before settling on one we chose to invite (and managed to get); planned 4 parallel conference tracks, an internal three-part keynote, multiple formats highlighting our trainings, and some off-topic tracks and sessions; assembled a small (two person that actually was one person as one of them was on vacation) technical team; chose a conference tool and a communication tool for lightweight interaction; built a landing page; sent out a bunch of emails to our clients, partners, and friends; orchestrated a bit of grassroots marketing; kept our own co-workers informed. Things looked good: We quickly had 500, 600, 700 signups; two weeks before the date, we broke the 1000 person pre-registration barrier. Time to become serious: With all the parallel stuff going on, we needed (and found) 8 moderators to introduce speakers, monitor chats and ask questions at the and, as well as 8 technical directors who had to learn how to capture Zoom calls to OBS and stream them to YouTube so that they could be embedded into iChair; create more than 30 YouTube streams; schedule about 50 zoom calls; and make the whole thing work on time for the (by then) close to 1400 attendees who had registered.

And it worked! The platform had glitches, sometimes a few seconds of sound were missing, some people had connection problems – but overall, things worked out ridiculously well for something that, given serious consideration, we should have expected to fail miserably. We had great talks, great sessions, a fantastic keynote, great interaction with our attendees. We got lots of great feedback (and of course some useful criticism), and everyone was kind of proud of themselves, and me most of all of everyone because it’s just incredibly satisfying to see how much people can achieve if they want to, and believe in it, and have fun doing it.

Try doing something impossible, occasionally. It’s a ton of fun.