The End of the Free SharePoint Saturday Events?

This weekend I had the pleasure to present two sessions at SharePoint Saturday Charlotte at the University of Charlotte. This was my first time outside the airport and I really enjoyed the people & atmosphere of the city. Unfortunately some travel issues prevented me from finding much time to really see the city or mingle with other speaker, but I still had a nice time.

My first session of the day was “Integrating O365 & Salesforce.com using Microsoft PowerApps & Flow” which was very lightly attended. I’m not sure if it was because the keynote ran over it’s allotted time or that rooms were on different floors, but I was surprised that more folks weren’t interested in connecting Salesforce & O365. Regardless of number of attendees, I think the talk itself went pretty well and it gave me one more dry run before I record it for Collab365. My second session, “Modern SharePoint Development Workflow using Node, Bower, Yeoman and more!” had quite a few more attendees but still not the same crowd that I’ve recently seen in Boston, New York, or even Pittsburgh. When I spoke with the organizers it sounded like they had over a 60% no-show rate which is just slightly higher than the average 50% rate that most events see.

As an organizer, I know these events take a tremendous amount of planning from securing a venue, to lining up speakers, coordinating food, to making sure that sponsors are all set with their logistics. Estimating breakfast & lunch as got to the best most difficult & wasteful part of coordinating a SharePoint Saturday. No matter what you do it’s inevitable that there is going to be too much food. As an organizer you always want to ensure that people are properly hydrated, fed, and taken care of. If you have 200 people register for your event, it can be stressful to not purchase food for the worst case scenario (200) attendees. Typically I try to factor in 25% no-show even though I know it is going to be higher. As an organizer there is no worse feeling that running out of food, even for a free event. As an organizer of a smaller user group – the amount of leftover food we had at least year’s SharePoint Saturday event could have paid for half the user group meetings this year.

I think the initial charter for SharePoint Saturday which was to provide a platform for learning with no boundaries (i.e.; free to all attendees) was quite noble. However, after attending dozens of SharePoint Saturdays I can’t turn my eye to the inevitable waste that is associated with the events. From food, t-shirts, handouts, and swag, it can be alarming how much is leftover after an event. I think one of the problems with the free events is that registrants do not always associate a value to the event. When it’s free, there’s nothing lost if they don’t attend. But, if there was a nominal fee – then they would have made that investment and perhaps they would think twice about not attending. I don’t think a charge somewhere between $5-10 would create that much of a barrier to entry.

When speaking with the teams that organize the Cloud Saturday event (which is paid) in Chicago & Atlanta – they typically see a 90% attendance which is phenomenal. With sponsorship money becoming more difficult to secure, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more events change to the nominal charge model. If anything it also helps to alleviate some of the stress of obtaining sponsorship money when many ISV’s are beginning to withdraw from participating in some of these community events.

  1. I think it really depends on what all is going on the weekend that an event is occurring as well as what the interest is in that particular city. Further depending on the approach that the hosting group uses in terms of communications can be something that will make or break an event (or so I’ve come to find).

    The Charlotte event for all intents and purposes was well put together. I think the fact that it was a beautiful day and perhaps one that from a timing perspective didn’t mesh with the local populous could have been a contributing factor.

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  2. It’s sad to see a decline in certain areas but not all events are equal. SPS’s are run by different teams all over so I believe that plays a huge part. If you are constantly improving and making sure its a great event then people will be back. After organizer many many events in NYC and NJ I have some insights.

    Do you engage the community throughout the entire year or just 1 month before the event? Do you have a user group in that area / how often do you run the group / and how big is it? How long and how often are you promoting the event? Are you involving your local Microsoft contacts? Find out who they are ask them to speak, organize, help promote. Check your stats – If you are not getting return attendees then it’s possible they didn’t enjoy the previous event and if you are not getting new attendees then you are not reaching deep into the workforce around you. You can’t just have a website and post of facebook / twitter and expect people to show up. For SPSNJ I found every free publication in print and digital and placed free ads, I posted everywhere I could. I involved the speakers and sponsors to also promote the event in their marketing. I also tweet / facebook the speakers and sponsors because they always re-tweet & share. Get a buffer account and queue up those posts. Marketing is a machine and it doesn’t work if it’s not running.

    Demand can be down on a certain tech in a given area and there is nothing that you as an organizer can do make it come back. You might have to consider scaling back your event to make it appear more successful. There is nothing wrong with having less options & tracks. It’s better to have less options and fuller rooms.

    If you are finding that sponsorship’s are lacking then you need to do some footwork. Call / Email everyone in your area and tell them about the event and what you get. Be reasonable with your sponsorship’s an have tiers. You don’t need a ton of money to run an SPS and you can get away with minimal. People are happy and grateful if you get good speakers and provide good content. Budget an spend wisely. My priorities are in this order [Venue/Lunch/Coffee/Breakfast/Printing] everything else is extra.

    Most importantly plan months in advance. You need time to promote, lock in speakers, sponsors. Don’t rush those because your event will suffer.

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