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.