This is a guideline to help you organise your first RubyConf AU.
Contribute you knowledge
This is a guideline to help you organise your first RubyConf AU.
Contribute you knowledge
This guide is meant to give a potential organiser a reasonably detailed list of things that must be considered when planning and running a RubyConf.
It is super important that an organiser does not rely on only this document. Talk to previous organisers and seek the help of Ruby Australia for advice and support when you need it.
Around the time of each RubyConf Australia event, the Ruby Australia committee ask for expressions of interest from people who are thinking about running the conference the following year. These notices are posted to the Rails Oceania Google group and the Ruby Australia Slack account.
Your first steps should be:
Please keep in mind that previous organisers and the Ruby Australia committee will all be happy to provide feedback along the way.
Am I personally exposed to financial risk if I make a mistake with budgeting?
No. Ruby Australia has your back, but it is definitely worth maintaining a budget spreadsheet that can be shared with the Ruby Australia treasurer to mitigate the risk of financial errors occurring.
Will I need to cover any costs myself?
All costs should ideally be covered by ticket sales and sponsorship. However, it’s likely that some extra unforeseen costs will come up during the conference itself, or for things that are planned but must be purchased personally before being reimbursed by Ruby Australia.
Does Ruby Australia have insurance that covers the event? Is additional insurance required?
Ruby Australia has insurance for all events run under its banner, which includes RubyConf Australia. It is possible that you may require additional insurance if your venue requests it - if this happens, the Ruby Australia committee will be able to help you sort it out.
Do I have to charge GST?
Yes. Your ticket prices must include GST. 10% of the ticket price is not yours to spend. Budget for this.
Where can I get hold of the @rubyconf_au Twitter account details?
The Ruby Australia committee can provide these details to you.
Previous years have had an accessibility statement on the website, and this has certainly been appreciated. Of course, covering every option off is impossible, but acknowledging that there’s a desire to improve things and to learn about what’s missed is great.
Ruby Australia events of course run under their Code of Conduct. The conference also has an anti-harrassment policy which covers something of a process around how to report situations.
In recent years, there has also been a dedicated phone number for the conference and code of conduct reports. This is just a prepaid SIM bought for the purpose of the conference, in a second-hand phone that is always with a committee member. This number can be listed in the Code of Conduct, the Anti-Harrassment Policy, and on attendee badges. It gives people a simple, direct and non-confrontational way of alerting organisers to any issues.
This isn’t something that’s been done before at RubyConf Australia, but has been implemented at RailsConf and RubyConf in the USA: have some of the more established community members be guides for newer attendees - someone to talk to, to provide advice, to hang out with during breaks. This could help make the conference an even more welcoming and friendly experience.
RubyConf Australia usually hosts somewhere between 300 and 500 attendees, depending on the location. Melbourne and Sydney have larger developer communities, and so they have higher numbers of locals attending.
RubyConf Australia has always been held within the first two weeks of February, and this timeframe generally has worked quite well.
Potential events that may conflict:
Of course, clashing with any of these events is not a serious problem (with the exception of Rails Camp New Zealand, as that is geographically close and many of their attendees also want to be at RubyConf Australia). The bigger constraint in the early stages of planning is confirming a venue that is available in February.
You will need to take the following into account:
What’s offered and the prices of these have varied slightly in different years, and it can depend on sponsorship and ticket demand. With very few exceptions, tickets sell slower and later than you’d hope.
One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes people want tickets but need permission from their employers if it’s a work expense or they need the time off. So, encourage people to have those conversations sooner rather than later.
Lately (and wisely) this has been run as a ballot system. Another option is to use a tool like Travis Foundation’s Diversity Tickets. However you go about it, it’s recommended to spread the word through as many avenues as possible to connect with people who might otherwise miss out on a ticket. For example, groups that deal with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders, refugees, universities and low-income students, Rails Girls, etc.
Make the time to plan this out a bit, to ensure you’re contacting these groups earlier rather than later, to ensure their audiences have enough time to apply.
Ruby Australia provides financial sponsorship through their yearly sponsorship packages used to support all events over the course of a year. The committee will be able to give you a dollar value for this, and provide the details of associated sponsors and their logos, and any particular initiatives their funds should go towards.
Recent conferences have engaged professional event managers to assist with organising the events. They take care of the finer details around venue wrangling, speaker flights and hotel bookings, visa letters for the speakers who needed them, council permits if required, buses and venues for social events, agendas and minutes for committee meetings, and more.
Their expertise allows the committee to focus on higher-level decisions and communications, and having them assist from about six months before the conference onwards is recommended.
Stage Managers are essential to the smooth running of the event. There should be one focused on each stage at any given time (which means that having two people per stage is probably wise, so they can each take a break).
The role of the stage managers is to make sure speakers are prepared, and to keep them on track with time limits. This should be their only role for the conference - and if they need anything, it’s recommended they call upon volunteers for assistance.
It is recommended that a band of volunteers is gathered to help manage the event across the days it takes place. These people should be directed by a Volunteer Manager.
Having volunteers as the first point of contact for many attendees reduces the load on organisers, who can then deal with the bigger picture issues, or even sit back and enjoy the event occasionally.
Having a diverse lineup of speakers is essential, and this should be kept in mind when choosing both invited speakers and advertising the CFP.
When you’re publicising the CFP, it’s worth reaching out to local and international groups that focus on parts of the community that are traditionally under-represented. Such groups include:
Keep in mind that gender is just one aspect of diversity, so also take into account other axes (race, sexuality, experience, location, etc).
The topics being presented should also be reasonably diverse. This can be challenged by invited speakers not having clear topics, so it’s probably worth making a polite request of invited speakers to get their likely topic early. Of course, they may change their mind, and that’s fine.
Another aspect of speaker diversity to keep in mind is how many locals to have present, as the conference is a great opportunity to show off the talents of local developers. Of course, it’s also a good time to bring international speakers to Australia that locals would not otherwise get to see.
Over the last few years, the conference has used a modified version of RubyCentral’s open-sourced system, and it has worked well.
Whichever tool you use, it is important to have a blind reviewing round where the reviewing team can only see talk details (not speaker details).
It is recommended to have one person from the core organising committee in charge of the CFP (setting the system up, confirming the timeframes, etc), and then a separate team that reviews and selects the talks. This reviewing team does not need to be members of the organising committee - and again, some diversity in the team is wise: an array of skills, backgrounds, and preferences.
For the 2015 edition, our process was as follows:
It is highly recommended to have backup speakers selected as part of the CFP process, as it’s not uncommon for selected speakers to cancel or fall ill. These backup speakers should be treated like other speakers (for things like events, flights, hotels) - they’ll need to put in just as much effort to prepare their talk, and likely without the glory of presenting.
Having a clear picture of how long talks should be, and how many session tracks you have, is important, and you should figure this out before the CFP closes. This is critical to knowing how many speakers you have to select.
Some conferences in the past have had two tracks, others have had single tracks. Some kept all sessions at 20 minutes, others gave all speakers 40 minutes, and others again have opted for a mix. Figure out your preferences on all of this sooner rather than later and plan accordingly.
RubyConf Australia has a record of being very supportive towards their speakers. This includes flight and hotel allowances (usually with upper limits in spending around $2000 per speaker).
Certainly, if speakers wish to pay their own way, that is welcome, and there’s the option for their employer to become a minor sponsor of the conference in recognition of this.
It’s recommended that the flights are managed by an event manager and travel agent. Some speakers will want special itineraries, and it’s up to your team to decide how much to accommodate that - sometimes it’s easier to reimburse speakers rather than paying for the flights directly.
RubyConf Australia is one of the few Ruby conferences in the world to provide this level of support, and it is a great way to support speakers who might otherwise not be able to present. Financial flexibility is another aspect of diversity, after all.
Most international speakers will require visas to vist Australia. In some cases, this can require a fair amount of effort, and if an event manager is engaged they will be able to assist with this.
It’s worth noting (because in previous years it has been forgotten) that speakers from the USA require visas. In at least some cases, these can be done completely online, but still, make sure all your international speakers are aware they should research this.
Previous conferences have offered to organise complimentary transportation for visiting speakers from the airport to their hotel. It’s a nice touch, and makes that last step of the journey all the more pleasant.
In both Sydney (2014) and Melbourne (2015), the OmniCar group was used. At conferences elsewhere in the world, sometimes organisers have picked up speakers themselves, which is certainly another option (and a bit more personal, though potentially quite a drain on organiser time).
It is nice to give each of the speakers a thank-you pack as a recognition of their effort and contribution to the event. These packs can include things such as:
Being an MC is not a small thing. It requires the people filling this role to be always on, ready to inform and entertain across the entire conference. It requires preparation to be done well. So, it’s very much recommended that MCs get the same perks as other speakers - flights, hotels, gifts, etc.
It’s important that your MCs reflect the values of the event. Thus, some consideration of diversity, styles of humour, and other such aspects is recommended. Even if they’re known and loved by many in the audience, these are people who are in charge of welcoming everyone to the conference.
Different editions of the conference have taken their own approaches to running workshops as part of the proceedings.
Workshops are tricky because they require more planning, the tickets are harder to sell, and they’re often more effective for smaller groups. It’s also a challenge to get the right balance of topics appealing to developers of all levels of experience, and to find a venue that has appropriate spaces for concurrent workshops.
Still, they can definitely be useful to participants, and give organisers a day to ease into the running of the event. They also provide the opportunity to run Rails Girls and Rails Girls Next workshops alongside the others.
If you’re going to have workshops, it’s recommended that you have a CFP process that is either combined with the normal CFP, or runs on the same timeframe. As well as making communication easier, it lets your proposals team keep in mind any overlap between possible speakers and possible workshop presenters, and that may help guide the final decisions.
Alongside the conference proper, a core part of the overall experience are the related social events. It’s recommended to have a variety of events, and especially events where families and partners are welcome, and that aren’t focused on drinking.
Previous conferences have had events such as:
The conference traditionally runs on Thursday and Friday, and so having social events on the Saturday gives attendees a great way to continue socialising, and potentially bring family members along.