I ran the first edition of Helvetic Ruby with two friends. This post reflects my own experience and my personal thoughts on it.
We started working on the conference early. Our first meeting was in early January 2023 and the conference was on 24th November 2023.
While there were periods of more intense preparation, we usually did a little bit every week. That kept stress levels low for me. I was not even stressed on the day of the conference.
In a way, it felt easy, though I am probably looking back at it through rose-tinted glasses.
The main reason is that we had a common vision of what we wanted to achieve. We sometimes disagreed on details, but always found a good solution after some discussion. I never felt ignored and I never wanted to say "I told you so". When we did something, it's because we agreed on it as a team. If there was a problem with the outcome, we learned from it together. I guess this is the elusive alignment that all leaders talk about.
Because we trusted each other, we could also take complementary responsibilities. We worked on the initial stages of each aspect together, e.g. the mix of topics we wanted for talks, or the sponsorship packages we offered. Once we confirmed the ideas, we executed them independently. A lot of the communication was about sharing encountered problems and sometimes asking for advice on them.
We had planned breaks between most talks. The breaks were of variable length and the shortest ones were not long enough. 10-15 minutes barely sufficed for people to go the toilet and get a coffee. In comparison, the 30 minute breaks worked really well. I wonder how it would have been to have more groups of 2 back-to-back talks and a longer break afterwards.
These short breaks also made it harder to get people to sit down for the next talk. Perhaps, we could get a little kitsch next time and use a cow bell to signal the end of the breaks.
Despite that, we managed to stick to the schedule. I consider that a big success. My experience as a conference attendee is that usually everything gets delayed more and more throughout the day.
The venue felt cramped during the breaks. At the end of the day I heard a suggestion about removing the last 1-2 rows of chairs and encouraging people to sit at the balcony. (The room had a main floor and a balcony at the back).
I was absorbed by other things and did not think about this at all. I wish we had thought about adjusting the layout on the spot.
I was the MC in the morning, Hana in the afternoon.
I try to keep good posture when I'm giving a talk, but emceeing didn't feel like giving a talk and posture was completely out of my head while I was on stage. I only noticed my bad posture on pictures after the event.
I was comfortable on stage and people laughed at my jokes. I did feel inadequate when the room was too noisy and I couldn't get people's attention immediately. I guess this requires both practice and patience.
I think most people attended all talks. I suspect three reasons for that:
- There was a single track.
- People did manage to talk enough during the breaks.
- The program was compelling.
I found that the order of the talks and the variety of topics worked well. It paid to be intentional and know what we wanted to achieve before even starting the call for proposals.
Multiple people mentioned to me that they liked the mix of topics and I am glad they validated our choices.
It had been 10 years since I was last involved in organising a conference and this time I had much more to do. It was a great learning experience and I am glad to have started a new conference for my community. I'm excited to work on the next edition of Helvetic Ruby.