A Question of Space

by paulgrenyer, on 5 March 2016

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

- Captain Kirk, Wrath of Khan 1982.

From a Norfolk Developers, Naked Element and a personal point of view NorDevCon 2016 was a huge success. We had the largest number of attendees we’ve ever had by a significant margin. The Thursday workshops attracted a total of about thirty people, Friday saw over 400 and there were about 250 on Saturday. Surely the best of times.

In his presentation, “Silicon Broad: Bridges not Valleys” Jon Bradford, former MD of TechStars, said that NorDevCon needed to move to a new, larger venue and be 800 people next year. It’s true that in terms of numbers NorDevCon has come a long way from the 160 people who attended its first incarnation, SyncConf.

Our current venue is almost certainly the only option for the five track conference format we use. However, with 400 people in the main auditorium the sponsors and lunch area gets a little tight. The other four rooms we use have capacities of 120, 100, 40 and 18. When you take an average that’s 80 people in each room. Immediately it’s obvious that an even distribution of people wouldn’t work. Of course, people don’t usually distribute themselves evenly. It’s difficult to know which sessions are going to be the most popular, so knowing where to put which speakers is difficult and ultimately, we get it wrong sometimes.

While it’s fantastic that the conference is so popular, there are times when delegates can’t get to see the speakers they want because a room is full and almost every time there’s another room with only a handful of people in it. The worst of times.

So what to do about it? There are a number of options.

I’ve already identified that another venue isn’t really an option.

We could ask people to specify which sessions they would like to attend in advance and place the speakers accordingly. This would take quite a bit more organisation and is difficult as the programme is often changing right up until the day.

We could restrict the number of people on any one day to about 350, that would go some way towards relieving the overcrowding.

We’ve spent a long time scaling vertically (increasing the number of people on one day). We could consider scaling horizontally (more days, with less people each day) and perhaps dropping the smallest conference room. The issue with this is people having to spend more time away from work, which, given the eco system of small companies in Norfolk, isn’t likely to be popular.

This is usually where I would present the ideal solution, drawn from a consideration of all the options. However, this is one of those problems which requires a lot more thought and discussion with experienced individuals. The discussions and head scratching continue.