The first Hydra Connect featured a number of different approaches to content:
- pre-conference workshops
- plenary sessions
- lightning talks
- show and tell (poster/demo) sessions
- unconference breakouts
- developer space
Connect #2 introduced
- 20 minute talks
- explicit workshop sessions on the last day
Connect 2016 introduced Interest and Working group f2f meetings on the last afternoon (pre-timetabled).
All these seemed well received but there are a small number of provisios:
- lightning talks should be no more than 7 minutes (some felt that the 10 minute ones were too long)
- the 'State of the HydraSphere' plenary needs mapping out beforehand so that all our message gets across; we need to remember that Connect is a recruiting exercise as well as a Partner meeting and we need to reach out to delegates who are "kicking the tyres".
- the first Connect failed to have a short plenary closing the conference (mainly due to lack of a suitable space); this was unfortunate because the end of the meeting just drifted. In 2016 we deliberately avoided a closing meeting and just filled the rest of the timetable to bursting! That worked fine.
- the poster show and tell session turns out to be one of the most valued events of the week; it needs careful planning
Discussions about the outline timetable need to occur very early in the planning process. If there are to be invited contributions, contributors need to have early notice of such things as:
- lightning talks: how long?
- posters: how big?
- screencasts: target audience(s)
Proposed workshops need to be listed very early on so that people can decide whether to come for the pre-conference workshop day. Each workshop should have a set of learning outcomes for delegates to consider and clearly state any pre-requisites for attendance.
Connect #2 was criticized for not having its detailed program published early enough for people to judge whether to attend; the well-trailed structure of the event seemed not to be enough for some.
The detailed program needs to be available on-line before and during the meeting in a form that is suited to use on phones and tablets - so a simple HTML page isn't going to do. (We had complaints about this after HC2).
Although it seems obvious, the agreement of all speakers that they are willing and able to present a particular session needs to be obtained as early as possible; we had a few grumblings at Connect #2 that people found out too late they had been asked to do something.
Organizers may find some tension between laying on content that they deem necessary and desirable as compared with ideas solicited from the community. The community can be reluctant to contribute suggestions (at least via web forms) and, in any case, some come to the conference with a "consumer mentality" expecting to be offered training and fed information. A collaboratively developed conference is an alien concept to many.
We need always to cater for those who attend Connect to "find out more" and who are not yet committed to Hydra. Each parallel session should have something for these folks.
Likewise, we should remember that Connect attracts "managers" as well as developers and there needs always to be a session attractive to them. In addition, Connect #2 provided a couple of dedicated slots for sysadmins.
Sessions and rooming
A questionnaire should go out once the attendance list is (nigh on) complete to gather some information - including essential information for rooming. This might include (as it did for Connect #2):
- confirmation of email address
- which track the delegate intends to follow for most of the meeting
- which workshops they plan to attend
- whether they have any food preferences that you should try to account for at the conference social meal
- which parallel sessions they will likely attend
- which workshops they will likely attend on the final day
The information from this survey will give the organizers estimates of the attendance at each session which should help to allocate rooms that are of varying size.
Google Forms worked extremely well for this survey at Connect #2. Workshop organizers were sent a list of names and e-mail addresses for their workshop ahead of the event.
For HC2015, EventBrite was used to book attendance at workshops (without charge). This allowed us to have caps on workshop size which could be juggled to match the available room capacities.
Allocating sessions to rooms so that there is adequate space for the likely audience is a non-trivial task.
Delegates expect to have access to power strips during sessions in smaller (non-plenary) rooms.
The plenary space will need very good projection facilities and sound. A roving mic should be available for Q&A sessions. An engineer should ideally be on hand to cope with any problems (the sound volume at Connect #2 was variable and the cause of a number of complaints). Whilst it can be difficult to provide power strips in a large space, an attempt should be made to do so.
The second conference was too big to have each delegate introduce themselves to the plenary audience. Rather a "Spotlight on new attendees" slot prefaced a number of the plenaries. Ten or so new attendees (including new faces from "old" Hydra collaborators) we asked to introduce themselves and say a little bit about their involvement with Hydra - the standard questions were notified beforehand. This approach seemed to go well although using the same set of questions throughout was perhaps something that might be reconsidered. At HC2015 this was moved to two slots during the poster session and newcomers were given up to a minute to introduce themselves and say why they were there - that worked well, too.
Poster "Show and Tell" session
The Poster Show and Tell turns out to be one of the most successful sessions at Connect. It is helpful to communicate a maximum poster size well before the event ("A0" or "A1", for instance). It is even more helpful if the posters can be printed for delegates locally so that they don't have to manage cardboard tubes on planes (there might even usefully be a budget line to cover this cost). For Connect #2 we made it an expectation that each attending institution would create at least one poster explaining what they were doing (or thinking of doing) with Hydra. A number of delegates complained that they were manning a poster and so didn't get to see the rest; encouraging a change round at half-time is therefore likely a good thing even if it leaves some posters unmanned. Many delegates wished that the posters had remained available to view during the following day.
The Connect #2 Poster session was prefaced by a "minute madness" slot which seemed to work well; at HC2015 we dropped this and received no complaints!
Delegates should have access to an on-line survey after the event and the URL for this should be announced in a plenary session as well as being in the conference literature and listed in emails. The surveys for all three Connects had very similar questions for easy comparison.