No, I’m not talking about choosing a person to attend an event with – though I suppose that perspective could also apply… Now I’m wondering if anyone’s ever met a significant other at a technical community event. I digress.
I’m talking about choosing the date you’re going to host an event. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Looking at checklists and documents about how to spin up events makes picking a date look easy. It’s a simple task, a single item on that task list. Unfortunately, it’s rarely as simple as you’d hope.
Note: I’m talking primarily about in-person events. Some points here will still apply to hybrid and online/virtual events as well, but the main focus is in-person events.
Choosing a date can be simple. If you limit external factors as much as possible, you can keep things as simple as that. Pick the date. Put it on the calendar. What’s next?
It’s also easy to fall into “analysis paralysis” – trying to consider all the options to find the “perfect” date. Well, there isn’t one. Get over that now. As with many of the choices you’ll be making along the event planning path, you won’t be able to please everyone. But you can do your best to balance the factors you control.
With that, let’s look at some of the factors, impacts, and variables to consider when choosing a date for your event.
Make sure you’re planning far enough out for you to get all your tasks done without too much stress. Speakers need time to submit and create presentations. You’ll need time to pick speakers and sessions. You’ll need time to get sponsors. Sponsors need time to figure out staffing, travel, swag and more. Swag needs time to coordinate and get ordered. There’s a lot to do. Make sure you leave your team enough time to do it well.
Day, or Days, of the Week
When we were doing “SharePoint Saturdays”, the day of the week was a given. Years later that’s still our go-to day, but there are definitely reasons to look at other options as well – especially with the push for work/life balance not cutting into personal time (weekends). Most business and technical conferences are during the week. Now, there are plenty of community groups hosting events during the work week. It’s a legitimate option to consider. I suspect that the audiences for weekends and audiences for weekdays might be slightly different as well. Something to consider.
Along similar lines, are you going to run a single-day, or multi-day event? While I’ve primarily run single-day events, I’m confident that multi-day events add a whole new batch of variables and multipliers…
I’m not saying that the planning team is top priority over attendees, speakers, and sponsors – but it’s definitely got to be a consideration. These are the folks that put in all the work, want to be at the event, and motivated to make it successful. So, you want a date where most, if not all, can be there. This is one of the few places where having a larger team can work against you a bit. The larger the planning and organizing team, the more schedules you have to juggle.
Plenty of factors to consider when selecting a venue. Maybe we’ll tackle that in another post. Venue availability is one you need to consider when choosing a date. We usually come up with a few date options, then start having a conversation with the venue contact to see which dates work, which don’t, and which might have other things to consider… like other events, construction projects at the venue, staffing availability, etc. Keep them in the loop as you progress towards a date.
Some venues, like technical and community colleges, may work for weekend events but not weekday events.
Keep an eye out for other community events on the calendar. Events like yours (Community Days, etc.) as well as first party (Microsoft Build, Ignite, etc.) and third party (365 EduCon, M365 Conference, etc.) events will draw attendees, speakers, and sponsors to their events and directly impact your event. You might want to give some events even more space on the calendar if it has travel impacts as well. Regular travelers like speakers and sponsors need a break too.
Do you have other similar groups that host events locally? Coordination between groups can go a number of ways. You might want to put buffer time between similar events and plan connections with others. For example, it might be convenient to have your full-day event the same week as a monthly user group meeting as it may allow out of town speakers or sponsors to visit both.
Local and Regional Events
Do you have other groups in your area that have overlap with your topic area or audience? Are there other things happening in your area that might impact attendance?
In Minnesota we have things like the State Fair that would definitely impact our event if we overlapped with them. Do a quick check to see if there are general happenings you don’t usually consider that overlap with potential dates. Think outside the box. Do some searches. Lean on your planning team with different backgrounds. One year we accidentally overlapped with the University of Minnesota’s Homecoming game. Whoops.
Holidays and National Events
Avoiding traditional national holidays seems pretty obvious, but also consider other national or religious holidays and events. For example, stay away from Super Bowl weekend. Once again, leverage the diversity of your planning team and audience to consider holidays or other impacts outside of your personal experiences.
The broader the scope you consider, the more impacts you’ll find so balance what impacts your event and which variables you might need to decide to lessen in your calculations.
Yep, you need to consider your audience. 🙂 This might not be high on your list when first starting an event because you’re just starting to figure them out and will be excited for whoever you can get to attend. But as you have more events over time, you will come to know your target audience a bit and understand how their needs impact your event planning. You’ll likely find some will only attend on weekends or weekdays. You might have different sub-audiences to consider. In our case we have fairly distinct groups/roles that attend, and they each have their own preferences. If you switch days of the week, you might find you lose some regulars, but gain a whole new crowd of folks.
Obviously, you can’t plan for specific weather. I live in Minnesota. Winters can be harsh and unpredictable often making folks less interested in leaving home or traveling if weather is threatening. Summers are so valued that folks won’t give up their free time – so planning events during the summer definitely impacts attendance. With all this in mind, we tend to schedule our events during the “shoulder seasons” in Spring and Fall.
Speakers and Sponsors
Many of the variables listed above may also impact your selection and availability of speakers and sponsors. Religious holidays may make them unavailable. Larger conferences may pull both speakers and sponsors. You might need to allow for travel between your event and other events.
Whew. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Don’t let it scare you. Figure out what works for you, which considerations have larger or smaller influence on your event, and make the call. The world is too big and busy for you to not have any conflicts. Find your balance and get the event on the calendar so you can get the content out there that your audience needs.
Once you’ve chosen a date, and if you qualify for Community Days, get your event added to the public calendar so others can use it when considering their planning. It’s also important and useful to get your event registered there for lots of other reasons (yet another post…).
Am I missing anything you can think of? Let me know.