[If you’ve read the previous posts in this series, you may have noticed I changed the format for the post title. This was done in an attempt to make the title more informative as to the subject of the post, while still keeping the “series” theme and not making the title longer than it already is…]
Improving Long Tech Events: #6 Priority, Follow-Up
There are a variety of ways in which most long tech events can be improved. “Follow-up” was positioned as the #6 priority on my list of improvement opportunities for these tech events.
This post presents ideas on how to get better follow-up so the events have greater impact and the time and energy of all the participants results in more tangible and long-lasting results.
Lack of follow-up from long tech events, such as hackathons and unconferences, is a topic I’ve read quite a bit about and heard people mention as prime opportunity for improvement.
However, there are only 24 hours in each day, and most of the people who participate in long tech events are already overcommitted for those 24 hours and need to say “no” more often. Following up diligently on worthwhile things that happen at long tech events is often a casualty of those overscheduled calendars.
Some of the items below are primarily the responsibility of the lead events wrangler, while other items also depend on event participants being proactive after the event.
Strengthen Relationships Started At Event
In yesterday’s post, I said new relationships were one of the most valuable benefits I’ve gotten from long tech events. Those new relationships will wilt and die if you don’t tend them. There’s no need to go overboard on this, or you might make your new contact back off and wonder if they want to continue the relationship. So just check in with them four or five days after the event via their preferred contact method — email, text, Twitter, phone or whatever communication tool they told you they most commonly use. (You did ask them about that, right??) You may be the type of person who prefers email, but they may have inbox overload and will only respond to a text or a tweet.
As you build your new-found relationship, work to identify ways you can be viewed by the other person as a resource. The relationship will grow most quickly if you’re seen as someone who’s truly interested in them as a person and as a contact they look forward to hearing from. Keep track of topics they’re interested in. Learn what projects they’re working on. Ask them if there is anyone whom you might connect them with, or if there’s any way they think you may be able to help them. (Refer back to “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi if you want more details on this concept.)
Commitments Made During Event
During the event, keep a written record of all commitments you make, whether it’s sending someone a PDF, website link or other information, or something more important, such as a future meeting with them or connecting them with a resource or someone they very much want to talk with.
After the event, send your new connection a very short note confirming what you committed to, then follow through on your commitment. Lack of follow-through will disappoint people, make others less likely to be diligent about commitments made to you, and tarnish your reputation. On the other hand, making a commitment and following through on it will make others want to help you and will make your reputation shine more brightly than any update to your LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter profile.
Posting Presentations and Resources
If you gave a talk or led a session at the long tech event, another follow-up item to do very soon after the event ends is post your presentation materials and any relevant resource links or materials. It’s best to figure out before the event where you’ll be posting that information. If the event website provides for posting of materials, get all the details about posting, such as email address to send the material to or username, password, log-in page and where to post. Unless the event prohibits it, it is a good idea to also post it on your website, or one you have the ability to post on. Having that alternate site means you can link people to your online material if the event site goes down or moves your material to a different location.
Publishing Event Pictures, Videos, Summary, Links
Responsibility for getting pictures from the event, videos, a summary and links to other coverage of the event published or posted falls squarely on the shoulders of the lead events wrangler. The wrangler may not do the actually posting, but they need to make sure it happens in a timely manner and is of good quality. Not only will sponsors and participants of that event want to see pictures and read about the event, but the content will be helpful for promoting future events, recruiting new or repeat sponsors, and persuading potential participants for next year’s event to sign up early so they don’t miss out on a great event!
Feedback to organizers
Feedback about the event has to come from the speakers, participants, sponsors, and vendors, but the events wrangler will often need to prompt those people for feedback. That prompting needs to be done skillfully in order to get truly useful information, something more than check-marks on a ten-question survey that people filled out in 0.7 minutes just seconds before they left the event venue.
Event Review, Next Event Improvements
Within two or three days of the event ending, do an event review, preferably with several other people who helped run the event or participated in it. Discuss what went well, what should be changed in future events, what two or three things were the best parts of the event and what was the most glaring shortcoming. After documenting those items, and anything else you or others involved with the review think is relevant, develop a list of what to improve for the next event (include the how and why for each “what”).
Incorporate into the review all written or verbal feedback the organizers have gotten by the time the review is being done. Feedback received after the review has been done should be incorporated into the review documentation and next-event checklist by the events wrangler who led the review.
For events where there was a high level of participant interest in one or more specific topics, it may be worthwhile to organize follow-up meetups. This is especially true if people wanted to learn more about the topic or wanted to continue discussing or working on an issue with the people they met at the event. If there was a huge amount of passion and energy around a topic, participants may want to schedule monthly meetups, schedule a major event focused on the topic, or even meet to discuss forming a new organization related to the topic. One new group was even formed during the tech event:
“For this hackathon, or datathon, as we like to call it, collaborations are expected to continue after GCC2016 concludes. Wranglers will learn how to propose ideas, where to get involved in active development efforts, and when to follow up on projects that extend beyond the data hackathon. During GCC2015, the GalaxyScientists user group was formed. We are encouraging this group to grow and to have active on-going involvement in development activities throughout this next year and beyond.”
Here are three more examples of post-event meetups:
“On January 15-17  the first official European VR Hackathon was held in Brussels. More than 100 VR enthusiasts from 11 countries including 20+ participants from Denmark made the weekend a huge success. The hackathon was organized by a number of Brussels based cluster organisations as well as the trans-european VR initiative EUVR.org and from the Danish side, Danish Sound Innovation Network. To follow up on the successful event and share our experiences we invite you to “VR Hackathon Retrospect” event at the Growth Factory Copenhagen Sound (aka. Lydens Hus) on February 24th. It will be an evening filled with Virtual and Augmented Reality including presentations and demos… “
“Join Startup Milwaukee for an event celebrating the launch of new hardware projects from the Milwaukee Hardware Hackathon and learn about common Intellectual Property issues that startups face from attorneys from Foley.”
– 6:30 Doors Open – Networking
– 7:00 Milwaukee Hardware Hackathon Follow Up (each team talks for 1 minute + 1 question from audience)
– 7:30 Foley presents an IP Law Workshop
– 8:00 Networking
“Hackathon Follow-up Event at Intel
This is a follow-up to the Intel Roadshow and Hackathon that happened in November. Join us at this event to build your ideas further, network with peers and have your questions answered by Intel experts. For those who did not participate in the hackathon, this is also an opportunity to explore Galileo and Edison boards and meet other IoT enthusiasts.”
Continued Work on Prototypes, Products and Projects
Continued work on prototypes, products and projects is an area for follow-up improvement that applies to all long tech event to some degree. But it’s especially relevant and valuable for hackathons, workshops and other events at which people had a well-defined goal of creating or improving some product or service. The most common criticism about hackathons is that 90+% of the work done during the event is never used or touched again after the hackathon.
Here’s how a post at Techvibes puts it:
“One thing I think we can definitely agree on is ensuring that the ideas have the opportunity to breathe and live beyond the end of the hackathon, and having a process in place ahead of time to nurture the best ideas, grow them, evaluate them and ideally build them out is key to the overall success of a hackathon.”
Prototypes are often the end result of two or three days of intense applications of brainpower and other resources by individuals or teams of people. In the case of teams, their hackathon-produced prototype may represent the work of several hundred person-hours enabled by a background of hundreds of years of education and relevant work experience. When you look at what is worked on during a hackathon that way, it seems a shame to let those prototypes, products and projects die simply because no one had the time, tools or support to keep the work moving forward.
Perhaps a minimum post-event standard practice should be developing and publishing a comprehensive event summary. The summary could include the title of every prototype, product or project developed during the event, along with a description of it, names of people who worked on it, status and plans for future work, and a list of resources the team needs in order to continue working on it and to get it to the next level. A bonus follow-up item that fits in well here is a video interview with each team, done at the end of the event or within several weeks after the event. This information can be linked to from the event website, or from another website which is used as an information source for the group that sponsored the event or community that participated in it.
The progress of the work for each person or team could also be updated periodically, maybe monthly to begin with, when teams are actively working on their projects, or every 6 months just to let event participants know which ones are still active.
Four benefits come from publishing this event follow-up information:
- Provides incentives for people and teams to continue work on what they started at the event
- Provides visibility for people and teams seeking additional people and other resources to continue their work
- Keeps event participants informed about projects whose births they witnessed
- Provides marketing and promotional content for recruiting participants, partners and sponsors for future events
A more powerful way to leverage the work started at a long tech event is for organizations to facilitate ongoing work for those event-launched projects. An organization which sees value in that work continuing could support a specific project, a few projects, or all projects from the event. Having project work continue might be seen as valuable for improving the tech culture of the region, or the entrepreneurial and innovation opportunities. Supporting ongoing work might have direct benefits for the supporter, such as development of a product a company may want to buy when it’s past the prototype stage. Creating viable prototypes designed to meet an existing product need may have been the primary reason the company was a sponsor for the event. For investors, supporting the post-event work may be a good investment opportunity.
The ongoing project work could be supported with a specified amount of resources, such as two mentors for three months, project office space for six months, a lump sum of cash, in-kind equipment, supplies or services, or whatever other assistance the teams say is most needed. Support could also be open ended, with more resources available if the project team has positive periodic reviews or meets specified milestones.
Below are two excerpts which talk about intentionally facilitating post-event ongoing project work:
“This year at Create Baltimore 4 we are keeping tradition in letting you lead with your radical ideas and dreams about the city. But this year…we [Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, University of Maryland, Baltimore County] want to make sure those ideas turn into action. We gonna help by making sure you get connected with next steps, partners, and a little bit of funding to jumpstart your efforts.” — “In the closing session at CreateBaltimore“, lots of participants reported on their sessions and outlined possible next steps. Many people are already at work on their spin-off and follow-up activities, but how can we keep the momentum going? How can we ensure that something comes of these connections and conversations?”
“The problem with the majority of hackathons is a failure to monitor and follow up post-hackathon. People are excited to come together and build something, but the majority of hackathons stop short of the “after.” But it’s what happens after the hackathon that can often be most valuable. Tools like Hackdash.org…help attendees believe in the project and track it once the event concludes. Having allies willing to use, finance and publicize the best products arising from the hackathon also encourages participants to complete their projects beyond the test phase trial. This also helps community members take the hackathon seriously and not just see it as a sandbox for adults.”
It is my sincere hope that reading the above thoughts about better follow-up after long tech events has made you wonder why more of it was not done for events in which you’ve been involved.
Even more importantly, I hope you spotted at least one idea here that you’re going to take responsibility for making sure it happens at your next long tech event!
[PS — I’m sure you realize it, but a few of these ideas will also be relevant to non-tech events…]
Posts in this “Improving Long Tech Events” series:
“Making Long Tech Events Better”
“Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities”
“Improving Long Tech Events: #1 Priority”
“Improving Long Tech Events: #2 Priority”
“Improving Long Tech Events: #3 Priority”
“Improving Long Tech Events: #4 Priority”
“Improving Long Tech Events: #5 Priority”
“#6 Priority: Follow-Up For Greater Impact”
“Priority #7: Storytelling & Documentation”
“Improving Long Tech Events: Priorities #8 – #13“