Running your own conference is undoubtedly daunting. From booking the ideal venues and speakers to ensuring the food and drink and A/V equipment are top notch, a lot of moving parts—and teams—go into shaping the attendee experience.
At Slack, our events range from small developer community meetups all the way up to world-touring, multi-day conferences planned, presented and executed by Slack’s own events team. Naturally, they do nearly all of that work on Slack, so that the team always knows where to find the right files and how to get ahold of partners and has a central place to share lessons learned along the way.
This is the playbook for how our small team manages all the moving parts for our annual Frontiers conference, with Slack at the core. While the scope of your own events may vary, the ideas and approaches can apply to a team or project of any size.
Pre-planning across channels
Producing an annual conference like Frontiers is a lot like any other large-scale project. It involves careful management of people and resources over a period of time and breaking down the hundreds of tasks into discrete chunks of work.
Foundational channels for the core team
Event planning begins up to 12 months in advance with a series of channels, initially organized around specific teams like design and content. For example, to make channels easy to find, we name them with a consistent prefix, such as
#f19-creative (for Frontiers 2019 creative materials) and
#f19-content. The former encompasses everything from the color palettes and logos used to what the stage will look like and how the expo floor is laid out for vendors. A content channel is where the team talks about what dream keynote speakers they might book, possible programming tracks, and what talks and demos might fill them.
At this early stage, channels are typically private and limited to just a few members as details are worked out. These functional groups brainstorm what-if scenarios of locations, times, and who has availability and interest in participating.
Project management is done mostly in G Suite apps like Google Sheets, Slides and Docs. These are easy to share and preview with the Google Drive app for Slack, as well as share with outside vendors (more on that in a minute). When critical documents and mockups, like a proposed schedule, are added to a channel, they’re pinned for easy reference.
Getting other teams involved
Roughly six months before an event, public channels are created and others from the company are invited to contribute. These include:
- event-related announcements channels meant to be widely available and offer broad information to everyone. For example, we lean heavily on our sales team to promote the conference to customers and partners, and
#f19-sales-announcementsis their go-to home for updates
#f19-volunteers, a channel for recruiting and coordinating staff volunteers to attend and fill certain roles onsite
#f19-triage, a dedicated home for solving any urgent issues leading up to the event
- More-specific channels organized around functional groups and event locations
For example, members of the marketing and developer relations teams help curate content tracks in dedicated
#f19-breakout channels, while communications designers help the events team nail down the look and layout in
Staying connected during events
Although there’s no replacing wireless headsets for immediate onsite communication among event staff, Slack unlocks opportunities to coordinate with the wider company. For example, as new features are announced onstage, our internal comms teams coordinate messages and compile press clips about the event in our main
#frontiers-conference announcement and
#pr channels. As those updates clear press embargoes, our own external announcements are then created in
Channels are also used to manage the employee experience of working at the conference venue. Within them, our events team creates user groups to get the attention of select groups of people, such as @f19-volunteers to announce shift changes at our booths. They can also alert every Slack employee to when they should take a break to eat (or when to step back and let conference attendees get refreshments first) by messaging @channel in
The same triage channel set up during the planning process continues to see usage during an event as well. Any employee can drop in to report any problem they spot in the venue, with event staff using emoji reactions to indicate when they’ve fixed something.
Our staff also has eyes and ears open for any great moments or stories they hear from customers, and they share those in channels like
#customer-story-ideas, where the marketing team can follow up later.
Post-event wrap-ups and recollections
After an event, there are still plenty of details to work out in Slack. Post-event discussions frequently include:
- Coordinating shipping conference stages, sets and materials out of the venue to storage with production staff in a shared channel
- Sharing initial results, including how many people attended and which sessions were highest rated
- Capturing customer feedback from the event with sales and product teams
- Sharing any retrospective notes about what worked and what could be improved, and pinning them to the corresponding channel for easy reference
- Circulating various post-event materials such as videos and slide decks to sales teams, who can in turn share them with customers
Throughout the life of the project—even well after it’s over—channels serve as an archive of information across different groups and teams. Anyone on the team can look back at important conversations and previously shared files and see how decisions were made. And when it’s time for the events team to begin planning for a new event, the entire process is repeated.
The next time your team is planning an event, try splitting up the work into channels for specific teams to tackle. Coordinate groups based on their expertise and the work required, and take your event from early planning to actual execution. Channels can help you coordinate staff at events as well as serve as a back channel to help solve problems and share stories. As your team and the scale of events grow, the decisions and lessons chronicled in your channel history will be a gift that appreciates over time.
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