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14 questions to ask yourself before every developer event

By Karl Hughes

Last year, I interviewed dozens of technology conference speakers for CFP Land’s weekly Speaker Stories. From these interviews, I compiled a 17,000 word guide to public speaking, but there were plenty of insights that didn’t make it into that resource for one reason or another.

Many of the speakers I interviewed work in developer relations or developer marketing and offered great insights into their event marketing strategies. Event marketing - the practice of attending or organizing events in order to grow or engage your audience - is one of the core practices of many developer marketing teams. For some larger teams, it may mean organizing conferences and managing local user groups. For many smaller teams, event marketing means speaking and sponsoring conferences and meetups that are relevant to their audience.

Whether the event is in-person or virtual, there are some key practices that most developer relations professionals I spoke with mentioned. This list is far from comprehensive, but hopefully, these 14 questions will help set your event marketing efforts on the right track.

Choosing the Right Events

Assuming you’re not organizing the event yourself, you first need to decide which tech events are right for your outreach efforts. There are a few things you can consider when choosing events:

1. Who is the event for?

The best events are those where your target market encompasses a good portion of the attendees. Most established conferences publish information about their expected attendance, the experience level of their audience, and previous sponsors and speakers. All these things can help you determine if the event is right for you.

Another way to determine which events you should be attending is to ask your existing customers or users. See which conferences and meetups they attend, and then start making yourself a presence in those environments.

“Your first touchpoint is going to be the existing community. One of your first mandates...would be to understand the needs of your current community” - Sarah-Jane Morris

2. Can you speak at it, sponsor it, or both?

Conference sponsorship packages often include dedicated speaking slots for top sponsors, but even if they don’t, having a presence as both a speaker and sponsor can be a powerful one-two punch.

This is where coordination between your developer marketing teams can be critical. I interviewed several developer relations professionals last year who mentioned that they didn’t always know when their developer marketing team was sponsoring an event.

3. Where is the event? Can you get there for a reasonable cost?

Travel is generally one of the biggest expenses for developer marketing teams with a comprehensive events strategy. Only about half of tech conferences cover travel costs for speakers, so it’s likely that your company will likely have to foot the bill for many events.

Additionally, travel puts a toll on you as a human being. Attending events all over the world sounds glamorous, but it means time away from friends and family, lots of eating out, and often stressful experiences at airports.

“Travel for work is not at all like being on a holiday. It is taxing. It takes a toll on your health, it takes a heavy toll on your relationships and it is very easy to overdo it.” - Christian Heilmann

4. What networking opportunities are available?

One of the number one reasons people cite for speaking at and sponsoring conferences is to meet new people. If the event is a traditional, in-person event see if they offer after-hours networking events, meals, or a slack group. If the event is virtual, they might have a forum or offer you access to contact attendees after the event.

Planning for the Event

5. Who’s going to the event?

Once you’ve established that an event is probably worth attending, you’ll need to figure out who from your team can attend. If you’re speaking, you might just need one person to do the talk, but if you’re sponsoring, it’s probably a good idea to have a few people available to rotate booth duty.

Similarly, you might want to find out if any of your current customers or users are going. Ask them what they’re hoping to get out of the event and make an effort to connect with them when you’re there.

6. What are your goals for the event?

“DevRel is difficult to define, and—like relationships—difficult to quantify. Still, companies want to be able to measure its ROI.” - Ashley Smith

Depending on your business, your team’s goals, and your personal goals, your choice of goals may be different, but no matter what, you should have some targets in mind. The most successful developer marketing and developer relations teams set clear, measurable goals for every event they attend.

For example, MongoDB’s developer advocates set goals around the number of attendees to their session and they track that number after every talk they give. Tiffany Jachja from Harness told me their developer evangelism team sets the goal of attending or speaking at 2 events per month, but are less concerned with the total attendance at this point. You might also set goals around the number of key conversations you have, the number of leads you generate, or the number of new downloads you get for your product.

By knowing what the team hopes to get out of the event, you can invest the appropriate amount of energy into it.

7. What do you need to prepare for the event?

Another thing I heard a lot from well-established developer event marketing teams was that they utilize a standard event preparation checklist. This checklist may be different depending on whether your primary role is speaking or sponsoring the event, but either way there are things you can do to be as prepared as possible for the big day.

If you’re speaking, your checklist may have:

  • Update talk slides

  • Practice 3 times

  • Pack and bring 100+ stickers to hand out

On the other hand, if you’re sponsoring the event you may want to remember:

  • Pack your sponsorship booth materials

  • Bring company swag

  • Prepare and practice live demos

8. How can you maximize your time and travel?

Finally, if you’re going to invest the time and money into travelling to an in-person event, consider other meetings you can schedule that might add value to your trip. For example, if you have a large client or lead in the area, set up a time to meet. If there’s a relevant meetup group in the city, contact the organizers to see if you can speak or sponsor it that month.

Start building a list of conference attendees and speakers you want to meet. Most of the speakers I spoke to last year mentioned that meeting other speakers was one of the biggest benefits they got out of speaking, so take advantage of the face-time with influential community members.

“Too many speakers finish their talk and then rush off to catch a plane, or hole themselves up in a hotel room to get back on top of email. If you do this, you’re missing out on one of the most valuable aspects of an event: the networking.” - Mark Walker

During the Event

9. What did you learn?

Another common mistake that experienced speakers pointed out to me was not making an effort to learn anything. You may think that because you’ve been to 100 conferences, you don’t need to watch another conference talk, but think about all the free knowledge and access to smart people you get at a conference. It’s well worth your time to make note of a few takeaways to share with your team.

“I could happily watch presentations on the same piece of code by 10 different people because I bet I would learn something new from each of them.” - Phil Nash

10. How many people did you reach?

While reach isn’t the only metric that matters, most of the successful developer relations professionals I have spoken with try to establish some metrics around it. For example, Zan Markan, a Developer Advocate at DataRobot told me that before every talk they ask, “Who in the audience has heard of us?” This helps him get an idea of how much reach their company has in the event’s target audience.

If you want to get more scientific in your approach, you can use a unique URL for any links you share so that you can track attribution properly or take a photo of the audience during your talk in order to count attendees later.

11. Who did you meet?

“DevRel teams should share...information about key conversations that they had, covering both the feedback given and the profile of the developer they spoke with.” - Patrick Woods

For many developer event teams, the quality of their interactions in the field trumps the number of interactions. If this is true for your team, start collecting “key conversation” reports after every event so that the rest of the team can learn from your most interesting experiences.

Usually, these key conversations should translate into something actionable: product feedback, a new marketing channel, or an industry trend you might have missed.

12. Are you taking time to recharge?

Whether you’re an introvert or not, being at a conference for days on end is exhausting. Go into it knowing that you’ll need to spend some time every day taking care of yourself. Use this time to work out, get good sleep, talk to your family, or just walk around. You can’t be “on” all the time, and you need to remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint.

After the Event

13. Did you record your notes and contacts?

Once the event is over and you’re back at your desk (or maybe just waiting for a flight in the airport), take time to record any key metrics, goals, or important notes you have. Doing this while it’s still fresh is important. I can’t tell you how many notes I’ve taken and looked at two weeks later only to realize I have no idea what I was thinking back then.

14. Did you follow up with the people you met?

The event may be over, but in order to maximize the value of all that networking you just did, you have to follow up. First, be sure to thank the organizers and any other speakers whose talks you attended. You probably know how thankless their job is, so just saying, “Nice work,” will go a long way in their eyes.

Next, connect with anyone you spoke to on Linkedin or Twitter. Doing this soon after the event will ensure they don’t forget about you, and it means you’ll get to stay in their news feed for the long-term. Asking people for an email might make sense, but it depends where they’re at in their journey with you, so don’t be pushy.

While the current Coronavirus crisis may move many events to a digital format, event marketing remains an important activity for reaching developers, and it may be even more relevant now as virtual events give us broader reach to attendees that may not have been able to attend an in-person event.

How are your event marketing practices changing in 2020? Have any insights you’d like to share with Karl? Let him hear about them on Twitter or send him an email with your thoughts.

Karl Hughes is a hands-on technical leader dedicated to helping startups figure out teams and technology. He is the CTO of The Graide Network and helps tech conference speakers find speaking opportunities at CFP Land.

Karl was a guest in our podcast and shared his experience on how to speak at tech conferences. From selecting the event all the way to dealing with stage fright. You can listen to it here.


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