Guest Blog by Tony Pounder: The First SharePoint Saturday UK Event…Ever!

The stats:

  • SharePoint Saturday UK
  • October 2, 2010
  • Birmingham Hilton Metropole
  • 300 Attendees
  • 15 speakers
  • 3 tracks
  • More information/registration here

The story behind the stats:

Hi, allow me to introduce myself – I'm Tony Pounder (@WorTony) and I'm a Senior SharePoint Consultant and Director of Intelligent Decisioning.  Along with Brett Lonsdale (@brettlonsdale) of Lightning Tools and BDC Metaman fame, and Mark Macrae (@m_macrae) of Intelligent Decisioning, I am organizing the first SharePoint Saturday event to be held in the UK.   

"The first SharePoint Saturday UK event ever?" I hear you ask – yep, that's right, this will be the very first SharePoint Saturday event to be held in the UK… EVER!

I'm sure readers of Bamboo Nation are already aware of the success of SharePoint Saturday in the U.S. and Australia – recent attendance figures for the SharePoint Saturday D.C. event prove that without a shadow of a doubt.  Here in the UK, we'd read about these events and heard from people who had attended an event in the U.S. and it seemed that the UK was missing out by not having its own SharePoint Saturday event.

I think it's worth pointing out at this point that in the UK we already have a booming, successful SharePoint User Group (SUGUK) which was setup and organised by Steve Smith (@SteveSmithCK) of Combined Knowledge and Nick Swan (@NickSwan) of Lightning Tools.  SUGUK has long held regular, well attended, midweek evening meetings, but there was nothing happening on the weekends and five SharePointing days a week didn't seem enough somehow. Big Smile

So what to do about this?  There seemed a number of options available: 

1. Those of us who wanted to attend a SharePoint Saturday could hop across the Atlantic and attend a U.S. event.

Not really an option for most due to costs and travel time, and this actually goes against the SharePoint Saturday ethos of local SharePoint events for local SharePoint people.

2. Hang around in the UK and wait 'til someone comes along and sets up a SharePoint Saturday UK event. 

This could leave us hanging around waiting for an indeterminate length of time.

3. Get together with some like-minded people and organize the first SharePoint Saturday UK event EVER!

Great idea, why not get together with Brett and Mark.  I'd met Brett about three years earlier when he was running the SharePoint 2007 Developer Course for Combined Knowledge, and I've known Mark since around 2000 when we worked together at a large international financial institution.  Brett, Mark and I would soon be able to organize a countrywide event that was looking to attract 300 attendees and 15 speakers spread across three tracks, wouldn't we?  After all, how hard, and time-consuming could it be…?

That was it then.  The three of us would plan and put together the first SharePoint Saturday UK event ever.

Our first step was to contact Michael Lotter at the SharePoint Saturday organization and register our intent to host this event.  Michael replied quickly and sent us a copy of the SharePoint Saturday Planning Guide.  This guide is a 33-page document which leads the budding SharePoint Saturday organizer through the process of organizing a SharePoint Saturday, and it provides practical advice and guidance (built up through organizing numerous SharePoint Saturday events) every step of the way.

The guide features the "rules" of SharePoint Saturday, and also provides a week by week guide/checklist as to where you should be in the planning process and what you should be doing.  This document has proved to be invaluable in setting up our event and I'd like to say thanks again to the SharePoint Saturday Committee for being so prepared and for assisting fledgling SharePoint Saturday organizers in numerous ways.

The first bit of advice from the guide is to get a venue and to announce nothing until that is "locked in."  With our event targeting 300 attendees, 15 speakers and sponsors with sponsor booths, we had to find somewhere large-ish that was easily accessible to all UK SharePoint people.  The obvious place (it seemed) was to look to the middle of the UK for the first event, so we went to look at Birmingham…

We investigated a number of locations around the Birmingham area and we found what we wanted in the Birmingham Hilton Metropole.  The reasons we chose this location were it's ability to handle (and feed) the number of attendees and sponsors as well as its being only a stones throw from Birmingham Airport, Railway Station and the UKs motorway network.  It's location makes it easy to get to from anywhere in the UK and beyond.

After deciding on the location, we moved onto the session tracks and soon settled on Dev, Admin and IT Pro – something for everyone there!  We planned five sessions in each track, an hour for lunch and as much time as people wanted to allocate to the post-show SharePint event. Smile

We then sent emails to potential speakers, asking them if they would be interested in speaking at our event and, if so, to submit a session topic, bio and pic which we'd add to our website.

We also sent emails to potential sponsors.  In reality, a lot of these potential sponsors had already contacted us to say they would be interested in sponsoring the UK event – news travel fasts in the SharePoint world, it seems, and lots of SharePoint-related companies wanted to be involved/associated with this event.  As we waited for replies to our emails, we began to build the event website – the skeleton of which is a SharePoint site provided by the SharePoint Saturday organization to all event organizers.  Building the website made it feel as though we were making progress.

Speaker submissions have been coming in, and we are categorizing them in to the three tracks to ensure an even balance to the sessions – we are looking to attract as wide a range of attendees to the event as possible.

We'll be issuing a closing date for speakers very soon and working to finalize the Sessions plan so attendees can start to plan their day.  We'll make an announcement on Twitter and the website as soon as we're done.

We're using EventBrite to handle the ticketing and we've found it to be simple and effective and can recommend it.  We're making use of Facebook and Twitter (@spsuk) to publicize this event, and so far the number of attendees has risen every day and we're looking good for achieving the 300 attendees we hoped for – if you'd like to sign up, here is the registration page

We are also exploring other ways of reaching out to the members of the SharePoint community who are not using social networking.  We're looking at providing partners of attendees and speakers alternatives to the event proper – such as a day hanging out in the spa, gym, or similar – if you think that your non-SharePointing partner will prevent you from attending then maybe see if there's anything going on in the Birmingham area that they'd like to go do – there may be other SharePoint widows/widowers looking to do the same. Smile   Here's a few ideas from Tracey (@WorPet), my wife, who hosted "Not The SharePoint Conference" in Vegas back in October 2009.  Big Smile

We have a number of sponsors in place but there's room for more – if you want to get involved, details of the sponsorship packages available and how to submit your offer to help are here.  Details of our current sponsors can be seen here – we thank them all for their support of us and this event!

At the time of writing we are about eight weeks away from the event and there's still lots to do!  Organizing this event is time-consuming and hard work, especially when you have a day job – lots of it gets done in the wee, small hours, but we're all enjoying doing it and we are really looking forward to the event – it's gonna be great!

Will we be organizing another SharePoint Saturday UK?  Definitely!  Look for the announcements on Twitter by following @spsuk for the latest news and info.

Final reminder, if you haven't signed up already to attend the first SharePoint Saturday event in the UK, then get your name down here for what will be a groundbreaking SharePoint event.  Imagine saying to your grandkids, "Did you just mention the first SharePoint Saturday event in the UK?  Well, I was there…" Big Smile

We look forward to welcoming you to the Birmingham Hilton Metropole.

– Tony

@WorTony

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