When the German PASS Chapter was launched in 2004, the founding members decided to self-finance the organization by running a yearly deep-dive, volunteer-driven technical event. With only 37 members at the time, the plan seemed very ambitious. But since then, the German Chapter has grown to more than 1,900 members in over 12 cities running more than 100 regional meetings a year. And our annual PASS Camp continues to grow as well.

What are the keys to success for our regional event, and how can your chapter run its own effective regional conference? Here are 5 essential elements.

  1. Line up the right speakers on the right topics: Content is the most important element of a successful event. For our 5th annual PASS Camp in Mettmann/Duesseldorf last week, we offered 23 hours of technical training across two BI tracks and one DBA track. And our event featured the following top speakers: Oliver Engels (CEO of oh22data AG), Markus Fischer (Microsoft), Charley Hanania (Quality Software Solutions), Sascha Lorenz (PSG GmbH), and PASS President Rushabh Mehta (Solid Quality Mentors). To find the right mix of session topics and speakers, poll your members to find out what they work with every day as well as what they are interested in learning more about. Remember: Most of the time, attendees’ bosses need to approve their registration, so make sure each presentation has a strong and immediate value proposition. But also try to be different than other typical training events—maybe by asking speakers to do hands-on sessions, for example.
     
  2. Use your marketing channels: For a paid event, the size of your community determines the size of your event. You can typically expect to get 2% of your community to register for an event, so you’ll need to reach out to a lot of people to fill your seats. In addition to contacting your members through email marketing, make sure you post your event on the PASS Events page and take advantage of the PASS social networking sites on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Ask volunteers and speakers to blog about the event ahead of time. Also consider asking your local Microsoft field office, and other vendors your chapter might have relationships with, to help market your event.
     
  3. Select dates that make it easy to attend: Timing is one of the most important elements of having a successful conference. Often, selecting the right dates for your event is a process of elimination. First, make sure you avoid public holidays. For a paid event, also avoid Fridays and weekends. Don’t schedule an event at the same time as other related industry events, such as SQL Server conferences and major tradeshows. And consider providing more value by starting early and finishing late in the day.
     
  4. Pick an attractive location: Select a location that people would like to visit on their own or with family. And find comfortable space that is large enough to accommodate your group and that offers free, reliable Wi-Fi access. PASS Camp 2010 was an English/German mixed event, with attendees coming mainly from Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and nearby English-speaking countries. We made sure our event site was easy to reach by car (with inexpensive parking available), train, plane, and public transportation.
     
  5. Make it personal: Provide enough time and opportunities for attendees to network with each other. Consider contests or games that encourage attendees to talk to each other, or ask people to sit at a table where they don’t know anybody. Training is great, but gaining a new friend you can call when you have a question is invaluable.

Good luck with your next event, and let us know what has worked well for your group.