Notes on Designing an After Hours Event for the PASS Summit

This year we’re trying out two ideas on Thursday night, a networking dinner (of a sort) and game night. I wanted to share some ideas on how and why we put these together.

  • We’ve long tried to encourage more after hours events with limited success. Of course not all events get listed and many people just meetup with a group informally, but it’s useful and nice to look at the list and have options. More options would be good.
  • At the risk of generalizing and stereotyping there are more events favoring extroverts than introverts. We’ve built our events based on what we want to do – we realize they won’t fit everyone (though we try!)
  • Don’t sweat competing events. There are 4000 attendees looking for something to do! (Note: I think it’s important to schedule after “official” PASS events end)
  • Logistics is the hardest part. Reserving a table for four is easy, a table for 12 means planning ahead or hoping for the best, getting space for 80 is hard. Most places want a deposit or guaranteed spend for large groups, a commitment that can run thousands of dollars. It’s tempting to just “show up” but there is no guarantee everyone will seated and even then service may be poor.
  • Sometimes logistics is an unknown. For our Thursday dinner we’re asking people to come with 2 or 3 topics that interest them, from micro to macro. We’ll have them write that on a large card and then our facilitators will work to match them up with others that share their interests and then we have to help them pick a restaurant, take a quick photo, and get them out the door. We have an outline, but will it work as expected? Be prepared to adjust!
  • Related to that, a short story. Years ago for SQLServerCentral we had a party and every name badge had a small number in the corner. Our idea was to drive networking by asking attendees to work the room to find the person with a number that matched theirs. Not a bad idea, but we added “the first two people to match win a prize”. Total chaos. Some literally jumped over a table to get to their match. Sometimes it is what it is.
  • Eventbrite works well for understanding interest/volume, II recommend it or similar over the “just meet here” type events. Definitely turn on the wait list just in case.
  • Events listed on the After Hours page require the organizers to sign an agreement stating the PASS Anti-Harassment Policy will be in effect. Easy enough. We excluded Cards Against Humanity, but I don’t know that the AHP requires that, more us being cautious and taking a first step on this.
  • We asked for meeting space at the Convention Center for game night because the space is there and it’s an easy/safe location for attendees to find. Available isn’t the same as free though, the room for Game Night was $450. We didn’t want food, but we did want beverage service. A bartender for 4 hours is $500 minimum spend. We went back and forth and decided to charge a $10 cover to drive towards the minimum spend.
  • It remains to be seen if Thursday night will be the informal community night next year or it will return to the night of the big sponsor. Makes it hard to plan for next year.