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RubyConf open dinner experiment

Steve Gilles
Mar 7
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TL;DR: We hosted an ‘everyone’ dinner rather than an exclusive speakers dinner. The experiment worked! Energy from day one flowed into the night, speakers connected with their audience in an informal environment.

RubyConf Australia was at Sydney’s Luna Park this year. We threw a dinner that every attendee and speaker was welcome to attend, right after day one was complete.

Conference dinners are often exclusive to speakers and organisers. You get to this point at the end of the first day where you’re keen to argue, wait, “talk about” things you heard that day. Splintering people into speaker / attendee groups killed that a little bit.

Let’s be clear: exclusive speaker dinners are fine by me. It’s a great way to show gratitude to speakers who worked hard on preparing their talks. We just wanted to try something new.

Our Big New Idea™ was to host a dinner where everyone is invited. The energy present at the end of the first day actually amplified. Turns out that sharing a meal with an internet hero is exciting, who knew?

The biggest benefit in my mind was it gave speakers a different, more informal way to engage with their audience.

Here are the logistics:

  • Speakers had their dinner and drinks covered.
  • Sponsors had dinner included and could purchase their own drinks.
  • Attendees could purchase subsidised* dinner tickets and purchase their own drinks.*tickets cost $25pp, RubyConf paid the restaurant $35pp.

Speakers scattered themselves around to different tables. We didn’t ask them to, but I am extremely grateful they did this. All up we had 220 dinner tickets vs 370 conference tickets.

Seems like it went down well:

Serious props to @rubyconf_au for doing an everyone dinner instead of just a speakers dinner.

— Charlie Somerville (@charliesome)February 20, 2014We worked really hard to create an inclusive conference that would be remembered fondly. There’s always room for improvement, but I think we achieved that. Incredibly proud of what Georgina Robilliard, Elle Meredith, Josh Price, Jason Crane and I created with the help of the incredible Ruby community.

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