Gophercon UK 2022 - Slightly Behind The Scenes At One of Europe's Biggest Go Conferences
This year, I was given the illustrious 'team’ badge from Gophercon UK by volunteering to help out.
I’ve been to Gophercon UK before as an attendee, so this time around I actually got to peek behind the curtain of what makes things tick. And honestly, there’s a lot back there!
Hopefully it’ll give you a different perspective of the comings and goings that occur slightly behind the scenes at tech conferences.
Tuesday - The Pre-Conference Meet-up!
This event was a crossover between London Gophers and Gophercon UK. It wasn't a part of the original plan, but the idea was spawned at the July London Gophers. My tentpole contributions, prior to the event, were creating the Meetup Event and making a Twitter post. All very important.
Wait, There’s a Live DJ?
Before arriving I thought we’d be going to a pub, but no it was a whole-ass room! Located in the basement area of The Brewery, with a live DJ who, as a fun fact, was a part of the Gophercon UK Team. There was champagne, beer, hot dogs, music, waiters and tables.
Oh No, Heightened Responsibility!
As London Gophers were co-hosting, I had to make sure that our members knew where to find the place. I stood by the gates and talked to anyone who look lost or a bit like a software engineer.
Once the party got started, I felt strangely responsible for people’s well being. Partly because we were.
And if any issues showed up, we had a ‘mini-council’ with the organisers who were present. Topics discussed included how best to move a room full of people around 2 minutes down the road to the pub once the venue closed at 9pm.
It kind of made me realise that at all those university bar crawls I went to and drank solely lemonade, there were usually people in charge of leading everyone to the next place and organising the route, who would’ve had a completely different night to me.
Wednesday - Q&A Microphone Guy
On Wednesday I helped out on the larger stage with the Q&A section after talks. Mat Ryer was the main host of the stage and during the Q&A bits, I would walk to attendees on the left-side of the hall and give them the microphone so that they could ask questions.
Backstage there was so much equipment. One of the AV technicians was sitting in a circle of laptops that controlled what was shown on stage. And there were tons of boxes!
It made me ponder about the amount of work it would take to set up all these things. I wouldn't know where to start.
- A monitor in front of the stage, that the speaker can see that has their slides, notes and timing.
- The lighting, audio and wireless microphone setups
- The high quality cameras and the dolly cam that hung from the roof of the building and created dynamic shots, like the one below.
- And much more.
I figured it would be best if I sat down, didn’t touch anything and tried really hard not to spill my water.
It did afford me the chance to talk to Mat Ryer (@matryer) about MCing techniques, as I’d be running a room the following day. (I'll go over this in the Thursday chapter)
One thing I did notice, which is something I’ve seen from some great comedians on the open mic circuit, is taking notes of what is currently happening.
Keeping track of things that you can comment on allows you to more easily do ‘call-backs’ or, in this case, prepare questions for the speaker.
Your job as an MC is to manage the room and if you come across like you weren’t really paying attention it could kill the vibe.
Who knew I’d be nervous standing around holding a microphone
I didn't. There was the mini task I needed to do. Get the attendees to state who they were before asking the question.
But to be honest, I felt a bit nervous saying it into the microphone as I didn’t want to interfere with the recording so I tried to whisper the instructions to the attendees asking the questions. Some heard. Some didn't.
Mat suggested maybe doing some mic banter, while I was walking around, but I didn’t feel confident enough to speak up. He attempted it once and, bless his soul, I didn't bat back.
I think in my mind, I didn’t want to detract from both the speaker and Mat’s MCing so I focused more on making sure the attendees could talk into the microphone and being as ghost-like as possible. Perhaps too much.
Anywho, the following day I was in charge of a whole room and it was time to put those tips into practice.
Thursday - Look Ma! I’m an MC
I had fun! I arrived early and chatted with the AV technician and they gave me my own wireless microphone. When it would be time to start the talk I’d ‘nod’ my head in his direction, he’d turn down the lo-fi beats and I’d need to start using my newfound secret MC Techniques.
Secret MC Techniques
As mentioned earlier this is some of the advice I got from Mat, but paraphrased because it’s been two weeks and I wasn’t experienced enough to take notes yet.
Chat to the Speaker Beforehand
This was good for a couple reasons. One is you’ll have an idea of how long the talk is meant to be, more details on the topic, if they have time for questions, if they need a signal or anything.
The other is that you get to learn more about the speaker and perhaps help them to destress. Doing a talk can be nerve wracking and having someone to talk to in the minutes before can help with focus.
Note: this may not work with everyone, I remember when I started doing open mics, I literally couldn’t talk to people at all beforehand because I was so nervous.
Settle Down The Room, Before You Announce The Speaker
I usually did the ‘nod’ signal around 1-2 minutes before the talk was set to begin. This meant I could inform the audience things were about to start. It made people move faster to their seats and finish their conversations. Once the room was quiet enough I would introduce the speaker.
Get Their Name Right!
This could be a speaker's first time doing a talk, and could be a big moment for them. It's worth asking for the correct pronunciation of their name and practising multiple times to yourself before announcing the speakers. It's the least you can do.
Keep Track of the Time
Delays can stack up. So, it’s important not to overrun. I never had too much of an issue with this, speakers tended to finish with enough time for questions and if ever there were more questions than time, I would announce that ‘we have time for x many questions’.
Sometimes You’re Gonna Have To Grab The Mic
This is quite rare. But, there are cases where the person asking the question, turns it more into a conversation. For me, my maximum was one extra question. Then it would be time to speak up by gazing sternly.
Luckily I never encountered a situation where someone wanted to keep hold of the mic for a slew of questions.
Inform the audience of everything they need to know before coming to an 'end'.
This is a fun little trick. Once an audience senses things have come to an end, they start getting ready to pack up and leave. This can be inconvenient, especially if there are important things they need to know.
When is there a heightened chance of an audience ‘sensing’ an ending? When you announce that there’s a break, or lunch or congratulate the speaker for a final round of applause. (Though that last one makes sense).
It’s best to go over any admin, such as schedules, etc before you commit to an ending. That way you’re not trying to speak over people as they are already going out the door.
How I’d Improve For Next Time
I did zero bants! The main focus this time round was to ensure the speaker felt comfortable and the attendees settled in and near the end had their questions answered. As long as the talk slot started and ended at the right time, that’s all that mattered.
However, I couldn’t help but feel that there were parts where the audience wasn’t as hyped or prepped to begin and welcome the next speaker.
At a comedy gig, if one comedian completely bombed, the MC would try to liven up the room and hype up the next act so the next act can come on stage without having to do the reviving bit.
At a tech conference this isn’t strictly necessary, but I think it would feel a lot better as a speaker if you felt the welcome was warm.
I think the key was for me to get over the fact that I might mess up and just go for it sometimes. Would there really be any harm in announcing a speaker in a loud and happy tone instead of a quiet and reserved one? Maybe, but I never tried it out so I’ll never know.
Isn’t there anything else behind-er the scenes?
Yes, probably. I had planned on doing an interview with the Gophercon UK Team, but I’d also planned on being a billionaire at age 9. In short, I didn’t quite manage it at the time.
If you monitored my Twitter during Gophercon UK you’d notice I posted the day I was going and then after it was all over.
I was so caught up in my first time peeking behind the curtain, I didn’t think too far beyond that. However, it has made me wonder how tricky all of this is to coordinate.
You couldn’t tell, considering how smooth it was, even though there were around 2 workshops, 28 speakers, 18 sponsors and 500+ attendees!
As a monthly meetup host myself, and the difficulty that involves, albeit on a smaller scale, I’m definitely curious to find out more. Mayhaps one day I will do an interview. But, not today, obviously.
Have a good one!