Running a Community Booth at PyCon US or Similar Events
I saw that Master Beeware Keeper Russell Keith-Magee was going to PyCon US and hopefully running the Project Beeware booth for the 6th year.
Black Python Devs is also hoping to run a community booth and having never done so at PyCon or any other conference I asked if I could grab some time from him.
Some other folks were also interested so I took some notes in our call and I'm hoping to share them here.
Expectations and experience
My background is from running booths of all sizes for the last 4 years. The largest booths I've worked with is as the tech lead for the Microsoft Booth at PyCon US and a booth at KubeCon. The smallest booths I've ran are the Elastic booth at some fed event and the Microsoft booth at DjangoCon US, were I spent about 90% of the conference staffing the booth by myself and it was the smallest booth there. Literally, we had to use a smaller because the tablecloth we were sent didn't fit the standard tables.
Russell, as mentioned, has been running both community and commercial booths for the last several years at PyCon US and other events all over the world.
Based on my 30 minute conversation with Russell and some prior knowledge, here are some things to know about having a community booth at PyConUS (and likely other conferences)
Don't rely on foot traffic
PyCon changes their venue every two years. This means that your setup will change a lot. Usually community booths are in the back. This means that you won't always be in a very visible spot. Because of this, you shouldn't rely on foot traffic alone. You'll need to remind people that you're there and draw them to you. This can include:
- speaking with folks in the Hallway track and asking them to follow up at the booth
- having a talk related to your booth and using that as a way to get the attention of folks
That last one will only work if your talk is on the first 2 days of the conference as they tear down the booths half-way through the 3rd day.
Costs don't need to be astronomical
Community Booths at PyCon US are free which means that your expenses are relative to what you need at the booth. That being said, you aren't getting the same level of booth as some of the other sponsors (they spend thousands - tens of thousands of dollars for theirs). Your booth will be a single table, a power drop and 1-2 chairs.
Take this and make it work.
You can do a lot for very little. Here is a list of materials that you can invest in at many levels to spend what you wish for your booth.
I chose pricing from vistaprint.com because it was the first service that came to mind that can get your materials anywhere but you can get all of this with other print shops for varying prices.
- Retractable Banners ($120-$150 each)
- A hang up banner (2.5" x 8" - $50)
- Table cloth with Design (6" - $215) - Your booth comes with a black tablecloth so you can use that for FREE!
- Stickers - ($78 for 100 or $100 for 200)
- Paper information pieces with holders (approx $15 depending on the paper and the stands used)
- Booth tools (explained in more detail) - ($25 - $100)
- Walmart monitor ($75-100)
If you got everything, it would cost about $500. You can easily be selective and ball on a budget for about half that price.
Also not that most of these expenses are a one time purchase meaning if you take care of these things, you can likely get multiple events out of them.
You can also add a variety of things to make your booth FUN. Think baloons streamers. Just remember that you don't know how the setup will be and you don't want to be a nuisance to your neighbors. That said make the most of the opportunity and have fun doing it!
Getting things to and from the event
This depends on how much you're taking and where you're coming from. If you're travelling within the country, you can likely rely on UPS/Fedex to ship most of the things to your hotel or the conference itself (make sure you coordinate this with the conference organizers and that it's okay) Shipping costs will depend on weight.
Another option is to get a large bag and carry the equipment with you on your trip. Flight extra luggage is usually by weight and varies in cost by the airline. But if you can check a large bag cheaper than shipping it, it may be worth it.
Remember that you don't need to ship everything. Your booth tools can be purchased at a nearby store. You can also purchase some cheaper electronics and have the conference donate them after the conference.
YOU NEED BOOTH TOOLS
I've mentioned them twice so I should talk about them. Things happen at the booth and you need some tools to make it work. These are some office supplies that make it easier to handle mistakes. Here are some things you may want to invest in.
- Nylon or cord to hang your banner (if you have one)
- Scissors or a pocket knife (make sure you're following rules of flying with pokey things)
- small stapler
- multi-port power outlet
- tape - one roll electrical, one roll masking
- extra paper holders They break so easily
- stands for phones/ipads (things with QR codes and media)
- cheap keyboard
- hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes
- USB thumbdrive
- pack of sharpies (get more than one it will disappear)
- couple of cheap pens
- monitor cable (make sure that it works with your monitor and your computer)
Seriously, make a postmates order for this stuff and have it delivered to the hotel.
Most of this stuff you can keep in a bag and never take that stuff out unless you're using it at the booth. You're welcome in advance.
Take it from me, You don't want to be the only person at the booth. I've lost 80% of my swag because my booth was left unattended. Marketing wasn't happy about that and you won't be either especially after you've spent all that money. If no one is going to be at the booth put EVERYTHING away.
Also, you also will need support. I would recommend at least two people at the booth during the busy times and one person when most folks are at talks. This allows you to split the crowd and keep things moving when it gets busy.
PyCon usually only requires folks at the booth during the breaks but remember, you never know when someone is going to stop by looking for information so it's good to always have someone at the booth.
Reminder that if you have volunteers they will likely want to enjoy talks. If you have enough support try to give people plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the conference.
Have your 💩 together
Just a recap, you have spent a few hundred dollars on top of your conference costs to skip a lot of talks and have a lot of valuable conversations to... Wait, what are you trying to do.
That's the last bit. Make sure that you and your team are prepared for the conversations that you'll have. Have your elevator pitch ready. Have your call to actions (CTAs) out and there for folks. Know whether you should be standing in front of your table luring in folks to talk to or behind the table ready to answer questions from your contributors, members, users, and fans. I highly suggest sending this information to your team in advance so they are also ready. This information isn't for the booth, but also for the hallway track so you can bring folks to the booth to give them more information or lead them to your CTAs.
This prep can start before the conference. Make sure you leveage social media. Let folks know that you're going to be at the conference and more importantly why! Think of some promotions that you can do entice people to visit the booth. You may also be able to parnter
A special word about swag
We live in a post covid world. This is a world where QR Codes have replaced flyers and you can't rely on Swag Bags.
If you want to go all out on Swag remember that folks may not want it (leaving you with it) or may not have a way to carry it. I would suggest multi-use items or stickers. If you want to go with shirts or socks, you will get more people interested if the quality is better. Don't skimp because then you're left with a bunch of stuff that you don't even want to wear.
Russell is known for giving out Challenge coins to first-time contributors at these events. You can get these coins in a variety of sizes and materials for as low as $1.50 each. If you have a 3d printer and time you can print plenty these coins, medalions, etc, with a spool or two of PLA.
If you have good relationships with some companies you may be able to get them to pitch in. Why don't they help you with their project by using a discounted copy of PyCharm or deploy their project using a cloud provider that's offering $100 or so in free credits (and maybe a cool lego set).
The key is to be creative. Do things that will make your booth stand out.