Joys and challenges of organizing TPAC2008

TPs (expanded as Technical Plenary and Working Groups Meeting Week) are the biggest W3C yearly events. They attract between 300 and 400 individual participants.

I have had the chance and pleasure, since 2002, to organize the four ones that took place in Mandelieu (France) every two years. The other four took place on the East Coast, every two years, since 2001.

Organizing TPAC2008 took about 2 years. The closest to the event, the busiest I was, of course.

In my TPAC2008 e-mail folder, I have accumulated 3132 messages, starting early November 2006. That is twice as many as the previous TPs I had planned. I could say it is because I have organized the TPAC2008 twice :) We had almost signed the contract with a hotel in the centre of Paris when we resolved in September 2007 to withdraw from a deal that was too expensive for us. I was glad I had started so early. I now had about a year to organize TPAC2008.

In order to experience the joys of TP planning, there are a number of challenges to face.

Including the Advisory Committee Meeting (the “AC” part of “TPAC”) was not a challenge, really.

The biggest challenge is to find the venue that is accessible and can accommodate our meeting needs, and we need to have about twenty meetings taking place at the same moment, and preferably at the same venue :)

Back in 2001, I visited a lot of hotels and conference venues on the Riviera before finding the one hotel that had a sufficient number of meeting rooms. We were lucky it was a hotel since it is so much more convenient for participants to stay where their meetings take place. This time, the hotel was more expensive than previously (although still quite cheaper than Paris), due to a complete refurbishing of the place.

The next big challenge is a jigsaw puzzle. That is, to compile the data after asking which groups want to hold a meeting, what pair of days (Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday) they prefer, whether they are flexible or not, what other group(s) they need to meet with for joint work, and what other group(s) they can’t meet with because they have a significant overlap.

The best tools I found for that exercise are a pencil, a big sheet of paper, a rubber and sometimes post-it notes to move groups from one side of the sheet to the other. The best aid was coffee :)

Another challenge is to determine the number of hotel rooms to reserve. If I reserve too little, the discount rate is not optimal and participants may end up needing to reserve somewhere else. If I reserve too many, we face the payment of penalties.

Because meeting rooms and working groups have different sizes, the challenge is to make sure each group has enough room for the participants. We need to take accessibility into account at this stage too.

Last, but not least, the registration is quite a challenge. On two fronts, at least. From the participants’ point of view and from the admin’s.

You can trust a registration form for such an event to be somewhat complicated, or a combination of long and complicated. While we try to make it as intuitive as possible, there are quite a number of people who are confused, or in a hurry, and submit ambiguous registrations. And there are people who just don’t register in time, or don’t bother to register at all, no matter the amount of reminders I send… I think it is a shame.

And then there are the joys.

The week prior to the event is most intense. We stop registration and go over most of the registrations till our data is flawless. We tally people and confirm the number of meals with the hotel. We make final changes to the room allocation. We print badges. We print documents. We pack boxes. We carry boxes to the venue and then the meeting is ready to start.

There are the joys of people who have been happily assisted and show appreciation and gratitude. There are the joys of being helped by other colleagues. There are the joys of seeing again people. There are the joys of fruitful live discussions. There are the joys of quick efficient solutions to problems that arose. At the end of the day there is the joy of a day that went as planned, and at the end of the week, the joy that the meeting is now history and that it went as planned. More or less. More than less, usually.

4 thoughts on “Joys and challenges of organizing TPAC2008

  1. As a participant to many such meetings, and one that mostly enjoys the smooth proceeding rather than endures the organization, I’ll seize the opportunity to express awe and gratitude towards your work.

    Thank you for sharing, Coralie.

  2. Great description, Coralie! Sorry you (and your colleagues) have to endure these complications, but I hope you take pleasure in knowing what a productive and invigorating set of meetings these are. +1 on Olivier’s comment, with much appreciation for smooth-running set of meetings! Looking forward to the next time, which I’m sure you are relieved will not be in France. :-)

  3. Despite all the hassles you went through, I felt that it must have been worth it – something to cherish for a long time to come.

    I have attended lots of conferences and the one you organized for Mandelieu far and away tops them all. I am still mulling over all the things that happened during this event and its associated camaraderie and will never forget the incredible grace/beauty/charm that acoompanied its great success.

    Thanks forever.


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