One complaint we saw a lot on the evaluations was that a room was overcrowded for one session or another. This is actually a hard problem for us to solve.
Conference room layouts fall into two basic categories: those (like this year’s Southwest) where all the rooms are the same size, and those where session rooms have different sizes. Each type presents issues for scheduling, but on the whole, it’s a lot easier when all the rooms are the same size.
When rooms of significantly different sizes are used, whoever makes the schedule not only has to try to figure out which sessions fit together to give everyone something to attend at each slot, but also which sessions will draw big crowds and which will be attractive only to a select group.
Sometimes, that’s easy. I was pretty sure that Christof’s “Dark Side of VFP” session would draw a huge audience. He’s a great speaker, it’s a sexy title, and people know that he knows more about what’s going on inside VFP than just about anyone outside Microsoft. (Now there’s a thought—wouldn’t it be cool to have had Calvin Hsia, VFP’s Lead Developer, in the room for that session!)
On the other hand, I was surprised by the SRO crowd for Cathy’s “Outfox the VFP Report Writer” session. I knew she’d give a good session, and there’d be plenty of meat, but I didn’t expect it to have such wide appeal. Shows what I know.
If we’d had rooms of different sizes, I would have put Christof’s session in the biggest room, but not Cathy’s. In fact, the first time those two sessions were given, they were side-by-side.
With same-sized rooms, we don’t have to try to figure that out. On the other hand, we don’t have the flexibility of multiple sizes. It’s a bit of a catch.
The one area where we do have flexibility on this is in how we have the rooms set up. I think pretty much everyone prefers classroom style, with tables and chairs, over theater style, with only chairs. But of course, we can fit a lot more people in in theater style. (According to the conference facility, the rooms we used can fit about twice as many in theater style.) We chose to split the difference, putting a few tables in the front part of the room, and then several rows of chairs in the back. Each room was initially set up for 50 people. (That changed as people moved chairs from room to room to meet needs. One thing you can always count on about the Fox gang is that they’re not afraid to move furniture.) Four rooms of 50 seats each seemed pretty good for 150 attendees plus 16 speakers (with four speaking at any given time).
For next year, we’ll look hard at the set up of the individual rooms and perhaps use fewer tables and more rows of chairs. I think we’ll also try to keep sessions we expect to be very popular out of room 4, the one at the far end of the hall, because traffic in and out of there was difficult.