What do you think? Conference evaluations tell us.

All three of us who run Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ are experienced conference speakers and we know how big a role feedback plays in getting better at presenting. So, it’s no surprise that when we first started running a conference, we spent a lot of time and energy discussing what we wanted on both session evaluations and the overall conference evaluation. We’ve tweaked those contents (especially at the conference level) over the years, trying to extract more and more information from our attendees.

Two years ago, we moved the session evaluation system online. With most attendees carrying at least one Wifi-enabled device, we felt that using a web-based evaluation system would make things easier for attendees, speakers, and ourselves. Overall, that transition has been quite successful. Among other things, it allows speakers to review evaluations from a session before they repeat the topic. (A big benefit to us is not having to hand-enter all that data.)

This year, we moved the overall conference evaluation online, as well. While we wish more people had chosen to submit conference evals (fewer than half of those present did so), the evaluations we got seemed to contain more information. Knowing how I feel about writing on paper, I suspect using a keyboard instead freed many people to write more and longer comments. We’re thinking about ways to get better response in future.

We added one section to this year’s conference evaluation. We asked each person to rank five conference features as to their importance. All of these features affect the cost of running the conferences (though some of them do so indirectly). The five items were:

  • Breakfast and Lunch Provided
  • Dinner Party Included
  • White papers for Every Session
  • Multiple Simultaneous Sessions
  • Meeting Rooms on Conference Hotel Property

We weren’t surprised at all that white papers (that is, session notes) for every session was far and away the most important item, with more than 2/3 of respondents ranking it #1, and another 1/6 ranking it #2; that is, 5/6 of those surveyed considered white papers as one of the top two items.

Since we consider providing white papers for all sessions a major part of the value proposition of a Geek Gatherings conference, we were glad to see that our customers do, too. Today, it’s rare for a conference to provide papers for all sessions; in fact, it’s rare for there to be papers for any sessions. So, we think our conferences stand out.

On the other end of the spectrum, people were even more unanimous that the dinner party we hold on the Friday night of the conference was the least important of the five; 80% ranked it last. We got the message. We’re already talking about alternative ideas.

As for the middle three items, your order of importance is multiple tracks, having the conference sessions at the hotel, and then having breakfast and lunch included. We’ll keep all that in mind as we plan for the future.

As I noted earlier, we got many more comments this year than in the past. They ranged from simple thanks to some detailed suggestions. One theme throughout the comments is how many of you come to the conference to see friends. Answers like that popped up in response to “What did you take away from the conference?” (this year, no one said “the towels”) as well as to “What did you like best about the conference?”

Because we were frank about the financial risk we take in running the conferences, and expressed our concerns about the future, a number of people offered us concrete suggestions, including changing the location and time of year, selling shares in the conference, and charging more, while others simply said that we should do whatever it takes to keep going.

We’ve already spent several hours face-to-face (thanks, Rainer Becker, for inviting all three of us to the German DevCon) discussing this year’s conference and what you had to say. We’ll continue to review the evaluation data as we determine our 2015 offerings. If you have additional comments or you couldn’t join us this year and want to share your thoughts, send them to info@geekgatherings.com.

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Get a discount on Xbase++ and an early-bird discount

Alaska Software is offering special discounts on Xbase++ 2.0 for Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ 2014 attendees, as follows:

  • Xbase++ 2.0 is available and shipping September 30, 2014.
  • Prerequisite for this offer is registration to Southwest Xbase++ or Southwest Fox conference 2014.
  • Get a 30% discount for all new customers purchasing Foundation Edition 2.0 (regular price USD $1,199) or Professional Edition 2.0 (regular price USD $1,999).
  • Get an additional 10% Competitive Upgrade, if you provide proof of purchase of VFP 9 or Clipper.
  • All attending Southwest Xbase++ who have a subscription (purchased in last 12 months) get 3 months extension for their current subscription.

How does this offer work? Simple: you contact Alaska Software at their booth during the conference, place your order, and get the boxed Xbase++ 2.0 DVD on the spot. This is also true for the active Xbase++ users who stop in at the Alaska Software booth.

Regardless of which edition of Xbase++ 2.0 you purchase, your savings goes a long way towards paying for the conference ticket.

Extending the early-bird discount

We want to make Alaska’s offer even more attractive, so we’re extending our early-bird pricing for Southwest Fox/Xbase++ right up until Xbase++ 2.0’s September 30 ship date. Register for either conference before midnight September 30 and get a $50 discount; pay only $745.

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Early-bird deadline approaches; So does Xbase++ 2.0

We have some very exciting news as we approach the Early-bird registration deadline this Sunday, August 31st.

Alaska plans to ship Xbase++ 2.0 in September, so this will be the first conference where developers can learn all about the newly released Xbase++ v2.0. In addition, Alaska has deep discounts to offer conference attendees whether you’re upgrading from a prior version of Xbase++ or doing a competitive upgrade from Visual FoxPro or Clipper. So whether you are coming from an Xbase++, Clipper, or Visual FoxPro background, Alaska has a product you can learn about at the conference, buy at the conference, and start using immediately when you get home! Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ is the place to be in October. Please sign up now to get the conferences’ $50 Early-bird discount, which expires on September 1st. More details on the Xbase++ discounts coming soon.

Every registered attendee gets admission and white papers to all regular conference sessions. Don’t miss this chance to learn from the best and mix with your peers.

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Southwest Fox on the FoxShow–special offer

Listen to Andrew MacNeill interview Rick Schummer, Tamar Granor, and Doug Hennig about Southwest Fox 2014 on the FoxShow #79. If you haven’t registered yet, be sure to listen for a special offer in the show.

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Less than a week until Super-Saver deadline!

We’re not sure how it happened, but it’s less than a week until the end of June and the Super-Saver registration deadline. If you haven’t registered yet, what are you waiting for?

Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ take place October 16-19, 2014 in Gilbert, Arizona and we really hope you can be there. We would hate to see you miss out on the $125 discount, the FREE pre-conference session, and an opportunity to win a scholarship or a license of Stonefield Query SDK (a $6,000 value).

If you’re still deciding whether to come, check out our list of amazing speakers and dig into our session tracks for VFP and Xbase++. Follow the news about the conference on this blog.

If you’ve already registered, we thank you. Can you help us remind your fellow developers who have been procrastinating about the looming deadline by sharing this blog post or tweeting about it?

By the way, if you sent in your registration and haven’t received a confirmation, please contact us to see what happened. Everyone gets a confirmation when the registration is processed. As promised, we are not cashing checks or processing credit cards for new registrations until the middle of July.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Gilbert in October.

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Registration is open!

Registration for Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ is now available. See the website for a list of speakers, VFP sessions and Xbase++ sessions. Super-Saver Registration, which saves you $125, is available only through June 30th, so don’t wait.

Putting on a conference is a risky endeavor. Conference centers require a guaranteed minimum income to block the dates of a conference; for a conference like Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++, that minimum is in the tens of thousands of dollars. We have to commit to the conference center by July 2nd and need your support by July 1st to make that commitment. We will not do “We need your help” appeals this year so please do not wait, get registered by June 30th! We know most of you like to wait until the last minute to avoid the credit card bill arriving too soon. We will not charge any attendee credit cards or cash any checks until sometime in the second half of July or early August (once we’ve committed to going forward), so this no longer is a reason to wait.

We look forward to seeing you in October!

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Speakers and sessions announced for 2014

Speakers and sessions for both Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ 2014 have been announced. The list is available on the conference website.

Southwest Fox sessions
Southwest Xbase++ sessions

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Session Proposals due this Friday, March 21

Just a reminder that session proposals for Southwest Fox 2014 and Southwest Xbase++ 2014 are due by 8 AM EDT this Friday, March 21. If you’re interested in speaking, please download the Call for Speakers (http://swfox.net/CallForSpeakers.aspx) and submit your proposals using our online application at www.geekgatherings.com/submission. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Call for Speakers 2014

We’ve issued the Call for Speakers for Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++ 2014. If you are interested in presenting at either conference, please check out http://www.swfox.net/callforspeakers.aspx.

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Why doesn’t Southwest Fox/Xbase++ move around?

Every year, at least one person writes on the conference evaluation that we should move the conference to a new location. This year, one attendee wrote “MUST CHANGE LOCATIONS! There are so many other possibilities.”

So why don’t we do it? Personally, there are still about a dozen states I haven’t visited, and I’d love to use the trip to Southwest Fox to work on that list.

But there are a number of good business reasons why we stay put.

First and perhaps most important is that moving would be very expensive for us, both in time and money. In order to move the conference, first, we’d have to decide where to go, or make a short list of possible locations. Then, we’d have to identify hotels in those locations that have the appropriate facilities for us.

Then, one or more of us would have to visit whatever city (or cities) we were considering, and inspect the possible sites. Assuming we found what we needed, we’d then have to negotiate a deal that keeps the conference affordable.

In fact, finding appropriate facilities isn’t that simple. One of the great things about our current location is that we are a “big fish” there. We’re one of the largest conferences they hold every year, and the last two years, we’ve pretty much filled the hotel. Being able to do that makes us really valued customers, and gets us some very nice price breaks. (As we’ve written in the past, food is the single largest expense for any conference.)

Finding a hotel small enough that our group would be VIPs, but with a large enough conference facility to host our group is a non-trivial task. We know that because we’ve done it twice before.

When we first took over Southwest Fox, Rick spent about 80 hours identifying and visiting hotels. Then, when our original location went under in 2010 and we needed a new location fast, he spent about 60 more. In addition, Rick spent a week in Texas a few years ago, looking at options.

Once we chose a new facility and negotiated a contract, we’d still have to put in more hours to ensure that the facility understood our needs. That leads to the second big reason for not moving.

We’ve developed a strong relationship with the DoubleTree/Elegante personnel and we’ve worked with them to make things better each year. Both little things and big things.

The first year we were there, I was very unhappy because all the carafes used to provide hot water for tea had previously been used to serve coffee. As any tea drinker knows, that’s no way to make a cup of tea; the coffee flavor seeps into the carafe and the hot water pulls that flavor out. The water is brownish and tastes like coffee. At our closing meeting with the hotel (yes, we sit down with hotel representatives before the conference to preview what will happen and make sure they have it all right, and afterward, to review and discuss any issues), we reported the problem, and they promised to fix it. Sure enough, they bought a set of carafes in a different color that are used only for hot water.

They’ve worked with us on bigger problems, too. One of them is WiFi. Not surprisingly, our group taxes the hotel’s and conference center’s WiFi like pretty much no other group. We’ve worked with them each year to resolve the problem, but it kept getting harder, as more and more of us came with multiple devices that wanted WiFi. Finally, this year, they replaced the entire WiFi set-up for both buildings with a new one, with much greater capacity. For the first time since we’ve been running Southwest Fox, there were no complaints about WiFi capacity.

No question that this year’s biggest issue was the temperature in the meeting rooms. It swung wildly between way too cold and unpleasantly warm. Many people commented on it, both at the event and on their evaluations. We were glad to hear at our closing meeting that this is a planned focus for the coming year. The system will be reviewed and changes made as needed.

If we move, we start all over, dealing with issues like these. And if we move every year, as some would like, we have no leverage to solve this kind of problem. While moving would solve whatever problems one facility has, we’d have no way of knowing what problems the next facility would have.

There are other, less significant, reasons we don’t move. If we move out of the southwestern US, we have two issues. First, we’d have to re-brand the conferences. It’s hard to call a conference “Southwest” anything if you hold it in Boston or Atlanta.

On a related note, weather in other parts of the US is somewhat unpredictable in October. The Northeast and Midwest can be rainy and cold, while the Southeast is still in hurricane season. Frankly, the three of us all live in places where winter is dark and cold and we enjoy the chance to visit the desert before that kicks in.

The ease of getting to Phoenix is also a consideration. For almost everyone, it’s no more than two flights, and prices tend to be reasonable.

The bottom line is that we already put hundreds of non-billable hours into Southwest Fox and Southwest Xbase++, and there would have to be a real benefit to moving, for us to invest the additional time and money it would cost. We know that disappoints some of you, but we hope it won’t keep you from joining us next year.

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