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"The hard part is actually doing everything else. So there's the marketing as far as getting the word out, letting people know... And then just getting speakers lined up is also a bunch of work."

Charles Max Wood has been running remote conferences targeting software engineers for the past six years and shares the lessons he's learned in this video interview.

Connect with Charles on LinkedIn
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The podcasts Charles runs on Devchat.tv

Key Takeaways

  • The pricing for a remote conference to a large extent depends on the clout of the speakers and how relevant their topics are.
  • Engagement isn't the same as a live conference and is mostly limited to the duration of the talk.
  • Plan for 5 - 10 minutes at the end of the talk for questions via chat. It's part of the highlight for most people.
  • Give a good intro that connects your audience with the speaker as a person.
  • To sell sponsorship for remote conferences, you can use the following placements: use the speakers intro banner, give them a slot on your website, give them their own chat channel, and create landing pages they sponsor where participants enter an email for a giveaway like an Amazon gift card. (12:10)
  • You can add value to sponsorships by giving them advice on how to reach members and support in making sure they're getting ROI on their sponsorships. Charles does this by helping build the landing pages and email drip sequences for higher level sponsorships.

Resource List

Full Transcript

John Hooley:
I'm John Hooley. I'm the president of Resurgent. I'm here today with Charles Max Wood, the CEO of Devchat.tv, a prolific podcaster, doing podcasts for 12 years, and you've ran several online conferences. And I asked you to speak with me and you were very generous to do so to share your experiences running those conferences. Thanks for taking the time.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah, no problem.

John Hooley:
So before we hopped on the mic, you mentioned that you ran about a dozen of these, and this is why I reached out to you, more than a dozen of these. Because I knew through a friend that you'd ran one of these. And with the Coronavirus happening and all these conferences just being impacted, you seem like a really knowledgeable person to talk to about this sort of thing.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah, I had done a bunch, probably what 2013, 14, 15, 16, 17, so probably done 20 or 30 of them. Had a few hundred people show up to each one. And yeah, I mean it's all focused around the content that we create for software developers. So they were all focused on a specific language or framework. I actually had a bunch of people asking me about it this year for obvious reasons, the same things you brought up. And so I decided to throw together a JavaScript conference and immediately had 30 people just sign right up. So I'm expecting it's going to take off, especially once we have a schedule posted.

Charles Max Wood:
But yeah, it's definitely an interesting phenomenon. And there have been others too. I think the largest conference that's ever been held in the world was an online conference for programmers called Hack Summit. Hack dot Summit. So I mean they go from a few hundred people to a few thousand people, several thousand people. So anyhow-

John Hooley:
You said that you were... I mean your attitude about it was "Yeah, I know how to do this. I'll just sort of put it together." How hard is it to organize something like this?

Charles Max Wood:
So I mean the basics as far as logistics are reasonably simple. You have to have software that will allow you to transmit a talk. You need your speakers to be able to share their screen if they have slides or just sit in front of a camera and talk. The hard part is actually doing everything else. So there's the marketing as far as getting the word out, letting people know, "Hey look, there's this conference. This is what it's about, this is what we're going to talk about, here's who's coming." And so there's that piece of it. And then just getting speakers lined up is also a bunch of work.

John Hooley:
Right. Can you tell me in terms of pitching it to people, what sort of price point have you pitched it at? I think I looked at one of them and I saw like $99. I was curious if that's standard for you or if you've got high, low.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah, I've seen it all over the place and I've actually charged all over the place. So the one I'm putting on in May, I'm charging $25 a seat. I'm looking at doing some larger ones in the fall. I don't know what the situation will be with Coronavirus, but it's obviously viable outside of the Coronavirus situation. So I'm looking at that. But yeah, I think a lot of it too depends on how much value people think they're going to get from it.

Charles Max Wood:
So if you have high profile speakers that are going to speak to things that directly impact them, that are going to be able to teach them what they want to know or give them updates on the technologies they use in my case or whatever, that impacts the price. So yeah, so I've seen it go... I don't know that I would see it go much more than a hundred dollars unless you've just got some super heavy hitters. So if it was a business conference and you had basically all of the big names in marketing and you had to pay them all a couple thousand dollars each to do it. Yeah, you might charge more than that. But if you're just opening it up and going, okay, we're going to get speakers from the community and we're going to maybe have a couple of keynotes, you're probably looking at the hundred dollar range or less.

John Hooley:
And for that sort of thing, in terms of thinking about the pricing, does duration factor into that when you're doing one of these conferences, are you thinking one day? Or have you done conferences where you've gone two days?

Charles Max Wood:
So the one I'm putting on in May is two days. I think I've gone to three days. One of the ones I want to put on in the fall will probably be a week long but that one, I mean I'm going to go out of my way... I've been podcasting about technology for 12 years, so I know a lot of the people that people want to hear from. So I can probably get them to show up. So that one might be a week long.

John Hooley:
A lot of the perceived value in terms of how you can price it comes down to the presenters?

Charles Max Wood:
Yes, absolutely.

John Hooley:
You have an audience in terms of your podcasts... Is your audience around 25,000 or something like that? Your reach?

Charles Max Wood:
So it depends on the podcast. Across all of the shows, we're probably looking 60 to 70,000 people every week download an episode from us.

John Hooley:
That's amazing.

Charles Max Wood:
The biggest show that we have, you're probably looking at somewhere in the range of 13 to 15,000 people download an episode of that every week or the latest episode of that every week, sorry.

John Hooley:
Having that audience does that make it easier to fill those digital seats?

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah, because we can get the word out and we can also usually point back to an episode that that person was on. So it's, "Hey look, we've got these people coming to speak." Three of the speakers that I got right off the bat were regulars on the show. So it's like, "Hey, you all know Amy, you all know Dan, and you all know Steve." So there we go. I recently lined up Douglas Crockford who wrote How JavaScript Works which is a big deal book about JavaScript. And so I'm letting people know you can come and you can ask Doug a question and we're just doing a live Q and A with him.

John Hooley:
Yeah, I was sort of curious about that. So one of the reasons we go to physical conferences is for the hallway track. Right? You're going there to meet people. What's engagement look like with a digital conference?

Charles Max Wood:
It varies and I've tried different things too. Some people prefer the Facebook group. I found that the Facebook group tends to be rather slow. I did a forum the first year I did them and same deal. I had a few people get on and say, "Hey, what's coming up next?" Or "Where do I download this talk?" And that was pretty much all the interaction I got. I've done Slack channels and Discord servers and those tend to work better.

John Hooley:
What was the other one? Slack, and I'm not familiar with the other one you mentioned.

Charles Max Wood:
Discord. It's used primarily by gamers. But Slack's probably the big one out there that most people have heard of.

John Hooley:
Are you seeing the engagement in Slack mostly during the talk? Like somebody says, "Oh, by the way, I saw this."

Charles Max Wood:
Yes. And the other thing is, is that either it... Well, it depends a little bit on the webinar software. Some of the webinar software has a built in chat and so some people may ask a question there, but you can encourage them to ask their questions in chat. And then you can work from there. But yeah, I try and work it out so that you get five to 10 minutes at the end of each talk for questions and that allows people to chime in throughout the talk, "Oh, what about this? Or what about that?"

Charles Max Wood:
The speakers are often really good about keeping an eye on the chat as well and so they'll answer the questions as they come up. It's like, "Oh yeah, I was going to put this in the talk but I didn't." Or "That's a good question." And then they'll answer it. That works out pretty well. The Q and A usually turns out to be part of the highlight for most people. You just make it really easy for them to get their question answered. But the other thing is, is then after the talk, the speakers will stick around for the rest of the conference. And so somebody can throw a question their way-

John Hooley:
Direct message them or something. Nice.

Charles Max Wood:
Or ask them in the channel.

John Hooley:
When you're doing a remote conference, do you run multiple tracks at the same time?

Charles Max Wood:
I have not done that. I don't know what the benefit would be. I mean if you're trying to replace a traditional conference that is multi-track, that might make sense. But that adds another layer to things. Because now you have to find an MC to actually manage and moderate whatever track you have. And so you could do it and if you have people you trust to do it, and I do, but it just... I've never really wanted to pull in that many speakers. I could probably charge more if I did it and I'd probably want to give some kickback to my moderators. But yeah, it adds another level of complexity. So if this is your first one, just do a single track and then if once you get the hang of it, then you can train other people to run the other tracks.

John Hooley:
So in terms of the resources to run something like this, when you're going through each track is it pretty much just one person? It's either you or a partner? And I'm doing a moderation for every session.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah. So they get up and they say, "Hey our next talk is in five minutes. It's going to be so-and-so. They're talking about such and such." And then when it's time to start, then you introduce the speaker... By the way, don't do the lame crap that they do at the regular conferences where they get up and they say "This talk is ABCs of programming by John Smith." And then sit down. Get a real intro. Sorry. Pet peeve. Get a real intro. And if they won't give you one, I actually weirded out a speaker once because I did an intro at a conference that was doing this and I'm like, "Yeah, that's dumb."

Charles Max Wood:
I mean my friend was organizing it, so he's like, "Do you want to do one of the intros?" And I'm like, "Sure." So I get up and I'm like, "Hey, this is a talk given by Eileen and she's from such and such a town. And she just joined the rails core team and she likes biking." Because I just looked her up on social media for two minutes and figured out who she was and she's like, "Wow, that was a little bit creepy."

Charles Max Wood:
But it was all in jest. It was all in good fun. I'd never met her before. We've had her on the podcast since then. But give people a chance to connect, make sure you have a little bit of a break between talks. I always make sure that there's a break for lunch and then I mean just keep it flowing.

John Hooley:
Yeah. What about sponsorships? Do you do sponsorships with any of your stuff?

Charles Max Wood:
So I have tried to do sponsorships to varying degrees of success. Typically, if I do a sponsorship, what they'll get is they'll get a banner, so their logo on the opening slide. And so I'll just create the opening slide myself and I'll send it to all of the speakers in PowerPoint and Keynote and then they can just drop it into their talk. And so the first slide is that slide. And then once we get rolling, then they can advance through their talk. So that works.

Charles Max Wood:
They usually get a banner on the website. I like giving them some kind of channel in the chat. So you set up a Slack channel for the sponsor. This year the other thing that we're doing is, depending on the level they sponsor at, we're actually going to go buy Amazon gift cards or something like that with part of that money. And then we're going to give it away and when we give it away, we're going to say, "Hey, this giveaway is sponsored by such and such a company and here's their pitch." And at least half of them are going to be to people that actually went to either the landing page for the sponsor and put their email address in or that went and chatted with somebody from the sponsor in the sponsor's channel. And so that way, we can encourage that interaction.

John Hooley:
Right. Yeah. That's smart. I mean remote conferences are not the same as physical conferences, right? But being able to figure something like that out, how you can be able to add value is wonderful.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah. So that's what we're looking at there. Otherwise, it's hard to get them to engage. I mean if you can give a killer pitch for the sponsor and I've been talking to people about podcast sponsorship forever and it's really not that different except that it's recorded and people hear it over and over again. I mean that's the primary difference.

Charles Max Wood:
So if it's something like hired.com sponsored the podcast for a long time. And if I'm looking for a job and I just want to apply in one place and have them sell me off to all of the people who are looking to hire, great. That's an easy pitch. I know if I want that or not right now, and it's a pay off that's going to happen right away. And so it's an easy sell.

Charles Max Wood:
But then I have other companies that just provide services to programmers or services that help with applications. And so people don't really know that they need it, even if they need it sometimes. So if it's a bug tracking software or something like that, they don't know they need that until they're tracking a lot of bugs or until they're consistently running into issues in production. And even then, then you have to explain if you're running into issues in production, you're trying to keep track of all of it, you need a bug tracker. Because otherwise they're going to be like, "Well crap, this sucks. How do we solve it?" And then they're going to argue about what the solution is.

Charles Max Wood:
So if you can teach them what the solution is. So with those, it's a little bit different sell. And so with those, you really do need to get them into the mailing list or in contact with somebody at the company so that they can nurture those contacts and sell to them a month down the line when they've convinced them they need the product.

John Hooley:
And do you ask for different things for those in terms of different kinds of sponsorship? Do you make recommendations for you really need to do this sort of landing page sponsorship or this is more [inaudible 00:15:08]-

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah, and I actually offer to build the landing pages for them. I mean it costs a little extra.

John Hooley:
But it's a way you can add value.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah. And my most expensive sponsorship package for any of these is, "Look, I'll build a landing page for you. I will record a couple of videos for you showing off how this works and making the sales pitch for you and write the email sequence for you." So all they have to do is go to your page, sign up. I did all the work. And you get to keep it. You can use it over and over and over again. I don't care. And at the end of the day... Because it's about the ROI, and I can't guarantee you the ROI unless you're going to have that downstream funnel.

John Hooley:
Right. Yeah, that's smart. Really good way to add value on their end.

John Hooley:
Charles, I don't want to keep you too much longer. I think we're coming up on our time. Could you just tell me what sort of software you use to run the conferences? What's your preferred stack?

Charles Max Wood:
So I have used Crowdcast. I have used Zoom and I've used WebinarJam. And they all have their pros and cons. I've probably told some people I was going to use Zoom for these conferences, but I probably won't. Just because the quality isn't as great and the webinar tools aren't as great. Crowdcast has really great tools and they tend to capture higher quality video and audio. So I like them. I haven't used them for a few years because I ran into a bunch of issues with the way that they... Just getting my speakers in. But this was four or five years ago. So my understanding is that they fixed those and that they tend not to be as big an issue. So that's what I'm looking at using this year because I really do like their platform otherwise. WebinarJam worked as well and they have nice features as far as you can click to raise your hand, and then I can actually just call on you, I can bring you onto the call.

Charles Max Wood:
I think Crowdcast does this too. And so it makes it really easy. If you want somebody to actually be able to show up and go, "All right, here's my question." Instead of just typing it into the chat and having me read it. That said, it is much simpler to just have them type it into the chat and read it.

Charles Max Wood:
So people really want that level of interaction and people are willing to wait while they connect and approve microphone and video and all that stuff, that's fine. And you can facilitate that some, especially if you have somebody helping you, because then you can MC and they can take care of the technical details of "Oh, get this person in." So anyway, that's what I'm looking at. Hack Summit used Crowdcast and it worked pretty well for them and they had thousands of people on their conference.

John Hooley:
Yeah. It's good to know.

Charles Max Wood:
But if you're looking at something small, WebinarJam works fine. You can embed it in your website and get away with a whole bunch of other stuff, which is why I liked WebinarJam. Because then I could embed my own chat in the same page. And so I've done it that way too. And that's also nice. But anymore, most programmers, at least in my experience, have Slack on their machine and can connect that way. So that tends to be the stack that I use. And then I usually set up a membership site and I'll either use Thinkific or no, not Thinkific, sorry, Teachable. I'll either use Teachable or I'll just set up a WordPress website with a membership plugin and I hold onto the videos for three to six months. And so the attendees get that access for a while, but I do like to release them eventually.

John Hooley:
Right. They get priority access. They get to see them before anybody else does and access them before anybody else does.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah.

John Hooley:
Cool. Well, thank you so much for sharing from your experience. Very knowledgeable. I really appreciate you taking the time to do that and I know that the association executives who hear it will appreciate it as well.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah, no problem. If people want help with this, just email me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If it's something fast, I'll probably just help you. If it's something that's a little more involved, I do consult. However that works. But This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is my email address.

John Hooley:
Yeah, I'll make sure to put that in the notes.

Charles Max Wood:
Yeah, if you're into code, chuck@devchat or just Devchat.tv is where all the podcasts are at.

John Hooley:
Awesome. Well, thank you again so much.

Charles Max Wood:
Yes, no problem.