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How we setup a process to ask 105 speakers to accept their session in just 53 minutes.

Our Collab365 virtual conference platform is built entirely on top of SharePoint 2013 Foundation (and is kindly hosted on Fpweb.net's ultra stable and fast hosting service).

As we aim to keep our conferences free for all attendees we have to keep the running costs as low as possible without compromising on quality. To do this, we use SharePoint to help us collaborate with attendees, speakers and sponsors.

Why did we build the platform on SharePoint?

At Collaboris we've lived and breathed SharePoint since the early beta days of MOSS 2007 so when we decided to run a virtual conference 'about' SharePoint - given the topic and our experience (we're better known for our products DocRead and DocSurvey which work on SharePoint) - SharePoint just made sense.

Running conferences is a complex undertaking!

​If you've ever run a conference (maybe a SharePoint Saturday or a local user group), you'll know that there's a huge amount of co-ordination that goes into them.

Here's an overview of some of the tasks and stages we go through for an online conference:
  • Kick off and scoping
  • Call for Speakers
  • Accept Speakers and agree sessions
  • Speaker training
  • Upload and target Speaker's slides and samples
  • Publish Agenda
  • Test and open Conference platform
  • Design and execute marketing campaigns
  • Attendee communications
  • Call for Sponsors
  • On-board and manage sponsors
  • Run the conference
  • Gather post conference analytics
  • Move to on-demand
  • Perform the role of help desk
  • and so on ....

We use SharePoint extensively in most of the areas above and if there's interest we'll cover how we use it in further posts. For now, I want to pull out one particular section 'Accept Speakers and agree sessions'.

Why do we need speakers to confirm?

Some speakers will have responded to the call for speakers months ago and may no longer be available so, before we begin the process of on-boarding them, we need to check that they are still able to speak for us at the designated time.

To contact over 100 speakers individually (nearly 150 on our Global Conference) could be very time-consuming. Every mini process in the organization of a conference needs to happen by a deadline. If one part gets delayed it's like a house of cards because all of the following processes suffer and the actual event delivery could be compromised.

We need a system that allows us to send an e-mail to ask for acceptance and automatically chase up late respondents.

Imagine sending an e-mail to 100+ Speakers and then having to manage who has and hasn't replied? We've done it before and vowed never to do it again 🙂 .

by Collaboris to the rescue ...

To help us manage this process we use our own products DocRead & DocSurvey for SharePoint. The steps we follow go something like this: 



Create an e-mail template asking the Speakers to confirm that they're still willing to speak at the event.



Create a Speakers survey asking for further information and their acceptance to speak.



Target the e-mail and survey to the correct speakers, simply by choosing the right SharePoint Speakers group.



Add the Speaker to a SharePoint group giving them permission to access the Speakers SharePoint portal.



Wait for the Speaker to follow the instructions in the e-mail, answer the questions and complete their task.



Check DocRead Reports to see which speakers have / haven't accepted (reminders are automatically issued).

Here's the process in detail ...

I just want to provide further detail for the steps above to try to illustrate exactly how we streamline the on-boarding process and explain how we use SharePoint, DocRead and DocSurvey to help us get speakers to confirm.

Create the branded speakers
invitation e-mail

DocRead gives us the ability to create a set of e-mail templates for each document that needs to be sent out. At the conference, this is the e-mail that we send to the candidate speakers explaining that they've been accepted. The key part is that 'HERE' link. That link navigates them to the DocRead task and presents a survey for them to fill in and complete. 

Time taken: 15 minutes​

Create the survey to ask the speakers some questions.

Now that we've created the e-mail it's time to create the acceptance form using DocSurvey. This form asks questions you would expect which the speaker must answer before they are able to complete their DocRead task.

Time taken: 10 minutes​

​Configure the survey so that it's sent to the speakers group.

Now we have the speakers e-mail template and the survey, it's time to configure it to be sent to the correct group of users. To do this we create a DocSurvey Request provide a 'Title', link the correct survey, add a message to display to the speaker and select the speakers SharePoint group. (A DocSurvey Request is a standard SharePoint list with some custom columns).

Time taken: 2 minutes​

What's that screen below I hear you say! 🙂

The screen below is actually a screen shot from Extradium for SharePoint. Extradium is a user management application that we use to manage users! It does the same job for us that Active Directory does in so many organizations. It ships with some cool time-savers that allow people to register on our events and do things like reset password, update profiles etc.

It also contains features that allow us to manage group membership (as below). The cool thing is that you can add an Extradium group to a SharePoint Group, so this allows us to manage groups of users across the site collection. 

Now add the selected speakers to the 'Speakers group'

One of the DocRead features that I love is called 'Smart Move'. Smart Move refers to the process that detects when a user joins or leaves a group or audience. This means we don't have to process all the speakers at once, we can add them to the speakers group when it is convenient for us knowing that DocRead will automatically issue the correct task.

Time taken: 21 minutes​

Sit tight and ​wait for the speakers to confirm they are good to speak.

Once the speaker is added to the speakers group (we do them in batches), DocRead will automatically create a task for each of them. This results in the e-mail (based on the template we created) being sent and a task that can be actioned and confirmed via a web part that we place on the Speakers SharePoint portal (the image shows what they see when they click on the 'HERE' link in the e-mail).

Time taken: none (by us)​

The Speaker then clicks 'ACCEPT' and then the survey is ​shown to them. Once the speaker completes the Survey the DocRead task is automatically completed and we can then track it in our reports.

The screen snippet on the left is an example of what a speaker will see once they've completed the DocRead task. At any point they can access their tasks to check receipts and previously completed tasks.

Track the progress without having to constantly monitor inboxes and update spreadsheets.

The last part of the process is the part we like most of all. Every couple of days we check the process of the Speaker's confirmations by logging into SharePoint and viewing the DocRead Reports. The reports are pretty comprehensive and allow you to start with a 'birds eye' view (at site collection level) and drill-down to the status of a particular task so we know exactly who has and hasn't completed it so we can move them onto the next stage. 

Time taken: 5 minutes​

There you have it!

Well that's the Speakers on-boarding process in a nutshell! Hope you found it useful if you have any questions, please just ask!

See it in Action!

Want to see this in action? We presented this and much more at Solutions Day on April 7th.

Grab a coffee and click the button to watch the session. ​

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