This past month was the Bitcoin in the BeltwayConference held in Washington, D.C. The event was planned by Jason King, who recently ran 3,214 miles on a tour called “Bitcoin Across America”. The Conference took place at the Marriott Renaissance in Downtown D.C. and proceeds went to King’s organization, Sean’s Outpost, a homeless outreach and advocacy group that operates on bitcoin donations. King defies the laws of physics with the amount of energy he pours into his advocacy. In addition to literally running across the country for Bitcoin and organizing this major event in D.C., he is also a regular speaker at BTC events across the country and a dedicated philanthropist.
The event featured speakers such as Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com, Jeffrey Tucker, Founder of Liberty.me. and Davi Barker, of Bitcoin Not Bombs. I sat on a media panel with Perianne Boring of Forbes, who gave great advice on how to get coverage of Bitcoin stories in mainstream media. A few of the heavy hitter speakers on the bill did not show including Cody Wilson, infamous for 3D printing gun parts through his company, Defense Distributed, and Charlie Shrem, who was recently arrested on money laundering charges in connection with his role in the bitcoin company, BitInstant. Charlie was not able to attend as the court handling his case reversed their decision on his right to travel.
While I had a great time at the event, I do have a few critiques that are intended to help other organizers put on the most constructive experience possible for speakers and attendees. Many of these critiques are not unique to this event, and I will try to be clear about this when I mention them.
I think a common mistake of event organizers is to try and squeeze in too much programming for the scope and size of the event. This often results in a chaos of sorts as people try to shuffle from one speaker to another, all of whom are spread between various locations. I have found that events which funnel the crowd into one place with only a few break out sessions flow much better for the speakers and the attendees.
As the organizer or co-organizer of many large conferences, I have learned this lesson the hard way. I think the diversity of subject matter and quality of speakers were phenomenal at this event, but many people reported having trouble figuring out where to be and when.
For future event planners, I suggest the following daily structure for maximum attendance at each of your speeches and breakouts. Start the day with a full crowd every morning followed by a break out session before lunch. Eat lunch as a group and follow with another break out session. Finally, end the day as a large group and save the evening hours for mingling.
My second critique is that the vendor booths were in the same room as the main stage. I find this highly distracting as an event attendee and highly frustrating as a vendor. I have two small children and it is absolutely impossible for me to work our vendor booth with my children in tow if the event is in the same room as the vendors.
Inevitably you will have vendors who arrive to set up late and break down to leave early. This creates noise in addition to the chatter that take place in every vendor area. I have attended Tenth Amendment events, Liberty events and Bitcoin events set up like this. It never works out well. Ideally you want your vendors close to the entry and exit ways so the crowd naturally forms around the booths. This keeps your vendors happy in addition to those trying to listen to the presentation.
My third critique is having the event spread out too far. The main room was large enough to accommodate the keynote and breakouts, which would have funneled everyone nicely. When people have to wander too far away from the main stage doors, they usually turn around, confused. Our screening of Sovereign Living had the lowest turnout we have experienced at any conference, and we later heard that people could not find the room.
Overall the event was positive. The speakers were dynamic and resourceful. I was introduced to new ideas about media and met new personalities while interacting with many movers and shakers in the Bitcoin world. I felt blessed to be a part of the event and hope this article can serve as a lesson learned for those planning events in the future.