Case study: Check-in at Facebook’s 2010 f8 Conference

In April, our team hit the ground to help run check-in at Facebook’s f8 Conference, an Eventbrite-powered event. The event was such a hit—and check-in went so smoothly—that we put together the case study below as a reference for organizers. We hope it’s helpful to anyone running registration for large conferences!

On Wednesday, April 21st, 2010, in San Francisco, Facebook held its annual f8 Developers’ Conference. Held at the Concourse Exhibition Center in SoMA, the event brought together many of the tech community’s leading designers and engineers for a keynote speech by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, as well as a range of presentations, panels, and exhibits. The keynote was held in a large theater in the rear of the space, a central hall allowed for eating and socializing, and other presentations ran along the perimeter. Attendee registration took place in an elevated central space.

Facebook Checkin

A joint team of volunteers from Facebook and Eventbrite was brought in to handle check-in. For each attendee, the process consisted of several steps: cross-checking the name on a laptop and handing out a badge; sizing and retrieving an f8 T-shirt; affixing a bracelet for the after-party; and explaining the layout of the event, as well as answering any questions.

The event posed some unique challenges for the registration team:

  • A single, central check-in area that could easily become crowded and exacerbate any check-in problems.
  • The need to coordinate volunteers from different organizations, many of them inexperienced in hands-on event management.
  • A popular keynote speech at 10 AM that would concentrate attendee arrival time.
  • A technically savvy, highly demanding attendee demographic. (High social media use among attendees also guaranteed any mistakes would be immediately broadcast, and this would reflect negatively on the companies.)

Facebook Checkin

Despite these significant challenges, the event was a huge hit, over 1500 attendees made it quickly into the event, and attendees reported no major issues with the multi-part registration process. The team leaders credited this success to a number of specific strategies:

  • The alphabetization of lines. When attendees reached the top of the stairs, they saw large signs funneling them into different lines, based on last name. They were able to head in the correct direction immediately, and didn’t block the path or require major attention from the volunteers. The lines were also divided based on number of attendees—rather than by equally dividing the alphabet—ensuring that the numbers were even.
  • Clear assignment of tasks. At each of these alphabetized stations, a volunteer was assigned a specific duty (name-check, badge and bracelet handout, or T-shirt retrieval). The stations were able to work with assembly-line efficiency.
  • Deployment of “roamer” volunteers. Extra volunteers were assigned to roam the check-in area and assist wherever they were most needed. They were able to guide any lost attendees, as well as do backup at the busiest stations during the crunch before the keynote.
  • The large group of volunteers. The sheer number of people on the team ensured that no single area would become overwhelmed, and no problems would multiply.
  • A dedicated “Help” desk. Whenever an attendee experienced a check-in issue, he or she was directed to a special Help desk. This was critical, as it prevented a few problem registrations from delaying the rest. It also communicated to attendees that problems would be dealt with. Seeing Eventbrite founders Kevin and Julia Hartz working the Help desk was fun for attendees, and added a personal touch.
  • Volunteers’ personal interest in a quality experience. Volunteers felt empowered to create a great experience for attendees, and they worked with an obvious upbeat attitude. This had a tangible effect. Attendees who had short waits during peak periods did not express frustration, likely because they never felt ignored by the team. Their first impression of the event was warm and positive, and that spirit carried over into a successful conference.