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[school-discuss] NewsForge | Rolling your own Linux event

This article isn't about presenting Linux at educational conferences in
particular, but I think it has valuable information that we could use to
make presentations to people outside the Linux community.  Read it,
let's talk about it, and perhaps we can use its ideas to attend
educational conferences.


Doug Loss          As long as I have you there is just
drloss@suscom.net  one other thing I'll always need--
(570) 326-3987     tremendous self control.
                          Ashleigh Brilliant
Title: NewsForge | Rolling your own Linux event
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Rolling your own Linux event
Saturday January 19, @07:51AM    [ Advocacy ]
By Steve Litt
Creating a Linux event isn't easy. But it isn't rocket science either, especially if you can "piggy back" your Linux event on an existing exposition or show. This article contains a proposed method of doing just that, and is divided into three sets of tasks: Before the show; During the show; and After the show.
This article combines the great ideas from the LEAP, SLUG and JaxLUG and also profits from their mistakes. I also tried to learn from their mistakes. And I added some ideas of my own.


  1. Attach to an Ongoing Local Computer Show
  2. Get Volunteers
  3. Get Adhesive LUG Labels
  4. Call for Speakers
  5. Get Freebies
  6. Procure Demo Machines
  7. Publicize
  8. Plan for Show Day
Attach to an Ongoing Local Computer Show By far the easiest and cheapest way to display a regional presence is to attach yourself to a generalized computer show, in the form of a booth. As mentioned throughout this issue of Troubleshooting Professional, show promoters are well aware of the drawing power of Linux, so they often give away the booth to a Linux group willing to pay for the electricity and put on a good display. At CTS Orlando, CTS Clearwater and ITEC Jacksonville the promoter also offered an auditorium for the Linux group's speakers.

To attach yourself to a show, the promoter must have heard of you, and you must appear credible to the promoter. Perhaps the easiest way is SLUG's method. They gave presentations at the local Computer User Group, who already had a booth at CTS. The local CUG made the introductions, and SLUG got their booth.

Another way is to just ask. Don't assume you'll be turned down, especially if you can prove your LUG's Linux credentials. You might want to invite the promoter or his or her representatives to a LUG meeting.

Depending on where you are, there may be multiple shows you can participate. Contact them all. List the benefits of having a LUG presence. The top three benefits are traffic, traffic and traffic. At CTS Orlando and Clearwater and ITEC Jacksonville, the LUG booths drew exceptional traffic, and brought many additional attendees to the show. Refer the promoter to online descriptions of such shows (for instance, this issue of Troubleshooting Professional would make a great reference).

Last but not least, have someone in charge of relations with the show promoter. The promoter is a business person. Some geeks interface well with business people, and some don't.

Get Volunteers

Get volunteers very early in the process. Putting on a show, even piggybacking on an existing show, is much too much work for one or two individuals. You need a small committee to pull it off. You need volunteers. Here's a likely list:

  • Show promoter liaison
  • Speaker liaison
  • Freebie supplier liaison
  • Booth planner
  • Publicity person
  • Booth volunteers
  • Team leader
The show promoter liaison works hand in hand with the show promoter to make sure everything works out to the promoter's satisfaction and to the LUG's.

The speaker liaison contacts and recruits speakers: Locally, regionally and worldwide. The speaker liaison then makes sure the speakers' needs are cared for. You want a reputation for taking care of your speakers. The speaker liaison also creates the presentation schedule, and then keeps it updated when last minute scheduling changes occur. If the speaker liaison is himself a good speaker, he is an excellent choice as a master of ceremonies in the Linux auditorium.

The freebie supplier liaison contacts Linux companies and persuasively asks for needed freebies, including (hopefully) modern distros, T shirts, penguins, computer tiles, mousepads and even pens. The freebie supplier liaison has the difficult job of letting suppliers know that brochures are not of interest to the booths visitors, but of course if the supplier gives a substantial supply of distros you'll be glad to pass out their brochures.

The booth planner is charged with procuring tables, tablecloths, table skirts (the cloth or paper that obscures the stuff under the table), the carpet, the computers, and other booth necessities. Table skirts can be expensive, so a friend of a JaxLUGger bough the proper material at a fabric shop and sewed the table skirts. The results were great. Because most of these things are obtained by request (OK, begging), the booth planner must have the utmost support of the LUG's membership and top administration.

To a large extent, the publicity person determines the success of the event. The event must be publicized long in advance to generate credibility with potential speakers. Additionally, potential attendees need plenty of advanced notice to schedule their trip to your event. DON'T ASSUME ALL ATTENDEES WILL COME FROM YOUR LUG OR EVEN YOUR CITY! As JaxLUG proved so convincingly, you can draw regionally. And as far as I know, JaxLUG gave only a week's notice. If there was one flaw in the strategies of LEAP, SLUG and JaxLUG, it was too little advance publicity.

The publicity person should also do his utmost to get the media to send reporters. The reason for the heavy publication of SLUG's victory at Clearwater CTS was that SLUG had the foresight to invite NewsForge's Tina Gasperson. Tina is an accomplished journalist who can get the story, tell it persuasively, and get it published almost instantly in heavily read venues. Try to have someone like Tina Gasperson onsite at your event.

When the event starts, the publicity person's work is nowhere near finished. He needs to commission photos and articles, and submit them to the media as the show is ending, acting as a liaison to the media. The publicity garnered after the show determines the likelihood of being invited back, or even getting a larger booth, next year.

The booth volunteers populate the booth, handing out freebies, answering questions, and greeting anyone remotely interested with "are there any questions I can answer for you?". There's no such thing as too many booth volunteers. The more there are, the more popular your booth looks, and the more traffic you get. Not only that, a surplus of booth volunteers allows other booth volunteers to use the rest room, have lunch, and look at the offerings of other booths.

Last but not least is the team leader, who coordinates the activities of all the other volunteers so that everything runs smoothly. LEAP's Phil Barnett, SLUG's Bill Preece, and JaxLUG's Art Wildman are great examples. The team leader typically is also the person who finds the volunteers in the first place.

Getting volunteers isn't easy. Most shows are on weekdays, and most LUGsters work 55 hours per week. Start by announcing volunteer opportunities at meetings and on your LUG's list. But that's just the start. You may be able to get volunteers from other LUGs, especially as booth volunteers. Art Wildman of JaxLUG raised such recruitment to an artform.

How do you sell a LUGster, with too little time, on the idea of volunteering? What's his motivation?

Everyone's different, but I'd imagine going down in history might be an excellent motivation. I'm certain for years to come folks will speak of what they saw at SLUG's Clearwater victory over Microsoft. And although the LEAP and JaxLUG offerings didn't generate the same level of publicity, it's likely next year they will. And those who were at this year's events will have really been on the ground floor of history. I remember how impressive it was sitting next to two ALS guys at the last Atlanta ALS, when they told me it started out as a simple installfest, and they were there.

Depending on the event, another motivation might be the ability to chat with the top personalities in Linux. At SLUG two other guys and I chatted with maddog for about 10 minutes. You can chat with maddog at a megashow, but I doubt it will be 10 minutes. At JaxLUG we all got to chat with Jeremy Allison, even though Jeremy was on an incredibly tight schedule.

For idealistic LUGsters the motivation might be that they'll be furthering the goals of open source. I think the last three months have reaffirmed the unique value of Grassroots Linux efforts.

Last but not least, volunteerism is the road to the "in crowd". When someone volunteers, he works hand in hand with the central people in his LUG and others, and just maybe with nationally recognized Linux figures. For the person who takes Linux seriously in their career, this is a must.

Get Adhesive LUG Labels

You can get a roll of sticky labels (like return address labels) for less than $10.00. Have the name of your LUG and your LUG website's URL on the label. These labels will be affixed to every freebie given out, so that every freebie becomes a brochure or business card. When someone asks for contact info, give em a freebie.

The labels can be affixed either before the event or during the event, but be sure every freebie given out has your LUG label.

Call for Speakers

Once there's a speaker liaison, it's essential to quickly recruit speakers. There's a chicken and egg relationship between speakers and attendees. Great speakers draw attendees, and great speakers are most likely to speak where there's a credible likelihood of a sizeable audience. Speakers are often scheduled months in advance, so it's vital to begin your recruiting efforts as soon as possible.

Local and regional hotshots are best recruited through the mailing lists of local and regional LUGs. The email should tell the 6 W's -- Who, what, where, when, why and how. Let the prospective speakers know what types of talks will be helpful but remember, the more selective you get, the less offers you'll get.

I asked Bill Preece how he managed to bring Jon "maddog" Hall to CTS Clearwater. His answer -- "I asked". He sent the email, maddog wasn't booked those days, maddog saw the value in an appearance, and he went.

With big name speakers from out of town you'll usually need to pay for their airfare, and on long flights some speakers require first class seats. Anyone who's been on a coast to coast flight wedged in between two large people understands the motivation. So start saving those dues or raffle ticket money.

Get Freebies

Good freebies are the lifeblood of a great show, the best of breed freebies are distros, and the king of distros are the modern ones. That being said, almost anything but gratuitously advertisorial brochures serve to attract visitors. Tshirts are premium, as are cute little rubber penguins. Computer tiles (those little 1 inch square things that stick in the recessed square in a computer case) attract visitors. Mousepads are valued. Anything wearable will go quickly. And of course, distros, distros, distros.

As soon as possible, the freebie liaison should write all the distro makers asking for CDs. How many? It seems like you can give away several thousand distros during the show, so I'd recommend asking for 1000. Ask Red Hat, Mandrake, Caldera, Progeny, and SuSe. SuSE has a record of sending numerous distros, but unfortunately those distros are marked as "trial version" or something like that, which of course doesn't give Open Source people a warm and fuzzy feeling. Don't forget LinuxCentral and CheapBytes. You might be able to get distros very cheap from them, or even free for older versions. A six month old distro is still a valuable resource for your booth visitors.

If you have enough volunteers, it might be a good idea to affix the LUG labels to the freebies before the show.

Procure demo machines

Your visitors will be very curious about Linux, so they need to see and touch your demo machines. Demo machines are best procured from the membership. SLUG's booth was very impressive, with several laptops running different Linux distros. But your membership might not be able to cough up 6 laptops, so you might need to make do with desktops. Place the CPU under the table, with only the monitor, keyboard and mouse exposed. If the computer is old and slow, place a paper label on the monitor showing the CPU speed and RAM so the visitors understand that it's not Linux that's slow -- it's the computer.

Ideally, each computer should run a different distro. At LEAP we've found out that visitors are impressed by demo installations. Repeatedly do a small "take over the disk" install on a fairly fast computer, and ideally narrate the install steps.

Have something kewl running on each box. Games, video, a movie, songs (don't violate copyright) are examples. If possible, have a refrigerator sized rack. For some reason that really impresses people. Have the rack play music.

And do what LEAP did -- run ethereal to show the traffic on your lan. That will impress the geeky network types to no end.


Publicize early and often. You want lots of attendees. A large number of Linux attributed attendees pretty much guarantees you an invitation to next year's show, and makes it likely that your event will get good press. When publicizing, round up the usual suspects -- Slashdot, Newsforge, Linux Weekly News and the like. You'll want to announce it and ask for volunteers as soon as you have a few speakers to brag about. Then publicize again a few days before the event.

Your LUG website is a vital publicity component. It should list the 6 W's (who what where when why how). Be sure to include driving directions, and very clear instructions on how to register and get a free attendee pass. Often the show's website isn't too clear on this. Be sure to include driving directions for both in and out of towners.

Perhaps your best publicity comes from announcements on LUG mailing lists throughout your region. The publicity person should cultivate contacts in the LUGs in the region so the announcements go smoothly into the lists. I'd recommend the following schedule for such emails:

  • 2 months prior
  • 1 month prior
  • 2 weeks prior
  • 1 week prior
  • 3 days prior
  • 1 day prior
Don't forget your own LUG's list.

Plan for Show Day

Show day will be a REAL challenge. A crucial volunteer won't be able to make it. Scheduling changes will rear their ugly heads. Something will have been forgotten. Murphy is always the first guy to show up at a show.

Your best defense against Murphy is planning. Not only does it smooth over glitches, but the existence of a published plan reduces the intimidation factor, gains you more volunteers, and reduces the number of volunteers who have to cancel out.

The booth planner should draw a diagram of the booth so everyone knows where to put things. Use software like dia to draw the diagram. I'd recommend using an open booth, where the tables are at the back, with both exhibitors and attendees in front of the table. JaxLUG did this, and it worked out wonderfully. IMHO you don't want a table separating you from your booth visitors, and if you're giving a demo, you want to be watching the same screen as the attendee.

Reaffirm volunteer times and who does what. Who needs to show up for setup? Who will be there for teardown? Who is the master of ceremonies for the Linux Auditorium? The booth setup must happen fast and requires the coordination of many. Plan it the way you would the game winning football play. Choreograph it the way you would a dance troop. Make sure to get the order right. The carpets go down first, then the tables (in the right places), then the tablecloths and skirts, and then the machines and freebies. Plan a reliable way for the carpets, tables, table cloths and skirts to get there first, so you don't end up having to work around machines and freebies.

Determine how you'll keep up with changing speakers, presentation times and titles. There's no way you'll be able to absolutely stick to a schedule, so be sure you can change whatever sign or marquis you display at the Linux Auditorium.

Reaffirm the rules. Do you tweak M$'s nose like SLUG did, or play it more conservatively? How aggressive should you be in drawing visitors into your booth? What is the desired level of decorum?

Plan the teardown, which must be done quickly (or else you'll be slowing the paid-by-the-hour workmen tearing down the whole hall). Pick the teardown team, and make sure they know to tear down in reverse order of how they set up. I'd recommend teardown begin 1/2 hour before the end of the show. First remove the computers and freebies, then the tablecloths and skirts, then fold the tables and bring them out to the truck, and finally roll up the carpet and take it to the truck. Make sure everyone knows their teardown task, and what order to do it. Those not involved in the teardown should probably not be in the booth during teardown.


If your pre-show preparations were done well, the show shouldn't be rocket science.

  1. Coordinate with and Rebrief Volunteers
  2. Set Up the Booth
  3. Make Sure Everything Goes Perfectly for the Speakers
  4. Have Fun With the Visitors
  5. Shmooze with the Press
  6. Stay in Touch with the Show Promoters
  7. Tear down the booth
Coordinate with and Rebrief Volunteers

Hopefully everyone already knows their part in the game plan, but sometimes Murphy steps in. Rebrief and re-plan accordingly.

Set Up the Booth

The booth needs to go up fast. Hopefully everyone knows what they're going to do, and what order to do it.

Make Sure Everything Goes Perfectly for the Speakers

As a frequent speaker let me tell you that before a talk I've got better things to worry about than my AV equipment, or filling the auditorium.

Make sure the speaker liaison smooths the path for the speakers. Help them with the AV. Make sure they have a computer suitable for giving their presentation (a browser, StarOffice and KPresenter). If they have their own notebook, help them hook it up. Test the microphone ahead of time.

The speaker liaison should take care of announcing the presentation. He should then call for attention and stop the chatter, after which he should announce the speaker. That way the speaker begins with a packed hall of quiet people ready to hear his talk.

Take care of your speakers, and they'll give you much better presentation.

Have Fun with the Visitors

Visitors should be greeted, but not hard-sold. The method I used at JaxLUG was that I waited for either eye contact or a prolonged (more than 1 second) stare at something in our booth. I then walked up and asked "are there any questions I can answer for you?". I then shut up and listened. A minority said "no", at which time I moved on. Many more hesitated, then asked questions about Linux. I answered what I could and called other booth volunteers to answer what I couldn't. Instead of asking a question, many visitors tell their own Linux story, usually leading to a large discussion.

Let the visitors know the freebies are free. No need to scan badges. No need to sign up for anything. Those freebies are for them. Naturally, don't let a visitor grab 10 copies of a distro, but anything reasonable is fine. Have a couple of copies of your favorite distro in hand so you can hand them to a visitor who shows interest.

Try to attract visitors to and into your booth. People have a herd mentality. Nobody visits an empty booth, but everyone wants to visit the full one. As I said earlier, have the booth completely open, with the tables at the back and sides, but never the front. If a person has a question, invite them over to a machine to answer the question. That way they're in the booth.

When the booth is particularly full, have someone take a picture.

Shmooze with the Press

The press (especially the Grassroots Linux Press) is our best friend. Keep them informed of everything. Make their lives easier. Grant them interviews with your most eloquent spokesmen. Any press people at your show should be treated like royalty.

Stay in Touch with the Show Promoters

You're at the show at the discretion of the promoter. It's absolutely imperative that you fulfill the promoter's goals. Draw tons of traffic, but never at the expense of your neighbors. Ask the promoter for feedback on how much you're helping the show, and what you can do to help it more. The promoter might have info on your booth's stats -- try to find out those figures.

Tear down quickly and efficiently in the last half hour of the show

Faster than rats deserting a sinking ship. That's how the show's workmen tear down after the show. One minute the show is a beautifully carpeted place, and the next it's a concrete warehouse. These workmen are paid by the hour, so you never want to be the one to slow them down. The last half hour, pack up the freebies and computers and take them out. Then the last 10 minutes remove the tablecloths and skirts, fold the tables and take them out to the trucks, then roll up your carpet and carry it out.

Make sure you have PLENTY of volunteers on hand for the last half hour to get all this done.


What is the sound of a tree falling in a forest where there's nobody to hear? The greatest LUG victory is meaningless unless the world knows about it. Post-show publicity is a must.

  1. Write an Article Describing the Victory
  2. Distribute the Article
  3. Plan for Next Year
  4. Celebrate
Write an Article Describing the Victory

The publicity person or someone appointed by him should write an article on the show. That article must be done within  a day of the show's completion. It's best done during the show. Let the person write the article on one of the demo computers. Not only will the article be done contemporaneously, but it will raise the curiosity level of the booth's passers by. Naturally, the article must be backed up to floppy, because there's little control over a demo machine.

Distribute the Article

The article should go on your LUG website an hour before the end of the show. That night the publicity person and any on the publicity committee should write the Linux news organizations describing the article and asking for links. Slashdot, Linux Weekly News (and their Linux Daily News), NewsForge and the like. Also write all the regional LUG mailing lists with the link to the article. This is especially effective if there are pictures containing some of their members.

Plan for Next Year

Within a couple days of the end of the show (even better, at the show), talk with the show promoter. How did he like it? How does he want it changed next year? Try to get a commitment for a booth next year.

Within a couple of weeks, talk with your LUG for ideas on how to do it even better next year. Absolutely, positively write down all ideas so that next year you'll have a head start.


You just went down in history. Maybe you pulled off a supercoup like SLUG, or maybe it was just a solid victory like LEAP and JaxLUG. Whatever it was, your team did a great job and now it's time to celebrate.


Putting on a Linux exhibition at a computer show is hard work, but it's not rocket science. Plan solidly before the event, execute solidly during the event, and publicize and reiterate solidly after the event, and your LUG will join the list of hotshot LUGs doing regional outreach.

Steve Litt is the documenter of the Universal Troubleshooting Process.  He can be reached at slitt@troubleshooters.com. This article originally appeared at www.troubleshooters.com and is Copyright (c) 2001 by Steve Litt. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, version  Draft v1.0, 8 June 1999 (available at http://www.troubleshooters.com/openpub04.txt


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