Boris Schapira - Sud Web

 ★  7 minutes to read

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Hello Boris, could you introduce yourself, present the theme of your conference and tell us who this conference is for?

Hi! My name is Boris and I’m a member of the Sud Web Thym (an intended pun between the words team and thyme). Sud Web is a nomadic event taking place every year in the south of France since 2011. This year, we will host about 100 attendees (speakers included) in Anduze, on May 25th and 26th.

This is a multidimensional conference : on Friday, talks are planned by the staff, dedicated to feedbacks and thoughts from personal experiences. Saturday is organised as a Barcamp day, where everything is possible. The idea is that people exchange and learn from each other during informal get-togethers. Community evenings on Thursdays and Friday are also a good opportunity to get to know each other and chat about this and that in a friendly environment.

We try and rethink our recipe each year, starting from what we liked in the previous editions and experiment further. The 2018 edition is, for example, the first one held outside of a major city. Our Thym of 6 volunteers is entirely dedicated to creating a friendly event, encouraging informal conversations.

What's your background and what is your role in organizing the conference?

I’m 34, French, I live in Champcevinel and I am the Customer Success Manager for Dareboost, a SaaS service which tests and monitors your website’s web performance, SEO, security and overall quality. However, my day job has absolutely nothing to do with my responsibilities in Sud Web’s organization! :D

Boris Schapira
Boris Schapira, photo Sud Web 2017, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

My role among the Thym is diverse, ranging from accounting to mailing to managing the social network accounts and helping the speakers fine-tune their talks. I try and pay attention to everything and everyone to help the other volunteers in need and make sure the event is on track. I'm learning a lot in many fields.

What is the philosophy/purpose of your conference?

Many events are focused on technical knowledge, on learning know-how. We, on the other hand, are trying to build something else, asking ourselves and our speakers why we do what we do. We are not trying to train people and we don’t want our attendees to be focused on what they learned during the event. We want to help speakers and attendees to share a moment, understand each other’s experiences, motivation, and instil meaning into their everyday actions. But even if we are interested in personal development, we target web professionals, so we share a bond with other conferences in the web industry. You can place us somewhere between Paris Web and TedX.

We focus on narratives and feedback from web professionals and amateurs rather than technical conferences because we want to create connections between people: the story of each person resonates in our own experience.

As described one day by HTeuMeuLeu, we’re brainstorming on how to make a better web for a better world. Starting on Monday.

... we want to create connections between people: the story of each person resonates in our own experience.

How do you engage potential attendees?

Sud Web has brought together a strong community. Each year, more than half of our attendees are people who have already attend one or several previous editions. The great challenge is to introduce Sud Web to other people.

The nomadic nature of the event makes it possible to attract a local population, different for each edition. Our program, dictated by our curation and the open-mindedness of our community, allows us to tackle new subjects each year, likely to attract very different profiles.

In addition, people who come to Sud Web are often happy to share the event with others. Sometimes they encourage them to purchase their tickets and sometimes, they invite them. We also have the support of loyal companies who appreciate our work and offer many tickets every year, to their employees or to support a diversity program.

In the end, we don't communicate a lot about the event: we are faithful to our values, and the tickets sell themselves.

Attendees, speakers and organizers - 2014 edition
2014 edition. Photo Sud Web 2014, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What are the 2 or 3 main problems you encountered during the organization of your conference? How did you solve these problems?

Sud Web is organized by a small team of volunteers, does not have a well-defined hierarchical structure and operates largely by consensus. We sometimes need quite some time to reach a consensus. Finding the right balance between our desire for occupational congruence and satisfaction, and the need to move forward in the organization of the event, is not an easy task.

Our founding values are caring, inclusion and diversity. To honor these values, we undergo a phase during which we make a conscious effort to seek people who evolve outside our comfort zone or our usual working environment. We often talk to people who don't see the Web the way we do, or who work on topics we don't understand at all. We identify people from groups that are under-represented in technology (people of color, women, LGBT, people with disabilities, people who live in the country). Each time, we take great care in helping them find their voice, explain what they want to share. Our relationship with these people is very far from the usual CFP (Call For Papers) and at the same time we have to be very clear about what we are building and the next phase because after these, sometimes intense, exchanges, we still have to select the subjects for the final program. This year, we've started over 90 conversations... but the program only has 14 speakers, and we will continue to talk with them until the last moment, helping them extract the very essence of their message.

Our founding values are caring, inclusion and diversity.

I would like to mention a third and last issue that is particularly complex to manage this year: logistics. We tried to organize the cheapest, friendliest Sud Web ever. To do that, we had to move away from a big city. A gamble with advantages and drawbacks. It helps us lower the cost for most of the attendees but, on the other hand, this makes access to Sud Web more complex for the most remote people, especially foreign speakers and attendees. We are doing everything we can to help them make the trip, providing accommodation, emphasizing carpool, but the task is difficult and leads to other drawbacks (we’ve discovered that providing accommodation was not particularly reassuring for women, who may feel vulnerable and that even if alternatives are possible, making it the main option keeps them away from the event).

Anduze station
Anduze station. Photo Sud Web 2018, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Have you found tools or services particularly helpful?

We use Weezevent for ticket sales, Mailchimp for newsletters, Slack to talk with each other, Trello to manage tasks, Google Mail, Drive and Docs to collaborate on documents. We’ve entirely created our design and website, as well as our open-source talks’ selection web app. But in the end, we spend most of our time feeding spreadsheets.

With hindsight, I must admit that we have spent a lot of time on some subjects when there are solutions that could have made our lives easier. I think this "handmade" value is a part of Sud Web authenticity, so the event requires this investment but for another event, I’d rather use a ready-made solution rather than spending another hundred hours on multiple tools, copy-pasting info.

What's your advice for conference organizers who are organizing their first event?

Laugh Don’t, it takes too much of your personal time!

More seriously, I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with the right people. No matter what you want to achieve, your crew and its deepest understanding of what the group is trying to achieve and how to achieve it is the only thing that really matters. This will help you overcome the unexpected, personal setbacks, mood incompatibilities too, sometimes. When you have that, you have the essentials.

Outdoor forum at Sud Web
Outdoor forum. Photo Sud Web 2017, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As for the rest, match your efforts to your values. If your tools are not part of your objective, pay for them. If you don't need a large space in a fancy hotel, do something simpler. If you want to get to the bottom of things, take the time to do so. The advice may seem simplistic, but you will quickly lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish once you are absorbed in your work.

So keep calm and focus on what matters most (and if you've never taken the time to define it: start there).

I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with the right people.

Thanks Boris for your participation in this interview.

Follow Boris on internet:

And don’t forget to take a look at this warm and caring event: Sud Web

Sud Web event

If you are a conference organizer yourself and would like to be interviewed, please do not hesitate to contact me.


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