January 19, 2002

Rolling your own Linux event

Author: JT Smith

- 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

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

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
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

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

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

  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

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

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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