LAST UPDATED: 2 December 2022
[Bonus] GiveSignup | RunSignup Winter Symposium
A look at the upcoming GiveSignup | RunSignup Winter Symposium in Orlando, FL (Jan 25-26) and what it has to offer for race directors, timers and nonprofits.
The GiveSignup|RunSignup Symposium series has grown from modest beginnings of just a few dozen people to be the industry conference most race directors and timers will attend during the year.
And this January 25-26, the Symposium series returns to Orlando Florida after a two-year hiatus for an awesome two days of education and networking, and all race directors, timers and nonprofit professionals are invited - not just GiveSignup|RunSignup customers.
So, it’s great to have with me today, Johanna Goode, from GiveSignup|RunSignup who has the unenviable job of putting the whole thing together to tell us a little bit more about what you can look forward to both at and around the Symposium this coming January.
In this episode:
- The history of the GiveSignup | RunSignup Symposium series
- Why the GiveSignup | RunSignup Symposium is not your regular race director conference/expo
- What you can look forward to in attending if you're a race director, timer or nonprofit
- How you can attend the Symposium as a vendor
- The Demo Room, the Suite Run, and other training and networking opportunities at this year's Winter Symposium
To learn more about the GiveSignup | RunSignup Winter Symposium, and to register visit: runsignup.com/wintersymposium
Johanna, welcome back to the podcast!
Thanks, Panos! It's great to see you again!
It's very great to see you too! How are you? How are things at RunSignup?
Things are going well! Coming out of the pandemic, we're starting to see a lot of events coming back, kind of, across the board. So it's been fun to see things happening and moving again.
That's great. So today, we'll be doing a bonus episode for our listeners - so a little bit outside the regular flow of things. Because we'll be touching on the GiveSignup|RunSignup Winter Symposium, I thought I'd ask you to come back onto the podcast - because you're, sort of, leading the symposium - and share with our listeners a few things about the Symposium - how it came about, what it is about, and what people can potentially gain from attending. Lots of people would know about it. I've personally never attended it but I've heard really great stuff from people in terms of how fun it is and I've watched some of the clips, but it's best to get it, like, from the horse's mouth - what it's about and what you guys are trying to do with it. So first of all, we should say, the upcoming Winter Symposium - we'll mention this a couple of times for people - will be held in Orlando, Florida in this January 25-26. So it's a really great place to be during the summer. And this is the first Winter Symposium - am I right?
It is the second. So we did one in January of 2020 in Orlando. It obviously took off last year.
All right. Just before things were shut down, right?
Yep, yep. Before we knew that we shouldn't do that.
Right. And you guys, of course, have the Summer Symposium - right? Tell us a little bit about the summer one which I think was the first symposium you guys held?
Yeah. So we started doing Symposiums in the summer of 2014 - I believe that was our first one. Those have been traditionally held in Philadelphia in mid to late July - the dates have, kind of, moved around a little bit. We were a fairly new company at the time and wanted to bring together some of our customers so that we can provide some education for them, but also have some time where we spend a lot of time with them in-person, learn from them, get a better understanding of what they needed and what they were looking for. And that, kind of, grew over time. And with a lot of demand for that, we started to look at doing a second one in the winter for people who couldn't come in the summer.
Right. And just give us an idea of, like, where did you guys start from and where are you currently at since the last in-person symposium that took place?
So during my first year in 2014, I think we had 40 people. It was just a one-day event. Everyone came together in one small room for a couple of sessions over the last couple of years. I think we have, kind of, between 200-300, depending on the season and the exact events and the capacity of where we're at. We tend to look first in smaller places that can't really hold more than that anyways.
Right. And just to clarify for people - I think this is important because the Symposium actually wasn't very clear to me either, so if it's not clear to me, it'll not be clear for many people - is the Symposium only there for, like, RunSignup customers or can other people attend? So if I'm a race director but I'm not on RunSignup, can I attend? Can I come?
Yeah, anyone can attend. We certainly have more GiveSignup|RunSignup customers there than non-customers, but the idea is for it to be accessible to anyone. It's relatively inexpensive as far as conferences go. We try to keep the price as low as possible. And there are sessions - if you're not a customer - where someone shows you how to use the technology. At the same time, anytime we talk about email marketing, marketing tools, registration, or best practices, many of those things will be available across a lot of different platforms. You can take a lot of the best practices and apply them no matter what technology you use.
Right. So basically, if I am a RunSignup customer, I'll also be able to see some stuff and try things out that are specific to the RunSignup platform. But even if I'm not, there are many things that are done in some form in other places as well and there'll be other educational sessions that are valuable to me. And in terms of winter and summer, going forward, is it a plan to keep both of those running?
Probably, we are evaluating, kind of, what we want to do long term - if there's a format we want to change or if we want to add different elements in. So I can't say, "Forever, there'll be two Symposiums at exactly those times." But the current plan is that.
Right. Maybe a Symposium a little bit further west from the East Coasts - right?
We have talked about trying new locations, or doing some smaller events in different areas, or changing up timing. So we tell our events not to get stale. We also try not to get stale and think about the stuff we want to change over the next couple of years.
Right. And one more thing to clarify, for people listening in, we have lots of vendors in our audience and, sort of, other industry people besides race directors. If I'm a vendor, if I'm a brand, if I have stuff to communicate to race directors in the community, can I bring my brand or my company to the Symposium? Can I exhibit?
Yes. You can definitely bring your brand. We do have a vendor pricing which is a little bit higher for race directors or timers simply because we heavily subsidized the cost of the event for people who are race directors and timers - because we want it to be accessible to them. If you're a vendor, you're welcome to come. We just don't want to subsidize your meals and stuff - so that price is a little bit higher. But you can always sign up, come meet people and hang out. We don't do a traditional Expo. That is intentional because we are frequent vendors at expos and we often don't find them to be super productive - kind of a waste of our time and something that people don't necessarily want. Because of that, we do have some limited opportunities for vendors to interact as sponsors - a couple of places where you're allowed to set up things or have a little bit of a presence that's a little bit more visible as a brand partner. If you're interested in that, just reach out to me and I can send you the options for that. But it won't look like a big space that you walk into and there's a lot of different booths setup.
Right. So did vendors actually attend? Have you had people?
Yes, we've had a couple of vendors who have attended from the very beginning. They would buy their own tickets and just come as attendees, meet people, and frequently ask us if we'll ever have real sponsorships. For several years, we did not. I believe, actually, January 2020 was the first time we had any traditional sponsors. And like I said, it wasn't really what you usually think of, but we did have a little bit more of a presence and a role for them beyond just being attendees. But we have had vendors who opt to come - I believe, maybe not the first one - at least, for the second Symposium.
Okay, cool. So what were your guys thinking behind launching the Symposium? I can, sort of, see why you'd want to get together with customers and stuff. But it looks like the whole Symposium thing has grown to be a lot more than that. I mean, there's been a few conferences and there are still a few industry conferences around. So how would you, sort of, position or think of yourselves relative to other conferences? What do you guys bring to the table? Why is the symposium around? What kind of need does it fill?
Yeah. Like you said, there's a lot of other industry conferences. I've been to a lot of them - they're great conferences. To be fair, this is not necessarily what we knew when we go into it. It's kind of what we've learned over time. What people have gotten out of it is that there are a lot of conferences that do a lot of high-level thinking, they do a lot of general networking of large events, they get a lot of, like, these big customers together who come and talk. And so, the two kinds of niches that we wanted to fill were (1) being a broader audience. So we do have races with over 30,000 attendees but we are also accessible and easy for a small race director who just wants to learn more - so, kind of, bridging the gap for all sizes of events. In addition to that, we're a lot more training-heavy and we're a lot more nitty-gritty. We don't spend as much time talking about the general theory of posting events. We really talk about, like, "How do you actually build an email? What do you actually need to do to reach your customers? How do you actually create a race day flow that's easier?" - that kind of thing. So we're a lot more focused on the really specific training aspects of putting on events rather than, kind of, the overall industry impression.
Yeah. And I think that's awesome, to be honest, because we, RaceDirectorsHQ, are also, in a way, trying to bridge that gap. I think that some of the conferences and some of the networking opportunities out there just happen - by virtue of price and stuff - to be a little bit unaffordable for most people. So it's great to see people getting together in one place - all kinds of people. All race directors can learn from others. Even if you do, like, 40,000-person events, there are still things to learn and you can learn from others. And it's also great to have something where people can show up with a notepad, and actually jot down stuff, and then go back home and actually apply it - right? Sometimes, I see all the sessions which are so, like, high-level - almost like stratospheric level - right? You don't come away with anything from it.
Well, we actually give you a notepad so we can make sure that you can write down your notes in every session.
Well, that's super! That's exactly what you need. Yeah. And race directors are a little bit old school. I guess not many people are showing up with iPads and stuffs. Okay, great. So let's get into the, sort of, like, agenda of the Symposium and what people can look forward to. So I noticed on the website - and I'm not sure whether that's a new thing or not - that there are three different tracks that you guys do. You, sort of, had a separate timer track before - right? So tell us a little bit about the three tracks.
Yeah. So again, in the very first year, there was one track. After that, we started to split up into a race director track and a timer track. I believe that 2020 was the first time that we did a little bit of a nonprofit track and it was pretty lightweight then. This year, it'll be a little bit more full-blown. We'll have three tracks running the entire time. So the way that works is there are three separate rooms that are, kind of, designated to be intended sessions for timers, race directors, or nonprofits who want to learn about things beyond just endurance events. That being said, you don't have to, like, declare, "I'm a race director" and those are the only sessions you can attend because a lot of our customers wear a lot of different hats. And so, you can look at all the sessions and say, "This session on day one is for timers. But that's the kind of thing that I care about in my events. I want to go to that one. I'd like to go to this race director session. And I'd like to go to that one to learn more about this nonprofit that's working with me." So it's, kind of, a "Make Your Own Adventure" - pick your own sessions out of three, kind of, main emphasis.
Right. And then is it possible for you to give us, like, a rough idea in each track, sort of, what the focus or what kinds of things can people look forward to?
Yeah. I'll start with the race director's because I think that's probably what most people here are. We do a lot on different types of marketing in terms of email marketing, marketing tools to help grow your race, how you want to set up a website - those kinds of things to really talk about your brand and how you share about your organization. We do work with some efficiency. So how do you communicate better with your participants? What kinds of automation you can put in to make it a little bit easier for your peers to manage their own registration to, kind of, cut you out as a customer service person all the time? Fundraising - if you work with a partner who wants to raise more, how will you work with them to make sure that they reach their goal because everyone likes to have a race that supports a cause. And if it's not your cause, you want to make sure that you'll work well with your charity partner. And then, one that I'm actually very excited about is Porter Bratten from Orca Running who will do a session on taking his organization to become carbon neutral and talk about, kind of, how he has thought about that process, what steps to take, and how you can - if not go carbon neutral - start to think about reducing your carbon footprint for your events.
That's great. Fantastic race director. Really savvy business person. This episode will probably go out before that. But we actually recorded an episode with Porter on buying and selling races with him and Tony Sapp. So yeah, two RunSignup people. So that'll be really interesting. Okay, so that's race directors. Then, what can timers and nonprofits look forward to?
Yeah. So for timers, we're really focused on your race day tools. You'll talk a lot about RaceDay Scoring, about RaceDay CheckIn, Race Day Registration, how you keep a good flow on your race day, as well as how timers can grow their businesses and really expand what they do, and reach out to new events. For nonprofits, it'll be focused on broader fundraising events. So they will have some sessions on endurance events like runs. There will also be more sessions on using email marketing for your events - different types of virtual and hybrid events that you might want to do - how to present your nonprofit on your event website, and stuff that's a little bit beyond just endurance events.
Super. And so, just for me and, more importantly, for our listeners to understand, when we say nonprofits here, do you think that would be a nonprofit that hasn't put on races before? Or do you mean a nonprofit which has experience in races?
It can be either. So in some cases, it will be someone who has worked with GiveSignup|RunSignup to put on a race before and now wants to think about how they can use similar technology to put on bigger events or different types of events. In that case, often, it's an events manager or a person for a nonprofit - that's their main focus and they just, kind of, want to look out and branch out beyond that. But there are also events that use our software that are entirely unrelated to running, walking, and riding, and it's someone who has never used our platform for that purpose. And there should be plenty of content that they can just talk about fundraising events in general - it doesn't have to be related to endurance.
Super. Another thing to clarify, I think you guys do some kind of certification for timers as well - right? Will you offer certification at the Symposium?
We don't do any certification at the symposium at this time. We have done that in the past and it's just very time-intensive and a lot of focus is put on the timers. So we think it will be a little more productive for them to come certified so that they can talk about more advanced features instead of teaching them the basics and software. Those certifications are now available online, anytime. So you can set up a time to get the materials sent and do it on your own. Have some interaction with Crisp if you have questions, or if you want to go beyond the basic certification, get that handled before the Symposium so that you can really get the most out of all the content there and talk about some of the more advanced features instead.
So I can get certified remotely - can I?
We can do individual certifications remotely now. Yeah. So that's for both RaceDay Scoring and RaceJoy.
Excellent. One other thing I noticed on the website - speaking of hands-on stuff and how you come away from the symposium with, like, actionable stuff that you can apply to things - there's a demo room. What's that about?
Demo room is my favorite. We put a lot of resources into it. And it's open throughout the majority of the Symposium. If you look at the schedule and there's no session that you're super excited about, you can use that time - it's also open during any of the breaks so that there's plenty of time - to go in and see things in action. It kind of grew out of wanting to have time for attendees to have one-on-one time with our team members to ask questions and really dig into problems that they were having. So the way that we've handled this - made it more efficient and also given you the opportunity to see something that you may not have known you wanted to see - is to set up a demo room where you can go through an entire race day registration process and what it looks like if you show up at an event. You can also sit down and have someone walk you through a demo of any of the tools on our platform. There's, kind of, different tables and areas to help you find the right person to answer your question. And they can show you things in real-time and really give you a hands-on look at how the technology works.
That's great. How many people will be in the demo room from your side of things?
Probably about 10 at any given time. So it's a big part of what our team does when we're there - keeping the demo room up and running.
Is this the first occasion in which you'll do the demo room?
No. January 2020 was the first time we put in a full demo room. We've done some, like, demo elements before but that was the first full demo room and it was very well received.
Well, yeah, I can imagine. Being able to be walked through the full registration flow by someone is like support on steroids - right? I mean, you have the full thing there. It sounds pretty awesome.
If you have questions that you just haven't had answered, you can bring them to anyone. Even if it doesn't look like there's a correct setup, they'll make sure someone can get your questions answered.
People are making lists, as we speak, of all the questions - they'll bring them to Orlando. Okay, now moving on a little bit to the fun side of things - like, doing the demo and stuff is all great. But it's also a great opportunity to meet people and - after what we've been through with the pandemic - have a little bit of fun. And I noticed, like, so many other conferences, you have a fun run which is awesome - what's that about? Is that, like, 5K that people do?
Yeah. So it is a 5K. We call it the Suite Run because it is an example of our RaceDay Suite. Also, we have some sweets on hand. We will have donuts available. If you've ever been to a conference, a lot of running event conferences will have a 5K in the morning - it is unofficial, the course is open, there is one street crossing, so we don't really want you to try to win that badly. We'll have someone manning that to make sure that you don't run into traffic. But it's just a quick little 5K around the area. But what's a little bit unique and cool about it is that we do time it not because we care who wins but because we want to show you how the timing works. We have RaceJoy with cheers and our entire, kind of, RaceDay Suite out in operation for that. So what's fun is there are certainly a lot of people who are excited to go run or walk - walkers are welcome. But we also have a lot of people who don't want to run or is just more interested in the technology, who will get up at 6 AM, and instead of going out for the run, they'll come down and actually just watch the timing happen, watch the actual technology end of it to learn more about that side. So it's kind of both ends. If you don't want to run, there's still something for you to do.
Yeah. Well, I bet you don't care who wins. But I can tell you that there's gonna be a few people there who do care about who wins.
I know but I just don't want them to get hit by traffic. So I have to tell them not to care.
Yeah. I mean, there are a few RunSignup customers that come to mind that might get a little bit competitive there. And it's, like, early in the morning on the second day.
Yeah. It's 6.15 AM on the second day of the symposium.
Okay. So tell me how many people make it to the 6.30 AM race or whatever after, like, a hangover - like, you must have some, kind of, networking thing happen the night before.
We do. And I don't have the number in front of me but I was impressed last time. I would have said that at least half the conference was there, either, running or watching, if not more. There was a very strong turnout last time.
And who won it and by what time?
Last time, our winner was Andy Bacon who ran it in a 17:40, about 5:42/mile pace. So I'd say that to be not too bad considering there might have been a stop there.
Not too bad. Well done, Andy. Okay, super. So you have the fun run. We mentioned something about, like, networking and people having fun and having a glass of wine. What's that side of things in the Symposium? How much of that do you have?
Yeah. So we have social events on both nights. The first night is a little bit more of a full dinner. The last night, some people are on their way out so we keep that a little bit more casual as a happy hour. But what we do with both of those - and really, kind of, our philosophy, in general - is we don't want you to sit at tables. We don't have a formal program. You don't have to sit through us talking. I think, at most, Bob might say, "Thank you" to everyone and that's about it. We, kind of, want those to be times for you to really actually network. So obviously, there is a table where you can get your food and go sit down to eat. But a lot of it are really created to bring people together and get you guys chatting, talking, and playing games out by the pool. It's just a nice way to meet people informally and make some connections that aren't quite as stiff as in a session room.
Great. Well, race directors at a pool - I need to see that, I need to get some pictures of that. So speaking of, like, Orlando in January, is that, like, a time of year where you would swim in Orlando? Is it as warm as that?
It can vary. Last time, yeah, it was 85 and humid. So it can be cooler than that but it's often quite nice and perfectly capable for that kind of thing. So keep an eye on the weather leading up to it - you might wanna bring your bathing suit.
Great. Well, what are the kinds of things that people did last time round in Orlando? So when they were there, did you arrange for other stuff, sort of, outside the conference or did people do their own thing?
The conference is pretty self-contained. Orlando is a pretty big area so it's easier to, kind of, keep people in one little space and area where we can keep things together. But we definitely had a lot of people who brought down their families - they would go to Disney before or after and explore the downtown area or other fun theme parks in the area. So a lot of people brought families - stayed a couple of days after or came down a little bit early to use that time - for a little bit of a vacation in addition to the conference.
Yeah, sounds great. How close is Disney to the conference venue?
Most of the parks are about 30 minutes from the hotel - depending on exactly the time of day - but it's pretty easy and flexible to get there.
Oh, a perfect occasion for a family vacation in January. Okay, so let's go over the details one more time. So it's Orlando, Florida, January 25-26. Until when can people sign up?
Theoretically, until the event starts. We do keep an eye on numbers. It's a pretty big venue so we'll probably be fine taking registrations until January 24. That said, if we get close to, kind of, our cap that we're comfortable with, then we will close things out and give you guys a warning about that.
What is the registration cost?
So currently, we are in our, kind of, regular registration period. The registration cost right now is $225. And then on December 11, that goes up to $275. However, we did want to offer the listeners of the podcast a discount. So if you use the coupon code "RDHQ", that will knock it down to our early bird pricing which was $195.
Oh, that's great. Thank you very much! It's very generous of you. Is there a different price for vendors who may want to attend?
Yes. Vendors have a set price of $750. And that's for just registration for their actual individual registrations.
Okay. I think most people would understand this but it's also good to, like, set it on record that this is not a conference that you guys make money out of - right? Like, $225 - you said it's heavily subsidized - right? So people will get a lot more than that in terms of value.
Yeah, our true cost per attendee is closer to the $600-$700 range.
Wow. Okay. Well, that's very kind of you to subsidize that. And in terms of the policy you guys have around COVID-- I mean, let's first think about participants rather than cancellations and stuff. If I want to attend, what do I need to bring with me?
We just need you to be vaccinated. We don't want to be police officers but we request that you don't register if you are not vaccinated to keep everyone safe. If you aren't able to be vaccinated, we'll have plenty of virtual content available for you this year and we'll have you do this in-person at another time.
Okay, well, speaking of content, actually, that's a question I forgot to ask earlier. Every year, you guys do release some clips from the conference. Is there a plan that some of those sessions will also be, at some point, shared over video and stuff?
Yeah, we have not-- we will not livestream the whole thing. I believe we will probably livestream one session. And then, we will archive everything. It's not as fast to put out as our digital virtual ones so you won't get stuff the next day. But if you're not able to attend, we will make content available as soon as we're able.
Okay. And do you have, like, special rates for attendees to stay in a given hotel or something? Does everyone stay, like, in the main venue? How do people normally do it?
Yeah. So the main hotel is the Orlando Airport Marriott Lakeside - which is a bit of a mouthful. But all of the sessions take place there and all the events were all, kind of, right there. You can reserve or book a room in our block there for $189/night. And the majority of attendees will stay there. That being said, it's an area with a ton of hotels. So if you don't like the Marriott or you want something at a different price point, there are easily 10-15 hotels within walking distance that you can look at as well.
So if I want to book the $189 rate, is there something I need to do, or do I just call up the hotel and say, "I'm here for the conference" and they'll give me the $189 rate?
Yeah. So there is a link to the reservation using that room block rate on our website, which is runsignup.com/wintersymposium. From there, you can just go to the host hotel and that link will take you directly to the hotel.
It's good to repeat the website address one more time. So where should I go to?
Yes. All one word.
Okay. And that's, sort of, like, my gateway to everything - I can look up the agenda, I can look up for dates, the whole thing.
Yep. All the information and details are on there. If you want to contact us, you can do that through there as well.
Okay, awesome. Last thing, God forbid something happens. If this virus goes crazy again, what's the plan if people have, sort of, like, registered? What happens with the in-person component?
Yeah. So we feel really optimistic that we'll be able to move forward this year - that we'll be able to host the event and we'll feel good about it. But if things change - and for some reason, we can't - we will do a virtual version and we will fully refund everyone's money for registration. That being said, also, if we move forward, we think it's fine. But if you have your own reservations for any reason, or someone you know gets sick, or for whatever reason you are not able to attend, just contact us. We will be very flexible and provide refunds pretty liberally if you're not comfortable.
Fantastic. Okay, that's an awesome refund policy. Okay, let's recap. January 25-26. You can be a race director. You can be a timer. You can be a nonprofit. There'll be, sort of, like, tracks for everyone separately. But you can also mingle and, sort of like, pick and mix from those things. Orlando, Florida - very close to Disneyland. So bring the kids. What are we now? $225 right now?
And we can knock it down to $195 with the coupon code "RDHQ"?
Awesome. And people need to head to runsignup.com/wintersymposium.
Excellent. And you'll be there?
I will, along with a lot of our team.
Awesome. So last question, how stressful is it to organize this thing?
I mean, you guys are race directors - you know what events are like. But we've done this for a number of years now so some of it is, kind of, systematized. We got a lot of people on our team now - so that helps.
Yeah, but most of the weight of this falls on your shoulders, right?
Yeah, this has been, kind of, my baby since I started - so it's my project and I'll make sure it happens.
Okay, great. So to people listening in, when you attend the Symposium, buy Johanna a drink so you'll know who she is. Just find her and buy her a-- what do you drink? What's your drink?
I'm a beer girl.
Beer? Okay, buy Johanna a beer then, please. So is there anything else you think we should mention here?
I think that pretty much covers it. If I missed anything, shoot me an email - let me know. We can always answer any questions.
Okay, great. So what's your email?
Great. Okay. Thank you very much Johanna for coming on today and sharing with us all this information about the Winter Symposium. I hope many people listening in will be able to make it. I think it's a fantastic conference whether you're a RunSignup customer or not. It's for all kinds of race directors that follow RaceDirectorsHQ - and listen to this podcast - who are from all kinds of backgrounds, not just, like, the ultra high-profile ones. And I think they'll derive great value from it. Hopefully, we'll all see each other in Orlando. And thank you very much again for coming on.
Thank you very much to our listeners. And we'll see everyone on our next podcast!
I hope you enjoyed this bonus episode, on the upcoming GiveSignup|RunSignup Winter Symposium with GiveSignup|RunSignup's Johanna Goode.
As you heard back there, you can register for the Winter Symposium using the coupon code "RDHQ" to save $30 on your registration. That coupon will knock you back to the early bird registration price of just $195, so head over to runsignup.com/wintersymposium and register today.
Honestly, it's an awesome opportunity to grow your skills and your network - and your kids get to go to Disneyland in January! So it's a total win-win for everyone.
If you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to subscribe or leave a review on your favorite player and, also, check out the podcast back-catalogue for more great content like this.
Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.