The PostgreSQL Project was assigned a devroom at FOSDEM again this year. We got a room with approx. 200 seats, and as usual every last seat was taken for many of the talks. This requires that we manage the room very effectively and carefully, both to avoid that people walk in and out at all times and disturb the speaker, but also in order to keep the exits free at all times.
For a speaker it is quite disturbing if the door in the back opens, someone walks in, down all the way to the front, tries to find a seat, walk around to the other side, maybe leaves again, or just stays somewhere and blocks the exit. The worst case is when there is a free seat somewhere in the middle of a row, and everybody has to get up to let the new attendee in.
The FOSDEM team requires that we keep the exits free, in case the room needs to be evacuated. If people are staying on the steps along the wall, it is not possible to clear the room effectively and quickly.
This year we assigned 5 volunteers to help with the devroom:
2 inside door guards
1 outside door guard
The position of the devroom host is obvious: this person does introduce the speaker at the beginning of the talk, she or he keeps track of the time, shows signs to the speaker with the remaining talk time, makes sure that water bottles are available to the speaker, and also handles questions from the audience (like bringing the microphone to the questioner).
The video helper is unique to FOSDEM: the talks are recorded, and the camera is positioned in the back of the room. This person ensures that the camera points at the speaker at all times, even if the speaker rooms in front of the crowd.
The two inside door guards make sure that after the talk started (ok, actually a few minutes later, in order to allow late arrivals) no one is entering the room anymore. If all seats are already occupied, no one is let in either. This avoids that people walk around in the dimmed room, and try to find a seat. It also ensures that people do not enter the room early, in order to get a seat for the next talk.
The outside door guard manages the visitors who arrive at the door for the next talk. At times the queue outside became quite long, because more people wanted to see the next talk than the room can actually host. The guard outside queued the people in front of one door, and made sure that the other door remains free. When a talk finished, the helpers in the room sent everyone out to the other door, and then the waiting people were let into the room in small groups. Once in the room, the guards with help from the room and video host made sure that people fill all seats, no seat is occupied by backpacks and no seat is left. If there were still empty seats, more people were let into the room. For the communication between all volunteers on-site we use a Hangouts channel, this way we do not have to make noisy phone calls.
This procedure worked very effectively, and in less than 10 minutes the room was cleared out and all seats were taken again. A punctual start of the next talk is guaranteed.