Q&A With MVPs: How to host a conference


A room full of attendees listen close - and some joke around - at CloudBurst 2016

Launching a conference can seem like a pretty daunting task. There’s presenters to invite, participants to engage, and tons of social events to plan. But as two MVPs show us, organizing one is also pretty rewarding - especially when it centers around all the technology you love.

Azure MVPs Alan Smith and Magnus Mårtensson host CloudBurst, a free, three day conference in Sweden that features the best presenters from the Azure developer community and Microsoft. We spoke to Alan and Magnus to hear about what motivated them to launch the conference, how they manage the logistics, and what advice they’d give to other MVPs who’d like to do the same.

What is CloudBurst?

Magnus: CloudBurst is a local event founded on the idea of bringing the best Azure MVP friends to Sweden to speak to our community of peers. We find ourselves fortunate enough to be in the awesome group of Azure MVPs, and we have some of our best industry friends in this gang. Take any of these super experts and seasoned speakers and put them on a stage – you can be certain they will deliver gold.

What made you come up with the idea of organizing your own conference?

Alan: We came up with the idea in a bar after work one day. Friends of ours who run the BizTalk user group in Sweden had previously put on some great events for which they invited international speakers. We also felt that in 2012, when we hosted the first event, the Azure technologies had matured enough to warrant a dedicated two-day Azure conference.

CloudBurst is typically in September. When do you start planning for the event?

Alan: Planning typically starts in March or April. We contact speakers and make sure the location is available for the event. As the people we would like to have present typically have busy schedules, we need to ensure they have CloudBurst in their diary as early as possible. The first time we ran the event it was quite uncoordinated, but after five years we now have a good idea of what to do and when.

How do you find presenters?

Alan: We invite the speakers that we would like to hear present. We don’t do a typical call for papers. We focus more on choosing the presenters, and then giving them the freedom to present about what they are most passionate about. We also try to make the event a great experience for presenters, so they let others know about us. We have had some high-profile presenters approaching us and asking “When do I get to present at CloudBurst?” after hearing about the event through word-of-mouth.

How does the budgeting work for a conference that is free to attend?

Alan: We rely heavily on sponsors, and the goodwill of the presenters. The budget for travel and accommodation for the presenters is around €3 000. Taking a budget hotel and skipping a speaker dinner at a nice restaurant means we can bring out more presenters. I think the speakers appreciate that we are trying to put on a high quality event on a low budget, and do not expect too much in the way of luxuries. For the past three years I have been cooking the speaker’s dinner and hosting it at my place. This saves a lot in the budget, and helps to give a personal feel to the event.

How do you market the conference? What's worked, and what hasn't in the past five years?

Magnus: We have friends all over social media that help to spread the word. The challenge is of course reaching out to new participants. We send out an email to the large list of developers signed up for the Microsoft Sweden developer newsletter. Also, you should always make sure to have a registry of your attendees, so that you can reach them the next year. For example, Meetup.com works well for this.

How does the MVP program help you to put on an event like this?

Magnus: Without a doubt, being an MVP is what continues to sharpen my technical edge. The MVPs are excellent people to hang out with, and they inspire me to want to share in all the amazing technology.

Alan: Being an MVP has helped us to build up a network of like-minded individuals who share our passion for cloud-based technologies. This means we have the best selection of people to invite to present at the event. The MVP award also gives us more credibility when we approach Microsoft inquiring about presenters travelling to the event, as well as helps with arranging a venue, catering and other logistics.

What do you think makes a great community event?

Magnus: I know this may sound cheesy, but the passion of sharing. We created CloudBurst because you just had to. We were, and still are, very excited about the Cloud technology paradigm and we wanted to share it.

What advice would you offer to someone wanting to run their own conference?

Alan: Have a balanced team for organizing the event. Magnus and I work well together. He is great with publicity, and handling communication with Microsoft and the presenters. This leaves me free to work on event logistics - like flight and hotel bookings - as well as planning the social events. Also, keep the core team small. Magnus and I are both pretty much focused on doing the same thing in the same way. We don’t need any committee meetings about running the event. We just get on with it.

Magnus: Running your own conference should be done with one simple ingredient: joy! We love to do this and we love the technology that we use in our professional lives. Sharing is caring. And the best way to gain knowledge is to give some away.

Any final thoughts?

Alan: I have found running CloudBust has been a very positive experience. It’s a lot of hard work, and it can be worrying and stressful at times, but whatever you put into an event like this, you get back double.

Magnus: I do conference events because I just would not know where to release all the energy I’ve built up from learning about all this great technology. After each conference, I feel quite exhausted but also very satisfied. I immediately start thinking about the next one.


Alan Smith is a Microsoft Azure developer, trainer, mentor and evangelist at Active Solution in Stockholm. He has a strong hands-on philosophy and focuses on embracing the power and flexibility of cloud computing, to deliver engaging and exciting demos and training courses.

Alan has been an MVP for 11 years, and is currently an MVP for Microsoft Azure. He helps organize the CloudBurst conference and the Global Azure Bootcamp.

Follow him on Twitter @alansmith





Magnus Mårtensson is your advisor in Cloudy matters. He runs his own company, Loftysoft, in Sweden, and works with customers all over the world to offer expert Azure guidance about the Cloud, as well as assist with project effectiveness and development process streamlining.

Magnus is a passionate international speaker and trainer. Even more, he hosts conferences - including CloudBurst and Global Azure Bootcamp - and helps to create agendas for other conference tracks.

Follow him on Twitter @noopman

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