What Does “Sold Out” Actually Mean?

You’ve probably heard that next week’s MIX08 conference in Las Vegas is sold out. But do you know what that actually means? Does it mean that we decided months ago to cap registrations at an arbitrary number of attendees? Or perhaps we picked a mystical date? Or a financial target? Or the cynical among you might believe that “sold out” is just a way for us to create buzz around the conference. It might surprise you to learn that it’s none of these.

When we organize a conference like MIX08, one of the first tasks is finding a city that can accommodate thousands of attendees and the large support staff that it takes to run a big event. This is more challenging than you might think, because we have to consider things like meeting room layout, space to accommodate large sessions, the number of people we can fit into the ballroom for lunch, how many hotel rooms are available, opportunities for evening events and activities, weather, transportation, etc.

After applying all of these criteria, the list of candidate cities is typically pretty small. Also, reserving space for a large conference requires more than a year’s notice. In fact, it's common for associations to book their annual events over five years in advance! These aren’t like hotel rooms that you can casually move with 24-hour notice.

After we’ve selected a location, determining how many attendees we can accommodate then becomes the lesser of:

  • How many people the conference center can handle (which is subject to strict fire marshal rules)
  • How many hotel rooms are available
  • How many people we can feed at lunch

Yes, it actually comes down to this. When we sell out, it basically means that we’ve hit a hard physical limit based on one of these constraints. In particular, the fire marshal codes are there to ensure that our attendees are in a safe environment, and we take them very seriously.

Other than those who help run the event (staff, speakers, etc.), we limit Microsoft employee registration as much as possible so that our customers and partners have an opportunity to attend. With events as informative, educational, fun, and exciting as MIX08, we frequently disappoint our colleagues by blocking their registration. In the end, though, everyone understands that we need to optimize for the non-Microsoft attendees first.

That said, many Softies don’t understand where the limit comes from, and I hope that this post helps to shed some light on the situation. This also explains why it’s next-to-impossible to accommodate the inevitable last-minute barrage of “it’s critical that we get so-and-so into the event” requests. We get them every time. It's an easy problem to solve if someone else is willing to give up their space, but that rarely happens.

The good news is that we understand the physical limits of convention space, so we try to capture as much of the actual event as possible and broadcast it out to the world (for example, we post videos of every session within 24 hours of its presentation). So, if you aren’t able to attend in person, know that every session—and a lot of other content—will be available on http://visitmix.com/2008. We’ll continue to evolve our virtual presence for PDC08 and future conferences.