confconf notes

This year I'm co-running my first conference @upfrontconf. ConfConf was a great opportunity to attend a conference about running conferences (yes, oh how meta :smile:) and learn some great things to make @upfrontconf the best it can be.

Here are my notes from the event. I wrote these mainly for myself to jog my memory so apologies if things don't quite make sense. If you'd like something elaborating, please hit me up on Twitter and I'll try my best to clarify.

Simon Collison @colly

Speakers, venue (650 seats!), date - sorted

Why Nottingham?

  • Community
  • Each attendee is a client, don't disappoint them

"Serious stuff, but let's enjoy it"

People don't understand how expensive it is to run a conference.

Regrets not having a Code of Conduct to start with, didn't get it right - Was anyone 4-5 years ago? Over the past few years this has improved a lot.

Your event should be a safe place for every attendee and without any fear.

As a host, being aware of any disabilities make sure they have everything they need and don't forget about the after party.

Age - Catering for under 18.

Gender - Our approach was gentle, creating an encouraging environment for women.

Food - Quiche bad, samosas good.

Volunteers - Extra goody bag, self managed, rotated shifts, to get to see speakers.

Having someone who is the 'boss' - Who can make sure everyone is doing what they need to and who can give those a telling off who need it aka Relly :D

Make friends with the tech team - Give them a schedule, make sure they have drinks / food brought to them.

Before releasing speakers / topics - Sharing topic discussions amongst all speakers and checking over before announcing.

Logo, colours, logo variants, flexibility.

So much of the event is visual, don't overlook this "A designer is a planner with an aesthetic sense". "A conference organiser should also be a planner with an aesthetic sense".

Don't have an ugly stage or bad lighting, people are going to be looking at the stage for hours, it should be distraction free, giving focus on the speaker and slides - iPad with a timer on full screen for speaker - correct aspect ratio from computer to slide show.

We made a great effort to make sure our copy had personality and didn't feel corporate. Copy without personality is a shame, and bad copy is unforgivable, and makes me want to avoid your event. If you can't take care of grammar, I will assume you'll be a bad conference organiser too.

Fringe events - Getting people registered the night before, come together the night before, relax and get to know each other before the conference.


  • Dealing with concrete figures is only possible after the event.
  • PayPal wanted to hold money until after the event…
  • Had to borrow £25,000 from a kind stranger in Australia!!
  • Keep the finances away from personal accounts.
  • Geeks taking photos of tower of cupcakes - only bough this towards the end when knew it would be possible.
  • Free tickets, bartering required in some cases.
  • Having something unique - newspaper.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for contacts on Twitter when seeking sponsorship.
  • Expect that everyone might turn up with 10 minutes to go! Then you'll struggle to give lanyards out in time.
  • Speaker issue with one speaker changing talk and only letting organiser know just before doing the talk…
  • Nice videos of the event, fringe events, people arriving, talks etc..


  • Nice to know that the code club idea was thought of via Claire and Lynda whilst at the conference.

Quickfire tips

  • Don't run a large event on your own
  • Don't miss your own event!!!
  • Eat!
  • Keep cashflow / paperwork.
  • Be incredibly nice.
  • Have good timing, try not to clash with other events.
  • Have speaker contingency (give them a ticket).
  • Make room for maneuver - grow year on year and stay flexible and ready for any change.
  • Know when to stop.

What about you?

  • Organise something smaller first.
  • You can't wing it!
  • Do it with love.

Christopher Murphy @fehler

  1. Narrative
  2. Money
  3. Planes, trains and automobiles
  4. Tech
  5. Sweating the details


Your Santa List

  • Who are the people, if who all came it would be the best event.
  • Six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
  • Not just approaching the speaker out of the blue, put some thought into approaching them via people you already know.

Curation, Sequencing

  • Order of speakers and communicate this with the speakers.

Speaker - The whole package - Entertaining and that you learn something.

When things go wrong: HF! FFF!!! WTF!

  • Little Printer closed a month before due to talk.
  • Was lucky to find someone to replace that would be a suited fit.

Rather than having a story for the whole conference, having speakers with stories to do this for you. Speakers as magnets, helping to get attendees related to their story/talk.

Honorarium - We're going to f*ck you over, but in a nice way :p

Speakers - Changing flights, eek.

Mistakes I've made…

  • Write everything down.
  • Don't forget about VAT!

Planes, trains and automobiles

Travel for speakers can be stressful. Steaks on a plane! - nice touch for speakers go a long way :)


  • Microphones
  • Adapters + Clickers
  • Chargers
  • Speaker wanting to use own computer, or all speakers using same computer
  • Let speakers know tech set up before event

Put yourself in the shoes of the speakers, what will be their worries? Let them know the answers before the event.

Twitter details / travel / addresses / schedules.

Speaker's dinner - nice to say hello to everyone before the event.

A little thank you - little things from the location in the hotel.

Say thank you!

Relly Annett-Baker @RellyAB

As a speaker here's some of things I'd like to know:

  • Location of event, where will I be staying, is there good public transport, will I need cabs?
  • How safe is it walk around, are there areas should I avoid?
  • Policies involved if I have to pull out.
  • What else have you got organised? What else is there for me to do?
  • Do you have / what is your code of conduct?
  • Who else is going?
  • Fees and expenses.

"having a story to tell can be much more valuable than going over a workflow" - Vitaly

"As an event planner, sometimes it is worth taking a chance with a new speaker or talk" - @oh_cat

Checking over all the similar conference sites for speakers, are you adding anything new?

Code of conduct, recent list apart blog

  • How you would expect people to behave at your event.
  • Unfortunately, stuff can happen…
  • State your expectations and what will happen if those expectations are not followed.
  • Don't just put one up for the sake of it and that's a plain copy, think about it…
  • "Prevention is better than cure"

Taking different cultures into account, someone might not be familiar with "we're going off to the pub". Things like fringe events, e.g. a photo walk, with speakers can be welcoming and help to become familiar with the area.

Being in a new place, by yourself in a city can be daunting, would be nice if speakers previously had some information and options of things to do whilst waiting - "When I arrive off the airport, where do I go?!" Speakers and attendees alike - give lots of information. The bus is here, you need to get this one, it will cost this, you get a ticket from here.. accessibility information.

Craig Lockwood @craiginwales

5 simple steps


  • Book venue - looking for 200ish people, found a hotel/space for 170
  • Book speakers
  • Sponsorship - had no stats to show them what they'd get in return
  • Website & ticketing - got speaker to do website, used PayPal and Eventbrite (wouldn't do this again)
  • Tech/av - if you're getting people in, get people in who are interested in the event itself
  • Lunches - did a buffet, didn't work out well having to queue in a small corridor
  • Travel and accommodation
  • Ready to launch

Lessons learnt;

  • Bad: Waited too late for sponsors, too focused on only attendees, lunch was a disaster.
  • Good: Fringe events.

2 sponsored speakers - Facebook / Microsoft, perhaps not the best as people can feel these slots are mainly for selling products.

  • Got a lot of traffic from hackernews

  • Handheld = Bruce playing guitar, other entertainment going on, choir to finish to move focus whilst changing over speakers.

  • Get help, don't try to do everything on your own, have a base, make sure everything is ready in advance e.g. lanyard cards arriving without holes in.

The web is

7000 seat conference

Speakers = 5 figure deposits

Venue was booked, arena for 3 days

Used get invited (amazing)

Ready to launch.. dream speakers, dream venue…

'Buy the web is tickets' photo / tweet campaign

Ask for help, don't be woolly, don't take on too much, mistake starting again from scratch, perhaps it would have been better to have had handheld 3, do your paper work, cost financially and reputation.


£500 for conference videos via 5 simple steps

Keir Whitaker @keirwhitaker

Seeking Sponsorship Partnerships

Dan Rubin / Elliot jay stocks / Carsonified

Partnerships - Not just throw money at it and then leave, build a relationship, make them feel more a part of the event.

Experience enhancers (might not be available at first, but if event grows and get sponsorship) - coffee, lunch bags, giveaways, swag.

The little things - helping with getting T-shirts if being delivered, time table of when things need to be sent / done, someone to help put up banners if required, good if you can offer discounts/offers for anything extra.

Thank everyone.

Pricing & tiers - pricing is one of the hardest things.

Date and time and key factors, don't send over a 50 page pdf 'tl;dr: Just show me the money ;)' ticket price, type of audience you're trying to attract, grammar, had front-end spelt 3 different ways - this plays a part, mistakes / inconsistencies shows a lack of care. make it easy to digest and proof read.

Swag - beyond tellerrand ( nice pin badge for organisers/speakers, coasters - ppl went to all 4 events to collect them all, MailChimp - made some cool hats. Nice T-shirts (with a nice design not just simple logo).

Greg Annandale @greg_a

Event AV

The glamour of event AV,

"If it works well it shouldn't be noticed"

Ensure that the speakers are as comfortable as possible prior to going on stage & during their presentation.

Ensure that attenders are engaged by what / who is on stage.

Planning - equipment - you need to work with what you can afford, budget will dictate this.

Lectern Pro: speaker stays in the same place so easier to film Con: speakers may want to move around

Handheld Pro: can be moved around Con: position of the mic if moving around can cause issues, can't use hands

Lavalier Pro: sound is great Con: Require speakers to have somewhere to clip it on to, don't knock into them (ask speaker to put lanyard into back pocket). Long hair, jewellery can also be an issue


On/off stage audio - sound for presentation if required.

Lightning - light the speaker, dim the house lights to help keep the focus on the speaker, consider light leakage on the screen.

Extra lighting if sessions are being filmed. If speaker is moving make sure speaker stays in camera view.

Make sure if showing code it's legible, maybe you need extra screens towards the back of the venue.

Check aspect ratio of projector is ok for speakers.

Different set ups

A machine per presenter

Ideally test every machine before hand and the speaker is happy with it. Make sure you have plenty of Apple display adapters.

Requires more set up.

A single machine

Easy to set up, allows you to control off stage as well.

Consider having dual screen, so speakers can see what's being presented, as well as their notes.

Need to make sure you have all the fonts required, software / apps, testing that everything works with what the speaker requires.

Mention if using switches to switch from one machine to another, make sure it will be seemless, some cheaper switches will take a while to switch between machines.

Plenty of clickers at least 2 spare.

Output to both a projector and a confidence monitor (on stage).

The ability to smoothly transition between any input and to preview an input before it projected.

Countdown Timers

presenterclock - app for speaker countdown timers

Need to be clearly visible if speaker is moving.

Tip: if you have a spare device / 17" screen, use this as a timer. It's also useful for sending notes from off stage to the stage e.g. if a panel have time for 1 more question.


These don't need to complicated, a napkin will do.

Send to all parties that clearly states: what equipment the venue has agree to supple, if applicable what additional equipment the external av company has agree to supply.

WiFi - the vain of some conferences…

  • Most venues these days tend to have a decent enough connection.
  • Tons of IP addresses - tell venue to allow for as many IP addresses as possible.
  • Limiting bandwidth is also an option to prevent anyone hogging bandwidth.
  • As many access points as possible. Re-iterate your requirements for this! Cover smaller areas, or any areas that may have less cover.
  • How will users connect: do they require a password?
  • Make WiFi name the event name if possible.
  • Avoid logging in redirect screens (unless WiFi is sponsored).
  • Do you need to provide any hard lines? Useful to have on stage for speakers if wireless becomes an issue.
  • Also consider people will generally have multiple devices.
  • Possibly get in a 3rd party, looking at around £1500+ to handle 500 people.

Good example post:


  • Show caller
  • Sound technician
  • Video technician
  • Lightening operator
  • On stage tech
  • Runner


  • Spare batteries
  • Max adapters
  • Power cables
  • Define where speakers should stand
  • Lectern - large enough and flat

Communicate with speakers

  • Format of slides
  • Aspect ratio
  • What you're providing

On the day

  • Let speakers know if they'll get an introduction
  • Have print outs of the day's schedule
  • Plenty of water bottles
  • Supply av radio comms for AV crew
  • Always verify speaker requirements
  • Schedule for change overs
  • Bring up the lights / play music between sessions - give the attendees a cue to talk / get a drink / when the next speaker is up

Qlab -

Cat Clark @oh_cat

The UX of great events.

Design should focus on experience.

  1. Sit down and right down the longest list in which you interact with your attendees, even if they seem like tiny issues, get them all down and then look at how you can improve and make every step the best possible, then how can you make them better :) go beyond the bare bones details.

Make sure everyone is confident before the attend, take into consideration this may be some people's first conference.

A map of local cafes with WiFI. Dress code - this may be some people's first time attending a conference, there always seems to be that one person in a suit!

  1. Visual Weight: Depth & size - balance event, try to pair speakers, think about speakers that may be best for the morning / after lunch / to finish. Ask the speaker how they see themselves as a speaker, where do they see themselves fitting into the schedule. Check with speakers in advance if they are happy with the schedule and happy when they're on. Smashing conf have a secret speaker.

  2. Patters & Pattern Breaking - "Wherever a pattern is broken, that is where we focus." / "New time user vs Long time user" / "Short term pattern vs Long term pattern" - Don't get lazy, don't be afraid of breaking established event patterns.

Most stressful jobs - no.5 event organiser

  1. Problem Solving - What problem is my event trying to solve? really define this to get a clear focus for your event. People love a narrative, an MC can help with this reminding the attendees of what the event is trying to solve.

  2. Collaborative Design - Talk to people, sit down with a few people and get second opinions, maybe do some crowd sourcing and ask on Twitter what do you prefer, this or this, getting attendees involved and contributing to the event.

  3. Measuring Success - Hopefully it's financially viable, checking Twitter account / hashtag, getting feedback afterwards can often be difficult to get, to solve this; produced a small feedback sheet that attendees handed in at the end for a T-shirt.

  4. The Paradox of Choice

  5. Use White Space - Appreciate the breaks, it can seem like a 'blank time' but use this time aka 'the corridor track'.

  6. Be Responsive - Respond to tweets, if you're too busy, hire someone to do this, schedule tweets if required e.g. directions, times etc..

Reserve seats at back if people need to leave early so it doesn't disrupt others.

Additional Resources

I had the pleasure of attending confconf with Barry Briggs. He put together a handy storify that's also worth a look:

/ (no longer online)

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