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How to Host a Conference/Planning

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What does it take to put together an event with hundred or more people? The hard work over many months includes scheduling of speakers’ presentations, discussions and workshops, registration of delegates, sorting out catering, accommodation, transport, venues and much more. However, the most crucial effort is in the initial phase, where the core purpose and aim of the gathering is conceived. At the earliest stage, organizers need to ask themselves the deepest questions: Why? Why should we organize this event? What do we want to accomplish by organizing it? Before any other details are discussed, these questions need to be pondered in depth. We may call it a feasibility study. The people who have the initial idea to arrange a conference should take time to probe the proposed topic from every aspect, and answer to this questions: Is this the correct approach to achieve the desired results? The event must meet the desired level of a return on investment just as a product research and development project would have to demonstrate.

CONTENT In order to hold an event you need first to have the content, which is the reason why people are attending the event! Spending the time, energy and money organizing a conference is worthless unless you can assure people will sign up. Whatever niche you’re planning to organize a conference within, make sure there is sufficient demand.

Once you realize there’s sufficient demand for your niche, you want to decide what type of content you want to deliver on even days. Think broadly at this point. What are the areas you want conference presentations to be focused on? Try to make your conference stand out. What are the hooks that are going to assure people in your niche get excited about the event? Are there any hot topics going on in your industry? Are there any controversial debates happening in your industry? Is there a new breakthrough in your industry people are dying to learn more about?

International meetings usually have a general theme. However, for regional meetings, you may want to choose a theme that reflects your chapter's particular strengths or interests.

A good program is critical. Look for variety, interest, timeliness. What do your members need or want to leave with? Try to balance lectures with discussions, hands-on, social activities, and time for colleague interaction. While it is acceptable to target individuals/companies to solicit content, in keeping with the OWASP value of openness, all Call for Papers and Call for Training must be open to all to submit. Calls for Papers or Training must be at a minimum announced on the conference Wiki page.

After a long intensive day of speakers and/or training, a more casual opportunity for networking will be welcomed by most all attendees. Depending on the size and location of your event you may want to consider one or several of the following options: OWASP "meet up" at a local pub, OWASP gala dinner, Corporate-sponsored party, Guided site seeing tours, Group outing to a sporting event, etc. In many cases, you can include an optional fee to be paid to cover the costs of the event. In the case of a corporate sponsored event, the sponsor would cover the costs. Very often, however, an informal yet organized (planned) evening at the pub will be sufficient to facilitate networking among conference attendees and speakers. Be sure to remind everyone at the end of the last talk for the day of the location of the gathering, the cost (if any), and the start time for the next days' speakers. Whatever you plan, however, be sure to include some free time for people to do things on their own.

PLANNING The initial steps in planning are especially important to ensure success. Do all your homework early on. It is better to change course in the planning phase, than having to change things halfway through preparations. Care to do the necessary research and do not take anything for granted. Prepare well. Prepare for all possibilities. It is better to over-prepare than under-prepare. And remember, with humor all things get easier.

Establish preliminary event and dates
The amount of planning, committee work, advance deadlines, etc., in part, depends on the size event you are planning. A general rule is to allow about a month for every 20 participants. For example, if you are expecting 200 attendees, you should begin to prepare at least 10 months in advance.

The general dates and time of the event should be suggested by local variables as well as OWASP speaker availability. For example, it may not be a good idea to plan a conference in Wisconsin in January or Texas in August due to potential weather conditions. Check the OWASP conference schedule to make sure there are not any conflicting events. If you plan to invite out of town speakers, it’s best to arrange them months in advance. Good speakers and instructors are often booked up to a year in advance.

Consider the size and scope of your event. Small groups can be hosted nearly any time. But larger groups will require housing, transportation, and food services that might conflict with other events. Make sure to check the local community events to ensure there will be adequate access to these needs.

Having a cohesive, comprehensive plan for your event is key to the success of your event. While all plans change it is important to consider all of the elements listed in the following tabs when developing your conference planning package. Please have a look at the planning timeline that OWASP staff has developed to help you get started and keep track of your event.

Put together a team
Running a conference takes a lot more than you, your speakers and the audience. There are tons of other people that contribute behind the scenes to make sure everything goes smoothly. Figure out the places you’ll need help, and then look for the right people.