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How to Host a Conference

Revision as of 00:43, 15 October 2008 by Wayne huang (talk | contribs) ('''Design Components''')

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Now what? Read on for some helpful guidelines to assist you in putting together the perfect conference.


Our intent in posting the guidelines at the OWASP web site is to give conference planners something more than "Good Luck" as they prepare to host a conference. I've also included some issues that arise only at the larger conferences. We’ve left the comments mixed together so you can use what you need and to appreciate what you don't have to use.

We’ve also prepared a [Conference Planning Table] that summarizes these guidelines and gives you a check sheet to use as you plan your conference.

Finally, make sure to utilize the resources at the end of the page to help facilitate your event.


The amount of planning, committee work, advance deadlines, etc., in part depends on the size conference 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.


Depending on the size and scope of the conference, you may be required to have OWASP permission before hosting a conference. Even if not required, it's important to talk with OWASP Board before committing to host a conference.

Set a Date

The general dates and time of the conference should be suggested by local variables as well as OWASP speaker availability. For example, it may not be a good idea to schedule a conference in Wisconsin in January or Texas in August due to potential weather conditions. Check the OWASP calendar 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 conference. 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 accessibility to these needs.


Organize a conference committee as early as possible.

Communicate regularly with the OWASP leadership. There's lots of history that you can use to your advantage such as format, what works and what doesn't, etc. Also, remember that you're the host, but it's not your conference; you should be working with them (the organization's leadership) to meet their objectives.

Establish regular planning/reporting meetings. Set up email lists. Always make it clear who is supposed to do what and when. Keep minutes/notes of your meetings and use them to follow up. The more you communicate with each other, the less likely you'll have slip ups.

Reserve Rooms

One of your very first items of business should be to reserve necessary rooms for plenary sessions, breakout sessions, classroom sessions, tech expo, breaks, receptions, and conference headquarters/registration.

Adapt your conference to the facilities you have available. For example, good plenary sessions can be better than breakout sessions that don't have adequate facilities.

Try to keep conference costs down by using rooms that are free. Again, this may require some adapting or negotiating.


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.

A general call for presenters should have a deadline that gives you ample time to recruit and to fill in gaps should you not get all the good proposals you need. Network with other members of your organization to identify people who might be invited to make presentations. Immediately after the deadline, begin organizing the conference schedule. Select the proposals you want to use and contact them to verify their availability. Create a tentative schedule, matching presenters to the facilities. You may want to lay out your schedule on a whiteboard, or use 3x5 cards on a corkboard so you can visualize how things fit together. Make sure you plan time for attendees to talk with each other, such as at breaks, before and after dinners, at receptions, etc.

Send a formal acceptance note to each participant, and ask them to confirm by sending an abstract (if you didn't get that as part of their submission) and submitting a request for any special equipment (AV, computer, etc.)

Presenters and Presentations

Make sure every presenter knows rules enforced by OWASP Conferences. Email a Speaker Agreement to each presenter and make sure they reply their consents; you can modify from the standard OWASP Speaker Agreement. Note that the standard agreement implies you will be providing the presenters with a Powerpoint template. A startdard OWASP Powerpoint template is available here. You are free to modify the standard speaker agreement and the Powerpoint template, but make sure you have it approved by the Overall OWASP Conferences Chair (Dave Wichers, Aspect Security).

Also note that according to the standard OWASP Speaker Agreement, presenters must submit their presentations (in Powerpoint format) at least 60 days prior to the conference. Submissions should be uploaded to OWASP Presentations.

Design Components

In designing your own Powerpoint templates, tshirts, bags, badges, banners, flags, carpets and what have you, find the original vector graphic of the OWASP logo (in EPS and AI formats) File:OWASP Please do share them with the other conference chairs!


Promoting your conference begins as soon as you have selected a conference site and date. Post the date and location on the OWASP web site. If you have the expertise and resources, you should consider setting up your own conference wiki page for up-to-date information, on-line registration, proposal submissions, etc. Make sure to review pages for other conferences for great ideas and to allow for continuity in page style.

The first wave of publicity comes with the call for presentations.

The next wave comes as you send out the conference announcement, with as much detail as you have, including a tentative program. This is important if you want to convince people they should come. Set a registration deadline that accounts for your own deadlines (food services, etc.) You may have to consider a higher fee for those who are late, especially if that really does incur additional costs for you.


Estimate the number of people you think might attend (review previous conference attendance) and make arrangements accordingly. In addition to blocking some rooms at a local motel/hotel consider economy lodging (dorms, conference centers, etc., if available), for those who prefer that kind of housing.

When making reservations with local hotels, negotiate other amenities if possible such as shuttle services (from airports, to conference sessions).

Be careful to avoid making reservations that require guarantees or other financial obligations. In fact, it's best to let the housing/hotel organization handle their own reservations and billing. Find out how long reservations can be held, cancellation deadlines, etc.


Your conference venue usually has maps and travel information on how to get to the location. If there aren't adequate limo or shuttle services to your venue from the airport, you may need to make your own arrangements.


Well-planned meals and snacks are critical to a successful conference. Consult with your venue food services, or with a local caterer, determine what is needed, and what it will cost. Let food services or the caterer do the work.

Be sure to negotiate food services in such a way that you are not liable for food costs beyond what you can cover through conference fees. Usually food planners will allow up to 10% more people than you contract for (e.g., for late registrations), but be sure this is clear up front.

To reduce costs, seek sponsors for specific meals where possible. Some larger vendors are happy to get the publicity that comes from sponsoring a breakfast, lunch, reception, or even a dinner. Your own college may be willing to sponsor one such event. In any case, it doesn't hurt to ask. If the sponsor desires it, let the sponsor choose the caterer and take care of the arrangements.

For small conferences, many if not most of the meals can be left up to the attendees. Be sure to provide a good list of local eateries. Include information about which are within walking distance, which are not, and how to get to those that are not.

Strategically scheduled snack breaks, with drinks and fruit or cookies, can add a touch of class to your conference. These don't usually cost too much, and can be covered by registration fees. Don't skimp on the time allotted for breaks, since attendees will want to network and will take the time anyway.

If you do have group meals, be sure to allow for special dietary considerations.

Management Tools

Larger, OWASP lead conferences can be processed through the Cvent system. For smaller conferences (less than 50 people) an Excel spreadsheet should work fine to manage registrants. If you would like the OWASP office to manage registration for you, please contact Kate Hartmann as soon as possible to set up your on-line registration process.


Before sending out the conference brochure/announcement, you must determine a conference registration fee. On the one hand, you want to cover your costs. But on the other, you want to keep the costs low so that as many people as possible can afford to come. Try to find a balance between providing the amenities, and keeping costs down. Be sure to include the following costs: Publicity (brochure, printing, mailing), speaker fees or accommodations, facilities (equipment rentals), transportation, meals (snacks, meals), conference materials (packets, name tags, etc.)

Attendees should be expected to pay their registration fees in advance. This helps provide an accurate picture of the number who will attend because the attendees are more committed to attending. You can consider a slightly higher fee for late registrations or registrations onsite, if your food and facilities planning can handle extra last-minute registrations.

A special account can be set up through OWASP just for your conference. You can use this account to process sponsorship, donations, manage expenses, and help you keep tabs on vendor costs. Again, contact Kate Hartmann as soon as possible to get this set up.

Don't minimize the importance of a detailed accounting of your conference funds. Setting things up right before you begin to receive registrations fees can make things a lot easier during and after the conference.

Vendor Displays

An exhibit hall must be easily accessible and must have adequate space to accommodate vendor booths. There may be costs associated with such a hall. Some facilities require that their own people set things up. Make sure you know what is included with any rental costs, and what you may have to pay extra for.

Make sure that there is adequate time for attendees to visit the exhibits and to talk with vendors. Directing breaks and snacks into the vendor expo will encourage participants to visit the exhibits. Depending on the benefits to the vendors, you may ask that they pay for exhibit space, or leverage their participation by asking them to sponsor one or more conference activities (reception, meal, etc.).

Conference Materials

At a minimum, you need to provide some sort of printed program. For most conferences, the following is usually adequate: a simple folder with program, maps, lists of local restaurants and attractions, a name tag, and writing materials (pen and pad). For larger, conferences you may want to include a conference bag that includes OWASP books or handouts. Be sure to allow ample time for printing and shipping of OWASP materials. International shipping can take several weeks.

Name Tags

If you plan properly, you should be able to generate name tags to be printed from your conference database program. If you process your registrations through the OWASP office, they can create your nametags.

Keep the name tag layout simple: a small conference logo or title, the person's full name in LARGE, readable letters, and the person's institution. Don't make people squint to read names on name tags.

The actual type of name tag (paper stick-on, pin on plastic case, hang-around-the-neck, etc.) depends on your preferences and budget. If you do provide stick-on tags, you may want to generate at least one tag for each day of the conference since they won't be able to reuse the tags. If you use plastic badges, you can invite attendees to recycle them at the end of the conference.

Equipment and Support

This is another critically important part of the conference, especially in our technology-driven organization. You should assign a member of your committee to head this up since it's a demanding and time-consuming responsibility.

To the extent that you can, schedule conference sessions in rooms that have basic AV equipment (overhead projectors and screens, for example). If the rooms already have computers and computer/video projection, that's even better. Then assign conference sessions to the appropriate rooms.

Determine ahead of time what portable equipment you have available, and whether you have to rent equipment. Then when you confirm conference presentations, ask presenters to provide you with a list of equipment they need.


Depending on the size and scope of the conference, you may need to provide for one or more social activities for attendees.

At smaller conferences, organized dinners at local restaurants can be enjoyable. For larger conferences, a banquet may be in order. At the very least, provide a list of recommended local eateries for those who want to venture out on their own.

You should also consider whether your locale has something uniquely interesting to offer. If feasible, you could organize a group outing to a play, local site, etc. Be sure to determine whether costs are included in the registration, or if it is to be a separate (and therefore optional) cost.

Whatever you plan, however, be sure to include some free time for people to do things on their own.

Helpful links

Conference Planning Timeline

Speaker Template

Sponsor information

Suggestions for wiki