Conference organiser's handbook

Jesper Wøldiche has made the Handbook available in ePub and Mobi formats.

So you want to organise a conference. Great; do it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding, and it will put your city on the map for your topic.

I assume you have visited a few conferences, maybe spoken at some, but have organised none. Thus you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you want to achieve, but haven’t yet found out about all the little details that make a good conference a great one. That’s what this handbook is going to teach you.

Scope of this handbook

This handbook assumes that you want to start with a relatively simple and cheap event organised on a volunteer basis.

I mostly talk about web design and development conferences because that’s all I know. Still, the rules go for just about any type of conference, if you leave out the obsessing over the wifi, so anyone can benefit from this handbook.

The default in this handbook is the two-day one-track conference for about 250 to 300 people, which is the most complex type a beginning organiser should aim for. The rules hold out fine for one-day or two-track conferences for up to about 450 attendees; just add or subtract the necessary units of speakers, microphones, and free beers.

Above about 500 attendees and two tracks the rules change; and since I’ve never organised such a conference I can’t give you any advice on that.

The handbook treats Europe as the default, but its rules can easily be applied to other parts of the world. Ignore the bits that don’t make sense in your neck of the woods, and use the rest.


This handbook does not treat commercial conference organising, but once you’ve got some experience you’ll be able to figure out the rest yourself. One hint: it’s scaling up the conference that will make you most money.


We’ll start with the overall concept that should be ready about eight months before the conference.

Table of contents

Scope, language, city, core organisers, dates, name, target audience, size, and sponsors. Rough timetable.
Ticket price, budget, ticket sales, back office, and marketing.
Venue, speakers’ hotel and party pubs. Distance between these locations. Wifi.
Topic, speakers, schedule, tracks, panels, workshops, and recording of the sessions.
Mails, website, speakers’ flight and hotel, speakers’ dinner, allowing attendees to meet the speakers, maps, badges, lanyards, the booklet, and the goodie bag.
Floor manager, volunteers, master of ceremonies, registration, speaker changeover, the function of the runners, timekeeping, conference slides.
Saying Thank You, evaluating, and paying the bills.


I’ve been a conference speaker since 2007 and an organiser since 2008. I drew many of the examples in this handbook from Fronteers 2008 and 2009, and Mobilism 2011, where I was the main organiser. Other examples come from web conferences around the world I visited as a speaker.

Many thanks to Andy Budd and Krijn Hoetmer for reviewing the entire handbook, pointing out errors, and disagreeing with some of my initial ideas.