Max Krüger and I teamed up to write a handbook for indie conference organizers. In fact, that’s the name of the book: The Indie Conference Organizer Handbook – A practical guide to running your very own indie conference.
It’s available for free under a Creative Commons (by-nc-sa) license as a PDF (TICOH, 5.2MB PDF), and in a more e-reader friendly format for a small fee (aka The Support Us Financially Version) in your local Kindle store (amazon.com, amazon.de).
The book clocks in at some 13.450 words – that translates into roughly 43 pages in PDF format or 66 pages on Kindle.
It’s simple: When we first set out to organize our own events, we wished we had a book like this ourselves. Instead, we asked lots and lots of more experienced people for advice – people we will forever be grateful to. Now, a few years in, and with a number of conferences under our collective belts, we realized that we have somehow turned into these more experienced people. We felt it was time to give something back, to make it easier for those planning to organize an event around a topic close to their hearts. The hope is that you won’t have to reinvent the wheel, and with some luck, you can profit from our mistakes (there were many). In some sense, we made these mistakes so you don’t have to.
When writing this handbook, we tried to keep things as practicable, applicable, and actionable as possible. Where appropriate, we included our thinking behind certain recommendations, but otherwise, we stuck to the hands-on, day-to-day realities of bootstrapping a conference. Sometimes we laid out all the options; at other times, we gave a clear recommendation. As always, this can only serve as a guideline – your goals, context, and background might be very different. If in doubt, trust your gut over our recommendations. That said, we hope you’ll find our experience helpful.
Our background is not in event organizing. Rather, we began running events for a simple reason: each time we were looking for an event—a focal point where we could meet like-minded people or those with shared interests—we could not find one. So we decided to put on the events we wanted to attend. After all, if we weren’t going to do it, who would? Rather than complain, we started looking for a date and some collaborators, and off we went.
As such, we’re big fans of indie conferences. While events should be as inclusive, affordable, and accessible as possible, we also firmly believe that it is possible—even necessary—to create events that are self-sustainable. After all, you can only exploit your free time so much before burning out. If you want to keep doing what you love, it’s important to think about the sustainability of your efforts. That’s why we will also cover the relationship of budgets, sponsoring, and ticket sales, among other things.
To cut a long story short: We believe that events can be independently organized (full-time or on the side) and be financially and structurally self-sustainable. And we applaud people who try to build such events around the topics they are passionate about.
The book covers all the main aspects of running an indie conference:
As a sample, the beginning of the chapter The Big Day to give you an idea what to expect:
You made it: Today is the big day. With some luck, you got a good night’s sleep. More likely, you spent the evening setting up the venue or putting out fires or dining with your speakers and team, and now are sleep-deprived and high on adrenaline and coffee after 4 hours of sleep. That’s OK! Because you know you’ve prepared everything you could prepare, your event manager is around to run the logistics, and your main role is to step in if something goes wrong. The rest of the day, you are here to welcome guests, make sure speakers and sponsors have everything they need, and to just generally speaking represent.
Our recommendation is to show up at the venue early and with a few snacks and coffee for the team, or to send someone to grab breakfast. Bring some duct tape as well as pen and paper, and a phone charger. Take a last walk through the conference and try to visualize it from the different perspectives: As a participants, what do I see upon entering? Do I know where to put my coat and suitcase, and where to register? As a speaker, is it clear where I should go before my talk? Are signs up where they should be? Is it easy to find refreshments, bathrooms, food, the stage or stages? Often this is where the need for a few more signs becomes apparent – if in doubt, just print or paint one on a sheet of paper. Did we mention duct tape, pen and paper? Always carry duct tape, pen and paper.
Max and I have – both independently and together – run quite a number of events including conferences, festivals, workshops, hackathons and lots of hybrid formats. You might recognize some of the events we had a hand in creating, like ThingsCon, UIKonf, Global Innovation Gathering, Cognitive Cities Conference, just to name a few. We know what works and what doesn’t, and how to avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls.
Max Krüger is a freelance event organizer and manager. He is interested in fostering collaboration, creativity, and learning, as well as growing communities – something events turned out to be rather effective in doing. Max used to be in charge of the workshop program et betahaus|Berlin, where he helped organize the People in beta Festival. More recently, he served as the event manager of UIKonf. He is a co-founder and chair of ThingsCon, and organizes a global exchange of ideas between innovators around the world under the name Global Innovation Gathering. He is also part of the team behind re:publica. Follow Max on Twitter (@krgermax) or get in touch at maxkrueger.com.
Peter Bihr explores how emerging technologies change the world we live in, and helps spread the insights of innovators through consulting and conferences. He is the founder and managing director of The Waving Cat GmbH. As a strategy advisor, he helps organizations large and small excel in an environment shaped by digitization, connectedness, and rapid change. As co-founder and chair of emerging technology conferences – including ThingsCon, UIKonf, and Cognitive Cities Conference – he fosters communities of innovation and the exchange of ideas. As program director of NEXT Berlin, he highlights the macro trends that will shape digital businesses in years to come. When he’s not organizing a conference, he can often be found speaking at one. Follow Peter on Twitter (@peterbihr) or get in touch at thewavingcat.com.
We wrote this as a book sprint in a couple of days of writing frenzy, then had the book (much unlike this blog post) copy-edited by the fantastic Natalye Childress. As per the Creative Commons (cc-ny-nc) license, you are free to download and share the document non-commercially as long as we are attributed as the authors.
We love to hear back from you. Let us know what you think, what worked for you and what didn’t, and if there are areas we should expand on. We currently have no plans for this handbook, but if there’s enough interest we might update it at some point in the future.
If you enjoyed the handbook or think it’s useful to people in your network, we appreciate a shout-out on Twitter or Facebook.
So what are you waiting for?