From The Art Of Community by O'Reilly ( by Jono Bacon

Events, particularly physical events, are big barrels of details. Getting a detail wrong can undermine the entire event. For example, you may have a perfectly laid out conference but forget to get signs made with directions to the different rooms, so people struggle to find the location of the talks they are interested in.

Step 1: Identify Requirements

You need to choose which kind of event you would like to organize and then identify which steps are involved. We will defer discussion of these steps until a little later when we delve into the different needs for various physical and online events. When you have an idea of these needs, write them down and flesh out an action plan for carrying out that specific component. As an example, if one of those items is accommodation, you should note down each of the different steps involved in sourcing accommodation.

Step 2: Find Help

The next step is to find people to help you organize the event. This is particularly important for physical events. For smaller events, such as small sprints, you may not require much help, but for larger events, such as conferences and summits, you will definitely need help. For physical events it helps to find people in your community who are happy to look after specific roles. Here are some of the role divisions that may apply to the events you run (not all will apply to every event):


This person organizes the hotel options and reservations.


If you are seeking sponsorship for the event, you should have a single point of contact to deal with the sponsors.


If you have t-shirts, lanyards, and other items that need to be arranged, this person organizes these.

Speaker liaison:

This person will work to find and schedule speakers. This person also manages the scheduling of speakers.

Special events and catering:

This person will arrange any catering requirements as well as social events, parties, and additional gatherings.

When you have these roles identified and filled, you should organize regular meetings where organizers update each other on their progress in organizing the event and discuss further work and any problems.

I would recommend that you hold these meetings every two weeks at first, and in the two months leading up to the event, accelerate the meetings to be held weekly. I would also recommend that you organize conference calls if possible to host the meetings, although an online chat medium will also work.


Here are listed only the roles that apply to physical events. Physical events are always a lot more complicated to organize than their online counterparts: there are a lot more components to figure out, and many of these components rely on outside parties, such as hotels, catering companies, equipment providers, and more. Although you can divide online event organization into roles, too, online events typically require far less work and can be organized by a single person.

If you find that your event is too much to handle for a single person, though, do break it into roles in a similar way.

Step 3: Set Deadlines

This is what I consider the most valuable step of all in organizing your event. You should look at the range of components in your event planning and produce a set of deadlines that provide plenty of time to achieve those tasks.

Imagine you are organizing a conference. For each of the major tasks listed in the previous section, you should prepare a set of deadlines. As an example, these could be some deadlines for the process of opening up a call for papers, choosing proposals, and announcing the final decided list of speakers:

  • February 23—Begin planning Call for Papers and put together website form for submissions.
  • March 9—Open up the event’s Call for Papers and publicize.
  • April 13—Announce “one week left!” for the Call for Papers.
  • April 20—Call for Papers closes. Announce.
  • April 21—Begin reviewing submitted papers.
  • April 27—Final list of papers decided. Notify all those who submitted papers of their success/rejection. Request confirmation of attendance. Begin developing the schedule.
  • May 4—Announce the schedule.

When you set this collection of deadlines, you should ensure that your fellow organizers can see them, too. A great solution to this is to set up a shared calendar on a service such as Google Calendar and ensure that each of the organizers has access.

Step 4: Make Time

The world is becoming an increasingly busy place, and time is an ever-rarer resource. You are a busy person, too: you are involved in your community; you are working to improve, enrich, and inspire; and you have your own set of tasks and responsibilities to look after. With so much going on, making the commitment to run an event can be daunting. Every event organizer I have ever spoken to about their first few events has always waxed lyrical about how much more time was required than they expected. You should ensure that you block out a good amount of time so you can give your event the right amount of care and feeding that it deserves.


Leslie Hawthorn leads the outreach side of Google’s Open Source Programs Office, which focuses primarily on Google’s student programs, the Google Summer of Code for university students and the Google Highly Open Participation Contest for precollege students. Leslie has also been involved in the organization of many conferences, including the Ubuntu Developer Summits in 2006 and 2008, MeetBSD 2008 conference, GitTogether ’08, LugRadio Live USA 2008, and DjangoCon 2008. Leslie’s team has hosted more than 100 community events at the Google HQ over the past three years, and has worked with community members on hundreds of sponsorships for other community events during that time frame.

Leslie is intimately familiar with the problem of not allocating enough time for an event:

"My basic rule on timing is to assume everything, from writing up conference call notes to catering setup, will take at least two hours longer than I’ve planned and to build in that margin for error into the whole of the event plan. It’s far better to have an extra few hours to brainstorm, have a coffee, and take stock than to run around fixing issues and leaving out details at the last minute. It makes for a much better experience for the event organizers, as well, as they can focus on the pleasure of interacting with and learning from the attendees instead of putting out fires.”

When considering how much time to allocate to your event organization, you should not only consider the preparation time needed, but also how much time you have available when the event is happening.

The days that the event is running are an incredibly stressful time for an organizer, and many of the frustrations and difficulties are caused by the pressures of time constraints. Always try to factor in more time than you need: having everything ready and waiting is a lot more fun than running around like a headless chicken panicking about time. Leslie also has some words of wisdom on this topic:

"People generally underestimate the amount of time it will take to get things done, even when there are many hands to help with planning and execution. I’ve found this situation to be especially true the day of an event; folks often don’t leave themselves enough time for setup and attendees are left standing around waiting for the party to really get started."

Folks also tend to assume that a larger group of folks organizing logistics is better, but I’ve found this scenario only holds true when you have one or two charismatic folks giving direction to the rest of the organizing team. Without clear instruction, people tend to get distracted by less important details or talking with friends, and a great organizer knows both how to detect these lags early (and often) and how to politely refocus efforts on the task at hand.

"Also, your event managers need to remain available to direct traffic rather than jumping into the fray until the finishing touches are required; shifting focus from directing to doing can leave some folks unclear on what should happen next, particularly when they’re in a brand new location and are unfamiliar with how best to utilize the space or a venue’s processes for setup, etc. When people aren’t sure what to do, this leads to distraction for those team members who are focused on a particular task. As tempting as it is to jump in and help when managing an event, it’s best to hold back and make sure the organizing team feels empowered to get things done and clearly understands what’s expected of them."

Time is an important resource. Make sure you have plenty of it at your disposal, and it will put your event in good stead.


BuildingCommunity/EventsGettingOrganised (last edited 2010-08-06 20:23:02 by gw-sherb)