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Jurgen Appelo calls himself a creative networker. But sometimes he's a writer, speaker, trainer, entrepreneur, illustrator, manager, blogger, reader, dreamer, leader, freethinker, or… Dutch guy. Since 2008 Jurgen writes a popular blog at, covering the creative economy, agile management, and personal development. He is the author of the book Management 3.0, which describes the role of the manager in agile organizations. And he wrote the little book How to Change the World, which describes a supermodel for change management. Jurgen is CEO of the business network Happy Melly, and co-founder of the Agile Lean Europe network and the Stoos Network. He is also a speaker who is regularly invited to talk at business seminars and conferences around the world. After studying Software Engineering at the Delft University of Technology, and earning his Master’s degree in 1994, Jurgen Appelo has busied himself starting up and leading a variety of Dutch businesses, always in the position of team leader, manager, or executive. Jurgen has experience in leading a horde of 100 software developers, development managers, project managers, business consultants, service managers, and kangaroos, some of which he hired accidentally. Nowadays he works full-time managing the Happy Melly ecosystem, developing innovative courseware, books, and other types of original content. But sometimes Jurgen puts it all aside to spend time on his ever-growing collection of science fiction and fantasy literature, which he stacks in a self-designed book case. It is 4 meters high. Jurgen lives in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) -- and in Brussels (Belgium) -- with his partner Raoul. He has two kids, and an imaginary hamster called George. Jurgen has posted 145 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

What Makes a Great Conference?

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I’ve been asking around on email and on the social networks what makes a conference memorable, special, or amazing.  This topic has my special interest, not only because I attend between 20-25 conferences per year, but also because I’m trying to help make the DARE 2013 conference in Antwerp, Belgium a great experience.

The obvious replies that people usually have are “amazing speakers” and “great hallway conversations”. I agree, and there’s plenty that organizers already do (or should do) to make that happen. But personally, I am more and more convinced that “greatness” is an emergent result of the complex interplay of little things.

Here are some suggestions I received:

  • Have great coffee available during the conference. (Johan Oskarsson)
  • Have dinner with strangers at the end of a conference day so that attendees get to know each other better (Ángel Medinilla)
  • Let people rate speakers directly after their sessions, and repeat the best session at the end of the conference. (Tiago Andrade e Silva)
  • Use feedback/happiness doors to capture quick feedback after each session.
  • Do phone interviews of speakers and edit their descriptions to match the audience. (Lee Copeland)
  • Have an icebreaker party before the conference with a jam session of speakers and organizers. (Alexey Krivitsky)
  • Print people’s first names on badges in big letters, and on both sides of the badge. (Jon Jagger)
  • Use conference apps so that people can easily see the program on their smartphones and mark their favorite sessions.

And there’s much more, ranging from the very obvious, such as give away free books, to the somewhat-less-obvious, such as invite a circus act.

There are three weeks left until DARE 2013. The number of participants is growing steadily, while time is shrinking fast. I’m afraid we cannot implement all ideas people have suggested. But we’re trying hard to hear at least those three most important words, “That was great!”

p.s. I have a discount code for friends. Contact me.


Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jurgen Appelo. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Ian Mitchell replied on Wed, 2013/05/22 - 11:11am

A couple of years ago I worked for an event management company. They specialised in organising IT conferences for creative industries and lean startups. My day job was to help the startups get their ideas to market, but whenever a conference was on I'd help out with the running of it.

Well, by helping out, I mean I was assigned the job of being one of the bouncers working the doors. I could hardly complain. I've always said that a doorstop is a good use for an IT project manager.

Anyhow, in addition to the points you already have, I learned the following:

  1. Preparation counts. Take absolutely nothing for granted. Have a very detailed schedule of what needs to happen when, which of the organisers will be involved, and any dependencies upon third parties (e.g. bus operators, printers, and caterers) .
  2. Have the mobile phone numbers of each of the organisers should you need to contact them, and make sure they have yours. They often work at various places behind the scenes and once a conference starts it can be next to impossible to track them down in a timely way.
  3. Arrive early, or even the night before. If you are helping, your assistance in setting things out will be appreciated. Placing hand-outs on chairs or tables is a monotonous job and a willingness to help in this is always well received.
  4. Check that WiFi is up and can cope with the demand, and that instructions on how to access it are clearly visible.
  5. Make sure that people receive a good quality bag, preferably a shoulder bag that leaves hands free, to hold their conference freebies.
  6. Signpost everything and make sure that the organisers are clearly identifiable and can direct people as needed.
  7. Food is important. Get people fed first, before a session begins. Folk become irritable and restless when they are hungry. Use small plates if you doubt that there may be enough to go round. People do have a tendency to pile unreasonable quantities on.

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