The short version
Encourage good behaviour
- Have a code of conduct. A code of conduct explains what sort of behaviour is acceptable at your event, how violations will be dealt with, and how to report a problem. It shows potential attendees that they should feel safe at your event.
Pricing and financial assistance
Conferences tickets can be expensive, and that’s before you factor in any travel or accommodation costs. You can do things to make your conference more affordable to attend.
Give people a way to contribute to free tickets. Don’t discount the generosity of your attendees: give them an easy way to contribute to the financial assistance pool.
Offer financial assistance and free tickets. Tickets aren’t the only cost of a conference: you also need to pay for travel, accommodation, food, and time away from work/home. Be ready to cover those costs as well.
Offer tiered ticket rates. Don’t just have a single ticket price. Have a sliding scale that allows people to pay different prices depending on their financial situation.
Getting to the venue
Give advice on good accommodation. If you know the area, you probably know where’s a good place to stay – and conversely, where you really don’t want to stay.
Local information: shops, restaurants, pharmacies. If somebody’s travelling to a strange city for your event, help them get around when the conference finishes for the day.
Offer visa invitation letters for people coming from overseas. An invitation letter can help somebody with their visa application.
Write travel instructions. Provide instructions for how to get to the venue, because it’s probably less obvious than you think.
Inside the venue
Have a prayer room. Offer a dedicated room for prayer, and highlight local places of worship.
Have a quiet room. Have a space to take a break away from the bustle of the conference.
Make it easy to spot the organisers. If somebody has a question, a concern, or wants to talk about the code of conduct, they need to find an organiser. Make them easy to spot.
Offer gender-neutral bathrooms. The best venues have single-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms, and a policy that everybody can use whichever bathroom they like.
Pick an accessible venue. If a venue can’t accommodate basic accessibility needs, then look elsewhere.
Print clear internal signage. Help your attendees find their way round an unfamiliar venue by providing dedicated, branded signage, with large and clear text.
Provide bathroom baskets of basic toiletries. Finding toiletries (sanitary, dental, haircare products) in a strange city or country can be difficult. Providing them directly in your bathrooms relieves a bit of that stress.
Food & drink
Be considerate of dietary requirements. You should aim to accommodate all dietary requirements, and be explicit about doing so.
Provide non-alcoholic, low-caffeine and low-sugar drinks. Lots of events assume that everybody drinks alcohol and caffeine, and just has water and fruit juice for everybody else. More variety!
Look after your speakers
Ask somebody’s name and pronouns before introducing them. Nobody wants to be misgendered or misnamed as they’re about to speak.
Compensate and pay expenses for your speakers. Preparing a conference talk is a lot of work. If you don’t pay your speakers, you’re restricting yourself to people who can afford to do that preparation for free.
Ensure your speakers can get to the stage. The best preparation in the world is wasted if the speaker can’t get to the stage.
Offer a mentoring programme. Speaking at a conference can be really intimidating, especially if you’re not used to public speaking. A mentor can help a first-time speaker prepare, and give them a valuable confidence boost.
Questions, not comments. The Q&A session can be a stressful part of any talk, so handle it carefully.
Run lightning talks/open mic sessions. Not everyone can or wants to prepare a full session – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a chance to speak.
Parents/guardians with young children
Have a nursing/baby care room. Destigmatise the feeding of young children in public spaces, and provide a space to do it privately if people prefer.
Offer a free crèche. A free crèche means that attendees don’t have to worry about arranging childcare (or leaving a child for their partner to look after).
Be mindful of disabilities
Always use microphones and hearing loops. If you have microphones, connect them to the hearing loop and make sure that everybody uses them.
Don’t interfere with somebody else’s disability aids. Don’t play with other people’s stuff without asking first, and remind other people to do the same.
Encourage a smoke- and scent-free environment. Smoking and strong fragrances can be an issue for people with allergies, so ask attendees to check their smells at the door.
Encourage speakers to think about accessibility in their slides. There are simple rules that make slides easier for everyone to read.
Have sufficient breaks between sessions. It can be hard to get around quickly – longer breaks in your schedule means everyone is more comfortable.
Hire sign language interpreters. A sign language interpreter can help an attendee who’s hard-of-hearing, both to understand talks and when chatting in the corridor.
Live captioning in talks. Hiring a stenographer means you can provide real-time captioning of talks, which makes them easier to follow for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.
Look after service animals. If the venue permits, allow service animals throughout, and make sure the animals are looked after.
Preferred seating for people with vision/mobility issues. Have reserved seating for people who need a clear view of the screen, or are in a wheelchair and can’t move into the row.
Provide detail about “wheelchair accessibility”. Simply saying a venue is “wheelchair accessible” is rarely enough, because wheelchairs come in different shapes and sizes. More detail is better.
Your conference website should be accessible and useful. If your website isn’t accessible or is missing critical info, there are people who can’t even get through the front door.
A diversity of people
Avoid gendered language. Phrases like “ladies and gentlemen” and “boys and girls” are alienating to trans and non-binary attendees.
Be thoughtful about your swag and speaker gifts. Conference swag and speaker gifts are a nice gesture, and well-intentioned. But be wary of common gifts that can be inadvertently insensitive.
English isn’t the only language in the world. If you’re running a conference in multiple languages or in a place where fluency level varies, consider offering more than just English.
Badges, lanyards and photography
Allow people to put pronouns on their badges. Letting people put pronouns on their badges reduces the risk of being misgendered, and makes the event more comfortable for trans/non-binary attendees.
Be clear about how names are used. Names are complicated, and you can’t be sure what name somebody wants to put on their badge – so ask!
Colour communication badges. Give people a way to signal how comfortable they are socialising and talking to new people.
Make the name badges clear and easy to read. We use name badges to identify people. So make them easy to read!
Use coloured lanyards to let people opt out of photographs. Not everybody likes having their photograph taken, and coloured lanyards make it easy for people to opt out.
One of the great parts of regular conferences is having a chance to see people you don’t see anywhere else – for example, I have friends I only see when I’m at PyCon UK. But there’s a risk a conference can get a clique-y feel – everybody who’s been before knows each other, and you feel left out if you’re new and don’t know anybody yet. If you want your conference to grow, it’s important to make newcomers feel as welcome as the old timers.
If you’re a regular attendee, meet new people. If you’re a person who’s attends the same conference regularly, take some time to break out of your bubble and meet newcomers.
Publish a glossary of conference terms. If they run for a long time, conferences develop fun traditions and in-jokes. That’s okay, but consider publishing a glossary of these terms, so somebody who’s new doesn’t feel confused or left out.
Run specific sessions for first timers. Coming to a conference for the first time can be intimidating, so make sure you’re giving a warm and useful welcome to your first timers.