A typical conference format is to have talks followed by sprints and workshops, for example three days of talks followed by two days of sprints and workshops. This works well and is a tried and tested format.

However there are many options available, including:

  • starting with a day of introductory sessions to help people get up to speed
  • holding a separate day of paid-for workshops
  • holding an open (i.e. open to the public) day to draw in a wider audience1
  • running workshops alongside talks in a multi-track event

It’s up to you what sort of schedule you adopt, and what sort of emphasis you place on the various parts of it.


Most people regard the days of talks as being the part of the conference that matters most. It’s the part that is most heavily-attended, and the part that requires the most planning.


One of the challenges of a conference is getting a good number of attendees at the sprints. Usually, the number who stay on for the sprints drops to around a third or a fifth of the “main” conference attendance.

Ways of raising this number include:

  • offering workshops and clinics alongside the sprints
  • providing food and refreshment at no extra cost
  • ensuring that other services (such as volunteer assistance, or a crèche) continue to be provided during the sprints
  • holding a social event on one of the sprint evenings

Open day

An open day provides a lower bar to entry, and gives people a chance to experience something of a conference at no cost - and if they like it, they might be back next year.

As well as an introduction to the community, your open day is also an opportunity to offer introductory technical sessions (talks and workshops) that will help draw in people from outside the field, or beginners in the field.

If your open day is held first, its introductory sessions can serve a third purpose, by helping less experience attendees gain some valuable technical knowledge or skills in advance of the main body of talks that will follow.

An open day gives you a chance to provide an extra platform for speakers or space for talks. For example, some first-time speakers will prefer to face a more general audience rather than one of perceived experts, while some talks may simply be more suited to this audience.

Finally, an open day helps you spread your registration out over an extra day, and can take pressure off you and your volunteers.