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Warpstock Europe 2006 - revisited
Background details on event organisation

by Thomas Klein, © February 2007

Formerly self-employed and freelance IT consulant, Thomas just recently started working as a software QA specialist for Sapient. Thomas was one of the driving forces behind last years Warpstock Europe in Cologne.

The 2006 edition of Warpstock Europe took place more than two months ago. I think it's a good time to take a look back now that a little time has passed and the seasonal holidays are over.

At the closing session of this years event I promised (publicly!) to give a short overview of what went on behind the scenes so that others can understand what is involved in the organization of such an event. My intention by doing so is that it hopefully encourages others to organize future events to the benefit of us all, seeing more OS/2- and eCS-related events happening over the long term. The bottom line was (and still is):

If I can do it, anyone can do it.


Before getting into the details, let me tell you a little about the feedback.

Speakers were pleased with the good organization. Some were even overwhelmed by the feedback they had from visitors (although that is something beyond the merits of the organizers). And some of the developers who gave presentations also have stated that it gave them enormous motiviation to have met with users and talked to them. And as far as I know, no developer was blamed, beaten or damaged by a user. So if you're a developer, think of showing up at next year's edition to be coddled by users—whether you do a presentation or just have a booth in the exhibition room.

Many visitors have expressed their thanks for the good organization and surroundings as well. It seems that many have enjoyed having a place to stay at the event site. Nevertheless (apropos “good organization”) I still feel the need to apologize for the queues at the registration desk on Friday morning. We just underestimated the amount of people showing up on the first day and signing in directly for the entire event. On Saturday and Sunday, we had relatively few “new” visitors compared to the crowd on Friday. This is something I would note as “lesson learnt.”

Regarding the Youth Hostel at Cologne that hosted the event: Roland and I had a final talk with the YH director in his office on Monday after the event. The overall impression was that they were more than pleased to have us doing our event there; they had no complaints of any kind (technical, people, sound level, night-time working, drinking, smoking…) and that we would be more than welcome to do it again. Phew! That really made us feel good.

Talking about drawbacks in planning and communication, we discovered that it would also have been possible to arrange for a special amount of dormitories (4 to 6 persons each). And then we could have handled the reservations and booking on our own. Gee. No one had told us that before. Again, Lesson learnt: Talk to the boss directly. ;-)

Personal Impression

The thing that impresses me most about Warpstock Europe events (whether I'm on the organization team or as a visitor) is the social spirit or “community feeling” I experience and share each time. In the late hours, there were always some small groups of people gathering around notebooks and… well, doing things. I cannot claim to know what they were doing, but I'm pretty convinced that in the near future, we will see new programs, new features or many fixed bugs that were “born” in these nights at Cologne.

This adds to the list of reasons why Warpstock Europe is that important for us—regardless whether we run eCS or MCP, welcome or fear Voyager, like or dislike Mensys or BMT Micro. What it finally boils down to is that this is “us.” We're just like that. And we should make the best of it.

Okay, time to wipe the tears from my eyes (sigh) and take a look at the other facts.

How it all started

For those who don't already know the story: In March 2005 I was sneaking around Cologne to find a place for a possible 2005 event. When I finally got in contact with the YH (in April that was), they told me that I was too late and that there were no rooms left for our desired time frame – or at least not enough rooms any more. I then handed the organization back to Roderick Klein who had told me that Robert Henschel would be willing to do it in Dresden. And as you all might know, the Dresden event took place in 2005. Lesson learnt: Next time, I'll be the first to ask, I said to myself.

For the 2006 event, I started out in January and got directly in contact with the YH. That was early enough to get hold of the rooms. And fortunately, they had upgraded from ISDN to a DSL-based network in the meanwhile with LAN sockets in all major presentation rooms.

Abstract: The time to start thinking about the next WSE is when the current WSE takes place!

Event site

What makes a good event site? Rooms!

Keep in mind that you need at least two rooms for presentations so people can attend alternate sessions. Don't worry about topics and speakers—that's something you don't have to think about at that point. Then, you need at least one room for exhibitors, user groups and developers. In Cologne we had three presentation rooms for Friday and four on Saturday and Sunday. And if you can't find a spot somewhere for the registration desk (which needs space for machines, chairs, desks, and additional storage), add another room for that.

Plan for more than one on-site visit. Depending on the size of the hosting organization, you are likely to talk to more than one person. And sometimes one of them doesn't know what the others are doing.

Prepare to start the event ahead of time. If you start on Friday 8.00 am, it is not sufficient for the first organization team member to arrive at 7.00 am on Friday (at least not if the event spot is owned by someone else). In that case, better start on Thursday afternoon or evening. If you plan to start before the official event day #1, make sure you're allowed to do so if the event site is rented or belongs to someone else.

Abstract: For a WSE event you need at least three rooms—four is better! If your events starts in the morning, prepare on-site things on the preceding evening, if possible.

Website and communication

There is two ways of letting the community know about the event. The usual public news sources (forums, newsletters, websites) and your event website. Start setting up the contents of the event website with the most important information: Where and When.

Then use the news sources mentioned above to spread the word – like VOICE, os2world, os2news.com, ecs.ru, commtalk.de, os2ecs.org or the usenet forums. Just make sure you have at least two of the major ones on your list and make sure to ask for public announcement to get your message forwarded and spread. Don't count on your personal assessment of the message's importance to get it distruibuted—tell it!

Another good idea is to set up a dedicated mailing list (something we didn't manage to do for Cologne in the end) or use the ScreenSaver module (created and maintained by Robert Henschel). Should you be in possession of a contact in the press, then use it, use it, use it! I would have loved to have something in the media about Cologne but this is hard to advertise if you don't have direct access to some person.

Abstract: The event website should provide full and detailed information at an early stage. Short news items and announcements (with a link to your website) should be placed in the major OS/2 and eCS news services.

Speakers, Sessions and Schedule

Some speakers arrive without being contacted, but these are rare. Once you have made a call to the public (via VOICE news, os2world.com, os2news.com, etc.) another few might show up. The most likely to win speakers, however, is to personally ask them via mail or, even better, phone.

Start soon to think about what you would like to see or who could be a potential speaker. Prepare a wish list of topics and also think about publishing it on your event website—you will find that many folks are knowledgeable about various topics but usually think that it wouldn't be interesting enough. By showing them a wish list, they may decide to prepare something.

In general the tricky thing with speakers is time. Speakers need time to prepare, check, plan, and think. Your first thought now would be to start as soon as possible, right? On the other hand if you talk to possible speakers more than 4 months ahead of the event, most of them don't even have a clue as to whether they can attend… Nevertheless, contact them early, at least two months ahead of the event. Wishlist speakers (who possibly need to start from scratch) should be contacted at least a month earlier. If any of them needs time to think… well, that's okay, but make sure to get back into contact with them (over and over if needed).

As soon as session proposals start arriving in your mail box, start to figure out the schedule as soon as possible! The important thing about the schedule is that many visitors might not decide to come unless they know what topics are being presented on which days! Also, start to put sessions (or their topics) into categories to ease planning. Most important things to consider for scheduling a session are:

Abstract: Don't wait for speakers—mail them. And start your schedule planning early!


Internet access would be a good idea. ;-) But don't panic! Most speakers can do their presentations “offline” as they are using prepared slideshows or doing interactive sessions on a program they have on their machine. However, as we're all computer guys (and girls, of course) to some extent, we can't do without e-mail. Keep in mind, that while it is not mandatory to have Internet access in the presentation rooms, you should have Internet access somewhere at least. You don't need to provide an Internet cafe facility but the more you have, the better it is. Rooms do not have to be wired if you can (or are allowed to) set up wireless networking. Then again, keep in mind that not everyone has a (working) wireless NIC yet.

More important than network access: Electricity!

Remember that all those notebooks and desktops and monitors (and mobile phone chargers <g>) need power to function. In the case of a presentation room that won't matter. But consider the exhibition areas, you soon find many, many socket multipliers which could cause some fuse to blow up. And keep in mind that you sometimes need power in areas without sockets (e.g., registration area). Power extension cords suddenly become very, very important.

Abstract: Check rooms for power plugs on-site (number, capacity of service) with either the hosting staff's facility manager or “janitor” (whoever is responsible). Check network availability (and for wireless: signal range, possible interferences).


Your registration desk could even do without computers—why not? It depends on your needs and what you want to provide your visitors. At Cologne, we wanted nice tickets without our sloppy handwriting on them… so we planned for a printer. During an event, it's very likely for things to suddenly change: You can't anticipate everything in advance, especially with time running out as the opening day approaches. Therefore, a printer is always a good idea. If you take one with you, care for paper as well and check if you've got enough toner or ink. Check that the machine the printer will be attached to has the right drivers. Do a test-run. If you have the need for a special piece of software that your organization relies on, make sure to have it available on a backup media or machine.

Beamers? Good idea: Bring them along if the event site doesn't have them available. If for some weird reason <g> you don't have one beamer per presentation room, think about who could provide one and keep in mind that this often isn't for free.

Another helpful thing is to have a spare notebook or machine on site. Sometimes, speakers find themselves without working machines—either because transportation has killed the machine or simply because they only brought their material on CD or a thumb drive (and forgot to mention that). So bring along your machine (preferably with a working OS/2 or eCS on it) for these guys. Also, a dedicated speaker mail or website page might help in making clear that speakers should bring along a machine or request an on-site facility accordingly.

Next, office supplies. You can never do without scissors, adhesive tape and a pen, believe me. At least it makes you feel somehow “prepared” for the unexpected. A “magic marker” and some sheets of paper won't hurt either.

Abstract: Take only what you need but all you need—plus a spare machine.

People (the Team, Staff)

That's difficult to estimate. When talking about “registration desk,” we tend to forget that visitors continue arrive throughout the entire day and that besides registering for a ticket, people have questions or even just want to chat during their breaks. Also, the desk is the place for everyone involved in the organization to gather for chatting, having a break, or preparing stuff. So the proper naming would be “Warpstock Europe Office.” This said, don't count on one person to do it! You need at least two people: One at the desk, the other one running around searching for things or people (not kidding here). And usually, your staff wants to enjoy the event too by listening to presentations: You need more than one shift, better even more than two. And count in backup personnel if one of your helpers gets sick just before the event starts.

Depending on the number of presentation rooms, it would be a good idea to have one “room pal” taking care of a working network or beamer for the speakers who sometimes haven't hooked up their machines to that before. Or even just for locking the rooms between sessions. Depending on the distance between these rooms, a second “room pal” can be a good idea if skating is not allowed in the area. ;-)

Make sure you have one (or a maximum of two) “liason” people as spokespersons and point-of-contact for the event host: It really pays off to have only one or two people the attendees know and can talk to. In Cologne, I relied on Roland who did the entire organization of helping hands that were made up of volunteers from the local Team OS/2 groups all over Germany.

Abstract: The more people you have, the less workload you have per person. The less people you have, the “easier” your organization management becomes. <g> One or two “head” organizers is enough, a pool of six additional helpers at least is recommended for a WSE event.


Besides complying with the security policies of the hosting company or organization, of course, keep in mind two things:

Abstract: Make sure each visitor can safely enjoy the event by keeping all emergency exits clear (don't stack machines in doorways, etc.), keeping liquids (drinks) away from electrical equipment (“don't drink and type”), and avoid loose cables on the floor.


Now that you know (more or less) what to keep in mind, let's talk about money. The Cologne event wasn't designed with profits in mind. Even if it were—what should we do with the money besides save it for the next event? We have no official organization behind it, so it would have been my personal decision whether to keep it. donate it, or spend it for my private pleasure.

For a WSE you can expect around 100 paying vistors a day, equaling 300 tickets sold for a 3-day event. Over 75% of the visitors stayed the entire event. At least, that's the rough calculation from Cologne. It, however, depends on when you do the event (national holidays? Vacation time?) and where (how accessible is the event site by train, car, plane), and how expensive does it become for visitors. Inexpensive accommodation facilities (like YH in Cologne) help get more people staying more than a single day. Those who can't deal with a Youth Hostel bed most probably are willing to pay for a hotel anyway. ;-)

The ticket presales for Cologne were done with Mensys and the actual “peak time” of sales was in the 3 weeks before the event started. We had exactly 2000 Euro of expenses for the rooms (for all days) and the overall cost including beamer rental, room rental, Internet usage, etc., was 2248 Euro. That was the money we paid to the Youth Hostel for everything.

On top of that, we have spent around another 900 Euro for additional 3rd party beamer rental, shipping the hardware with postal services, the color prints for the speaker certificates, making of lanyards and badge holders, the speaker “mugs,” and the sparkling wine and orange juice on Friday opening. I must admit that lanyards and mugs were sponsored by <an anonymous coward>, so the ticket sales have pretty much covered the cost. We had no booth fees (no exhibitor had to pay for his booth) and both speakers and helpers had free admittance (sorry again for telling too late and have some folks paying “too much” in the end).

A no-no for next year's organizers: This figures are not meant to set the standard for upcoming events. If you're not getting along with 10 Euro entrance per person any day, there is no need to stick with that! Charge what you need but stay within reasonable scope of cost. On the other hand, don't try to be cheaper than we were—for your own sake!

Abstract: To be on the safe side, estimate not more than 75 tickets sold per day on average for a WSE event.

Money – continued

Note that when renting rooms and such, you most probably have to pay in advance (which means even before you get money from ticket sales!) so you need to pre-finance the amount of money needed… thus, here's an overview on the WSE2006 expenses and revenues:

Expenses Revenues
Purpose Amount € Purpose Amount €
Room rental (all days, all rooms) 2000.00 Ticket presales 2090.00
Beamer from YH (all days) 50.00 Ticket sales at event (68 admittances) 680.00
Internet access overall, all days 50.00
Allow to bring own drinks (wine, juice) for opening party Friday 35.00 Sponsoring for cost of lanyards, mugs, etc. 486.52
Use of whiteboards, pens, paper 10.00
Personalized lanyards (printing) with badge holders (250 pc.) 521.42
“Thank-you” mugs for speakers and helpers (50 pc.) 232.00
A4 color-printed speaker certificates (glossy paper, toner) 25.00
Shipping cost & reimbursement for equipment rented from user groups 30.00
Welcome drinks 100.00
Rental fee for additional & backup beamers, all days 80.00
Printing cost for b/w schedules (A3) and signs (A4) 25.00
Mineral water supplied for session rooms 98.10
TOTAL 3256.52 3256.52

According to the list above, we seem to have covered the expenses 1:1, but what the list doesn't reveal is the fact that the sponsoring actually “donated” some of the money that we were lacking in the end. So, to put it another way, the “loss” was covered by donations.

On the other hand, if we were to save the money for the optional gimmicks “on top” (outside the scope of the actual event) like lanyards, mugs, welcome drinks, and so on, we would have made a profit of about 401.90 Euro—and that with a ticket pricing of as little as 10 Euro a day! This shows, that it really pays to chose a cheap event site!

Personally, I'm not too sad about the fact that we didn't make profits. You see, this saved us from having to choose what to do with the money. If we were to donate it to some project or group, others might be upset. Also, it's not fair to collect money from visitors and then spend it on behalf of your personal preferences. Should we set up a poll asking What to do with the profits? I would prefer to have a Warpstock Europe (-club, -group, -org …well, something) where we could donate the money to ensure funds for the next event and the events after that… but more about that later. Anyway, this disucussion doesn't lead us anywhere because there was no profit.

Money (yet again)

Some visitors like to get a receipt for the entrance fee they paid. In Cologne, I had put my company's name and logo on the receipts when I was at the desk. If a “registered” club is doing the organization, they could use their name for that (like Roland partly did) but if you run this as a private person, you might get into trouble with the IRS—who knows? In Germany at least, these things are very complicated unless you're a registered club. And then there's the paperwork involved for becoming a registered club…

Money - Conclusion

If you look at the Cologne event and the agenda it offered, I believe 10 Euro per day was a hell of a good price to pay. As I had free entry as an organizer, I didn't really care about the price :-) but if I had attended as a regular visitor, to me even 20 Euro would have been worth it (although I feel this would have been too expensive). I guess 15 Euro a day would have been a perfect “no worries” price for both parties (organizers and visitors). Thus, from my viewpoint, there's still a little room for fundraising here… we just need to find a solution to where the raised funds go, but more about that later. On the other hand, cheap entrance for visitors might still be a better idea than gaining profits if there is no real need to do so (except you want to buy something where everyone benefits in current or future events).


We already had some good suggestions coming in and of course we made up our mind afterwards about what could be changed (or needs to be changed). And although Roland and I decided to skip next year's organization (due to the countless dark hints from our wives if we dare to do it again), we found ourselves engaged in talks about this-and-that and wouldn't-that-be-great… So here's for the future teams.

The Future of Warpstock Europe

I somehow envy the USA guys for that “INC” of Warpstock, Inc. I don't mean because of the “INC” itself, but rather because they have a central organization that takes care of the event each year. Over here, we don't have an organization that even “owns” the name of “Warpstock Europe” or is somehow responsible for its future. It always depends on a few people's enthusiasm and goodwill (à la Are you doing it this year or shall I do it?). I feel the need for an organization! Maybe a European organization, but any club, ORG, or whatever kind of committee will do.

I know that sounds familiar to those who were involved in the incredibly unsuccessful “Warpstock Europe Steering Committee” (the reasons for its glorious failing are stupid, but that's another story). But again, heck, the idea behind it is not wrong! Shouldn't it be possible for us to have a “Warpstock Europe Organisation”? We need a central place were the knowledge and experience of doing such events is stored, workload can be distributed more easily, names and addresses are available, and some kind of platform for planning and organizing is being run. Also, it will be of enormous help to establish a baseline organization which future events can be built upon—not to mention the underpinning of receipts and invoices in an “official” and legally safe way. Each new team can benefit from the wealth of collected information from the previous teams. I encourage everyone interested in future events to think about it and support the building of a European event community when the call for it reaches you…

National events vs. European events

Talking about a European event community: This article is about the experiences made with a European event, but all things mentioned here also apply to local events as well. You don't need to start off with a Warpstock Europe. The Czech Warpstock and the plans for a German “WarpWochenende” (if it takes place) show that a country-specific event has the same impact and importance. So why not have a Warpstock BeNeLux, a Scandinavian Warpstock, or whatever? If you size the event (in matters of days, topics, etc.) according to the number of potential visitors, you can do almost everything and keep the entire event and website running in your native language. But make sure to spread the word! An (additional!) English version of your events website in that case is a good idea, as many fellow Warpers around the globe like to know what is going on (especially the session topics), even if they are unable to attend the event for various reasons.

For a “Warpstock Europe” event however, all presentations and the website should be done in English first due to the international character of the event. If time and support power allows, you can still do translations of the website. At Cologne, we simply didn't have the time to translate all that and infrastructure (no CMS) didn't make this easy enough as well.

One of the reasons behind the idea of a German-language “WarpWochenende” is the fact that many German Warpers do not understand English well enough to enjoy the sessions. It is important however to show that although we are living on small islands in a sea of mainstream OS, there are lots of these islands. And there are many people on these islands who speak the same language, although not all of them speak English.

My share

I personally “own” the domains warpstock.eu and warpevents.eu. My plan is to fund a webserver with two websites on it:

What do you think?

The bottom line

Running a Warpstock Europe is not black magic. I hope this article has explained a little of the efforts and needs for planning and running such an event. Basically, it isn't complicated at all! Just ask my wife and she will agree: If I can do it, probably everyone can. :-) So if you want to run next Warpstock or you know about a possible location but don't know where to start or who to talk to, then simply drop me a mail—I'll tell you.

Editing: James Moe

Warpstock Europe homepage: http://www.warpstock.eu