Sharing some thoughts from a conference organizer

Chilling moment during #PTS22
photo by doegox under CC BY-NC-SA

2022 has been quite a crucial year in the Pass the SALT conference short history. We had to switch back to an in-person form of event.

It can seem quite obvious, but after two years of full remote conference, it has been quite challenging.

As often said, #SharingIsCaring!

So, in this blogpost, I will share:


Being back on stage after 2 year-long pandemic

When you have organized an event once a year for more than 10 years and suddenly, the pandemic stops you and your friends during more than 2 years, it impacts you. No more physical contact nor social interaction whereas a conference is essentially a face-to-face event. Even if you don’t see or admit it, it hurts you as a social person!

After that, the relaunch of the event hasn’t been an easy path. One month before the #PTS22 event, I have even decided to resign just after the 2022 edition. I have shared it with @doegox and @_cryptocorn_.

Why resigning?

I didn’t see the point of investing time and energy in events like Pass the SALT anymore.

I doubted my own added value. I also doubted the impact that this type of event could have on the security ecosystem, on the speakers and on the attendees.

I have been quite frustrated all along the process of restarting the event under its in-person form:

Failing to provoke desire into some potential speakers heart has been really hard to live during this fragile moment of relaunching the event. I wasn’t sure anymore to have the words and the vision to lead this conference and convince people to participate.

Finally, @doegox convinced me to postpone my decision after the event. Social interactions with speakers and attendees during the event have generated enough energy to do the magic! For the moment at least ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Enthusiastic speakers like Jiska are the ❤️ and the soul of the event.
🙏 to all of them!
photo by doegox under CC BY-NC-SA

And now, some thoughts about organizing conferences!

For the record, my experience as a conference organizer comes from:

One more conference, really?

Despite a small adjustment after the pandemic period and some conferences having stopped, we can say that IT or Security conferences are just everywhere nowadays.

The Security conferences landscape stretches from local events ran by volunteers to huge commercial events in the middle of the desert. They can be specialized on a particular topic or cover all modern Security topics. Not being able to find the right one for you is quite difficult, aside the location and the cost.

I think that your main challenge before launching a new conference is to find a brand new angle, not already covered by another conference, at least in your area.

Of course, you can run an event locally without any specific topic/angle aside Security. For example, a lot of BSides events follow this format. Your event will provide to the local community the opportunity to encounter seasoned speakers and do social networking. It will have an impact, no problem wih that.

Your mission, both a tool and a responsibility

But, not having a specific focus or mission will be a lack on the long-term. The event will have a harder time providing a clear vision of what it brings to the community.

Having a specific mission provides you your identity.

First, having your own mission is a big part of your attractiveness. For potential speakers, for attendees, for the community.

Then, if you respect your mission at each step of your decision process, your mission becomes an effective tool to maintain consistency over the long-term.

Being consistent over time with your mission helps you build credibility for your event and allows you to build trust with participants and the broader security community.

Having a specific mission also brings clarity, readibility to attendees, speakers and sponsors.

And as a tool, it definitely makes organizers life easier when, for example, you have to choose among the talks proposals of the call for paper.

Advocating for long-term actions

After speaking about your identity, let’s give a look to the footprint you might leave into the community history.

My preferred way to think and act is to do things on the long-time scale. Because it forces you to be humble and to (try to) build things in a solid way.

Acting on the long-term has some positive impacts on conference organizing:

To illustrate, Pass the SALT is dedicated to Free Software and Security.

The values that underpin the event are:

In our case, being part of the long-term and act in line with our mission therefore translates into multiple choices done through our RMLL and PTS experiences:

Standing on the shoulders of giants

But long-term actions came also from our history.

Full room before attending Lunar talk about Tor during RMLL 2014
photo by doegox under CC BY-NC-SA

Our roots mainly come from the Libre Software Meeting (or Rencontres Mondiales du Logiciel Libre / RMLL in French).

Apart from RMLL, Philippe has also been part of the BruCon for years, member of and SSTIC program committee. On his side, Mathieu has been a member of the SSTIC organization team for a long time.

But we all have being part of the RMLL organization, mainly as Security track curators apart from Eloïse who started in 2014 as an organization team member at age of 16 🤩. We have learned a lot from this organization team, from the achievements and maybe even more from the fails!

On the positive side, being part of a bigger event than our small track also helped us to safely learn the job and try some ideas: setting up an English only spoken track, see the benefits of having a speakers dinner etc.

And to illustrate the “learning from the fails” aspect, since 2003, RMLL have been held in a different town each year. As so, the local organization team changed almost entirely each year also. We have clearly identified this way of operating as a sure win to lose the expertise and the understanding of how an event works.

So, since we founded Pass the SALT, we paid a special attention to:

For all these shared moments and so many great editions, hats off to the creators of RMLL and org team members from 2008 to 2017! We learned a lot and Pass the SALT wouldn’t be there without you 👏

Special attention: this year, we have the surprise to see one of our RMLL colleagues, Georges Khaznadar, former Education track co-curator, to be in the room at #PTS22. A very emotional moment for me and I am really sad not having been able to share a longer moment with you, Georges! Maybe during a next edition (I hope so!) ❤️🤞

A little extra soul

As a small event, we cannot rely on the fact we would be a must-attend event. We have to prove that this event is a little special and deserves to be visited!

We created our conference with a special care to the details and as users of our own work.

Building a new feature: adding a foldable program to #PTS22 badge
photo by doegox under CC BY-NC-SA license

For example, we try to:

We also always try to go to people, speak with a lot of present people, putting warmth and engagement into these exchanges. We do that way because we are deeply convinced that warm and deep exchanges between event attendees are the only real added value of conferences over all other forms of content sharing.

Sharing moments during #PTS22 speakers dinner
photo by doegox under CC BY-NC-SA license

This last part is quite important for me. We all organize this event to encounter people, new ones and old friends. For my part, without meetings, I would just quit the boat, as simple as that. Due to the warm feeling it produces when we regularly meet again, I used to call all the previous RMLL and PTS speakers (and regular attendees ofc), “The Family (tm)”. Enough said, I guess 🫳

Fun and furious are usually “The Family” members like Eric 😉
photo by doegox under CC BY-NC-SA license

One of our attendees, past speaker and seasoned conference organizer qualifies us as an event with “a little extra soul” 🤩

Thanks a lot @tomchop_, we will try not to disappoint you in the future 😘

Last, a short focus on the Virtual form and its impact on social aspect: during the pandemic, we made the choice to run the event two years in a row under a virtual form. The event took the form of three afternoons in a row of talks delivered live by the speakers. Our feedback on that way of running is that finally, we have lost what really matters: speaking with speakers after talks, real human exchanges during breaks and social events.

We are almost sure that we would not do the event remotely again if it would not be possible to run it on-site.


Due to our history (RMLL we are looking at you!), our conference has always been held during the first days of July.

I use to run the conference organization with my friends and then, I usually disappear (almost) for 2 or 3 weeks somewhere right after.

Calm and reloading in the middle of nowhere
photo by /me under CC BY-NC-SA license

It is a way to come down softly after the rush of emotions generated by the conference and its participants.

If you have participated to this kind of event as an organizer or even an attendee, it may be like going to an intense festival. It takes time to digest all the emotions and ideas you have felt or crossed during these few days.

This after-event period is a very profitable moment for me to try to transform all these emotions and ideas into new directions for the next iteration of the conference.

Sat in front of Red Lines installation by Evan Roth, Rencontres d’Arles 2022
photo by F.B.(c)

Summer is also the time of Music and Photography festivals. I always try to participate to these kind of event. I also try to find and read interviews of festival organizers.

For example, give a try to this Sam Stourdzé interview [fr], former director of the Rencontres d’Arles, the main French photography festival.

It is such a rich source of inspiration despite the differences between the events.

Among other topics, Sam Stourdzé explains during this interview that the soul of an event mainly comes from of what happens besides the event, during moments of exchanges. He also advocates that the atmosphere coming from the different locations used to host the event gives a little extra soul to it. I can’t agree more!

As you can see, all of these inspiration sources provide you a lot of new perspectives and ideas you can try to adapt to your own event to improve it 🙂.

Last word

It’s your turn to share your experiences 🫵
photo by Xavier Mertens under CC BY-NC-SA license

I finally came to the end of this quite (too?) long article. I hope you enjoyed the ride and, of course, feel free to come back to me to exchange about these topics.

In particular, I would really appreciate to read feedback coming from other conferences organizers to learn from each other’s experiences.