• The best OWAA conference ever: Discover the event planning success of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). Learn how they advance the skills of outdoor storytellers in various media, from blogging to videography.
  • Practical Event Planning Tips: Benefit from Chez Chesak’s seasoned advice on making events dynamic and engaging by incorporating outdoor elements and local experiences.
  • Support in Challenging Times: Learn about the specific strategies OWAA employs to help freelance writers navigate the evolving landscape of reduced pay and competition from AI.
  • Destination Storytelling: Explore the unique approach of integrating pre and post-tours in conferences to enhance storytelling opportunities and member experiences.
  • Tech Solutions for Event Management: Find out how the transition to the Sched platform revolutionized event scheduling and management for OWAA, making it user-friendly and efficient.

We spoke to Chez Chesak, the Executive Director of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), to learn his secrets to successful event planning. 

From advancing careers to exploring the great outdoors. This is not your average annual conference.

Dive in to get inspired, and learn some event planning tips you can put into practice immediately!

The Outdoor Writers Association of America 

OWAA is committed to advancing the professional development of outdoor storytellers. 

This includes individuals working across various media platforms, such as podcasting, blogging, photography, and traditional print journalism. They cover a wide range of outdoor activities, from hunting and fishing to climbing and cycling. 

“Our work is really to enhance the work, and ultimately careers, of our members,” said Chesak “We facilitate connections with new editors and provide opportunities with new outlets while also doing all that we can to help improve our members’ skills in photography, videography, and writing, publishing, etc.” 

How the OWAA helps writers through challenging times 

Owaa Logo
OWAA logo

In OWAA’s sector, times are challenging, especially for freelance writers. 

Added Chesak, “There are so many outlets out there that have reduced their pay for freelance articles – while others are disappearing altogether. Add in the specter of AI, and it’s really a challenging time for freelancers to secure enough work to sustain a full-time career.” 

In response, the Association actively seeks new opportunities for its members. It finds and offers leads on part-time positions and short-term projects to help maintain the health and robustness of their careers. 

And, as you’ll see, they also utilize event planning to empower their membership… 

Event Session Registration Made Easy: Pro Tips for Seamless Attendee Sign-ups from Sched Support on Vimeo.


Outdoor Writers Association of America Conference 

Group Photo Celebrating Succesful Event Planning
OWAA event planning

Chez’s event planning is backed up by an event committee. It comprises numerous diverse members – emphasizing inclusivity – to represent various voices within the outdoor community. The hunters, the hikers, the bikers, and the conservationists, among many others, foster a rich exchange of ideas and experiences.

The significance of in-person conferences has grown in light of the challenges facing freelancers. Last year’s conference in Gulf Shores, Alabama, saw nearly 250 attendees, and this year’s event in El Paso, Texas, aims to attract even more. 

The conference is not only a gathering of media professionals but also a networking hub for tourism boards, state and federal agencies, departments of natural resources, and brands ranging from Toyota to smaller companies like Lowa Boots, as well as large conservation-focused nonprofits.

A unique aspect of the Association’s event planning is their emphasis on the storytelling potential of the destinations. There are pre and post-tours built into the agenda to maximize members’ experiences and storytelling opportunities. This approach aims to provide a significant return on investment for members attending the conference.

The best conference we’ve ever had: The event planning success of the OWAA

We were happy to hear from Chez that this is the best conference they’ve ever had. And that’s from an organization with nearly 100 years of conferences! But let’s dig into some numbers and testimonials so you can see for yourself:

Attendee breakdown:

  • 134 individual media members
  • 60 people representing brands, agencies, and organizations 
  • 25 not-yet-members (most of whom were media)
  • 21 spouses/partners
  • 10 staff & volunteers

The 2023 Gulf Shores edition saw a 23.9% increase in attendance over the previous year (and a 34.8% increase over the event two years prior). They hope and expect to build on their event planning success when they go to El Paso later this year. 

  • BONUS ADVICE – You can boost event attendance with these secret tips for writing compelling event session titles and descriptions! 

Post-event survey results:

  • 62.1% said the event was ‘Outstanding’
  • 29.7% said the event was ‘Very Good’
  • 8.1% said the event was ‘Fine’ 
  • Zero respondents marked the survey options that suggested dissatisfaction

The word-of-mouth feedback shone just as bright. Check out the testimonials, including these:

“What an amazing event this year’s conference was! The community and energy and positivity surrounding it were positively electric!”

– Katie McKalip, VP of External Affairs and Communications, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

“The conference was way beyond my expectations and thanks to it, magic is happening, doors are opening – it’s a dream come true. I really can’t say enough good stuff about my experience. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

– Robin Motzer, Wildlands Restoration, LLC

“Best conference I have ever attended in my life.”

– Gerry Seavo James, Deputy Campaign Director, Outdoors For All at Sierra Club

How Long Can I Host My Event on Sched? from Sched Support on Vimeo.


How Sched helped their event planning

Panel Discussion Incporporated Into Owaa Event Planning
OWAA event planning

OWAA experienced a significant transformation in managing its annual conference with the adoption of Sched.

This change came after the OWAA’s initial struggles with another application. It proved to be less user-friendly, causing frustration among members and staff. Particularly for those less tech-savvy. 

Chesak, who came on board just before the pandemic in October 2019, spearheaded this transition. The shift to virtual events highlighted the need for a reliable and easy-to-use platform. 

I put out a call both to a collective of executive directors of outdoor nonprofits and on my social media for suggestions for a meeting scheduling platform,” said Chesak. “Recommendations for Sched just kept popping up, particularly in regard to its utility and cost-effectiveness.” 

The transition to Sched was marked by its intuitive design and ease of use. This quickly alleviated concerns and made event navigation straightforward for all participants.

  • BONUS ADVICE – Keeping attendees on top of your event schedule is one of the trickiest tasks in event planning – Thankfully we have a guide for this very issue! 

Sched’s intuitive interface allowed members to effortlessly find sessions and keynotes, enhancing the overall event experience. This ease of use was a relief for both the staff and the members, eliminating the need for preliminary tutorials on navigating the app.

The platform’s adaptability allowed the OWAA to carry forward the structure and content from one event to the next, simplifying the planning process for future conferences.

The successful implementation of Sched has not only streamlined the organization’s event management but has also opened up new possibilities for enhancing member engagement and community building within the OWAA.

BONUS event planning advice from Chez Chesak

We asked Chez to give some general event planning advice to our readers. With his unique position representing an outdoor organization, he emphasized the importance of integrating the essence of the outdoors into event planning. 

Please get your attendees outside and moving around, even just a little,” he adds. “Utilize some unique off-site venues, have a break for yoga or walks, or do a dine-around through the town. Don’t lock your constituents into yet another nondescript, windowless conference room for days. Believe me, your attendees will thank you, everyone will have more energy and your event will feel far more dynamic.” 

He advocated for exploring captivating locations and venues that offer natural light and the opportunity for outdoor sessions or special events, perhaps even incorporating local street closures for added engagement. 

Chesak adds, “It’s a crime to be in a destination and not get to EXPERIENCE that destination. Get your people out to explore the local area, sample regional cuisine, and fully immerse themselves in that destination’s unique offerings.” 

This approach, Chez believes, not only elevates the event’s appeal but ensures it remains a memorable and energizing experience for all involved, in stark contrast to events that might leave attendees feeling drained from being secluded in a generic setting.

The takeaways 

We hope you’re feeling freshly inspired and motivated after reading about OWAA’s event planning. For even more inspiration, you can read more of our success stories here. 

But if you’re ready to make some success of you’re own, try Sched for free and get the story started! 

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Author: Harry Prince

Harry is responsible for content creation at Sched. From non-profit project development to cheffing, his experience is varied. Originaly from Scotland, he's currently writing from Amsterdam. Outside of telling stories about events, he likes cooking, old trains and running.