What are good ways to make a conference for which people are willing to pay?
My answer to What are good ways to make a conference for which people are willing to pay? on Quora
First, find the right topic, location and date. There’s not much point in running a three day Big Data conference in San Francisco on the same days as O’Reilly’s Strata conference down in San Jose!
Next, make sure the right people will be there. People go to conferences to meet other people, and one of your key jobs as a conference organiser is to get a core group of interesting attendees signed up (so as to attract more). This is where speakers come in. Start by attracting some excellent initial speakers, then you can use their presence to attract more great speakers (speakers love going to events with other great speakers). That in turn will attract attendees, press etc.
(For some categories of conference, e.g. startup conferences, a neat trick for attracting good speakers is to make sure that there will be good press coverage at the event—most speakers speak to spread influence rather than for straight-up money, and ensuring there will be press for them to talk with can help attract high-end names)
Personally I like events to have a mixture of “big name” speakers who attract attention and unknown-but-excellent speakers that provide fresh insights, but you can certainly run a successful event just using already-known speakers.