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Organising a Conference: A Rookie’s Guide

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Organising a Conference: A Rookie’s Guide

Planning and executing a successful conference is a taxing task at the best of times, but organising your first ever can be positively nerve-wracking. Here we discuss some tips for successful conference planning, plus a couple of disaster prevention techniques!

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Consider your venue

Providing your attendees are interested in your field of work, the location of the conference is arguably the greatest deciding factor in whether or not invitees decide to attend. If the venue is your own place of work make sure it is tidy and inviting and will suit the needs of all your guests; if you plan to hold the conference elsewhere then the venue should be as short a travelling distance as possible for attendees, as well as in easy reach of hotels, accessible by public transport, and fully equipped for wheelchair access and induction loop hearing aids.

Plan your itinerary wisely

A full day of talks with inadequate time given for food and comfort breaks can be daunting for attendees, who may easily become tired and oversaturated with information. Try to alternate presentations of different lengths and styles (slideshows, speeches and so on) to give participants a mental break, allowing at least a 15-minute break every two hours. Make sure to provide high quality refreshments from a reputable catering company such as DeWintons, and organise your itinerary with the lunch break in mind: it’s a good idea to place your keynote speaker directly after a lunch break, as attendees will be refreshed and eager to begin the afternoon.

Book a variety of speakers with a mixture of approaches

If you work in a very narrow field or specific niche this can be harder to achieve, but try to strike a balance. You’re entertaining a group of industry experts and potential newcomers to the field and, while attendees will obviously expect presentations to be relevant and on theme, no one will be pleased to sit through six variations of the same paper, delivered in exactly the same way. Aim to showcase a variety of approaches to your field, with different presentation styles and an engaging keynote speaker as a minimum concession to this.

Give speakers enough time, and allow time for questions

Managing your time should be an easy enough task, but it involves careful planning, and conferences often overrun despite even the most rigid organisation. Firstly, consider the number of speakers and whether they have short or long talks in mind. This should help you determine the length of the conference, for example whether it will be a morning, a one-day event or even a whole weekend. Factor in breaks accordingly: a lunch break should be at least half an hour but ideally longer, and fifteen-minute comfort breaks in the morning and afternoon will allow participants to have a snack and refresh themselves. It’s also important to allow time for questions at the end of every paper: more time for longer talks and less for shorter ones. Even if there are no questions to be asked, this additional time acts as a buffer and should prevent each speaker from overrunning.

Good luck!

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