Jul 082013
 

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The following are seven things that you will need to address when planning  your next conference to ensure that it is a successful event.

Sessions That Don’t Offer New Information
Your conference sessions should offer information that is fascinating and new. The speakers should not be rehashing information that delegates have heard at other conferences. Beware of offering content that is too general because you are trying to attract a wide audience. Consider attracting a wide audience by offering diversity in session types.  Delegates can then choose the sessions which interest them to get the most out of the conference.

Distracting Presentations
If not done correctly the method of presentation can seriously distract from the content of the session. Make sure that the presentation slides do not cause your delegates to spend more time focusing on what is happening on the screen than the actual content of the presentation. A visual presentation that is too busy may even distract the delegates from hearing what the speaker is saying.

Not Enough Electrical Outlets
Smartphones, I pads, Laptops and all the other devices that we cannot live without, need to be recharged. At a conference delegates will most likely be searching for electrical outlets where they can recharge their various devices. At a large conference,  it can be challenging to provide delegates with enough electrical outlets. Setting up a recharge station with comfortable chairs and friendly attendants will make sure that delegates always have a place where they can recharge their electrical devices.

Boring Speakers
It is not possible to motivate and inspire every delegate at every session, but it is always disappointing when a conference offers no inspiration whatsoever. Make sure there are enough motivational and inspirational speakers on your list of keynote speakers. If delegates leave the conference feeling motivated they will have fond memories of the event and feel that it was money well spent. To keep things entertaining you can consider having a surprise guest appearance by a celebrity.

No Variety in the Conference Schedule
Not everybody wants to listen to speakers the whole day. Include enough variety in your conference schedule to cater for the needs of all your delegates. Together with the main sessions of your conference you should make provision for networking sessions, workshops, breakout sessions and lessons.

Not Enough Staff to Assist Delegates
Make sure there is enough staff posted throughout the conference venue. They should be equipped to give advice on which sessions to attend and directions to the various venue halls. The staff should be friendly and easily identifiable through caps, t-shirts or other branded items.

Disorganized Registration Desk
First impressions are extremely valuable, and one of the first things delegates will deal with at the conference is the registration desk. Unfriendly staff and a disorganized registration desk can result in negative feelings towards the rest of the conference. Post a sufficient amount of friendly staff at the registration desk to assist with the registration process. They should be able to answer any questions that delegates may have. Organize the registration material alphabetically to ensure that delegates are attended to efficiently.

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Mar 112013
 

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Whether you have been organizing conferences for many years or whether it is your first time organizing a conference, you want your conference to be an enormous success. There are some key parts in a conference that can make or break the success of a conference. In this article,  we will have a look at some tips for hosting your most successful conference ever.

First Impressions
As in most things in live, first impressions are extremely valuable. Post friendly and well informed staff members at all the entrances of the conference venue to greet the delegates. These greeters will also be able to give delegates directions to the registration desk and answer any other questions that the delegates may have.

Conference Registration Desk
Make sure that the registration desk is organized and efficient as this will ensure that delegates have a positive feeling towards the rest of the conference. To ensure that delegates can be efficiently attended to, it is a good idea to organize the registration material alphabetically before the delegates start arriving for the conference. There should be at all times a sufficient number of staff at the registration table.

Variety in the Schedule
The conference schedule should include enough variety to cater to the needs of all delegates. Not everybody wants to sit and listen to speakers the whole day. Make provision for networking sessions, workshops, lessons and breakout sessions in your conference schedule.

Assign Ushers
The main conference room or larger breakaway rooms should have ushers assigned to them. These ushers should show delegates to their seats and make sure that all the seats are filled. Ushers help avoid situations where registered members do not have seats in the conference room.

Networking
For many conference goers,  the networking opportunities at a conference is immensely valuable. Include enough dedicated networking events in the conference schedule to ensure that there is ample opportunity for delegates to make new connections. Meals and breaks between sessions are good opportunities to provide time for networking.

Element of Surprise
Delegates will have a rough idea about what to expect during the conference. Make your conference memorable by adding some unexpected elements to the conference experience. This can be in the form of unexpected gifts and snacks or even a guest appearance by a celebrity.

Conference Speakers
The speakers at your conference should not all be celebrities but should include speakers who are experts in a field relating to the theme of the conference. People attending conferences are looking for lessons which can be practically applied and not just theoretical in nature.  Whether the speakers are industry heavyweights or not it is crucial that they are able to inspire, educate and motivate people.

Post Staff All Around the Conference Venue
It is essential to have friendly staff members posted all around the conference venue to answer questions and give advice on which sessions to attend. These staff members should be easily identifiable through t-shirts, caps or other branded items.

Sit Down Areas
Place lounge furniture throughout the conference venue for people to sit down between sessions. Delegates can use these areas to check their emails, have conversations, make new connections and do new business.

Promotional Objects
If you plan to give out promotional objects make sure these are objects that can be used at the conference. Things such as notepads, USB drives and mobile charges are good ideas for promotional objects at conferences.

Visuals and Music
Visuals, graphics and music can enhance the conference experience in a major way. These elements not only spark interest and create excitement but can also provide useful information to conference delegates. If possible use digital signs as they can be changed throughout the day.

Scheduling Conference Sessions
Schedule sessions in such a manner that lessons learned in earlier conference sessions can be applied to sessions and workshops later in the day. Sessions should start strategically, becoming more tactical towards the end of the conference when the implantation of the theory should be explained.

These are some tips we could think of for hosting a successful conference, can you think of some more to add?

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Oct 172012
 

In this series on organizing conferences we looked at the various phases of organizing a conference, how to set up a conference organizing structure, the planning phase of the conference, publicizing the conference and running the conference. The conference is now over, and it is time to evaluate the conference in the following areas.

Evaluating The Conference

Evaluating The Conference

Presenters and Presentations at the Conference

Were the presentations clear, coherent and relevant to the topic of the conference? Did the method add or subtract from the effectiveness of the presentation? One exception is at academic conferences where the quality of the presenters work and ideas usually carry more weight than the method of presentation.

Evaluating the presentations also assists in deciding whether the presenter or presenters can be used for future conferences. Successfully evaluating the presenters and presentations at the conference depend on the information gathered from interviews with participants and completed evaluation forms.

The Overall Experience of the Conference

To evaluate the overall experience of the conference, the coordinator relies on the information gained from participants through spoken feedback and evaluation forms. It is, therefore, vital to obtain feedback from as many participants as possible at the conference. The feedback provided will help to evaluate whether the participants feel that they got what they expected. Other questions that may be answered when evaluating the overall experience of the conference include:

  • Were there enough opportunities for networking?
  • Were the sessions at the conference interesting, helpful and relevant?
  • Was the conference well organized, how smooth did it run?
  • What aspects of the conference did participants like the most?
  • What could have been done differently?

The Conference Venue and Services

The coordinator and others who dealt directly with the conference venue will be responsible for evaluating the venue and the services provided by the venue. They will evaluate whether the conference venue was easy to deal with and if the venue liaison was available and helpful. Some questions that may be asked when evaluating the venue include:

  • Did the conference venue deliver on their promises?  
  • How was errors and oversights handled?
  • What was the quality of the food and was the food available on time?
  • Was there any extras made freely available to guests?
  • Was the conference venue easy to find?
  • Were there enough conference rooms and were they large enough?
  • Was the cost of the conference venue reasonable compared to other options?

Conference Coordinator, Conference Staff and Volunteers

A big part of this evaluation will be done by those being evaluated. It is a time to stand back and evaluate what aspects of the conference were successful but also where things could have been done differently. Questions to ask in this part of the evaluation include:

  • Were tasks clear and well-defined?
  • Did everybody know what was expected of them?
  • How well did everyone work together?
  • Was there good communication among everyone involved in running the conference?
  • Did everyone know who to ask when questions were raised?
  • Did everyone know who was in charge of what?
  • Were tasks completed in a reasonable time?
  • Did the coordinator know who to turn to for assistance?

The Conference Organizing Process

Questions asked when evaluating the organizing process include:

  • Were there enough people available in both the initial planning phase and for the running of the conference? 
  • Was there enough lead time to organize the conference?
  • Did the planning process have enough input and structure?
  • Was there a plan that was easy to follow?
  • Were the initial estimates of costs and participants reasonably accurate?
  • What aspects of the organizing process went particularly well?
  • What needs to be changed for future conferences?

All this information gained from evaluating the conference will assist conference coordinators immensely when organizing their next conference.

Resource: Community Tool Box: http://ctb.ku.edu/

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Oct 102012
 

So far in this series of blogs on organizing conferences we have looked at the various phases of organizing a conference, how to set up a conference organizing structure, the planning phase of the conference and publicizing the conference. Today we are going to discuss how to run the conference once it finally gets going after months of careful planning.

How to Run a Conference

Attending to Conference Logistics

The conference logistics can be described as those tasks that make the conference run smoothly. The following are some of the conference logistic that will require attention at the conference.

  • Organising the volunteers and staff who will be manning the conference information desk, directing people to the sessions and handing out relevant information.
  • Making sure right presenters and speakers are at the right room at the right time.
  • Ensuring the conference venue has sufficient space for the meals, breaks and other events at the conference.
  • Printing or copying conference materials such as evaluation forms and participant packets.
  • Scheduling of conference sessions in such a way that it makes it easy for participants to follow a topical thread.
  • Appointing hosts for each session, who will introduce the presenter, make sure the equipment is in place, keep time schedules, hand out materials, distribute and collect evaluation forms.
  • Make sure that exhibitors, coffee, hand outs etc. are in their correct places.
  • Find the correct place for the registration and information desk.
  • Arranging and informing the conference participants of the location and availability of parking.

Registration of Conference Participants

Preregistered participants will have conference packets waiting for them. A table will have to be set up where participants can check in and receive the conference packets as quickly and easily as possible. It makes sense arranging the packets alphabetically, helping the person stationed at the table to find the appropriate packets efficiently. The conference coordinator or the coordinator’s assistant will need to be close by or at the table to answer questions.

Clear procedures need to be put in place to deal with walk-in registrations. The staff at the registration desk will need to know how to deal with money paid on the day and when to stop accepting walk-in registrations.

Taking Care of the Conference Speakers and Presenters

The conference coordinator will have to appoint someone to take care of the needs of the keynote speakers, honoured guests, celebrities and other important people in the field. This person will make sure these delegates get to the right places at the right times and tend to any other needs that they may have. They must ensure that these delegates should have a pleasant experience of the conference and have positive feelings toward the sponsoring organization.

Crisis Management at the Conference

It is highly likely that there will be various crises that will have to be managed during the running of the conference such as presenters who do not show up, weather emergencies and computer errors.

Although it will not be possible to anticipate all of the possible scenarios, try and anticipate some of the most common crises that may occur. Have alternative plans in place and appoint people to deal with any crises that may occur. It is also essential to plan for any medical emergencies that may occur; make sure there is an adequate first aid kit and know where all the fire exits are located. Ensure that all the staff is aware of what to do in case of an emergency. Staff should also be trained on how to deal with angry or irrational participants or speakers.

 Conference Evaluation Forms

For smaller conferences, group evaluations sessions can be set up and the feedback can be obtained directly from the participants. It is more common though to hand out evaluation forms after each session and one form for the overall evaluation of the conference. It is usually the session host’s responsibility to make time for handing out forms, as well as collecting, and depositing the forms at a central point.

Cleaning Up After the Conference

If cleaning up is not included as a service provided by the conference venue, it is the responsibility of the conference organizers, staff and volunteers to clean up after the conference is finished. It is also the organizer’s responsibility to ensure that all forms and materials are returned back to the sponsoring organization. It is helpful to provide a lost and found box and inform the participants of found items.

Conference Follow Up

Make sure all loose ends are tied up and that agreements made in the sessions are initiated. Issue continuing education certificates where applicable and make sure that all involved in organizing and running of the conference are formally thanked in writing. Settle all outstanding payments with the conference venue and suppliers.

Now that the conference is finished the only thing that is left to do is to evaluate the conference. In the next and final blog, in this series, we will take a look at how to evaluate the success of the conference.

Resource: Community Tool Box: http://ctb.ku.edu/

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Sep 192012
 

In our previous two blogs about organizing conferences, we gave an overview of the various phases of organizing a conference and looked at how to set up a conference organizing structure. In today’s blog, we will be looking at the planning phase of the conference.

Each step in the planning phase of the conference needs a clear and realistic timeline which allows time for mistakes to be corrected and for the unforeseen. It is also essential that everybody is in agreement on the purpose of the event before the planning of the conference can start.  Is the purpose of the conference training, networking, providing information, advocacy, highlighting an issue, problem solving, decision making?

 Planning The Conference

The Target Audience of the Conference

The target audience of a conference is mainly based on the nature of the conference and sponsoring organization. The target audience can be members of a particular profession or discipline, or share a specific political agenda.  They could also be from a specific community, or the conference can be aimed at a specific population group.  Other potential target audiences include public officials, members of the sponsoring organization or the general public.

The next step is planning how to get the target audience involved with the conference. Some of the ways in which this is effectively done is through surveys, telephone sampling, focus groups and informal conversation. These are also excellent ways of getting feedback on the wants and needs of the intended conference audience, which will help the organizers to adjust their planning according to the needs of the conference participants.

Conference Length and Date

Deciding on the length of the conference will depend on what needs to be done, what the participants can afford in terms of time and money, availability of target groups and the budget of the sponsoring organization. Most national and international conferences take place over several days, while, with smaller local conferences, the length of the conference is determined by the time the participants can set aside and how long the conference space will be available.

The date of the conference need to be planned, so that it does not coincide with other events that your target audience may be attending. The date should also not conflict with events of national interest or the family obligations of participants. Annual conferences usually have a set date each year, so that the participants can plan around the conference well in advance.

The Format of the Conference

The format includes the overall theme and structure of the conference. Generally, both small and large conferences will start with a keynote address. This can be in the form of a speech or presentation by a well-known or inspirational speaker. The purpose of the keynote address will be to introduce the theme and kindle enthusiasm for the conference.

A conference day may be divided into from two up to six sessions. Often lunch will be included as part of the conference fee, and some of the days may also include a dinner. Meals can include a speaker, giving of awards, organizational business, or it may just be social. It is advisable to wrap-up the conference with a final speaker that will send the participants home thinking about the topic. The wrap-up will also help delegates feel that they had a coherent experience.

Logistics of the Conference

The logistics can be seen as the nuts and bolts of the conference including where it will be held, how presenters will be found, costs involved, transport and other practicalities that need to be planned.

When planning the location of the conference, the organizer needs to consider in which city the conference will be held, and the distance participants will be willing to travel. The organizer needs to decide if the conference should be held at an exciting place to visit or rather a quiet place with little distractions.

Finding a venue for the conference will be based on how much space is needed and whether smaller rooms are required for breakout sessions. Choosing a venue will also depend on specific requirements such as outdoor space, space for meals, accommodation and privacy. Most specialist conference facilities offer catering services, and most hotels and conference centers serve lunch and breakfast every day.  For other venues, a caterer may have to be hired, or organizers and volunteers may also be responsible for the catering. It is not uncommon at informal one day conferences, for participants to be required to bring their own lunch or receive a basic meal such as pizza or sandwiches.

If the conference venue is a hotel, accommodation for conference delegates are often made available at a reduced rate. For large conferences, it may be necessary that accommodation is arranged at various venues in the area. It is important to note that the conference organizer is often expected to pay for accommodation for the keynote speakers and special guests.

Other logistics that require consideration include the conference fee, signage, identification for officials and participants, and safety and security issues.

Conference Coordination and Troubleshooting

The conference coordinator is the person who is ultimately responsible for dealing with the caterers, the venue, suppliers, presenters, exhibitors and participants. The coordinator negotiates and discusses payment with exhibitors, and also handles any problems and complaints that may arise from participants during the conference. The coordinator is also in charge of any contract negotiations with the venue and other parties involved with the conference.

In the next blog in this series about organizing conferences, we will look at how to publicize the conference, as well as registering participants, and recruiting presenters for the conference.

Resource: Community Tool Box: http://ctb.ku.edu/

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Sep 042012
 

In the previous blog of this series of blogs about organizing conferences, we discussed a few introductory points regarding the various phases of organizing conferences. In today’s blog we will look at the importance of an organizing structure and how to set it up correctly.

Compiling a team or committee to assist with the organizing of the conference has many advantages. Working with a team of people ensures that decisions can be approached from more than one perspective, resulting in a wider range of ideas. Having a team to assist the conference coordinator also means there are more hands to assist with the planning and running of the conference. The organizing committee will have to work closely with an individual coordinator, and the members of the committee need to have the time, energy, desire and ability required for the organizing progress.

The organizing committee will often consists of members of the sponsoring organization’s board. For annual conferences there is, usually, already a standing committee that meets year round; and it usually includes the coordinator of the previous conference. With annual conferences, it is also sometimes necessary to set up subcommittees to handle specific parts of the organizing process.

Appointing a coordinator is one of the most critical parts of the conference organizing process. The coordinator will carry out the team’s decisions and is the first line of communication with suppliers, participants, presenters, site providers and exhibitors. With annual conferences, the coordinating function is often automatically part of someone’s job such as the director or chair of the conference committee.  In other cases, the coordinator will be a volunteer, staff or board member with the experience and enthusiasm to do the job. If it is a particularly large conference, it may be necessary to hire an event planner to coordinate the conference.

The conference coordinator is the one person that knows what is going on in every area of the events planning and implementation progress. The coordinator ensures the efficient operation of the conference organizing process. Having an individual coordinator heading up the organizing of the conference, simplifies communication and accountability.

Now that the organizing committee is in place, and a coordinator has been appointed, we can start with the planning phase of the conference. The next blog will take a closer look at what goes into planning both small and large conferences.

Resource: Community Tool Box: http://ctb.ku.edu/

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Aug 292012
 

In the previous blog, under the category “Organizing Conferences”, we looked at reasons why people organize conferences. In the next series of blogs, we will be taking a closer look at the process of organizing a conference. We have divided the process into various phases namely: setting up the organizing structure, planning the conference, publicizing the conference, running the conference and evaluation of the conference and organizing process.

How to Organize Conferences

When organizing a conference, whether it is a small regional conference or large international conference, it is particularly crucial to pay attention to the details that make up the conference.  There are details that need to be considered when organizing a conference such as; how the conference will be publicized, how will the delegates be registered, choosing the right location, finding the right venue etc.

Each conference has its own unique challenges and organizing a small regional conference is different to organizing a large international conference.  Smaller regional conferences are often easier to organize as many of the participants are already known to the conference organizers and to each other.  Organizing international or national conferences that usually extend over three or more days require a lot of man power and financial resources.

 Organizing a conference requires a lot of work and requires months or even years of planning in advance.  Before your start organizing a conference, ask yourself if you should be the one organizing this conference and is your organization or company the right entity to organize this conference.  Is there enough resources, financial and manpower, to organize this conference? Is there someone else or some other organization that is better equipped to organize it? Consider if there are other, better, ways of achieving the goals of the intended conference.

As the organizing process goes along it will be necessary to maintain control of the various conference details, this is best accomplished by keeping a list of each phase of the planning process that needs to be completed. The list will include tasks that need to be done and dates by when they need to be finished. 

Organizing a conference may be intimidating at first but remember to utilize the help of your fellow workers or team members, the more tasks that you can delegate the better. Our next blog will cover the process of setting up an organizing structure to help with the planning phase of the conference.

Resource: Community Tool Box: http://ctb.ku.edu/

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