You know the saying: the devil is in the details. And this can be true when you're organising a conference too. Obviously, you need to think about the big issues: inviting speakers, finding an appropriate venue, deciding how many attendees to invite and so on. But there are also some small details which you should make sure to think about in order to make your event as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Here are ten small details to think about when organising a conference.
Provide tea and coffee. No one should ever get between an academic and their caffeine supply. Setting out tea and coffee (and biscuits, if you're feeling generous) in the morning and the afternoon will go a long way to keeping your attendees happy.
Check your venue's heating and/or air conditioning. If you're holding your conference in a location with a particularly hot or cold climate, then make sure that the venue has some kind of heating or cooling system and that it's turned on an available for your use. You might have attendees from all over the world who are used to very different temperatures, and it's easy for your audience to become distracted if they are too hot or too cold.
Give out maps of the local area. Many of your attendees may be visiting your city for the first time, so make their lives easier by giving everyone a map of the local area with the conference location clearly marked on it. You can put copies of the map inside the conference programs to make sure that everyone receives one.
Provide information on transport. Another issue to think about for visitors who are new to your area is transport information. It's very helpful to make up a sheet which includes information on the public transport options available, and which lines or stops are required to get to the conference venue. Don't forget to mention options for getting to nearby airports or train stations for people who are travelling in from elsewhere.
Be ready for IT challenges. It seems to be a feature of every conference: there will be at least one time that a microphone cuts out or a projector doesn't work. Be prepared for this by having plenty of spare laptops available, as well as any adaptors which might be needed. If possible, see if you can get an IT support person to be available for the day to fix any technical problems as they arise.
Test microphones before the talks. At the start of each day, quickly go round the larger rooms and make sure that the microphones are set up and working acceptably. This will save a lot of messing around later if there are problems.
Make attractive conference badges. The conference badges are the first thing your attendees will receive when they arrive at your conference, so try to make the badges attractive and make sure that everyone's name is spelt correctly.
Allow the schedule some wiggle room. Try not to schedule events or talks exactly back to back. Remember that people need to move from one location to another and that sometimes talks or discussions will run on later than expected. Where possible, build 5-10 minute breaks into the schedule to allow for this.
Designate a contact person. It's helpful to give out the contact details of one person who can answer or forward on attendee's queries. This should be someone from your institution – perhaps a student who can answer questions about locations, transport, and so on.
Provide a range of food options. If you're going to be serving food, whether it's small snacks or a full meal, then try to include options like vegetarian, kosher, halal, or gluten-free. Be aware of common allergens such as nuts and be sure to label food accordingly, especially if it's served in a buffet style. This will help all of your attendees to feel included and to know what they can eat.
For more tips for conference organisers, see our website at CONFERENCEMONKEY.org
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