Putting on a conference or another research-led event can be an enormous task. Here Georgina Collins provides a guide to planning an event for researchers wishing to organise a conference or seminar.
Initial preparation

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Before organising a conference or seminar, write a month by month timetable of things to do. You may already know the subject of your event, but if not, that is your first task. Come up with a theme and title for the event.

Finding a venue

When choosing a venue, you may wish to check:

  • accessibility – transport networks, car parks, disabled access
  • facilities – catering, cloakrooms, technical equipment
  • cost – are there any hidden costs, for example, are you tied in to ordering pricey meals from the venue?
  • assistance – general support and technical support

Choosing a date

When selecting a date, ensure there are no other events that may clash with yours. Bank holidays might also be a problem as venues may cut back on staff. If you already have keynote speakers in mind, check their availability on particular dates. Keynotes are normally leaders in their field, and it is usual to have at least one keynote speaker per day of the conference. They should be selected at the very start of the organisation process as they often attract more high quality abstracts.

Issuing a call for papers

You can now work on compiling a “call for papers.” This will usually include the following essential information:

  • conference title and date
  • the aim of the conference
  • a list of areas in which you welcome papers / panels
  • a request for abstracts (and sometimes bio-bibliography)
  • deadline for abstracts
  • length of abstracts required
  • how long the delivered papers should be
  • contact details

A call for papers can also include the following information:

  • details of any confirmed keynote speakers
  • an overview of the research topic
  • why it is an important area of discussion
  • some sample questions
  • any plans for publication

Dealing with submissions

It is handy to open a new email account for this purpose as you may receive large numbers of abstracts. Notify applicants that you have received their abstracts and will contact them after the deadline.

Selecting abstracts

It is advisable to work with two or three other people to select abstracts, as viewpoints vary and this will avoid bias. Read and grade abstracts independently, then discuss any anomalies as a team. Consider how papers may work together as panels and their relevance to the conference theme.

Compiling a conference programme

Reread abstracts and list key themes and areas, grouping together two to four papers of 15 to 20 minutes each. You will also need to allow time for questions – usually 10 to 15 minutes per paper, either after each paper or at the end of the panel. Begin with registration and coffee before the first panel, plan a break after each session, including lunch, and consider whether you wish to hold a wine reception or dinner.

If you are running parallel sessions, avoid running similar panels at the same time. You will also need to approach individuals to open the event (such as heads of departments or academic society presidents) and to chair panels.

Organising catering

When planning catering, ensure you are clear about your budget. Ask if there are discounts for large numbers or academic events.

If you are holding a wine reception or dinner, get numbers well in advance and make it clear whether speakers will need to pay for themselves or otherwise.

Travel and accommodation

You may also need to organise travel and accommodation for your keynote speakers. Book transport early to keep costs down and find accommodation close to the venue. If the speakers are making their own arrangements, ensure you make the budget clear. International speakers may also need assistance in acquiring a visa and you may need to provide references.

Funding

Approach potential sources of funding as soon as possible. These may be internal, national or international. Note the following, for example:

Ask academic departments, societies, networks or publishers if they would be willing to sponsor the event in return for advertising. For a conference, the registration fee will be a source of income. Set this high enough to cover your costs, but not too high to put people off.

Marketing

You will need to design the following to promote your event: posters

  • posters
  • emails
  • flyers
  • an event website (or web page as part of a larger site)

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