How can you avoid the common pitfalls of running a conference or seminar, and make your event a success? Here Georgina Collins tells you how an organiser can prepare for an event, and deal with any challenges or problems.

Audience

Advance preparation

If you know the venue in advance, the event will be easier on the day. Visit the location and plan how everything will be arranged. If you are not setting up yourself, find out who is and when, and provide them with a detailed plan. Ask friends and colleagues to help you on the day and assign them tasks. You may need:

  • help on reception – greeting attendees, handing out conference packs etc
  • assistance with technical issues – making sure speakers have loaded up their presentations, or that microphones are working
  • a photographer – so you have a record of the event for future marketing
  • someone to record the event – so you can create a podcast

Keeping participants informed

Once you have confirmed speakers and attendees for your event, send them useful information in advance of the conference or seminar. This may include a list of recommended hotels, of varying prices, close to the venue, and travel details for those coming long-distance.

A few days before the conference or seminar, email all speakers and attendees to provide them with comprehensive up-to-date information, including:

  • directions to the venue (and dinner venue if appropriate)
  • a final copy of the programme (although this often still changes right up until the day of the event)
  • a book of abstracts – collate all abstracts in one Word document in alphabetical order of speaker. Individuals like to plan what they wish to attend.
  • claim forms (usually for invited or keynote speakers only)

You may also wish to compile “Notes for Chairs” including abstracts and bio-bibliographies and send these to the relevant people in advance.

Useful documents for organisers

When collating general documents to take to the conference or seminar itself, ensure you have the following:

  • posters – these can be used at the main doors of the conference
  • directions – posters with arrows to indicate each room of the conference and any other relevant facilities such as cloakrooms
  • attendee list – for use on reception, detailing registration fee payment

Useful documents for attendees

For large events, you will also need to put together conference packs, which usually include:

  • a copy of the programme
  • flyers from sponsors
  • relevant material from the university, department or society for which you are organising the conference
  • a book of abstracts

Print out badges for both speakers and attendees. These can be left on reception and handed out with the conference packs.

Setting up

Arrive in plenty of time to set up the venue before the event begins. Start by preparing the reception for anyone who arrives early – put out conference packs and badges. Stick up posters and direction signs that you have already prepared.

Set up the room or check that it has been set up correctly. Do you have enough chairs? Is there a podium? Are there bottles of water on hand for the speakers? Ensure the equipment is working, screens are down and technical assistance is on hand, if required. When the first speakers arrive, make sure their presentations are ready to go.

Preparing for problems

It is not at all unusual for things to go “wrong” at a conference or seminar, so prepare yourself for this and don’t panic. For example, it is common for a speaker not to show up at a large conference. If this happens on a panel of two, consider moving the remaining speaker to join another panel, and on a large panel, this may not matter at all. Make sure you keep all attendees informed of any changes, and also that those changes will not significantly upset or annoy anyone.

At academic seminars that do not require a registration, it is also common to have very small numbers of attendees. Again, do not to panic. Remember that most academics are used to this, and will not see this as a reflection on you or your speakers. If you suspect this might happen, try to get guarantees of attendance from a few colleagues.

Technical problems

Other problems may include faulty technical equipment. This can usually be avoided by arriving early and checking laptops, projectors and microphones, and also by requesting technical support. You may be able to alter the running order to begin with someone who does not require any technology – this will buy you more time.

There is almost always a solution to the problem; the key is to take it in your stride!

Image Purnima Koli, Wikicommons