How To Organize A Successful Academic Conference?
Scientific meetings provide an opportunity to learn, network, and explore new ideas. They are also an exciting break from the usual lab routine. Although organizing a departmental or institutional academic event takes up your research time, the experience helps develop leadership, project and budget management, and problem solving skills that will make your CV shine. It is also a great way to network with key contacts for the future, get your name known in your research field, and feel like part of the academic community!
Here's a quick guide to making your first academic event a reality….
- Be organised
This is going to take time, and probably some resources beyond yourself. Make sure your line manager is in agreement and that you specify more resources than you think you'll need. Finally, make sure all this is recognized as part of your workload.
- Get professional help
As an academic you probably suck at management and organisation. Stick to the academic side of things, selecting special papers and keynotes and managing the creation of paper sessions. For the practical side of things, get help. There are many professional conference arrangers and companies out there. Use them.
- Take a delegate's perspective
Be honest, people don't go for the papers. They go to meet other researchers, to exchange ideas and network. High quality papers are the skeleton around which you must build a lot of breakout and coffee sessions. Make it easy for people to meet and exchange ideas.
- Budget budget budget
Good things cost money. So charge. Build into the registration fee the cost per delegate of the professional help. Budget does not mean do it cheap. Cheap is usually nasty. Be nice. Set a rate that covers professional help, ample coffee and tea, a decent lunch or dinner, plus a contingency.
- Keep it tight
A conference's success is not necessarily dependent on the number of people running it. We run the Infiniti conference on international finance with two people – a chair and an organizer. That's it. One makes final binding academic decisions, the other organisational ones. Yes, there may be others doing stuff – local organizers selecting restaurants, paper selection committees etc. They are not running it. You are. Resist conferences that foist a pack of CV stuffing useless mouths onto you.
- Be selective
As with predatory publishers there are more or less predatory conferences. These sound great, and you talk to the high panjandrum about running it, then it turns out you have to charge a fortune. You have to fly them and their mates first class intercontinental and run the conference on sponsorship. Pass. Let someone else do it. Note that these conferences never go back to the same university.
- Hold it somewhere nice, but not too nice
You want to attract people to come and visit the conference and enjoy the locale. But not so much that they slope off and not attend any sessions. Holding it on campus is usually the best bet.
- Embrace technology
Make sure that every room has audiovisual technology and secured between sessions. Use a conference organising software or conference maker site, to receive, manage and organize papers, distribute to reviewers, arrange sessions and so forth.
Keep track of time
There is nothing worse than someone taking 45 minutes for their allocated 20 minute presentation slot. Make sure that you keep on time. If needed, go into rooms and tell people "stop now please". Make the sessions so that they run on time. At our event, we even make the last speaker the chair to encourage them to be on time.
- Make sure people pay
You will be astonished at how many people try to get in for free. Don't put anyone on the schedule until they have registered. Some alas get papers accepted and then don't turn up, just to have the CV hit. People will try sneak into interesting and keynote speakers. No ticket, no show. You're charging a registration fee for a reason.