Useful Tips To Organise Scientific Conferences
Scientific meetings come in various sizes – from one-day focused workshops of 1–20 people to large-scale multiple-day meetings of 1,000 or more delegates, including keynotes, sessions, posters, social events, and so on. I hope following ten rules will provide insights for planners. Scientific meetings are at the heart of a scientist's professional life since they provide an invaluable opportunity for learning, networking and exploring new ideas. If you follow these ten rules at your scientific events, you can make your attendees happy and create a participation potential for future meetings.
The content comes first
The content above all else, defines a good meeting; logistics are also important, but its secondary. Get the right people there, namely the best in the field and those who will be the best, and the rest will take care of itself. When choosing a topic for your conference, map it to the needs of your target audience. Emerging areas can attract greater interest; try to include them in your program as much as possible; let your audience decide the program through the papers they submit to the general call for papers.
Allow for plenty of time for planning
Planning time should range almost more than a year ahead of the conference, depending on the size of your event. Allow plenty of time to select your meeting venue; to call for, review, and accept scientific submissions; to arrange for affordable/discounted hotel rooms; to book flights and other transportation options to the conference. Having outstanding keynote speakers at your event will also require you contact them months in advance.
Potential financial issues should be analysed carefully
The cost of your conference will be proportional to the capacity of the venue; therefore, a good estimation of the number of attendees will provide you with a good estimate of your costs. You will need to include meals and coffee breaks together with the actual cost of renting your venue. Be aware that audiovisual costs can be additional as well as venue staff—look out for hidden costs.
Aside from venue-related costs, additional expenditures might include travel fellowships, publication costs for proceedings in a journal, and awards for outstanding contributors. All these issues will determine how much you need to charge your participants to attend.Sponsors are usually your primary source of funds, next to the delegates' registration fees. To increase the chances of being sponsored by industry, write them a clear proposal stating how the money will be spent and what benefits they can expect to get in return.
Choose the right date & location
Your conference needs to be as far away as possible from similar conferences and other related meetings. Alternatively, you may want to organise your event around a main conference, in the form of a satellite meeting or special interest group. Teaming up with established conferences may increase the chances of attracting more people and also save you a great deal of administrative work. Inexpensive accommodation and airfares to your conference are always a plus.
Create a Balanced Agenda
A conference is a place for people wanting to share and exchange ideas. Having many well-known speakers will raise the demand for your event and the cost but that has to be balanced with enough time for presentation of submitted materials. A mix of senior scientists and junior scientists always works for the better. Young researchers may be more enthusiastic and inspiring for students, while top senior scientists will be able to present a more complete perspective of the field. Allow plenty of time for socialising, too; breaks, meals, and poster sessions are ideal occasions to meet potential collaborators and to foster networking among peers.
Carefully select your key helpers: The organising committees
A single person will not have all the skills necessary to organise a large meeting, but the organising committee collectively needs to have the required expertise.
You might want to separate the areas of responsibilities between your aides depending on their interests and availability. Some potential responsibilities you might delegate are:
- content and design of the web site promoting the meeting,
- promotion materials and marketing,
- finance and fundraising,
- paper submissions and review,
- local organisation,
- program and speakers,
Your organising committee should be large enough to handle all the above but not too large, avoiding freeloaders and communication issues. It is invaluable to have a local organising committee since they know local institutions, speakers, companies, and tourist attractions.
Have the members of the organising committees communicate regularly
It is good to have planning sessions by teleconference ahead of the meeting. As far as possible, everyone should be familiar with all aspects of the meeting organisation. This collective wisdom will make it less likely that important issues are forgotten.
All organisers should be able to contact each other throughout the meeting via mobile phone and e-mail. Distribute to all organisers the names and contact information of caterers, building managers, administrative personnel, technicians, and the main conference organiser if you are having your event as part of another conference.
Be prepared for emergencies
Attendees need to be aware of all emergency procedures in terms of evacuation, etc. This should be discussed with the venue managers. All attendees should be reachable as far as possible during the conference. If an attendee has an emergency at home, his or her family should be able to reach them through the conference desk—mobile phones are not perfect after all.
Wrap up the conference properly
At the end of the conference, you should give credit to everyone who helped to make the event a success. If you have awards to present, this is the right time for the awards ceremony. Dedicate some time to thank your speakers and sponsors as well as everyone involved in the organisation of the conference. Also collect feedback about the event from the delegates through questionnaires. This evaluation will help you to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your conference and give you the opportunity to improve possible future events.
Make the impact of your conference last
Published proceedings are the best way to make the results of your conference last. Negotiate with journals far in advance of the conference to publish the proceedings. Make those proceedings as widely accessible as possible. Upload photos and videos of the event to the conference web site and post the names of presenters who have received awards or travel fellowships. It is also a good idea to link the results of your evaluation to the web site. Send one last e-mail to all delegates, including a summary of the activities since the conference and thanking them for their participation. This is particularly important if you are considering holding the conference again in future years, in which case include some information on your plans for the next event.
Citation: Corpas M, Gehlenborg N, Janga SC, Bourne PE (2008) Ten Simple Rules for Organizing a Scientific Meeting. PLoS Comput Biol 4(6): e1000080. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000080