CONFERENCES ORGANIZING: THE MOST EXTENSIVE AND DETAILED GUIDE
Conference can be defined in many ways according to its form, period, size and purpose. However, the most popular and basic definition of conference is:
A gathering of people with a common interest or background, with the purposes of allowing them to meet one another and to learn about and discuss issues, ideas and work that focus on a topic of mutual concern.
Why Did We Write This Guide?
To our readers, IEREK wanted to give you the most extensive and detailed guide of organizing conferences that will help you becoming an expert at the end of this guide as we have gathered all information and experience about conferences from all over the world across the history then we organized them in a perfect way in this guide to deliver that information to you in a form of step by step guide. Here in IEREK we have a mission we are dedicated to use all possible opportunities to deliver knowledge in wide-range and diversified fields.
Who Is This Guide for?
Generally, this is ultimate guide for any individuals & organizations may need to hold any kind of conference or event. However, we have categorized them according to conference purpose as following:
- Conference Organizers Agencies
Agencies which specializes in the organization and management of congresses, conferences, seminars and similar events. such as IEREK’s conference service.
- Academic Disciplines
An academic discipline is a branch of knowledge. It incorporates expertise, people, projects, communities, challenges, studies, inquiry, and research areas that are strongly associated with a given academic discipline like e.g. physics, mathematics, and computer science. So that many universities and educational institutions holding conferences periodically such as University of East London.
- Government Agencies
A government or state agency, often an appointed commission, is a permanent or semi-permanent organization in the machinery of government that is responsible for the oversight and administration of specific functions, such as The Administrative Conference of the United States.
- Business Organizations
All types of for-profit organizations whether at the local, national, or international level such as Samsung company.
- Community Activist Groups
Most of them are non-profit organizations So, these groups may hold conferences to publicize or to educate the public about their issues, or to train advocates or activists such as Action Against Hunger activist group.
Here is a Video showing a successful conference example by Julian Treasure, Talking about how to overcome Listening issue in our society which is really can be the most important issue that conference speakers and presenters may face:
Top 10 Reasons for Organizing a Conference
There are uncountable reasons you might organize a conference, some practical, some idealistic, some political, some moral and some with elements of all four.
1.Community Issue that Needs Examining
For Example; homelessness, hunger, domestic violence, gangs, under-education, substance abuse, child care.
2.Maintain Prestige, Credibility, or Credentials for your Organization
For Example, academics when the act of organizing a conference itself may bring prestige. The fact that you can gather people from your discipline or from a variety of disciplines establishes you as an important person in your field.
3.The Nature of your Field
The field may be a new one and a conference could bring together the people who are building it, and help to define it. Or maybe the field is not widely connected so People in it may not know one another, may disagree on methods or other issues, or may simply not realize how many others have similar interests. Also there may be new research findings, work, ideas, methods or information that needs to be shared with other specialist in the same field.
4.Political issues and variables at national or international level
For Example, The United States Congress holding a conference in order to outline the provisions contained in the new legislation and indicate what further steps need to be taken. Also international political issues such as The conference of “International Commercial Arbitration in Russia in light of Global Economic Development” hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Russian Federation to present the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration with the 2006 amendments.
5.Organization’s annual gathering
When you are an organization has many branches, agencies, employees around the world, you have to conduct annual meeting to discuss work problems and success rate by sharing & presenting charts, ideas and new techniques in your business field. Also this can work as a promotion for your organization capabilities and greatness.
A merger occurs when a company finds a benefit in combining business operations with another company, in a way that will contribute to increased shareholder value. So they need to set up a conference to announce who will lead the merger and why, presenting timescale and budget, changes in organization’s administrative structure and the new roles of each management.
It’s similar to companies merge however, Partnership is an arrangement in which two or more companies share the profits and liabilities of a business venture but each company maintains its presence, name, administrative structure and main purpose. So they need to setup a conference in order to announce terms of this partnership.
8.When a crisis or a disaster take place
For instance, The Economic Crises when the economy of a country experiences a sudden downturn brought on by a financial crisis. And also there are The natural disasters such as Floods, earthquake, or hurricane that causes great damage or loss of life.
9.New Scientific Discoveries and inventions
When you are an individual or organization working at any field of science then you come up with a new discovery or invention that world hasn’t know before, you absolutely need to hold a conference in order to protect it (patent), publish it, and attract sponsors.
10. Planning conferences is your area of expertise
Some staff and board positions in professional associations, government agencies, coalitions, foundations, or educational institutions come with the organizing and running of an annual conference as part of their job description.
17 Types of conferences
Conferences can include a variety of events according to its purpose, form and nature of contributors either individuals, organizations or countries. So we divided these types into two main categories according to: purpose – presentation form.
According to Purpose:
The most general term to indicate a meeting for discussion – most commonly adopted by associations and organizations for their regular meetings. It is usually associated with the most traditional type of presentation, that is, papers followed by questions such as: Parallelism in Architecture, Environment and Computing Techniques conference
Nowadays, this describes a meeting to discuss a particular subject, but its original meaning defines it as a drinking party devoted to conversation and following a banquet. A symposium thus has a slightly more informal character than a conference such as: Gartner Symposium/ITxpo
The first meaning of this term refers to a group of students studying under a professor with each doing research and all exchanging results through reports and discussions. Its second definition: ‘debating special issues’ preserves the conversational character of the term ‘seminar’ such as: Green Urbanism
This term indicates both a traditional conference and a conversational seminar. Colloquia tend to privilege the aspect of debate such as: Legal History Colloquium
Taken from the language of manufacturing, the term workshop indicates a brief intensive educational program for a small group of people that focuses on techniques and skills in a particular field. In academia, it is adopted to describe meetings reserved for small groups of specialists who come together for concerted activities or discussion such as: Evolving Architecture and Urbanism in London: Sustainable Building – Critical Territories
The roundness of the table clearly symbolizes the equality of all participants. Each of them will have the same right to take the floor. Roundtables commonly bring together academics who usually are invited as key-note speakers. Discussion nevertheless plays the leading role in this kind of meeting such as: Identity Through Architecture & Arts
A case study provides a detailed report of an incident or event through either an oral or written presentation, and sometimes on film. A discussion usually follows the presentation of a case study. This is a very effective presentation method for large workshops.
A clinic is a session in which participants respond or react to a common experience. A clinic may be used as a follow up session after a field trip.
According to presentation form:
This is, by far, the most challenging of all speaking opportunities. Do not overestimate yourself here. Prepare your presentation well in advance to allow yourself plenty of time to practice.
When a conference has more than one worthy expert apply to speak on the same topic, in reply to your speaking proposal, you may be asked to co-present with somebody. Also, co-presenting always comes with a covert but important “who will shine brighter” challenge. Turn it into an opportunity.
Which a person who is a part of a group of people who answer questions, give advice or opinions, etc. : a person who is a member of a panel. It teaches you such important skills as listening, thinking, flexibility, and team-working.
It is a live or virtual discussion about a specific topic amongst a selected group of panelists who share differing perspectives in front of a large audience. As a moderator, you want to contribute both your leadership skills, and your expertise in the field. Give your panelists sufficient room to participate (ensuring that no one participant takes over), but make sure you participate as well.
Roundtable Discussion Leader
The roundtable discussion leader’s job is to start on time, make sure all topics listed on the agenda are covered, and encourage maximum possible attendee participation by asking questions, offering input, facilitating discussion, and moving the discussion along to accommodate time constraints.
Web conferencing is a form of real-time communications RTC in which multiple computer users, all connected to the Internet, see the same screen at all times in their Web browsers. Some Web conferencing systems include features such as texting, VoIP(voice over IP) and full-motion video. Due to modern technology this type of conference become extremely common as it fast and easy and many online websites provide them such as: Ierek.com and meetingburner.com
Buzz group or buzz session
In a buzz session the audience is divided into small groups for a limited period of time. Each group member is asked to contribute his or her ideas or thoughts. Buzz sessions can be used to develop questions for a speaker or panel, offer ideas regarding how to address an issue in the future, or react to the information that has been presented in the session. Buzz groups can be used in general sessions or concurrent sessions.
In a debate, two individuals or two teams present two opposing views of a common issue. Each side is given equal time. A moderator is assigned and generally the audience listens rather than participates. Be flexible; it is the role of the moderator to keep the presentations on schedule, raise relevant questions, and allow each presenter time to respond.
Role Playing uses participants to act out real-life situations. There is no script; players’ actions are spontaneous. A discussion with the audience usually follows the role playing.
How to Organize a Conference?
In this chapter we will show you how to organize a conference from A to Z, we will not skip any step because our main goal from this guide not only to deliver information and experience we have gathered but also helping beginners to carrying out their first conference with this simple step by step guide.
1.Define and Measure the Conference Goals
Define the conference’s main goal first, then you can provide secondary related goals as conference success is being measured by its main goal success and also to avoid any criticism after the end of the conference when carrying out a comparison between conference costs and its benefits value.
Here I give you a live example for some goals of conference that gathered the Senior management team of an international foods company which was attended by Managing Directors from 70 branch around the world.
This conference goals were:
- Discuss the future plan for this company.
- Encourage delegations to know each other.
- Discuss the general economic direction of the company.
Conclusion: You must to be careful not to have a lot of goals for the conference or else the participating delegations will get lost and dispersing into many directions beyond the conference subject. And also always be sure that these goals aren’t conflicting to each other.
One of the successive techniques to separate the main goal from other secondary goals is by asking simple question: what kind of impression you need to leave on the delegations participating in the conference eventually?!, So ask this question to yourself or to the highest management in your organization if you are just responsible for organizing the conference.
2.Gather the Teamwork
There is no doubt that “Two heads are better than one.” This the first rule to success road at any field.
So, gather the teamwork to get everything done perfectly and define each member role as following:
- Project Coordinator: He/she will be responsible for the overall project, he will manage the conference tasks and timeline, puts the team and process together for project implementation.
- Public Relations Officer: He/she will use all available types of media to build and sustain good relationships between the current and potential delegations participating in the conference and being the nexus between them and hosting organization. He/she will deal with enquiries from the public, the press, and related organizations.
- Financial Accountant: he/she will respond to financial inquiries by gathering, analyzing, summarizing, and interpreting data. He/she Prepares special reports by studying variances and preparing budgets.
- IT Officer: He/she will be responsible for installing and configuring computer hardware, software, systems, networks, printers and scanners, responding to breakdowns, listing needed technical components for the conference.
- Marketing Officer: Preparing, planning and project managing the publication of all publicity material to maximize promotion for the conference, creating marketing campaigns, Plan, develop and deliver campaigns as agreed within timescales.
3.Determine the Conference Budget
This could be the first step before conducting any other step in organizing a conference, as per this step you will be able to determine if you really need to hold a conference or not by comparing the expenses to the benefits results from the conference. Find this checklist as following showing all terms of expenses you may face upon planning a conference:
- Participants Travel Expenses
- Marketing & Advertising Expenses
- Electronic Devices Purchases or rent fees
- Participants Accommodation Expenses
- Conference Site Expenses
- Food/Beverage Costs
- Security Expenses
- Decorations Expenses
- Awards Costs
- Salaries & Commissions
4.Select the Location
This is considered the most vital step as conference location may make all the next steps easier or harder, so site selection should be based on many elements which such as (facilities introduced – conference type – conference purpose – participants number and nationalities – Conference Program). Basically this is responsibility of the project coordinator to visit each property under consideration as it’s the best strategy for location selection due to the following:
- Opportunity to walk through a property and examine it for cleanliness and upkeep
- See the staff in action
- Merging in to see if staff polite, friendly, well-groomed and courteous?
- Experience gathered due visiting many potential sites
5.Plan the Timeline
Time can be your greatest ally or your greatest enemy according to how much you care about? how much you manage it? … So we must plane the conference timeline starting from the moment it was just an idea till the last moment in the conference activities by answering the following questions:
- How long the conference will last?
- How long we need to be ready?
- what date will be most suitable for your speakers and delegates?
- What is the deadline for accepting new participants?
- Is this one-time conference or annual conference?
For instance; If participants are mainly PhD students, the most effective choice is probably during term-time or reading-weeks. If on the contrary, your prospective guests will mainly be post-doctoral researcher, lecturers and professors, a time outside term-time may be preferable. Do not forget – from this point of view – that vacations vary from country to country.
Depending on those questions you will be able to plan a full simple timeline, and here is a timeline infographic to one of our conferences called Green Urbanism:
6.Planning Conference Program
The more the plan is perfect, the more the conference will be successful especially if the conference will last more than one day, you will need a complete program taking into consideration the following:
All conferences need a registration period even if all conferees are preregistered. Attendees must still check in, pick up conference materials, and receive conference information.
Many conferences schedule one or more orientation sessions. These sessions permit conferees to learn more about the conference or its sponsors and can also make first-time attendees feel welcomed.
Opening Session – plenary sessions – Following up sessions – Concurrent Sessions – Closing session.
As I said before if the conference was international or it will last more than one day, an agreement with hotels should be conducted & planned to provide suitable rooms, food and transportation so not to let anything for coincidence.
You should also set an entertaining program, give participants a tour in the hosting city or country which will help them to refresh and feel positive during conference activities.
7. Select the speakers and Presenters
Prepare plan (A) which includes the best of the best speakers and presenters but also prepare plan (B) which includes your second choice of speakers in case a speaker withdraws at the last moment. About ways to choice and invite your main participants, there are 2 common ways to do so which are:
Call for Papers
A call for papers will allow the participation of students and researchers that you do not know but who could offer a significant contribution to your event.
Researchers regularly receive – directly or indirectly – calls for papers , which means that yours will have to be catchy, neat and informative if you want to attract their interest.
It should indicate in the clearest way:
- aim of the conference
- format of the conference (symposium, workshop, round-table, etc.)
- issues to be covered
- date and venue
- length of papers
- deadline for provisional titles and abstracts (as well as a word limit)
- address for submission
- fees (if any)
- scholarships (if any)
As to its dissemination, it should be sent to
- academic departments and centers dealing with the subject of your conference
- specialized mailing lists and newsgroups
Personal invitations will ensure that established scholars will be informed about your conference. It also acts as publicity; some people who will receive your call (or invitation) may decide to attend your conference, even without giving a presentation., so mostly this was is used for inviting non-speaker participants such as:
- Simple invitation letter.
- Invitation E-mail.
- Direct personal invitation.
8.Publicizing and Promoting the Conference
Marketing is the king, it is an umbrella for a process that includes research and development, advertising and other promotions. Without marketing, you may have the best conference ever or the greatest participants, yet no one knows. So what are you waiting for? In this millennium you have unlimited resources of marketing such as:
- Print advertising
Particularly in journals, newsletters and magazines.
This is a hit or miss method, but you should try to make your poster reasonably visible and have removable tabs. Make each location a different color so that you can get an idea from the tabs where the most leads are being generated. If there is one area that is producing the majority of your leads, you can better target your campaign.
Distribute flyers to all the mailboxes within reach. Your flyer should be brief and to the point, highlighting the services you offer and providing contact information.
- Word of mouth
The most effective, obviously, on the local level, but also effective in much larger circles, especially through the Internet.
Interviews through T.V or Radio, announcement through all multimedia means.
- Direct Visits
By visiting institution or organizations and give audience an introduction about the conference.
- Digital Marketing and Social Media
All possible means can be used to promote and advertise the conference through internet.
9.Start the Conference
Now, you exerted a lot of efforts to establish this conference but this phase is the phase of stress and instant actions, so when you reach this phase there is no going back. You now have to keep everything working according to the plan, be ready to solve any problem occurs and carry out the following tasks:
- Scheduling the right presenters for the right rooms at the right times.
- Scheduling sessions so that participants can follow topical threads (i.e., making sure that sessions on the same topic aren’t scheduled at the same time, or located so that getting from one to the next is difficult).
- Appointing a “host” for each session, who will introduce the presenter, make sure equipment is in place, keep track of time, hand out printed materials, and distribute and collect evaluation forms. The host should also put out and retrieve a sign-up sheet for continuing education credit, if the conference offers it.
- Working with the site to make sure that adequate space is available for meals, breaks, and other conference events.
- Placing exhibitors, coffee, handouts, and anything else in appropriate places (where they don’t contribute to blocking traffic, are accessible and easy to find, etc.).
- Finding the best places, in terms of traffic flow, visibility, and accessibility, for registration, information, and emergency services.
- Arranging for, or informing participants and presenters beforehand about, conference parking, or the lack thereof.
- Printing or copying material for participant packets, evaluation forms, etc.
- Recruiting and organizing volunteers to staff check-in and information tables, direct people to sessions, hand out important information, etc..
Congratulations! you have planned, organized and implemented the conference in a perfect way. Now it’s the time to measure its success, impression and results through 3 kind of judges who can decide how much your conference was successful as following:
1.Senior Management of the Organization Hosted the Conference
Your Boss, they may not look at anything but final results as they measure “success” word with one relation in particular which is: Benefits Value > Financial Costs.
That takes us back to the first step of organizing a conference process which is Defining and measure conference goals.
so you must prepare 2 final detailed reports for them, first one should explain all benefits resulted from this conference physical & non-physical such as improving staff morale and their loyalty, second one should explain the final budget of the conference and all kind of expenses starting from planning the conference till the last moment of the proceedings.
2.Speakers and Presenters
Your greatest success factor in the conference, this evaluation will go in both ways as you are evaluating them depending on how much their presentations were useful, related and unique, on the other hand they will evaluate your conference depending on the publication of their papers especially if they were academic professors and field masters. They also will be expecting a special treatment than other participants so it’s preferable not to let them down.
Participants are the conference audiences; they are the majority of the representatives participating in the conference so that their opinion and evaluation are the top priority to us as we need to know what they liked to maintain and improve it, what they dislike to eliminate or improve it by preparing an evaluation form to be filled by them such as the following example of an IEREK’s past conference: