Reflections of a Conference Organiser
I call it a wedding. Months, sometimes years of planning, all for a one-day conference. It’s a risky affair—the possibility of failure, food poisoning, drunken ﬁghts, bad speeches.
As another year comes to a close, my mind inevitably wanders to that dangerous place where one is to Reﬂect. So after all these weddings, what can I say?
In my short career I’ve organised a fair amount of conferences, both small and large and to varying degrees of success and detriment to my sanity. I’ve also been on the delegate side, shufﬂing from one session to another, struggling to process information and over-eating at receptions. Sometimes, I’m inspired.
Assortment – Like a box of chocolates, a good conference programme will have an assortment of topics covered by good speakers with different styles and backgrounds. The topics should also be related to the conference theme. Wouldn’t it be outrageous if you opened a box of chocolates to ﬁnd that one was a Brussels sprout? Ugh.
The Grub – I’ve heard senior managers say, “It’s really about the food. That’s what people will remember.” The cost for catering is usually the highest bill, so take extra time to sort out a tasty menu. If a venue is good but the food is poor and you have the time and resource, I would keep looking around.
Swan-like – Conference organisers ought to look like swans, graceful and calm above water, and pedaling like crazy underneath. The best compliment I’ve ever received for organising a conference was “I didn’t notice you sweating at all!”
Short & sweet – Keep email and website details short and precise. Stick to the basics: who, what, when, where and why.
Shut it down! – If you have a terrible speaker, an overrun timetable and a snoring audience, don’t be afraid to cut off the speaker by gently giving him/her The Eye-Nod Warning, or by waving a large “you’ve only got one minute left” sign. I’ve been tempted to make a sign with a death skull but I would like to keep my job.
Give thanks – Always thank the speakers, sponsors, audience and people working behind the scenes. The closing remarks are a good time to do this and gifts are always welcomed. I like white roses and dark chocolate.