I am a chronic event organizer. Those convening student events and conferences may not have the background I somehow obtained, so I wrote this to assist. It will hopefully be useful for student-organised conferences and first-time conveners. Good luck!
Ask your team what their strengths are. Use those strengths. Follow up with people when you have delegated, but trust them to do their job (until they show they need more active supervision).
Use people who offer to help. Volunteers are an incredibly precious resource.
Ask previous conveners for advice. Make a timeline, ideally with their help. That stops everything from being overwhelming!
You do not have to know how to do everything. You have strengths and weaknesses, and that’s ok. You don’t have to know how to set up a web page, or make a nice poster, or what all the judges look like. You have to run an event. If you’ve got money, it might even be a good idea to outsource.
Your venue should be big enough. It should be close to public transport. It should not look super empty if half the people who registered don’t show up. Your venue should have wireless internet (sometimes, more than just eduroam!) and a lot of powerpoints.
There needs to be clear signage. You can send as many maps as you like via email – people will forget. Put up balloons, stick up handwritten A4 paper everywhere, but have something.
The room where talks are being given should have recognizable front and back doors, or only back doors, so when people are late you’re not constantly disrupted.
Check out the IT systems and support in your venue before your event. Put the numbers for IT and security into your phone. Be nice to IT and security. You will need them.
Ideally, there won’t be a heap of public thoroughfare. My favourite venues also have readily-available spaces to sneak off and do work in (like if you haven’t quite prepared your talk yet) and good coffee nearby.
One of the first things you should do is secure the support of your affiliated institution. Most conferences will (should) be hosted by a university/institute. Free room hire is key.
Even if you can’t somehow wrangle free room hire, having the support of a larger institution will help your sponsorship attempts. If you can get a nice letter from the Dean or VC saying “these people are doing good things we like them” then you’re more legitimate, particularly if you’re younger or your group isn’t well-known.
Sometimes institutions have in-house catering that they can get on the cheap as well. In most circumstances, you will want to do this.
How early do you think you should get onto sponsorship? Wrong. You need to get onto it earlier. (10 months for medium-sized events, 4-5 months for small events, over a year for everything else.)
Work out what sponsors you will appeal to, why, and what you can offer. Outline this clearly when you email them. There is literally no point in being coy with sponsors. Keep your sponsorship letters short and to the point. I’ve outlined an example below.
Don’t forget to apply for sponsorship from government branches, relevant community societies, and NFPs that might be interested.
Dear Australia Branch of Multinational Conglomerate,
I’m writing to you on behalf of People Who Just Started Watching DS9 and Actually Quite Like It, and we’re hosting a conference in 7 months time. The purpose of this conference is to discuss future ethics and disruptive technologies, and as a major player in this field we’d love you to be involved in these key discussions. We’re supported by Names of People Who Are Probably Important.
We’d appreciate financial sponsorship, and can offer you a trade stall, invitations to representatives of your Multinational Conglomerate, and branding on our promotional material. If you’d like to discuss this further or have questions, please don’t hesitate to be in contact.
Director, DS9 Isn’t As Bad As Everyone Told Me It Would Be
Phone Number, Email address.
Finally, if at first you don’t succeed, don’t stop trying! Sponsorship is difficult and can be an uphill battle – take heart from the fact that it’s terrible for everyone.
Do everything within your power to get this for free. Reach out to philanthropic groups who have nice rooms, companies whose values align with your event (or just aren’t literally the worst), and then to companies who want to recruit all of the people that are attending.
Room hire is super expensive, but there are ways to minimize these costs.
If your space has in-house catering that they can get on the cheap, go for that. If your space has in-house catering that you have to use, you don’t have a choice. Otherwise, get recommendations from people who have hosted events in the same area or for the same sorts of people.
This is how I found Tiger Lily Catering and Romano’s Coffee (University of Melbourne), both of whom have been absolute dreams to work with.
Over-order vegetarian and vegan food. Just trust me on this one.
Make sure non-alcoholic drinks are available (if alcoholic drinks are as well), and make sure they’re not just orange juice. Also, always have water available, even if it’s not a designated break time.
Don’t over-email! Keep your contact short, sweet, and to the point. The internet is wonderful but it also overloads people. In a similar vein, keep physical hand-outs minimal, and with important information easily accessible.
Having said that, mirror information on your website, your facebook page, your twitter feed, and in emails. Don’t just tell me the schedule will be on the website, send me an email with that because I am doing other things with my life right up until the point I am in your building.
The one important thing to include in emails that everyone forgets is where the good coffee is.
Finally, if you want feedback on your event you could hand out a paper survey or you could email your feedback form to people with your thank-you note. SurveyMonkey, GoogleForms, etcetera all mean less work for you, less work for people filling out the forms, and more fun all around.
On the Day
Something is going to go wrong, and that’s ok. Every problem has a solution.
Nothing is going to run to time, so leave buffers everywhere.
Do your best not to fret when things are running smoothly – just relax! This is all your hard work.
Delegate pack down. You’ve earned a break.
If you’re organizing a conference for the very first time and have a burning question, feel free to comment. I know how hard it can be to be thrown in the deep end!