Tag Archives: conference organising

How (not) to Organise an Academic Conference.

28 May

A quick online search will lead you to a list of sites with great advice about how to put together a great conference. And it’s something I would definitely suggest that postgraduate students consider taking part in.

GradHacker outlines the pros and cons of conference organising, The New Academic even gives you a pre-prepared checklist. Donna Alexander in Americasstudies gives tips on the use of social media and ‘Storyifying’ your conference. Catherine Armstrong’s article on the Jobs.ac.uk website stresses its value for new academics, while Gary DeCoker’s piece in  The Chronicle shows that even tenured academics find themselves facing the same problems – and rewards – that graduates do when organizing a conference.

However, even with the best advice, mistakes can and will be made. The following is a list of examples of what NOT to do when organising a conference. They are tried and tested paths to some hiccough or catastrophe. They are mistakes that I have come across as a speaker, ones that  I have made myself as an organiser or ones that I have heard about through a third party. Hopefully, they will help budding conference organisers in the future avoid the same pitfalls.

If you have more points you think can be added, please do so in the comments below!

not-to-do

  1. Don’t take on a conference if you have little time to dedicate to it – organising a conference is time consuming.
  2. Don’t refuse other people’s help. Even if it’s just a small colloquia.
  3. Don’t go over budget.
  4. Don’t assume that when a plan of action is agreed upon that it will be carried out. Seriously. Delegate. And make sure whoever is delegated the job knows that they have it!
  5. Don’t think that making a room booking means everything will be fine. Book early and then check back with whoever handles booking a week or so before the conference. Usually, one office books rooms for a variety of groups so always double check.
  6. Don’t forget to keep all your receipts in case you need to claim money back after the conference.
  7. If you are going to charge participants, don’t forget to tell people how they can pay as well as how much they must pay.
  8. If you need people to pay before the first day of the conference, state this on your website or circulars.
  9. Don’t forget to have change in the kitty if you plan on accepting cash on the day.
  10. Don’t assume the electronics will work. Go to the rooms where your speakers will be presenting. Check all the equipment. Don’t just look to see if it’s there, actually use it. Do this the morning before (so there’s time for relevant media dept to come and fix whatever may be broken/missing/faulty).
  11. Don’t forget to ask plenary speakers if they have any media requirements for their presentation – or dietary requirements for the conference meal later!
  12. Don’t assume your first programme will be the last.
  13. Don’t think the programme you make two days before the conference will show exactly how the proceedings will go.
  14. Don’t get mad that people pull out, want to change times, have problems with their PowerPoint, change their paper title, change their paper altogether…
  15. If you receive and accept panel submissions, do not them break up into other panels, add or remove a speaker, change the title of the panel or change the topic of the panel  without first contacting the panel members.
  16. Don’t put similar panels on at the same time.
  17. Don’t forget the maps, posters, arrows, SOMETHING to tell people where the conference is actually being held once they get on campus.
  18. Don’t feel you have to present a paper as well as organise the entire event.
  19. Don’t forget the food and beverages, even if you’re only doing the coffee breaks – conferencing is hungry and thirsty work!
  20. Don’t forget to actually go listen to some papers.
  21. Don’t forget to breathe!