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Friday, October 5, 2012

How to have a successful conference (presenters, attendees, & coordinators)

I started writing this after the last conference I attended and I have discovered my list of best practices for conferences just keeps growing...
I've been to a few conferences in my career from corporate to library, regional to national to international... I've attended, presented, facilitated, chaired, coordinated, and about every conference activity in between.On that note here is my advice for having a successful conference.

  • Even if the conference is free, have registration. 
  • Use online registration but accept walk-up registrations (if possible).
  • Send confirmation emails for those who register online. 
  • Provide receipts (name of conference, attendee name, date, and amount paid).  
  • Registrars and information desk attendees should know where sessions are and how to get to those rooms (!!)
  • Reception/reception area makes it easy for groups to meet up and can be a place for networking, too. Reception areas with free wifi are even better.
  • Provide name tags and have extra ones at the check-in desk.
  • Notepads and pens, are useful giveaways.
  • Tote bags are useful (although just about every conference gives one...) 
  • Provide LEGIBLE program lists, maps and directions for session rooms (include transportation if needed).
  • Simple business cards are nice for networking.
  • WIFI - we all need it. Make it available for free and tell people how to access it. 
  • Tracks - Use them. Don't book similarly themed presentations and programs against each other. 
  • It's not necessary to accept every presentation, especially if it mirrors another presentation.  
  • Networking opportunities - mixers, receptions, meetups - provide some networking opportunities 
  • Meals - If lunch/dinner is not at the conference, help attendees find lunch/dinner mates. One conference I attended asked presenters to coordinate a lunch, which was fun as it continued conversations beyond the presentation. 
  • Don't schedule sessions before 8:30 AM nor after 4 PM. 
  • Schedule breaks. Conference days are long enough. Schedule at least 2 breaks of 30 minutes (especially if there is no food provided at the conference).
  • Post the call for presentations early and often. Promote any presenter perks that you offer and on that note...   
  • Offer some perk for presenters and speakers: free or discounted registration, coffee, food, parking pass -- something. Treat them well because without them your conference would not happen. (seriously)    
  • Be clear about what technology you offer - let presenters know if you have projectors, screens, computers, wifi, and software. 
  • Have tech support - none of us can predicate when our technology might fail.
  • Send formal thank you letters to your presenters.
  • Send information about logistics before the conference including
    • Parking (location, cost, etc.)
    • Lodging (include a variety of options; not everyone can afford the high end conference center)
    • Transportation
    • Food (a whole separation discussion)
    • Program, maps... how to access the wifi.
  • Provide conference materials (see above) at registration.
  • Hashtags, location check-in info, other social media stuff... 
  • Provide some sort of food even if just snacks.
  • Water. Provide it. None of us can live without it
  • Coffee. Almost as necessary as water...
  • If not providing ANY food, make sure to include information about how to eat and where to eat. Allow ample time for going offsite or standing in line at the concession stand, if food is not provided.  
Post Conference
  • Followup after the conference as needed (thank you letters including to conference organizers, any conference financial housekeeping, etc.)
  • Collocate presentation materials online, if possible. 
  • Survey. Survey the attendees and presenters to evaluate the conference success. 
  • Celebrate! and then... 
  • Have a plan in place for next conference.
For those presenting (or leading a discussion group or committee meeting):
  • Write a clear description about your session. 
  • Be prepared.
    • Arrive early (you may need that extra time if you are stuck in a building that no one knows how to find -- even those at the registration desk).
    • Have your presentation in multiple formats (if you need technology for it).
    • Don't read your slides (if you have them).
    • Know what technology is available to you (if at all possible); if unsure, bring your own. 
    • Bring water and a snack. You might just need it.
  • Share your resources.
    • Put your presentation and/or materials online - if you can. Slideshare, Youtube, Scribd, etc.
    • Have some handouts even if you do virtual handouts. (Some attendees like to take notes or need to share their conference materials when they return to their home institutions). 
    • Followup with any questions or contacts made.
  • Enjoy the conference, too. Don't forget to network. 
For those attending:
  • Be on time to sessions (if possible). If you are late or know that you will need to leave early, sit near a perimeter and/or door if possible. Do not explain what you are doing to the audience. Do not walk in front of the speaker or projector, if at all possible. 
  • You can leave. If a session is not interesting/wrong audience level for you/too crowded/room uncomfortable/presenter is bad/whatever reason, by all means, leave. It's your time, too. Just be quiet about it.
  • Keep up with your stuff. Be aware of how much physical space you are taking up. 
  • Be quiet when walking by rooms in session. Conversations in hallways can often be heard in conference rooms. 
  • Do network. Bring your business cards. Write your email or twitter handle on your name tag. If there is a placement service or resume service, bring any materials you need. 
  • Dress professionally and BE professional. You're representing yourself, your institution, and sometimes even your city and state. ;-)  
  • When in groups, introduce people. Shake hands.
  • Silence your mobile and/or computer. It's ok, to use devices to take notes or photos (if allowed) BUT make sure the sound is off. 
  • Ask questions in sessions when appropriate. It's your session, too!
  • Write about it in social media. Blog it, tweet it, discuss. Continue the conversation after the conference.
  • Enjoy! Network! Fill up your brain.

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