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Your Foolproof Conference Planning Checklist

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Our conference planning checklist will show you how to tackle the mammoth task of organizing an academic conference. It's normal to feel overwhelmed at...

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Our conference planning checklist will show you how to tackle the mammoth task of organizing an academic conference. It's normal to feel overwhelmed at the beginning, but with the right team, software, and plan of action, you can confidently pull off a great event without burning the candle at both ends. Let's dive in and get cracking!

Your Conference Planning Checklist: By Month & Task

conference planning checklist Photo by Anete Lusina

12-14 Months Before Your Conference: Timeline, Committee, & Website

  • Build your timeline: Factor in enough time for each stage of planning and add some wiggle room around deadlines.
  • Consider hiring a professional conference organizer (PCO): If it's your first time planning a research conference, a PCO can handle the admin and logistics, ensuring everything runs smoothly.
  • Get your committee on board: Form an organizing committee with experts in your field who understand their roles and responsibilities.
  • Build your website: Create a user-friendly website focused solely on your conference to showcase your event and convert visitors into delegates.

10-12 Months Before Your Conference: Budget & Software

  • Draft your budget: Manage your finances by creating a budget and adjusting it as you secure funding and sponsorship.
  • Investigate funding opportunities: Check if the local tourist board or associations offer funding for conferences with international delegates.
  • Pursue sponsorship opportunities: Look for sponsors to help cover the difference between registration fees and the conference planning costs.
  • Choose suitable conference planning software: Select a comprehensive platform that meets your specific needs, such as abstract management, program building, delegate registration, and an integrated virtual platform. Ensure GDPR compliance for the personal data you'll be handling.
  • Download task management and project messaging tools: Use apps like Trello for task management and Slack for project messaging to keep your committee members engaged and on target.

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9 Months Before Your Conference: Submissions

  • Define submission formats: Decide on the formats you'll accept and include any necessary requirements.
  • Choose an efficient submission management system: Use software with customizable submission processes, self-correction options for authors, reviewer progress tracking, and an integrated online conference platform.
  • Determine the number of reviewers needed: Invite enough reviewers to ensure a fair and efficient review process.
  • Develop a submission-reviewer matching system: Allow reviewers to select topics they're best equipped to review and prevent nepotism in assignment.
  • Clarify the review process: Decide on single or double-blind reviews and establish scoring criteria.

conference planning checklist Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

8-9 Months Before Your Conference: Call for Papers

  • Email your call for papers: Craft a catchy, informative, and scannable message that immediately conveys the conference's purpose and attracts potential authors and delegates.
  • Ensure GDPR compliance: Include an unsubscribe feature in every email to comply with GDPR regulations.
  • List on conference announcement sites: Extend the reach of your call for papers by promoting it on relevant conference announcement websites.
  • Leverage other conferences: Collaborate with conferences in similar fields to share flyers and promote each other's events.
  • Write a media release: Make your announcement newsworthy and distribute it to relevant publications and listservs in your field.
  • Promote on social media: Utilize platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to reach interested researchers and create a social media content plan.
  • Engage your conference sponsors: Encourage sponsors to help promote the conference through their networks and social media channels.

conference planning checklist Photo by Alena Darmel

7 Months Before Your Conference: Registrations

  • Implement a limited-access pricing model: Offer separate tickets for events, allowing delegates to choose the sessions and extras that suit their needs.
  • Request RSVP from authors: Ask accepted authors to RSVP before registration to estimate the number of attendees.
  • Offer payment options: Provide the option to pay by invoice in addition to card payment for delegates' convenience.
  • Promote grants and bursaries: Define eligibility criteria for early-career researchers and publicize funding options to help potential delegates attend.
  • Harness the power of early-bird registrations: Use early-bird registration to gauge interest in in-person vs. virtual conferences and aid decision-making.

2 Months Before Your Conference: Programme & Book of Proceedings

  • Build your programme: Develop a flexible program and recruit session chairs who can manage Q&A sessions and handle virtual interactions if necessary.
  • Collect camera-ready submissions: Gather corrected drafts ready for publication.
  • Compile your book of proceedings: Create an official record of the conference, including abstracts or papers, sponsor details, and an author index.
  • Invest in a mobile conference app: Use an interactive mobile app to offer delegates access to the programme and book of proceedings, facilitate networking, and provide updates and crucial information.

6-8 Weeks Before Your Conference: Printing & Branding

  • Contact your printers: Send print-ready files for traditional printed materials like poster presentations and on-site signage.
  • Contact your branding house: Order conference swag early to ensure availability and proper branding.

1 Week Before Your Conference

  • Send delegates final information: Provide the program details and instructions for downloading the mobile app.
  • Deliver conference materials to the venue: Arrange for the delivery and storage of printed materials, certificates, and feedback forms.
  • Confirm your registration desk and information point setup: Ensure these areas are staffed with friendly and helpful individuals and have facilities for accepting payments if needed.

3 Days Before Your Conference

  • Deliver final conference materials to the venue: Distribute name badges, lanyards, and delegate packs to the venue.
  • Send an official welcome email: Include relevant information such as parking, airport transfers, conference hashtags, and details of the welcome reception.
  • Check AV equipment: Ensure all conference equipment is in working order, including laptops and presentation files.

1 Day Before Your Conference

  • Mount poster presentations: Arrange printed poster presentations on display boards and set up conference signs and directions.
  • Update your online program: Make any necessary changes or reshuffling based on last-minute withdrawals.
  • Deliver thank-you gifts to the venue: Prepare and distribute gifts for keynote speakers, VIPs, session chairs, and volunteers.

Day of Your Conference

  • Set up your registration desk: Have all necessary materials ready, including delegate lists, name badges, lanyards, and payment facilities if required.
  • Hold a pre-conference meeting: Brief session chairs and volunteers on emergency procedures and ensure proper staffing.

End of Your Conference

  • Clear the venue of all conference materials: Promote sustainability by collecting reusable or recyclable items, such as name badges and lanyards.
  • Hold a meeting with session chairs and volunteers: Review any issues and discuss improvements for future conferences.
  • Distribute and collect conference feedback forms: Gather feedback to evaluate the conference's success and identify areas for improvement.

After Your Conference

  • Send a thank-you email: Express gratitude to keynote speakers, VIPs, session chairs, and delegates.
  • Collect outstanding payments: Review invoices for accuracy and arrange payment.
  • Review delegate survey and post-conference report: Analyze feedback and consolidate all relevant information, including budget and financial details, for your post-conference report.
  • Prepare a full report: Submit a comprehensive report to funding sources and for internal use.

conference planning checklist Photo by George Milton

Now that you have a foolproof conference planning checklist, you can confidently navigate the process and ensure a successful event. Remember to approach each task systematically and seek assistance when needed. Good luck with your conference planning!