Conference Management Guidelines - a GCMG perspective


Organizing a conference may not be everybody's responsibility, but when you do come up with a situation which requires your handling or being the chair for a conference either Local or International; then these are the basic guidelines you should keep in mind.

First is to get started by forming a committee to handle the various aspects of the Conference as detailed below. A committee would give you a shared responsibility especially when there is financial accountability involved. Another option is to get the services of a professional conference organizer who would help the committee in organizing the conference. The next option is to have the committee as well as a Professional Conference Organizer (PCO) to help you and the committee. The PCO could also help you in making a budget for the conference on account of their experience with many conferences and also offer ideas for mobilizing revenues required through various options.

Secondly, create a conference website which in this digital world is most essential to convey & seek information in the quickest possible time frame since the time required to organize a conference may be anywhere between 3 months to a year. Either way, a website would help cover all the main areas of interest to your potential delegates within the home page itself through links to different pages.

The main areas to be covered in your conference website would be the theme of the conference or the title of the conference, the organizing committee members who have responsibility for various aspects like academic programs, faculty or speakers, invitation, e brochure of the conference which would also have registration forms - downloadable or online registration formats, venue details, accommodation options, etc and a contact us page. A point wise list or checklist for organizing your conference is given below. The next priority would be to identify the personnel who would form the conference secretariat to help you in your role if you are a conference chair or Organizing Secretary for the conference after which you can run through with the following checklist.

  1. Get confirmation on blocking of the venue for the conference either at a Convention Centre or a hotel depending on your requirements or on number of delegates and type of halls required.
  2. Work on a detailed budget for the conference so that you know your cost heads and also are aware of the funds that need to be available for you.
  3. If you are partnering with industry (whichever you are in), you need to have trade stalls. Work on the stall layout plan and available exhibition space depending on the number of trade stalls that your conference requires.
  4. Decide if you require outdoor catering to be organized or if it is provided in-house as is the case when the conference is organized in a hotel.
  5. Decide on the number of rooms required for the delegates and entrust the booking of rooms either to the PCO or the committee member concerned so that you have enough rooms in various categories of hotels for your conference delegates.
  6. Ascertain the Audio-Visual requirements including video conferencing, simultaneous translations if required for the conference in consultation with your PCO or the concerned committee member and make arrangements to ensure the Convention Centre or Hotel can provide it or arrange to outsource it from a reliable vendor.
  7. Check with your PCO about the backdrop required and the design needed to incorporate your conference logos, sponsors logo etc.
  8. Finalize the seating plan in the main hall and other halls if you have simultaneous sessions. Also finalize timings for the various sessions.
  9. Plan the first circular for your conference to reach out to the potential delegates expected to attend the conference which would have basic information about the conference including Venue details, Registration fees and early bird registration fees.
  10. Your first circular should also contain the cancellation & refund policies for the conference.
  11. Work on the abstract submission guidelines in case your conference needs abstract submissions & poster presentations.
  12. Check with the website developer regarding uploading abstracts and presentations online.
  13. Decide on how you plan to get maximum delegates to attend the conference and publicize online or through journals or other media.
  14. Entrust the travel arrangements to the PCO or a travel agent for tickets, Pre & Post Conference tours and get the details on the conference website so that delegates could make plans in advance for some tourist visits before or after the conference, if they prefer.
  15. Arrange for facilitation counters at the Airport / Railway stations / bus stations with volunteers.
  16. Identify staff or volunteers for registration counters and decide on bar coded id cards or manual registration options.
  17. Get ID tags done in advance with the details of the delegate printed or on arrival when pre-registered.
  18. Check the security arrangements required for the conference and outsource if required.
  19. Arrange for inaugural function, stage management, and master of ceremony to take the inaugural function if there is one.
  20. Mementos and gifts for speakers along with conference kit bags with inclusions from sponsors or the committee.
  21. Certificates to be given to delegates attending the conference as in case of CME's or workshops to be designed & printed.
  22. Invitation letters to be sent to delegates abroad for purpose of securing visa if required to enter your country.
  23. Incorporate a section in the website for facilitating visa process or a link to the official embassy page of your country.
  24. General instructions for delegates arriving from abroad on what to do and what not to do in terms of official etiquette.
  25. Arrange for Doctor or paramedic facilities, emergency ambulance, fire trucks etc in case of large conventions.
The above list is by no means a comprehensive check list but could be a start to help you in planning for your conference and most of all remember to keep yourself free for attending to any sudden requirements during the conference. Do not allocate any work to yourself during the Conference if you are organizing it unless your academic credentials require you to chair a session or two!