My first conference (gulp)…

No, not the first conference paper! I have to organise a conference for the first time, as part of my job. In fact, I have to organise two, one for the Central Criminal Court proceedings project and the other, later on, for Plebeian Lives. This is at once an exciting and utterly terrifying prospect.

At the moment I’m not sure exactly what model the conferences will follow. (If anything like the Old Bailey Proceedings conference (Muse), there won’t be parallel sessions, which will make life slightly easier.) There’s a good chance we’ll have delegates from several different continents and each conference will last for at least two days. I should have more information on this by the end of the week.

So, does anyone have advice (what to do and what not to do!) on any aspects of organising an academic conference? Or pointers to webpages containing good advice? It seems quite hard to find useful resources online.

Any tips will be much appreciated!

6 responses to “My first conference (gulp)…

  1. Sharon, it sounds like fun! I have organized a few fairly small conferences here at the Graduate Center, and found that the whole thing is easier if you remember that (a) most of the planning involves time and food, and (b) if you keep a checklist next to you with all your tasks marked through, you might actually get to enjoy it.

    Here’s a checklist that I recently sent to a friend who is hosting a conference next month:

    1) Verify funding sources for food, printing, and plenary speaker.
    2) Choose and confirm a plenary speaker, with a monetary agreement.
    3) Find out how and when you will be reimbursed.
    4) Send out CFPs.
    5) Choose among abstracts and send invitations.
    6) Organize the speakers into thematic groups.
    7) Reserve rooms for all the panels and the plenary talk(s).
    8 ) Confirm all presenters, asking if they have any special needs (A/V, wheelchair accessibility, etc.), and recommending transportation and lodging options.
    9) Plan all the panels, with lots of wiggle-room between them, allowing at least 20 minutes per paper, 15 minutes per panel for questions, and 15 minutes between panels.
    10) Find people to chair each panel.
    11) Decide who will introduce the plenary speaker.
    12) Get volunteers to help direct conference-goers, hand out badges, etc. on the days of the conference.
    13) Make up plenty of programs.
    14) Make badges with all the speakers names and a registration list.
    15) Verify that everyone has transportation and lodging a week before the conference.
    16) Get coffee and tea service and plan for some kind of breakfast food (if the conference is small enough).
    17) Confirm funding sources again.
    18) Make reservations for lunch and dinner with your plenary speaker and invite your favorite colleagues to come along.
    19) Pick out a nice, slightly eccentric outfit, so you can be recognized at a distance.
    20) Enjoy the conference.

    Additions to this, anyone?

  2. Oh, and I forgot, you have to advertise the conference too! But this is probably obvious.

  3. Didn’t someone from WSECS put out a guide to conference planning? Probably doesn’t diverge too much from Carrie S’s sensible advice, but I can’t remember where I saw it. Does anyone else remember this?


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  5. Thanks for these suggestions!

    (Little things that can make a difference: when I changed my Googling from ‘conference organisation’ to ‘conference planning’ I started to get more useful results, though I haven’t managed to find the WSECS guide David mentions.)

  6. Sharon, I was correct about the guides that circulated about conference planning on C18-L. Contact me at, and I’ll forward you what I got on- and off-list on C18-L.