A Message to Conference Organizers

This is an open message to conference organizers everywhere. I want you conference to succeed and people say, “That was an amazing event.” I’m sure you do too. But why do many conference organizers shoot themselves in the foot? In this post, I’ll give you some advice that will help you succeed.

In my day job, I’m a software engineer. For over thirty years, I have spoken at conferences large and small, organized by professional event planners or an all volunteer staff. These events have been across North America and Europe. I have also helped organize conferences large (1000+ attendees) to small (10+). I’ve seen things that work and things that don’t. This all gives me unique experience to help you make your event even better.

Call for Presenters

Many conferences start with a call for presenters. You may target specific presenters, directly invite some, or make a public announcement to accept proposals. What ever form this takes, there is some very specific information you need to include:

  • Event name
  • Location – City and State is generally enough at this point
  • Event dates
  • The last date that submissions are due. If you say, “Submissions will be accepted until midnight, January 31” make sure you include the timezone.
  • URL of the event website. Yes, your website should be live before making a call for speakers.
  • Description of the type of event. For example, are you targeting writers of a specific genre or is it just general topics.
  • Presentation length. This may vary anywhere from an hour to several hours for a workshop. Make it clear what you are looking for.
  • You may include a list of topics you are looking for.
  • What information you need about the presenter. This should include name, bio, website, and email address. Some conferences at this point also ask for presenters website address, Facebook and Twitter links, phone number, and photo, but the reality is, you’ll only need this information if a presenter is accepted.
  • If the conference is covering travel, hotel, and other costs and/or an honorarium you should include this with the call for presentation.
  • Your email address in case the presenter has questions before submitting the proposal.
  • Instructions on how to submit the proposal. Do you have your own portal, using a submission website, or via email?

Once you receive the submission, send a confirmation email to the presenter. Tell them the names of each presentation they submitted and give them a date when you expect to have made a decision on accepting their proposal. You will get more proposals than you anticipated so give yourself plenty of time to review everything and make decisions.

When a presenter is accepted, email them a confirmation. You will likely get multiple proposals from the same presenter. Tell them which presentations have been accepted. Ask them to reply as confirmation of acceptance. Do not accept too many from the same person. I have attended events where a single presenter seemed to be presenting at every time slot.

Also, make sure you contact presenters who were not accepted. Thank them for their submission.

One final thing. Many conferences use Google forms and such to collect speaking proposals. This is a bad idea as Google does not respect anyone’s privacy. This means all the information entered can be scanned by Google and assimilated into their advertising platform. This includes author names, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. Do the right thing and protect the privacy of your presenters. There are many free or low cost alternatives.

Conference website

Make your event website easy to navigate and have complete information. The home page needs the event name, dates, and city clearly listed near the top. Don’t bury this in small text or on another page. These are the first things attendees will look for.

If you have a big-name keynote speaker, put this on the home page, including their picture.

Initially, you won’t have presenters listed, but have a Presenters page with something like, “Presenters will be announced beginning March 1.” Make sure you hit that date. You can list all your presenters at the same time, or reveal them slowly over time. The latter works well if you have big name presenters coming. Otherwise, just list them all at the same time or once they’ve confirmed acceptance.

Every presentation needs to be listed with it’s description. This can be done on the Presenter page or on a Presentations page.

A schedule page is important, even very early in the process. Something as simple as “The event will be on Saturday, February 9, 2019, from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM” is all you need. Once you have a complete schedule, post it on the Schedule page. This way confirmed attendees or those still on the fence, can find it. Be prepared to change the schedule. Things will come up and some presenters will drop out. Others will only be able to speak in the morning or afternoon. Also, make the schedule printable.

The venue must be clearly listed. Name and address are important. Adding a map to it is nice, but not required. The venue should have its own page.

Registration should be really, really easy. List everything an attendee needs to know and make the registration link easily found on your website. I’ve registered for events that had Friday night and Saturday presentations as well as Friday dinner and Saturday lunch. Each of them was a separate ticket and each had to be purchased separately via a PayPal. That’s four purchases. Not cool. Eventbrite makes registration easy. You can list each item separately. The attendee selects what they want and are charged one time. Also, an attendee often brings a spouse or child. Eventbrite makes it easy to add others on a single purchase.

Send a confirmation email to the attendee once they have registered. Again, Eventbrite does this. The confirmation email should include the attendee name, name, dates, and location of event, and list what they have signed up for.

Have a way for people to contact you. Attendees sometimes have questions before and after registration or they may need to cancel. I advise against just using an email address link as bots can easily find this and start spamming you. Have an information form that a person can fill out and is emailed to you behind the scenes.

If you have a multi-day event you may have a hotel that you recommend to attendees. List this information on the web site and provide a link for registration.

Summarizing the required pages on your website: Home, Presenters, Schedule, Registration, Venue, About, Contact (About and Contact may be the same page). Optional pages are Hotel and Presentations.

There are hundreds of other details I’ve left out, but these are the basics to have a successful conference. Good luck with your event and may it be wildly successful.

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