Recently I attended a conference as a presenter. It occurred to me that I have been doing conference presentatins since 1980 (NY State Association of Rehabilitation Facilities- on Federal law regulating employment of disabled persons). Over the past 30 years, I have been privileged to present at conferences throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Brazil and Singapore.
Without naming any names, here are a few suggestions for conference organizers:
>Presenters should NOT have to pay registration fees for the conference. Especially when the presenter is paying their own travel cost to get there. Even a “discounted fee” for your presenters is not very nice.
>Make sure your check-in desk staff have been properly trained to give friendly and welcoming customer service. Failing to give registrants their conference folders is not really acceptable. When your attendees note that you forgot to have a coat rack available, don’t just say “I’m sorry.” Say, “I’ll do my best to get that for us right away.”
>Unless attendees opt out, provide a list of attendees with all pertinent contact info. It is a networked world, after all… so let’s network :) You can send it as an Excel file, or give us a printout when we arrive (so we can scan for people we might want to meet, or whom we know).
>obtain feedback data on the presentation sessions. How else will you know what value your attendees took away from a session? How else will you know the great presenters from the ones committing “death by Powerpoint?”
>30-minute refreshment breaks are great for networking (especially when the rest rooms are far away from any meeting room). But 5 minute intervals to get from session to session are too short. Some presenters will run a bit long, or some attendees may want to meet-and-greet your presenters. make it easy to do that, without having to come in late to the next session.
>Still on the subject of time, 25-minute sessions for presenters to tell a complicated or detailed story, is probably too little. everyone wants to get the most out of a conference, especially a one-day event that has drawn a literally global group of presenters and attendees. But rushing presenters and audiences through crammed slide sets, with no time for meaningful questions or responses, does not add value.
>Speaking of global perspectives, there is no excuse today for failing to broadcast, and/or record and archive the presentations at a conference. The technology is not costly, and you can multiply your reach to people everywhere.
>Finally, have your program committee consider the variety and depth of the presentations they select from the pack of proposals. Unless you are advertising your event as a one-issue conference, consider the interests of your audience. Find both established and innovative perspectives on your field, if you can. Then, when you set up the conference schedule, don’t put several speakers on the same topic, in the same time slot. Don’t make the choice of session into a popularity contest, or a sacrifice of one good speaker in favor of another. Variety IS the spice of life. Don’t forget to get data from your attendees, on topics of interest to them for your next event. Give the people what they want.
It is very surprising to me that conference organizers, some from very well-known organizations, continue to overlook these basic rules. As a presenter, and as an attendee, I know I’ll be reluctant to spend hundreds of my own dollars for a conference that isn’t using its own collective brain-power to create a great experience.
Have a great conference!