Planning an International Conference? Use this Checklist

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November 17, 2016

Planning an International Conference? Use this Checklist

By Alecia Maragh

InsideNGO member Alecia Maragh was a volunteer at the InsideNGO Annual Conference in July 2016. Drawing on her experiences volunteering at our conference and several others, she created a checklist for anyone planning an international conference. A version of this blog originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Over the past year, I have attended no fewer than ten international conferences. On several occasions, I was a member of the conference staff or volunteer team. From these experiences, I have prepared a checklist to ensure that all those months of planning don"t fall apart on the big day. If you are planning a major international conference, these are some key points to consider.

The Registration Process

Remember that the registration process sets the tone for the rest of the conference and shapes participants" perception of how prepared and professional the conference is. Many participants might not have taken the time to read any of the communication prior to the first day of the conference, so the registration desk is where they tend to form their first impression.

  • Are there clearly marked signs which guide participants based on their category (for example: speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, participants, delegates, etc.)? Are there clearly marked signs so that participants can easily register?
  • Is there access to water, bathrooms, and possibly chocolate if the registration process takes hours? This is particularly important if you are expecting thousands or tens of thousands of participants.
  • Ensure that the log in information for the conference app or Wi-Fi (if available) is easily accessible, printed out, and placed at the registration/information booth.
  • Ensure that there is a printer to print out badges for late or onsite registrants or in the event that badges go missing.
  • Are there "Swag Bags" that will be given out at the conference? Make sure these are packed in advance.

Sponsors and Speakers - Relationship Management

The generous support of sponsors and the willingness of expert speakers to take the time of their busy schedules to share their expertise is critical to the successful execution of any conference. There are a few steps you can take to ensure that you nurture these relationships for the future.

  • Ensure that all presentations are loaded onto the computers with back-ups on flash drives so that speakers can rest assured that all is prepared for their presentation.
  • Have a "thank you" token, like an array of best-selling books from which the speakers and sponsors can choose to take home.
  • You can also arrange for there to be a special room for major sponsors and speakers to retire to when they need to take a break or want to network with other speakers/sponsors.

Volunteer and Staff - Human Resource Management

Here are a few ways that you can keep your staff/ volunteer team energized and invested in the success of the conference.

  • Have regular breaks for volunteers or a staggered timetable so that you aren't making unrealistic demands on your volunteers to arrive hours before the conference and stay until hours after.
  • Write a written thank you card and/or give a gift card to say thank you and potentially build a relationship with the volunteers for the next conference.
  • Have a congratulatory event to commemorate your staff"s hard work after the conference and say thank you in the closing remarks to both your volunteer and paid staff.

Participants - Experience Management

Ensure that the participants leave feeling that they made a sound investment regarding their time, energy, and money, and believe that you have taken the time to cater to their needs.

  • Select one very friendly, solution-oriented and composed member of staff to be in charge of participant experience. He/she is encouraged to remember participants" names and to go above and beyond.
  • Ensure that the temperature in the rooms remains comfortable.
  • Have a wind chime or melodious musical instrument like a xylophone (not a bell) to prompt participants back into the conference after breaks.
  • Have an event or game where people can win prizes and which draws people to the exhibition hall.
  • Ensure that you allow opportunities for networking.
  • Ensure that you have water available for speakers, panelists, and participants.
  • Ensure that there are feedback forms (be it paper or app) and remember to you remind participants to fill them out after each session.
  • Consider ending the conference with something unique, a song, cheer, jingle, or interesting call to action.

Final Thoughts

Planning and executing a global conference is hard work. Hopefully this checklist will help to make the process a little easier. All the best!

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