On organizing ELT conferences and events

This is part three of a three part series on conferences. The first two parts looked at what attendees want and what what presenters want from ELT conferences. In this post I will share survey responses related to planning and organizing conferences or other events. If you click on the first post linked above you can find out about the background of this survey. Once again my thanks go to those who took the time to answer the questions (and he who helped created the questions). As might be expected there were less responses to the section of the survey related to organizing events. I hope and believe that the responses here might be of use to those planning events I share them with that in mind. Comments (including your additions) and questions most welcome.

As a conference organizer, how do you define your goals?

  • Forget about the “WOW!”, just get rid of the “Arrrrgh!”
  • Everyone should want to come back next year is one measure. Sometimes financial. Did we get enough people in to cover costs? But, ideally there should be a good vibe.
  • At the beginning of the process, I talk with the other planners about what we want to see as a result of the conference. Sometimes we start with problems or challenges that we see in our teaching environments. This helps us put together a conference theme and a list of possible speakers.
  • Looking at my aims.
  • With a team.

As a conference organizer, how do you determine how to allocate resources?

  • Get the basics (location / facilities / advertising / printing) covered and prioritise from there on the continuum from ‘Absolutely essential’ through to ‘Nice to have’.
  • According to regulations.
  • I look at budgets from previous conferences and then adapt them to the needs and the numbers of expected guests. The cost of the venue often determines how much room we have for other resource-demanding things.
  • Tough one. And one I’m not usually that involved in. Try to be fair to everyone as far as things like people who sign up commit early get get the spaces they deserve. But, also try to allocate some resources (presentation slots, features, etc) for people “on their way up” not only the “names.” But, you usually do need name “star” presenters too.

As a conference organizer, how do you evaluate proposals?

  • There are rubrics etc. but a lot of it comes down to a gut feeling at times. Usually have to deal with too many seemingly good proposals.
  • According to appeal and feasibility.
  • I create or borrow a rubric, which I distribute to the proposal vetting team, and when I am more organized, I also link to the rubric from the proposal submission form. Since I have never had a huge number of proposals to deal with, all of the reviewers give comments about all of the proposals. The comments are summarized and sent back to the presenters with requests for revision if necessary.
  • RRR – Recent, Relevant, Reliable: recent/new ELT info; relevance to the local ELT context; reliable presenters who are knowledgeable on the topic.
  • I wish I knew the answer…

As a conference organizer, how do you determine prices?

  • Always a negotiation. The past few years I have been on the side of “raise the rates” but that does have negative consequences too. In an ideal world, sky high rates for those who can afford them, but coupons, discounts or rebates to keep the community diverse.
  • We charge what we think people will be willing to pay. That is often determined by the prices of local conferences of a similar scope.
  • Estimate costs and divide by expected participants – compare with similar conferences.
  • According to cost and averages charges for similar events.

As a conference organizer, what, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge in preparing a conference? How have you addressed it (assuming it can be addressed)?

  • Sourcing great speakers.
  • Getting people to attend, promotion.
  • Getting help.
  • My biggest headache is fundraising because I hate, hate, hate asking for money. My second biggest headache is publicity because I am by nature much more talented at keeping secrets than shouting from rooftops. The best thing I can do with these challenges is work with a team. Either my teammates will compensate for my weaknesses with their own strengths or my fear of letting my teammates down will make the challenges seem less fearsome by comparison.
  • Getting the word out to as many people as possible, and even more so to the “right” people (people you want to have come who should be there but might not be if they don’t know or don’t know far enough in advance) as far ahead of time as possible, but not therefore lock everything down too far in advance. It’s a trade off.

Additional thoughts as a conference organizer:

  • No good deed goes unpunished. No matter what you do, people will complain endlessly, so once the opening words of the conference are uttered try to just enjoy it. There isn’t much you can do at that point to change the direction. But if you are enjoying it, others will too. Real actual issues of safety, execution, etc need attention, but try not to pay too much attention to the squeaky wheels. Much better to pay attention to someone, anyone else.
  • Have a nice day ~ : )


One comment

  1. Pingback: 201! | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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