No microscopy teaching this month, because I was hosting the British Association for Ophthalmic Pathology meeting. For this post, I’m going to reflect a bit on how I ran the meeting, in case future meeting organisers find my thoughts useful. This isn’t a comprehensive “How to organise an academic conference” post, just some random thoughts on what I did, and what could be done. You have to bear in mind I’m an obsessive, belt-and-braces, micromanager personality which does rather affect my approach to things. I’m also talking about my experience of the BAOP meeting specifically although some of the suggestions may be applicable to other groups.
Setting a date
Date options will depend on availability of your preferred venue(s) and potential clashes with other specialist meetings. In the case of BAOP, I identified 3-4 suitable dates and sent out a Doodle poll to the membership. The date poll was held a year in advance (just after the previous year’s meeting). Some venues won’t hold bookings more than a year in advance, so there was little point in doing the poll earlier.
The BAOP is a national society, but our meetings do attract international delegates. Some of them may need to arrange visas (as well as all delegates needing to make travel/cover arrangements etc) so if you want to maximise attendance, announcing a date several months in advance is helpful.
Our society doesn’t have a budget and so there’s no scope for paid advertisements. Word of mouth works quite well – such as emailing members with a flyer and encouraging them to distribute it to interested colleagues. We had a slight technical glitch with the original BAOP website, although having a “landing page” URL to direct enquiries to and for last-minute announcements is certainly useful. Because I was running this blog anyway, it wasn’t too difficult to redirect enquiries here.
Other avenues for publicity – meeting details can be sent to members of other societies whose membership might be interested (in the case of BAOP, the British Neuropathological Society, for example). Some organisations or publications might list meetings for free. I arranged for a meeting announcement to be placed in EyeNews and on the RCOphth conference listing page.
Early bird deadline
A lot of conferences offer a cheaper registration rate if you book in advance. I believe we’ve not previously done this for the BAOP meeting. Being such an informal society, it’s not unheard of to have people booking the week before or even arriving on the day. For such a small meeting, that can be quite a problem for catering arrangements, and it’s also pretty stressful in terms of uncertainty about meeting finances. A major advantage of encouraging advance bookings, in addition to being secure about finances and catering, is that CPD applications often need to be submitted to the appropriate professional body (Royal College etc) 2 months in advance. Thus, encouraging early bookings allows a more accurate programme to be submitted for CPD approval.
Keep records of everything
When visiting venues beforehand, I kept as comprehensive notes as I could manage. Both of my impressions and whatever discussions I had with the facilities/hospitality managers. These would usually be followed up with a summary email (from me) laying out the points so both sides were clear. (You can tell I’m a micromanager!)
Spreadsheets came in very useful when bookings started to come in. I had a master sheet where I tracked who had booked (a separate column of surname for sorting plus name-for-badge), their contact details, what they had booked for, how much/when/how they paid, whether they were presenting, titles, any other notes (such as chairing sessions). As payments came in, I sent a confirmation email stating how much they’d paid (acting as a receipt) and listing what they’d booked for and dietary preferences as a confirmation check.
The spreadsheets allowed me to keep an eye on the finances too.
CPD certificates and post meeting feedback
A tip I’d had from the Education Centre Manager at Moorfields was to only provide a certificate of attendance once meeting feedback/evaluation form is received. There have been a couple of technical hitches with some NHS Trusts apparently blocking SurveyMonkey surveys but so far the conditional certificates have worked well. Two weeks after the meeting we’re up to 80% of post-meeting questionnaires completed and submitted.
This isn’t exactly a checklist, but a list of things you might want to consider:
Allow a bit of wiggle room for timing
Be prepared to step in and fill a gap (eg manning the desk, chairing, keeping an eye out for lost delegates) and/or have a couple of colleagues who don’t mind doing so
Make sure delegates know who you are and who to contact
Printing delegate packs – don’t do this too early, especially the programme
Something will go wrong, or you’ll forget something. Useful to make sure you have delegate phone numbers for contact details for any last-minute arrangements. And at the end of the day, it isn’t the end of the world. Just “Oops!” and move on as best you can.
As I mentioned at the start, this is in no way a comprehensive post on how to organise a meeting. It’s just a few ideas on what was going through my mind before, during and after this year’s meeting. I hope some of the information is helpful, and I’d very much welcome your comments and ideas. And suggestions too, of course!