A photograph of people around a conference table.

10 Steps For Organizing A Conference or Workshop

Organizing a conference or workshop is time-consuming yet important work. I have organized a handful or international conferences, in-person and online. In this post, I distill my conference organizing experience into a list of 10 steps to make your conference or workshop a success. To find out more about organizing conferences/workshops—especially online—see Online Conferences: Some history, methods & data

  1. Pick dates and time. Decide on dates that work with you and your co-organizers. Avoid dates and times that many people expect to be spending with family—e.g., national holidays, school breaks, etc.
  2. Choose a venue. Decide on a venue (e.g., remotely via video conference, in-person at a conference center, etc.). If planning an in-person conference/workshop, try to choose a location that people would want to visit even if they weren’t conferencing. (This will help secure enough attendees to pay for the costs.)
  3. Budget. Determine the cost of registration based on the total costs of organizing the conference or workshop so that you can plan to secure enough funding.
    • Costs
      • Honorariums. If you are inviting a couple high-profile speakers, you will almost certainly need to pay them an honorarium. You can ask colleagues that have given invited presentations how much the honorarium needs to be.
      • Reimbursing speaker costs. Invited speakers will expect to have their costs reimbursed by the conference/workshop organizers: all transportation, lodging, and food.
      • Venue costs. For example, cost of video conferencing software, website hosting, conference center rates, catering rates, etc.
    • Revenue
      • Apply for funding from non-profit sources.
      • Ask for sponsorships from companies that may have an interest in advertising to your attendees.
      • Estimate that only a dozen or so people will attend if this is the first time organizing this particular conference/workshop.
      • If planning a conference that has been occurring annually for many years, then make a conservative estimate of attendance based on past attendance.
  4. Booking. Secure the venue, catering, software licenses, travel costs for invited speakers, etc.
  5. Event announcement and/or call for proposals. Post the conference/workshop information on all of the websites, email listservs, Facebook groups, etc. that potential attendees might use.
    • Give them all the information they need to decide if they can attend: date, time, location, etc.
    • If people can submit proposals to present at the event, then provide a deadline for proposal submissions, and an estimate of the date that you expect to inform them of the decision to accept or reject their proposal.
    • Give them enticing information, if you have any—e.g., desirable location, prominent figures in the field who have agreed to attend/present, etc.
  6. Peer review. If people submit proposals to present something, then you will need to invite people to review those proposals.
    • If you receive many submissions, then consider ruling some out those that are clearly off topic or not ready for presentation. With lots of proposals, you may need to do this before requesting reviews of proposals.
    • If you do not receive enough submissions to hold the event, then announce an extension your deadline to submit proposals.
    • Choose a review deadline well in advance of the date that you decision date you included in your announcement. Reviewers will be difficult to secure and their reviews are often late—unless you pay them well for the reviews, of course.
    • Invite a couple people with relevant expertise for every proposal you want to consider. Give them all information they need to decide if they can review it: deadline for their review, the title and abstract of the proposal, the length (e.g., word count) of the proposal, and their compensation, if any.
    • Follow-up with reviewers who do not get their reviews by the deadline.
    • Invite more reviewers as necessary.
    • Send decisions to all authors. (You can adapt accept and reject templates from the internet.)
  7. Program announcement. Announce the program on all of the websites, email listservs, Facebook groups, etc. that potential attendees might use.
    • Include dates and times for each session.
    • Include the people presenting in each session, with informative titles for their presentations.
    • Include information about how to register (and cost of registration, if applicable)
    • If this is an annual event, include a business meeting on the program to determine—among other things—who will organize the conference in subsequent years.
  8. Inform presenters and attendees. Send logistic information to registered attendees.
    • Include the program, travel directions to/from local travel hubs (airports, bus station, train station, etc.), information about local restaurants, information about recommended hotels, etc.
    • Either ask or assign attendees to chair sessions of the conference. Add these chairs to the program if they have not already been added.
    • Expect to receive questions from registrants about the event that you may or may not have answered in your prior communicae—sometimes days or hours before the event.
  9. Additional logistics for in-person conferences and workshops
    • Staff a registration table at the entrance of the venue so that people can get their information, name tag, and pay (if they haven’t paid in advance).
    • Place signage throughout the venue to ensure that people can find the sessions in the program, especially if your conference is not using all of the rooms at the venue.
    • Ensure that multiple organizers are at the event at all times to try to troubleshoot issues that arise—e.g., with audio/video, catering, etc.
    • Enjoy whatever sessions you can between troubleshooting.
  10. Follow-up
    • Send post-event surveys for feedback about what went well and what could be improved.
    • Request receipts, boarding passes, etc. from anyone who needs to be reimbursed and has not yet provided them.
    • Pay any unpaid invoices (e.g., for the venue, catering, etc.).

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog