Over the past year, I have been fortunate to have attended 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 that you have put in doesn’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 and 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, delegate etc)? Are there clearly marked signs possibly based on a name bracket ( for example A-E, F-J etc) so that participants can easily register. (Ensure the sign says if the name brackets is based on family or first name).

–         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. I have been in line for some four hours to complete a registration process and I can attest that these small efforts can go a long way.

–         Is there a conference app? If so, ensure that the log in information is easily accessible, printed out and placed at the registration/information booth.

–         Is there access to the internet? If so, ensure that the log in information for the internet is accessible, printed out and placed at the registration/and information booth.

–         Ensure that there is a printer (preferably two) to print out badges for participants who registered late or in the event that badges go missing or if participants register onsite. Have a centralized way to document these names and give them a realistic time to check back. Alternatively, take their emails and send them an email when their badge is ready. Also ensure to have extra lanyards, paper and markers to make temporary badges.

–         Are there ‘Swag Bags’ that will be given out at the conference? Make sure these are packed before the conference. Generally, the more basic swag bags have a pen and notepad while the fancier ones may have a drinking flask, a book from one of the speakers, usb drive etc.

Sponsors and Speakers – Relationship Management

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

–         A nice “thank you” token could be that you arrange for there to be an array of best-selling books from which the speakers and sponsors can take one 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.

–         Additionally, you can arrange for a separate wifi connection for staff, speakers and sponsors so that there is a decreased chance of slow or disrupted internet.

–         You can also prepare a list of your most important sponsors and check in with them to ensure that all their supplies have been received.

–        You should also 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.

Volunteer and Staff – Human Resource Management

Next, I will list 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. Also you can consider having a staggered timetable so that you aren’t making unrealistic demands that your volunteers arrive hours before the conference and stay until hours after.

–         Having a bowl of chocolate for them to eat as the day wears on can be a great and inexpensive incentive.

–         Write a written thank you card and/or give a gift card (for example a $5 or $10 Starbucks card ) is a great way to say thank you and potentially build a relationship with the volunteers for the next conference.

–         Make sure they are properly informed as they will be the face of the conference and your strongest or weakest link.

–         Ensure to ask your volunteers which session they are most interested in and make sure they have the chance to attend some of the sessions that they want to attend.

–         Prepare FAQs and all the logistics details for volunteers who will serve as room monitors or panel moderators.

–         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

Below I have made a note of a few steps you can take so 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.

–         Have a wind chime or melodious musical instrument like a xylophone (not a bell)to prompt participants back in to the conference after breaks.

–         Consider ending the conference with something unique, a song, cheer, jingle, or interesting call to action.

–         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. One conference that I attended had the first hour dedicated to networking and had people move from group to group discussing what they hoped to achieve and how they could help other participants achieve their goals.

–         As you might have noticed, I am a huge advocate of having chocolate or candies and you can ensure that there is a bowl on the tables for the participants throughout the sessions.

–         Ensure that you arrange for glasses or bottles of water to be on the table for the speakers on the panels and ensure that the bottles/glasses are cleared after each panel. Also ensure that there are also a pitcher of water at each table for the participants.

–         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 there are feedback forms (be it paper or app) and remember to you remind participants to fill them out after each session.

–         Ensure that the temperature in the rooms remains comfortable and ensure to do frequent rounds to ensure that this has not changed.

–         Let the participants know if breakfast will be provided on the first day and lunch on the final day.

Here are some of the questions that I have been asked as a member of the conference organizing/logistics team.

–         Is there a prayer room? (If so, do the members of your team know where it is?) Be particularly mindful and accommodating of important religious and cultural holidays.

–         Where is the lost and found? (Do the members of your team know where it is?)

–         Is there a first aid station? (Do the members of your team know where it is?)

–         Is there a coat room or set of racks where participants can leave their coats during winter? (If so, do the members of your team know where it is?)

–         Is there a luggage room for persons coming straight from a flight? ( If so, do the members of your team know where it is?)

–         Is there a nursing/breastfeeding room? ( If so, do the members of your team know where it is?)

–         Is there a private room where people can take calls? (If so, do the members of your team know where it is?)

–         Will coffee be available all throughout the day or only during coffee break?

–         Are there lunch tickets? Will those be added to the swag bag or handed out at the door?

–         Will there be drink tickets for a free drink during the reception or gala event? Will those be added to the swag bag or handed out at the door?

Overall Conference Management

–         Before the conference, make a list of what languages your staff and volunteer staff complement speaks.

–         Put a sign on the door of the sessions when the sessions have reached capacity. Explain to participants that the reason for the cap is that it would be a fire hazard and you are committed to the safety of all participants.

–         Place “reserved” flyers on seats at the back of the room so that participants go to the front of the room.

–         Ensure that at least one of the sessions is participatory and interactive. Participants often like to hear from each other and to share their own expertise. In one conference that I attended, there was a disaster simulation, in another there was a round table with time allocated for the participants to present a report to the larger audience.

Final thoughts

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

P.S. Thanks for reading my article! Each week I write an article (in English and Spanish) sharing insights and nuggets of wisdom to help you thrive as a professional. If you enjoyed this article, you might want to click ‘Follow’ to read my future posts. You might also like the following articles:

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