Saturday, April 4, 2009


Organizing Conferences

This blog post will collect ideas on how to run conferences. It is adapted from an old post on my old blogsite.

I should remember to send this to the organizer of every conference I attend, well in advance. There is a lot of personal potential benefit from doing that.

1. The conference website should have maps showing the location of the conference buildings and hotels, as well as airports, highways, and the relevant exits. This this should be provided to participants *before* they arrive, since that is when it is useful.

2. The conference website should post all papers as submitted and then allow authors to make updates. This will both ensure that participants can view the papers in advance and prevent authors from submitting work that is too unfinished.

3. Get wireless computer access for anyone who wants it. I find that this is much more common at motels than at universities, for guests.

4. There should be second-tier sessions of successive 5-minute presentations for papers that weren’t good enough to get in the first-tier sessions.

5. A day before the conference, the organizers should email participants telling them the temperature and humidity.

6. There should always be a coffee urn near the session rooms. Coffee is especially useful *before an 8 a.m session*--- not as a coffee break in the late morning.

7. Each building should have a big swinging sign outside and one inside with arrows towards the various rooms. The conference program should be on it, taped open to the appropriate page. Each session room door should have a list of the sessions inside.

8. A lot of these items take some time for the organizer. Think of hte economies of scale, though. It is better to spend 30 minutes of organizer time than 100*6 = 600 minutes of participant time trying to find rooms, buy coffee, figure out the weather report, etc.

9. Make sure there are good spaces for standing around in talking, and a good place to congregate (with chairs and tables and blackboards) for people who are skipping sessions.

10. Email each participant a one-page list of tips on how to give a good presentation. I'll write such a list later and link this to it. It should have things such as "Have a handout".

11. Have a way that participants can do last-minute xeroxing of handouts and scanning in of handwritten diagrams. One way to do this would be to have a box for such requests with folders, a form to fill out requesting the service, and a person to accept money. The payment should be simple so as not to require change-- say, minimum 1 dollar that will xerox 5 copies or scan 5 pages, then 5 dollars for up to 25 copies and 25 pages.

12. Have a list of all participants give out IN ADVANCE so participants can be warned of who is coming that they should know but whose face they might have forgotten. Even better, have this on the web and link to every participant's homepage. This will take care of giving out a list of all email addresses, which should be done if the homepage-link idea is not adopted.

13. Have a box lunch at the end, so people who need to catch planes can take it with them.

14. Each session chair should have a big, cheap, battery-powered clock to put in the room. Again: the cost of the hardware is small relative to the value of the time saved. He shouldn't have to use his attention to make hand gestures or raise signs to the speaker. He should just cut him off at some point, even if that humiliates the speaker.

15. Have long extension cords for electric power for laptops, trailing into the center of the room. Again: the cost of the hardware is small relative to the value of the time saved.

16. For each paper, next time, have the abstract up on the Web, so listeners can cut-and-paste them into their notes.

17. Send out presentation tips to all speakers.

18 Putting one's name as a footer to slides is a good idea for young people, as advertisement.

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