Organising an Academic Conference

Planning and running an academic conference is hard work but it is very rewarding and you will learn a lot of new skills when doing it.

The first thing to think about is who is your target audience? What sort of topics would interest them? What sort of speakers would they like to see?

Then you should choose the topic or theme of your conference. Your conference to have a clear and coherent focus, and have an interesting angle to differentiate it from other conferences.

Then you should consider the budget for the conference. How much is it all going to cost? How much for the venue? For the room hire? For the equipment, for the stationary, for the coffee and tea breaks, for the organisers, for the conference programmes, the list goes on. You need to keep to budget and avoid making a loss. Will your event be free, or will you charge a fee? If so, how much? Are there any sources of funding for the conference?

The Academic Conference Time Frame

You should start planning as early as possible. You will have to put out a call for academic abstracts and then review them,  and this all takes a lot of time.

Here are the milestones you have to complete in the run up to the conference:

  • Decide on your theme.
  • Apply for funding, if appropriate.
  • Set a budget, if appropriate.
  • Set a provisional date and venue for the conference.
  • Launch a Conference Website with a dedicated conference email address.
  • Issue a Call for Papers / abstracts, with a realistic deadline.
  • Review the abstracts and select your speakers.
  • Confirm the speakers.
  • Confirm the date and venue for the conference
  • Launch the conference registration – advertise your conference, send out emails and social media posts.
  • Create a draft programme of presentations etc.
  • Book catering, if necessary.
  • Send participants all the information they require about the conference
  • Publish and share the conference programme with details of all sessions

Assembling a Conference Committee  

The conference committee should help with the following tasks:

  • Draft call for papers
  • Review submissions and select speakers
  • Communicate with speakers
  • Register participants
  • Draft the conference programme
  • Make conference badges
  • Prepare conference packs
  • Run the registration desk
  • Keep an eye of the finances
  • Look after the catering (including special dietary requirements)
  • Manage the technology and problems with it, if any
  • Chairing the conference
  • Managing rooms

The Format of an Academic Conference

The conference programme can be a straightforward single strand of plenary speakers addressing everyone in one hall. Or it can have multiple strands with multiple parallel sessions in different rooms. You might want to mix plenary session with workshops, panel discussions, poster presentations and round table discussions. Academic presentations should be limited to 20 minutes, with five minutes for questions, which leaves five minutes for a changeover with the next speaker.

You want as much variety and diversity in topics as possible to make the conference interesting and rewarding. And you want proper presentations, not presenters reading out papers!

© Robert Buckmaster 2022