How to organise an event - ESRC

Contents

Timeline for event planning

Your timeline will depend on the size and format of your event. This is a general guide to help you work out what you need to do, when.

A year to four months before the event

You should:

  • set objectives for the event
  • prepare a budget
  • decide whether the event is to be free or charged-for
  • approach and confirm speakers, including informing them of the proposed date of event and content of the programme. Do this before confirming the date. Send a speakers’ requirements form and a letter of confirmation once they have agreed
  • approach and confirm the chair
  • begin to collate information on the speakers and chair to include short biographies and head and shoulder photographs
  • draft the event programme
  • consider the format of the event and room layout (for example theatre style or cabaret style)
  • find a suitable venue, bearing in mind location, accessibility, room style and number of breakout rooms required
  • liaise with the venue regarding bookings and confirm arrangements
  • decide on the backdrop required for the main conference room and breakout rooms. This should include your branding. If your project has ESRC funding, you should include ESRC branding and follow the guidance on acknowledging the funder
  • prepare a delegate booking and registration system
  • identify your audio visual requirements – for example, PowerPoint or video,  recording the presentations. If appropriate, book an audiovisual company and give them the draft programme. If you’re using a conference organiser, they can do this for you
  • provisionally book hotel accommodation for speakers and delegates who have to travel from far away
  • if required, book a conference organising company to handle all or some of the event management
  • if required, liaise with a marketing company about promoting the event.

Before setting a date you should consider:

  • religious days, school or university holidays
  • any other events that could attract the same audience
  • avoiding Mondays or Fridays if inviting MPs
  • if the dates of the event need to be fixed around the key speaker.

Three months before the event

You should:

  • find out the speakers’ requirements and inform the audiovisual company, if you are using one
  • decide whether you will need a roving microphone or other top table microphones
  • finish and send the finalised programme to print, including the delegate booking form if you are providing a physical copy
  • develop a large database of potential delegates, approximately ten times the number of delegate places you have
  • finalise marketing for the event, including leaflets, email alerts and information on the website
  • send out marketing literature in waves, inviting the most important and delegates first
  • decide if you will be having a post-conference report – you may need to ask speakers to supply their presentations or papers in advance
  • if required, provisionally book sign language interpreters or lip speakers
  • if required, book a transcription service or video streaming service if required.

Two months before the event

You should:

  • review the budget to ensure it is on track
  • confirm technical requirements and equipment with the venue – for example flipcharts, overhead projectors or PowerPoint
  • draft a list of the equipment that will need to be couriered to the event and the earliest date you can send this – some larger venues will provide labels and strict instructions, including when and where items will be stored prior to, and after, the event
  • liaise with the caterers
  • assess the response to the first wave of marketing literature and send to a second wave of potential delegates, if necessary
  • begin compiling a list of delegates and any special requirements they may have
  • confirm the need for sign language interpreters or lip speakers.

One month before the event

You should:

  • finalise menus and catering arrangements
  • finalise hotel room requirements
  • confirm and finalise audio visual requirements
  • send final details to delegates including location maps and the programme
  • draft the staffing list for the main conference and any workshop or breakout sessions
  • keep speakers informed of progress, for example, give them the revised programme and a copy of the guest list
  • send the chairperson their brief, along with a list of delegates and speakers’ biographies
  • finalise the details of any post-conference report – are you hiring an outside writer or asking speakers to edit their papers for the report?
  • if you have more than 100 delegates, begin to compile delegate packs.

One week before the event

You should:

  • ensure all printed materials are ready, including signage
  • contact all speakers and the chair
  • prepare name badges, programmes, menus and signage
  • if you have less than 100 delegates, begin to compile delegate packs
  • notify caterers of final numbers and special dietary requirements of any individuals
  • contact all parties involved – the conference organiser, venue, audiovisual company, speakers and chair – to ensure they are clear about all aspects of the event.

A key task will be to brief the staff working on the day, ensuring they know their specific responsibilities, for example, who will:

  • be responsible for the roving microphone
  • lead late arrivals to their places
  • look after the chairperson and speakers.

On the day

To ensure you have everything you need on the day of the event, it is a good idea to create a checklist of items. See our sample checklist.

It is helpful to break the day into different tasks.

Registration

You should:

  • set up the registration desk well in advance of the registration time
  • ensure the desk is long enough to accommodate all name badges and delegates’ packs. It is useful to arrange badges alphabetically where possible as it makes them quicker to find
  • provide enough staff to ensure that delegates do not have to queue during the peak registration period
  • keep a record of who has arrived and collected their delegate pack and name badge, and who is still to come
  • keep speakers’ badges separate, and colour-code them to make it clear who the speakers are
  • provide badge-making facilities at the desk so that badges can be issued on the day if necessary, for example, if a delegate sends a colleague instead.

Signage

Check signage and place at all strategic points to direct and inform delegates.

Signs should highlight:

  • the registration desk
  • cloakrooms
  • toilets
  • refreshments and meals
  • main conference room and rooms for other speakers or workshops
  • reminders to switch off mobile phones
  • important messages, if required
  • reserved areas or spaces, if required
  • where to return information or materials, including questionnaires, if required.

Audiovisual equipment set up

You should:

  • arrive at least one hour before delegates to check that the audiovisual equipment is set up correctly before speakers and delegates arrive
  • assign a member of staff to show speakers how the audiovisual equipment works.

Welcoming speakers

Speakers should be:

  • assigned a member of staff to look after them – offering them refreshments and introducing them to key people
  • introduced to each other and to the chair
  • introduced to the conference manager and to the audiovisual organiser to ensure they know where to go if they have any queries
  • offered the opportunity to see their slides on screen and to test out the audiovisual equipment
  • reminded to keep to time.

Welcoming the chair

The chair should be:

  • assigned a member of staff to look after them – offering them refreshments and introducing to key speakers
  • introduced to the conference manager and to the audio visual organiser to ensure they know where to go if they have any queries
  • offered the opportunity to see their slides on screen and to test out the audiovisual equipment
  • given a copy of the chair’s brief and talked through it in detail.

Welcoming the media

You should:

  • give journalists name badges and media packs on arrival. If appropriate, assign a member of staff such as a press officer to liaise with them
  • discuss any special arrangements in advance – for example, photographers may like to stage photographs of the key speakers talking at the podium before the event, rather than having to stay for the whole day
  • reserve seats for key journalists and leave space at the back of the room for TV crews, if invited
  • if you are expecting a large number of media to attend, ensure you have professional press officers to help organise interviews and photoshoots
  • put aside a quiet room for interviews, if required. This must be clearly labelled so that delegates do not disturb the interview.

Welcoming delegates

You should:

  • ensure delegates are properly registered and supplied with name badges
  • arrange for a member of staff to stay at the registration desk throughout the morning to handle late arrivals, and another to usher them to their seats between presentations
  • consider reserving the back row of chairs for latecomers to avoid them having to disrupt the audience when finding seats.

Feedback

You can gather feedback on the day of the event to:

  • establish whether you have met your objectives for the conference
  • get the audience opinion of how the conference was organised and whether their needs were met. This will help you to decide how to take forward future programmes
  • identify areas where improvements can be made for future events.

You should:

  • provide printed evaluation forms in the delegate packs or consider whether to provide a link to an online evaluation form, which can also be emailed to delegates after the event
  • if providing paper forms, get the chair to remind delegates to fill out their form before closing. Staff should be on hand to pick up the forms on the delegates’ way out. Alternatively, a clearly signed box for the return of the forms should be made available from exit points.

After the event

To wrap up an event, you need to:

  • evaluate the event, collating all the feedback forms to assess the success of the event against the original objectives. Decide whether any further follow-up work is required
  • thank the chair and speakers for their time and give them some feedback on the day
  • thank the chair and speakers after the event by email or letter and give them feedback from the evaluation forms
  • send out a press release and photographs to key journalists who expressed an interest in the event but were unable to attend. Provide them with contact details for key speakers so that they can write a post-conference news story or commission a feature based on one of the speaker’s presentations
  • consider publishing a post-conference report, including transcripts or summaries of the key speakers’ presentations. The report could be sent directly to delegates and others who were unable to attend and made available on your website. Do not leave this too long after the event
  • ensure any equipment is ready for pick-up from the venue by a pre-arranged courier service, and in accordance with the venue’s instructions
  • decide if any further actions are required to meet your objectives.

Last updated: 31 August 2021

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