VI. Executing the Conference Plan
Execution of the conference plan begins with registration and ends with evaluation; in between is the process of conducting the conference. Up to this point, you have been planning and preparing for the conference. Now is the time it all pays off. But beware--many months of solid planning and preparation can be in vain if they are followed by poor execution.
Registration involves an exchange of information, and sometimes money, between the conference sponsor and conferees. It should be a fast, simple, and painless process. This is true for advance registration as well as onsite registration.
An advance registration form that is complicated, requests information for purposes other than the conference, or is time consuming to complete discourages people from using it. At minimum, it means a lot of time on the phone for you, the secretariat, and prospective participants. At worst, it simply means people won't respond.
Onsite registration leaves a lasting impression. It sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. At a one-day conference, you cannot make up for poor onsite registration.
Here are some precautions that can eliminate registration problems.
* Determine and request only the information you need. Don't use registration forms as a survey or to gather information for another project.
* Ask respondents to print answers.
* Avoid using multiple type faces on the form.
* Don't ask questions for which research is necessary to answer.
* Allow respondents to check off or circle answers instead of writing them out.
* Provide one office contact person and phone number to answer questions.
* Record all inquiries and review them with the secretariat.
* Review the registration form with the secretariat and train the secretariat before brochures and registration forms are distributed.
* Provide an incentive for early registration (discounted registration fees, conference mementos, inclusion in conference program book, etc.)
* Indicate "Do Not Send Cash. Make Checks Payable To:"
* If credit cards can be accepted, indicate which ones.
* Give an advance registration cutoff date.
* Indicate what the registration fee will cover--meals, conference materials, tours, etc.
* Specify that checks received will be deposited as soon as possible.
* Confirm registrations with a short letter. Confirm workshops and preregistered activities, list program changes, and provide reminders for ground transportation or hotel check-in.
Onsite Check-In and Registration
* Make a checklist for onsite supplies and equipment.
_____ Tacks, pins, tape (cellophane and duct)
_____ Stapler, staples, and staple removers
_____ Scissors _____ Glue _____ Paper clips
_____ Pens/pencils _____ Paper
_____ Receipt forms (in duplicate)
_____ Blank registration forms
_____ Laptop computer
_____ Extra tickets, blank name badges, ribbons, and programs
* Inspect the registration area. Give yourself time to adjust to the unexpected.
* Check the registration area for proper lighting and ventilation.
* Be sure the registration area creates a flow of traffic. You want people to stop, register, and move on (to coffee, the opening session, etc.).
* Have two registration areas: One for preregistration check-in and one for onsite registration.
* For large groups, create lines within each area--alphabetically or by membership number.
* Make conference check-in/registration one stop. Tickets, name badges, programs, etc., should be preassembled in one packet. Don't send conferees to the next station for tickets, the next station for badges, etc.
* Make directional signs legible and place them well.
* Be prepared if a large number of onsite registrations is expected. Either have clerks obtain information and complete registration cards for conferees, or give registration cards to registrants to complete at another table away from the registration area. Give away pens or have pens tied down at the table.
* Don't skimp on personnel. One registrar for every 100 conferees in the registration area is a minimum ratio; one per 50 is ideal.
* Meet with and train registration clerks prior to registration time. Provide written instructions and responsibilities. Make sure clerks know what information is needed and how to handle problems, press, VIP's, and money.
* Keep a "gofer" in the registration area.
* Establish policy for:
_____ Lost badges, tickets, programs, etc.
_____ "Lost" registrations.
_____ Conferees who want to establish a line of credit.
_____ Conferees who want their agency billed.
_____ Preregistered conferees who still owe money.
_____ Walk-ins at a conference closed to walk-in registrations.
_____ Handling money and collecting it.
* If computerized registration is used, make sure that at least two registration clerks are familiar with the hardware and software.
* Determine whether registration supplies and equipment need to be securely stored.
* Designate one person to be in charge of registration area.
* Provide information and message centers close to registration area.
* Contact the convention bureau to find out what services or staff they provide.
Conducting Sessions and Events
* Place signs at the doors of all workshops listing workshop number (if appropriate), workshop title, name of presenter, and workshop time.
* Place directional signs in lobbies, at end of hallways, and at the top and bottom of staircases; getting lost in a meeting facility is frustrating.
* Designate a person or several people to be in charge of signs.
Following the Agenda
* Changes to the agenda are sometimes unavoidable. Adjust when you must.
* Stay on schedule even when the agenda has been changed. Make sure monitors, introducers, and the person handling "housekeeping announcements" understand the importance of this.
* When possible, announce changes in the confirmation letter sent to conferees, at general sessions and workshops, and at the information center. Print and distribute flyers if the change warrants it.
During the conference, the coordinator's time is in great demand. The coordinator is busy with managing, overseeing, directing, deciding, greeting, meeting, and sometimes peacekeeping. An informed and trained staff of volunteers is necessary for a conference to run smoothly. Learn to delegate conference responsibilities and clearly communicate what needs to be accomplished. Here are some tips to follow:
* All staff should have a thorough knowledge of the conference program and the floor plan of the meeting facility.
* Utilize a staff of conference guides to direct traffic flow when necessary and to assist conferees in reaching their next destination. These staff are particularly useful during breaks and when seating a large group for a general session.
* Choose a person to serve as "session master/mistress" for each general session. This person should keep the session on schedule, introduce guest speakers, and keep things on a positive note. A speaker should not introduce the next speaker. The session master/mistress should open and close the session and can be seated at the platform or in the audience.
* Delegate housekeeping announcements to one person other than the coordinator or session master.
* Prepare a briefing book and provide copies to the sponsor, featured speakers, and "assistant coordinators." Briefing books contain event and scheduling details (sometimes confidential in nature). Times and places VIP's will arrive and depart, plus their assigned attendants; precise times, locations, setups, and assignments for general sessions and press conferences; media availability; the conference schedule and staff assignments; news; and any other details the recipient should know are typically found in briefing books. Guest speakers and heads of sponsoring agencies appreciate receiving briefings before they meet with conferees. Some may request briefings in advance of arriving at the site; be prepared.
* Assign workshop monitors for each workshop. Assignments may include:
* Check room setup and audiovisual requirements in advance.
* Greet presenter and attendees.
* Introduce and thank presenter.
* Distribute handouts.
* Distribute and collect evaluations.
* Keep workshop on schedule. Discreetly letting the speaker know from the back of the room when ten and five minutes remain in the session is one way to do this.
* Assist in taking attendance, if necessary.
* Assist in seating when the rooms gets crowded.
* Meet any other needs of the conferees.
* Make announcements.
* Provide ribbons to identify board members, speakers, guests, staff, sponsors, coordinator, etc.
* If using several floors of a meeting facility, assign floor supervisors.
* Use walkie-talkies or a paging system to communicate between supervisors and the coordinator/secretariat.
* Provide written instructions to monitors, supervisors, and others with detailed assignments.
* Set aside time for training or assign a supervisor to handle it.
* Assign an audiovisual coordinator to oversee audiovisual requirements. This coordinator's duties may include moving equipment between sessions from room to room, setting equipment in place, or working with contract audiovisual professionals as needed.
* Make all conference staff and volunteers feel important--they are!
Evaluation can give a qualitative measure of any or every component of the conference; this aspect alone gives it value. Additionally, evaluation can be a valuable tool in planning next year's conference.
In preparing this guide, one association conference planner we consulted said that he no longer evaluates his conference because "the only people who respond are those who want to gripe." In other words, unless conferees have something nice to say, he doesn't want to hear it.
Another nonevaluator stated that she was a veteran of seven years in planning her association's conferences and meetings. "I can immediately tell what is working and what isn't at my conferences" was her response to why she doesn't conduct a conference evaluation. Because her conferences are very successful overall, her conference planning committee permits her to work as an evaluation committee of one.
Assuming each of these planners has a valid reason for not conducting evaluation, still there are two good reasons why they should. First, many conferees want to express how they feel about something in which they have invested their time and often their money. This is particularly true for membership conferences at which people believe their input is a right of membership. Second, many speakers and presenters use evaluation to refine their presentations; this is particularly true for professional speakers.
There are a couple of methods that can be used for evaluation. One is to form an evaluation committee. This group is composed of approximately a dozen people, evenly divided between persons involved in organizing and planning the conference and others who are external conferees. There's nothing scientific about this structure, but it's intended to create a body that will provide an "honest assessment."
The most common method of evaluation is the use of an evaluation form. The form is designed as a questionnaire to gauge conferees' reactions to and thoughts of various components of the conference. The forms can be:
* Distributed and collected at the conference.
* Distributed at the conference and returned either at the conference or by mail.
* Distributed and returned by mail.
Mailing your evaluation forms to conferees involves an additional cost, but such a mailing often draws a more reflective response.
Evaluating every element of the conference probably isn't worth the effort it would take to do so. In addition, there comes a point at which completing an evaluation form becomes burdensome to the respondent. Most planners want to know what major elements of the conference worked, what didn't work, and what can be refined for the future.
Consider evaluating the following elements:
* Conference Planning Committee, Conference Coordinator, and conference staff.
* Conference site.
* Workshop topics and general session topics.
* Speakers and presenters.
* Special events (tours, receptions, etc.).
* Conference registration process.
* Menu selections for banquets.
* Clarity of conference purpose.
* Conference program book.
The design of the evaluation form should facilitate a quick and easy response and at the same time permit a more detailed reply. A sample workshop evaluation and a sample conference evaluation are provided in Appendixes H and I.
Back to Table of Contents