Spotlight on Meetings and Conventions

Organizing a scientific event? Approach it like a research project!

Scientific conferences, tradeshows and multi-day workshops provide an invaluable opportunity for researchers and scientific professionals alike to explore new ideas and network with peers. With many scientific groups and associations, researchers themselves are called upon to organize events in their field; while the opportunity to engage with their respective communities and be a symbolic vanguard in the latest research, organizing large scale events—which can welcome hundreds, if not thousands, of delegates from all over the world—can be perceived as a daunting task. 

As many researchers have told us over the years: “I’m a scientist, not a meeting planner!” Here are our top 6 tips to organizing a successful scientific event, where your topic and agenda remain at the heart—and the planning made simple!

1 Don’t go at it alone: ask peers for help

When you’re asked or have volunteered to organize your community’s upcoming conference or tradeshow, this doesn’t mean you should be left to your own devices.

As you set up your organizing committee, make sure you select people who have either experience in specific event planning tasks or are ready to help you find experts that you need. For example, try to find peers who can reach out to potential sponsors. Keep in mind, however, that your organizing committee should be limited to a set number of people so that you avoid inefficiencies and communications issues.

2 Don’t go it alone: ask local representatives for help

With regards to your event’s on-site logistics, rely on your venue’s representatives to take care of planning and execution. This doesn’t mean blindly off-loading responsibilities; however, putting them into the hands of professionals that are used to dealing with catering, audio-visual set-ups, and more, can be a great help so that you can remain focused on where you bring the most value-added: the subjects you’ll cover and relationship building with speakers and sponsors.

Your best bet? Verify if your host city has any clubs or ambassador circles that help event planners organize conferences or tradeshows in your region. These organizations will not only help you prepare event bids and organize your event but they can also help with funding. For example, Québec City’s Ambassador’s Club has been paramount in assisting local meeting and convention ambassadors welcome major international societies and associations in Québec City.

3 Double up on planning

As with research or any scientific project, never underestimate how much time it takes to plan. Depending on the size of your event, its scope, and the delegates, speakers and sponsors you’re trying to attract, aim for at least a year in advance. This will allow plenty of time to select your meeting venue and set up affordable accommodations and transport options. In addition, you’ll have enough leeway to properly call for, review and accept scientific submissions.

4 Develop a well-balanced agenda

With scientific conferences and tradeshows, the subject matter is obviously at the core of the matter. In order to enhance the experience for all types of delegates and age groups, try to add an effective mix of senior and junior researchers. The former will naturally add seasoned depth and scope to your topics; however, junior presenters can add a new dynamic and perspective.

In addition, even though your event agenda is packed with thought-provoking and stellar content, delegates will want to unwind after-hours and explore the host city. A little “play” never hurt for deepening relationships between peer: Off-site activities and organized tours can be a great way for event goers to network in a more informal setting 

5 Market your event

All event planners agree: you’ll increase the success of your event and sponsor satisfaction if you relentlessly focus on marketing. Your marketing plan should be developed and kicked into gear at the same time as your initial planning kick-off period.

There is a wide array of affordable ways to garner interest in your event for delegates, sponsors and speakers: email campaigns, social media, event website and blog, PR with trade media, and through the efforts of your field’s official association or society.

When you partner with sponsors, they can be of tremendous assistance in reaching out to key influencers to gain greater visibility and boost registrations. So that the partnership is a win-win for both parties, make sure your visibility plan provides enough exposure to you sponsors—all while requiring them to do more than just offer money. Get them involved in marketing your event!

6 Keep the buzz going

Make the results of your scientific conference or tradeshow last once it’s over. If applicable, negotiate with journals or trade magazines way in advance to publish proceedings or keynotes. Leverage your email lists, event blog and social media platforms to foster continuous engagement with your delegates, both shortly after and ongoing after the event. For example, can you regularly keep your event goers, conference speakers, et al. informed on updates on the topics you covered?

And as much as you’ll want a bit of respite once the event is over, make sure you discuss with your peers as soon as possible the date, topics and locations for your next conference or tradeshow. By promoting next year’s event, you’ll stoke delegates’ (current and future) interest in the long run!

Organizing a scientific event need not be (ahem) rocket science. The key is to plan in advance, partner with local experts, and never miss an opportunity for marketing. Think of event planning as taking on a new research project—and enjoy the new experience!

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