Consultation : Organisation And Interruptions

My company is member of an industry federation and it is our turn to organise the federation’s bienial conference for around 300 to 500 people. I have drawn the short straw and am the project manager for this. I have never organised conference before and wondered if you had some helpful hints?

Don’t underestimate the size of the job you are about to carry out. This is big deal. You need to make sure you have enough time to plan and organise. You should really start about two years out.
First identify key theme. This sets the scene and attracts people to come. Then work through range of sub themes that will create an effective framework.
Once you have done this start thinking about speakers and topics. You will need some keynote speakers. These are people who are acknowledged experts in their field and are able to share information of high value for participants.
You will need to target these people early and identify their costs. Then you are ready to finalise the location of the conference, and organise the rest of the speakers and events. Organising speakers can be approached in two ways. You can shoulder tap people whom you feel would be appropriate or you can send out list of topics to your federation members and ask for volunteers. The second approach is easier provided you can get the quality you need. The likelihood is that you will need to do both.
You also need to work out detailed budget to keep the conference on track for at least break-even situation. If possible hold an industry exhibition of suppliers and services in conjunction with the conference. This can turn tidy profit with the rental of exhibition floor space and subsidise the main conference.
Do hire professional conference organiser. It costs money but is well worth it. The organiser will manage logistics such as advertising, venue, bookings, lighting, sound, and presentation equipment and will make sure the conference runs smoothly on the day. Ensure the programme has mix of light and shade. Have something first thing in the morning to wake people up and also after lunch to keep them engaged. It is good idea to start each day with one of the keynote speakers and also to finish the conference with widely respected keynote speaker. This makes sure people turn up and don’t leave early.
Remember to give people chance to network as this is 50% of the benefit of attending conference. In particular hold dinner with fun theme aligned to the conference theme. For many people this can be highlight.
Finally, make all speaker notes and presentation slides available to attendees on the conference website.

I never seem to have enough time. I get so many interruptions that I end up chasing my tail every day. Can you help please?

Time is commodity that has the properties of water in leaky sink. If you don’t keep an eye on it it just drips away.
There are some very simple things you can do that can make big difference. The obvious one is to keep prioritised short list of the things you have to do. Don’t let it get too long. maximum of about 10 items is enough. Review it regularly as this will reinforce what you need to do.
Another simple thing to do is work on the action you least want to do first. This will get it out of the way and make the rest easier. You clearly have to deal with issues day to day as they arise but don’t make interruptions priority. Deal with few things that come up and then go back to your task list and get on with the one with the highest priority.
Consider, too, how to manage your emails. This is big time consuming issue for many people in today’s world. It is amazing how many people seem to keep all their emails on their system and not clear them. If you scan your incoming emails and prudently delete the ones that are not relevant to you this will save you time. If you are brave enough you can also delete all of your sent and received emails and just hold important ones on file but not in your email system. This will enable you to clearly see what is really happening and again save you time and distraction.
Another key issue is to let other people do things. If you observe people who say they don’t have enough time you will notice that they often tend to get involved in things when they could in fact leave them to other people to get on with. I guess this comes from normal human reaction of wanting to be involved and make sure things go well but you need to know when to let go.
So without getting hugely theoretical about it there are some very simple actions you can take to extend your available time.

Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, FAIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

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