We were asked by students involved in our INSPIRE scheme how they should go about setting up student-led seminars and events.
Together with Nathan Cantley, a medical student involved in research events in Belfast, we provide some pointers...
Target your agenda to your audience’s needs
Think about your potential audience and what they would like to know. Scoping widely and making your event as relevant as possible will maximise the number of people who want to come. What you might think would be a good idea may not be true for your actual intended audience, so canvass and listen. All organisations that run projects, events and activities will scope first.
Even if you set the date for your conference a year in advance, start organising as soon as possible. There are always unexpected last minute tasks that might trip you up if you haven’t planned ahead. Have you thought about AV, are your volunteers certain to turn up? Printed out signage? Written speaker biographies? Have you sent reminders?! Create a project planning list of what, when, where and who.
Be aware of how quickly diaries fill up
Whether you’re setting a date or recruiting a keynote speaker, always check what else is happening in your university, your local area or national conferences in your field. This will ensure that your event won’t conflict with another, and that your chosen speaker won’t be tied up elsewhere. Depending on the nature of the event, you may want to contact speakers up to a year ahead.
Reach out to other likeminded organisations for help and use your networks
It’s highly likely that there is a whole host of other groups of individuals working in the same field as your conference or advocating the same issues. Reach out to them at an early stage, as they could potentially help with a whole host of things, such as sponsorship, promotion, workshop organisers or speaker suggestions. They can also signpost you to other people or organisations, even if they themselves can’t help.
Get help early on
Make sure you have a strong team around you to help with the different tasks involved. You can only do so much on your own and different people will have different strengths. Don’t forget, if nothing else, you will need a big team of people to help you on the day, ferrying people between rooms and keeping everything running smoothly.
Do find sponsors to help cover costs, but make sure they fit with your event
You will likely need to find sponsorship to help cover the costs of your meeting but make sure you do this thoughtfully. Do their aims broadly match yours? Will they ask for too much? Try working your networks to find financial support. Your local INSPIRE lead will be a person to seek advice from.
Promote your event!
One of the most important things to consider early is event promotion. People are busy and need plenty of notice. Make sure that you promote in waves across a range of channels (websites, social media, emails to medical schools, relevant societies and journals such as the student BMJ). Create an attention grabbing top-line message to draw interest.
Don’t forget incentives
Besides an interesting and dynamic agenda (and food!) there is nothing that attracts people to attend more than getting something to take away. This could be anything from CPD (Continuing Professional Development) to a simple certificate, or a list of contacts to network with peers and science leaders. Make sure you advertise these clearly to hook delegates.
Always cater for catering
It doesn’t matter whether you are booking a meeting for 20 people or 200, catering is typically going to be one of your biggest expenses. In addition to a great agenda, food is a good incentive to encourage and maintain attendance throughout the day so make sure you factor it into your budget! Some supermarkets (such as M & S or Waitrose) can offer event catering at an agreeable price and may even sponsor some of your costs.
Don’t give up!
Conference organising is exhausting but also very rewarding. There are lots of things like participant packs and website malfunctions that can provide challenges to overcome, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed to begin with. But don’t be disheartened, and stick with it – everyone has to start somewhere. Following the tips above will help ensure you have a great conference!
Interested in reaching further? Read more top tips on our Learning Hub.