Notes on Planning a Conference
The following notes are offered as informal advice based on the
experience of recent conference organisers, and are intended to
provide first-time conference organisers with a list of practical
issues they might need to consider. It is not an exhaustive list
of the issues or the solutions, so be prepared for anything, and
if you come up with innovative solutions, please send them to the
Chair of the Events Committee for inclusion in an updated version
of these notes.
Finance – general
- If there is more than one person involved in the organisation
of a conference it may save confusion if at the outset one member
of the team is designated as having authority to authorise expenditure
- Your institution will probably be able to establish a conference
account for you, through which all receipts and payments may be
- Bank charges on foreign payments can be very substantial; you
can minimize these by insisting that all payments are made in
sterling by a cheque or international bankers order drawn on a
UK clearing bank.
- Your institution may be able to accept credit card payments,
but check which cards it can accept and what fee is payable on
each transaction (probably about 2.5%). This should be passed
on to delegates, and is most conveniently done in the form of
a flat rate fee (which you might calculate in the above case as
2.5% of the maximum anticipated delegate payment).
Finance - Budget
- At an early stage you should prepare a draft budget based on
realistic estimates of the costs to be incurred and the likely
income from various sources (see below).
- When obtaining estimates/quotations for a facility or service,
make sure that you have ascertained whether VAT is payable, and
if it is, remember to include this in your budget.
- A contingency element calculated as at least 10% of total estimated
costs is advisable
- Apart from the Conference Fee, income can be generated by:
- charging exhibitors for display space at the conference
- charging for the inclusion of publicity material in delegate
- Refreshments, meals and accommodation are usually charged at
- You may wish to set a deadline for bookings after which a late
fee is payable. This can help minimise last-minute bookings.
- Sources of funding for music conferences include:
Some of these will have only limited funds available. Contact
them and ascertain their schedule, and closing dates for applications
at an early date.
- Your own institution will probably be willing to offer a grant
or guarantee against loss.
Advertising & Call for Papers
- E-lists and the websites of relevant professional bodies and
societies offer a cost-free method of contact your target constituency.
- Flyers included in the regular mailings of relevant professional
bodies and societies are useful, but in many cases, a fee will
be charged for this service.
- The call for papers should outline:
- the topics that would be appropriate
- the planned formats for sessions (papers, round-tables,
workshops, lecture-recitals, poster sessions)
- deadline for receipt of proposals
- date by which you hope to be able to announce the provisional
- To encourage well-focussed and concise abstracts, you might
- desirable elements (e.g. title, outline of research context,
statement of methodology, and summary of findings to be presented)
- a word limit (say 250 words)
- Ensure that receipt of proposals is acknowledged and that the
proposers are informed of the outcome of the selection process
as soon as possible.
- If in the case of speakers you intend to waive some or all
of the delegate fees and charges, ensure that this is reflected
in all your budget calculations: you will either have to raise
sponsorship/grants to cover these costs, or will have to set the
conference fee for paying delegates at a level that will subsidise
the waived fees.
Formal Invitations and Attendance Certificates
- Speakers from abroad may require a formal invitation on headed
paper to assist with applications for visas and immigration.
- All participants (including those who are not speaking) may
require a formal certificate of attendance, since employment applications
in some parts of the world require these.
- These can be contained in a single proforma containing both
the formal invitation, and a counterfoil to be signed or stamped
- Organisers should send the invitation and certificate to every
delegate alongside acknowledgement of booking.
- It is a great advantage if the various venues to be used for
the conferences are within a short walking distance of one another.
- If longer distances are involved ensure that travel times are
allowed for within the timetable.
- If you wish to offer accommodation to delegates you may have
to reserve a block of bookings and pay a deposit well in advance.
- Check that your institution is able to supply all the a/v and
other equipment you will require, and whether the conference will
have to pay a hire fee for its use.
- Consider whether you wish to make sound/video recordings of
- Even if you are not planning to charge for the event, it may
be a good idea to require those planning to attend to register
or apply for tickets in advance, as you will probably need some
idea of likely numbers for catering and booking of rooms.