Below are some organizational hints for workshops and conferences. A summary of common tasks and who-does-what is on a separate page.
Reducing Conference Costs
Conference and travel costs are becoming significant concerns as research budgets are stretched. Below are some suggestions on how to reduce conference expenditures and encourage transparency, some of which are probably best implemented by societies and conference steering committees.
- Get advice on "cheap" cities; Minneapolis in winter (site of many IETF meetings) was chosen for this reason. Nobody can accuse the attendees of a junket in that case, either. The cheapest cities are often 2nd tier cities (i.e., not London, New York, Paris, Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo) served by multiple air carriers, in the off-season. Some 2nd tier cities can be expensive if they are a "fortress hub", i.e., mainly served by one major air carrier. For example, Cincinnati (Delta) and Dallas (American) have this reputation. These cities usually offer a range of hotel options within walking or mass-transit distance, while still being easy to reach without three or four air-hops or extensive bus and train trips (or car rentals). Site proposals should provide an indication whether hotel options below $100 are within easy reach.
- Conferences should announce their rough fees at the time of submission, not after papers have been accepted. That way, authors can decide whether or not to submit a paper to a $1000/attendee conference.
- To avoid suspicions of price gouging, have conferences publish their budget, at least in outline form.
- Ask attendees whether they prefer the social event or lunches to be 'a la carte', i.e., as an option. Making the social event or lunches an option reduces the cost, but also creates two classes of attendees and may make it more difficult for participants to expense the social event.
- Establish a rough conference fee guideline (something like "should be no more than $200/day"), and make it part of the society/SIG approval process.
- Consider whether combining multiple events in one venue can help reduce travel expenses. ACM SIGCOMM and IEEE Infocom are doing this to some extent, for example.
- Consider two-day instead of three-day events, e.g., with the help of poster sessions.
- Conference steering committees should establish clear guidelines on volunteer (chairs, steering committee, staff) and keynote speaker reimbursements/honoraria.
- Where feasible, consider universities or research labs for hosting events. However, many research labs are outside major cities, making transportation more challenging and expensive.
- Check for overlength and violation of double-blind submission immediately after deadline, to avoid the unpleasant decision as to whether to reject papers on formal violations at the TPC meeting, after review effort has been expended.
- Try to discover out-of-area submissions as soon as possible.
- Keep a master time (spread) sheet that contains for each room slot:
- Room number, session title and number of participants;
- Power strips?
- White boards and flip charts?
- Special A/V needs, such as audio output from laptop;
- Food and status (caterer, when ordered, by whom);
- Room monitor (incl. cell phone number, if used)?
All local arrangement personnel, including the general chair, should have a copy of this document.
- Collect slides from all presenters ahead of time, to avoid the delay of laptop switching and dealing with projector synchronization issues. However, if a PowerPoint presentation was prepared on MacOS, it will likely not display properly on a Windows laptop. In particular, included images may not show up.
- Consider getting name tag holders that have pins, clips and stretch cords. Suppliers include Name Badge Productions
- If you're using lanyards for name tags: Create name tags that show the name on both sides, as name tags on lanyards tend to flip and then just show the blank side. You can easily do this by printing two copies of the name tags.
- Show the speaker a laptop with time remaining. (EDAS has a function to display a web page with a count-down timer.)
- During on-line registration, record food choices and preferences (kosher, vegetarian, ...).
- Install a printer at the registration desk, to print or re-print badges and receipts, including for on-site registrations, as well as airline boarding passes.
- People will pay with all kinds of monetary instruments, including wire transfer and money orders. For wire transfers, make sure that the attendee adds the necessary bank fees as they are sometimes subtracted from the amount.
- Staff registration desk with lots of help during the peak registration period. Plan on about one staff person for every 50-70 attendees.
- Do you want to provide an attendee list with affiliation and email addresses?
- Consider setting up a mailing list for the duration of the conference only, to announce last-minute changes or provide restaurant hints.
- Every attendee, including those with payment problems or other issues, should get an envelope, possibly specially marked or of a different color. The registration chair then deals only with those problem cases.
- Keep stack of extra conference programs as attendees will lose theirs.
- Make sure that the alphabet range for each registration line is easily visible.
- You can use colored dots on the name badge for admission to special events such as tutorials, workshops, banquets and the like. Place the same dot on the door sign and use the same color code on the program so that the student volunteer and attendee can see where they are supposed (and not supposed) to be.
- Provide networked terminals so that people can easily register on-site.
- Print badges on cardstock and provide lanyards.
- Offer instructions on hailing a cab, so that attendees don't get into gypsy cabs by accident. Not everyone will be familiar with local transportation arrangements.
- Provide maps with restaurants and other establishments (Kinko's, etc.).
- Provide local information (department newsletter, brochure).
- Provide instructions for using wireless network.
- Offer a telephone number to leave messages at, possibly at the registration desk.
- Keep special generic press passes, e.g., in a different color, given to attendees with press credentials.
- Provide a continuous supply of (hot) coffee and ice water in the back of the room, not just during the breaks.
- Provide healthy alternatives, such as fruit or yoghurt, not just cookies or bagels.
- Label any food items that contain nuts, peanuts or other common, non-obvious allergens. Generally, labeling food for buffets is a nice gesture, as participants may observe dietary restrictions such as avoiding meat, shell fish or pork.
- Consider serving ice cream during one break.
- Who is going to clean up after each break?
- If the social event or banquet is not within walking distance, provide bus transportation.
- Almost invariably, some fraction of the attendees will not show up for the social event, so modest overbooking is reasonable.
- Plan on at least one volunteer for each parallel session, plus one "floater" that covers if a volunteer does not show up.
- A single person should be in charge of volunteers, preferably not the local arrangements chair.
- Typically, student volunteers work one day of the conference.
- Volunteers should wear some kind of brightly-colored "staff" T-shirt or be otherwise easily identifiable.
- For large conferences spanning multiple venues, it is helpful if volunteers have walkie-talkies so that they can easily get in touch with the registration desk.
- Upload all presentations to a single laptop or PC. Quickly test that all presentations work, e.g., that parts of the presentation are not cut off or that fonts are missing. For example, Mac PowerPoint presentations seem to include GIF files in ways that requires QuickTime.
- Check audio for laptop presentations.
- Use Helix/Real for streaming events. Capture slides using VGA-to-FireWire converter, such as the Canopus unit. Make sure that you can handle the likely number of attendees.
- Check whether any presenters will be remote, e.g., through a conference bridge. (We have used a SIP conference bridge, with a soft client on the presenter PC.) Test audio levels and echo before-hand.
- Provide at least one, preferably two, handheld microphones for audience questions.
- Designate a volunteer "runner" that takes the audience microphone to the person asking a question.
- Check all microphone levels, including audio levels in the back of the room when the lavalier microphone is clipped to shirt.
- Keep spare batteries for wireless microphones on hand.
- Provide a remote control for slides, so that presenters do not have to stand right next to the laptop.
- European poster formats are A0 (841 x 1189 mm or 33.1 x 46.8 inches) or A1 (594 x 841 or 23.4 by 33.1 inches), while typical US foam core boards have a size of either 24x36" (2 x 3'), 30x40", 32x40", 40x60" (3.3 x 5') or 48x60" (4 x 5'). Generally, A0 or 30x40 should be sufficient for most conferences and can handle A0 posters.
- Upload presentations at least day before presentation, using the EDAS presentation upload facility, instead of people fiddling with laptop connections. (With that facility, all presentation files are gathered into a single zip file, sorted by session.) Test all presentations. If laptops need to be connected, do it during the Q&A period, to avoid dead time. You may want to provide a video switch, so that presenters can quickly change between the conference laptop and a personal laptop.
- Senior members of the community (e.g., TPC members) should keep track of speaker time, as students will lack the authority to yank a senior faculty off the stage when he drones on. Provide some kind of visual indication of time remaining, such as large printed sheets or a countdown clock.
- Each room should have a sign with listing of events for the conference.
- Put directional signs near elevators and entrances; consider adding pointers to rest rooms.
- Work with campus to install signs on wooden posts.
- Provide power strips for meeting rooms, particularly for TPC meeting and tutorials.
- Remember whiteboard or flip chart pens, if applicable.
- Provide a laser pointer.
- If best paper awards and volunteer recognition certificates are to be prepared, plan on bringing appropriate paper and templates.
- ACM ideas for conferences
- Have session chairs read the final papers and provide editorial input.
- Allow all author, not just those of short papers, to present their work as a poster.