Post 3 of 15
Once the boss has agreed to the idea of organising a conference at your workplace, it is time to perform a feasibility study. While I *felt* that we could organise a conference at BIS, we needed to ensure that we indeed could. Here are the fifteen criteria we looked at to determine for sure whether BIS would be a good venue to organise a technology conference.
As mentioned in an earlier post, organising a conference is an extremely time consuming process. In our case the vast majority of the organising happened in the evenings, well outside of our contractual hours. We had a team of 3 people organising the conference, and I have estimated it took approximately 900 man-hours to organise the event. Some organisations have people or teams dedicated to organising conferences, we didn’t have this luxury and we still had our ‘day-jobs’ to take care of. This is the biggest hurdle to organising a conference.
- Is there a dedicated, knowledgeable and reliable team to organise the event?
- Will it cost ‘extra’ to get team members to work on the project?
Whilst it is very easy to setup a system to take care of registrations, it may be more complicated to collect money in compliance with accounting requirements of the country you setup your event in. Depending on the way your organisation is setup (non-profit, for-profit, etc.) collecting VAT (Value Added Tax) can be an issue with registrants from other countries (even more complicated if you have a split local/EU/other). This is another very important hurdle to look into. If this is insurmountable, you may wish to consider free alternatives for delegates, such as organising an ‘Edcamp’.
- Is there technical know-how in the team to setup a complex online registration system?
- How will payments be handled?
- What are the taxation requirements in the organising country?
- Would it be worth setting up a company just for the needs of the event? (dismantling it later)
- Is the organisation allowed to collect payments for such events?
Note: ECIS took care of all of the above for us.
Once the compliance hurdles have been cleared, it is time to decide on pricing and the different registration options, such as early-bird, regular delegate, presenter, exhibitor, pre-conference, special guest, etc.
3. Purchasing and accounting
In the same vain as the point above, it is very important to check with your accountant whether they can support your event (technically, or in terms of time). For example, BIS financial setup makes it a little bit complicated to purchase goods and services from outside the European Union. Purchasing for such an event would take time and it is important to check with your organisation if it can support it.
- Does accountant have enough time to help with the event?
- Does accountant have necessary technical knowledge to help with the event?
- Can the organisation manage possible cash-flow issues?
- Is the purchasing process cumbersome? Can it be somewhat relaxed for the needs of the event?
Note: ECIS took care of all of the above for us.
4. Competing events
It is important to check when and where events directly competing with yours will take place. There seems to be trade fairs, conferences and other large events organised throughout the year on any topic, in most regions of the world. We organised our event in March, and quite a few exhibitors told us it is a very busy month for them, when they have to make choices as to which event they attend.
Choosing a date may also be dictated by events internal to your organisation. For us, it would have been impossible to organise the conference after April, as IB Diploma Programme examinations were going to take place until June. It might also be worth checking other events your organisation might have planned during dates you have earmarked, for example sports tournaments.
- Are there any other events dealing with the same niche/market segment, in the geographical vicinity or similar time of year?
- Are there any other events, which may affect the number of delegates attending event? (e.g. IBO training, etc.)
- Are there any events taking place internally, which may affect possible organisation of event?
We organised our event in Greater Munich, Germany in March so accommodation wasn’t likely going to be an issue. However, it could have been an issue if we’d organised our event in October, as most hotels are completely booked up for Oktoberfest. Here are some of the questions we had to answer in the early planning stages:
- Are there other large events might affect hotel availability on or near chosen dates (e.g. football game, sporting event, concerts, etc.)? Note: accommodation could be an issue in smaller cities, where even small events can put a strain on hotel reservations.
- Are hotels in the area affordable for target market?
- Does staff in local hotels speak English well enough to communicate with delegates from abroad?
BIS is not well-served by public transportation, so we knew from day-one that we needed to plan for our own transportation. We identified three main transportation needs to be fulfilled, and put together a list of questions for each item.
- Getting to the city/region where the conference is organised
- Is the airport well-connected with others around the region?
- Would it be expensive for delegates to reach the city where the event is organised?
- Is the city well-served by train connections and motorways?
- Getting to conference accommodation
- Are there direct public transport links with the airport?
- Are there direct public transport links with the city-centre?
- Are the connection frequent/affordable?
- Would taxis be an affordable travel option?
- Getting to conference from accommodation venue
- Can public transportation be used at all?
- Can 50-seater buses be rented for the duration of the event (including Sundays)?
- Will people who drive be able to reach the venue easily, including parking?
- Will taxis be available throughout the event?
Our team viewed catering as ‘very important’, as we have all attended good conferences that were let down by the food options on offer. Before organising for catering, quite a few questions were raised:
- How many delegates can fit in the cafeteria area at once? (this has helped us determine our maximum number of tickets for sale)
- How will the conference affect the normal operations of the organisation? For example, our pre-conference took place while school was in session.
- Can the provider cater for specific dietary needs (e.g. Halal, gluten-free, etc.)?
- Have the potential providers catered for such an event in the past?
- How will the caterer deal with waiting times when demand is at its peak?
- Can coffee and tea be provided throughout the conference?
Wifi was number one on our list of priorities. Aside from Wifi, a quick tech assessment helped us determine whether we could indeed host a technology conference.
- Can the external Internet bandwidth cope with the demands of the event?
- Can the internal network infrastructure cope with the number and variety of connected devices? (e.g. DHCP, different OSes, etc.)
- Is there technical know-how in the organisation to plan for and execute network enhancements?
- Is there technical support in the organisation to help planning and delivering event?
- Are there enough projectors/large TVs in the organisation to support multiple simultaneous presentations?
- Is access to electrical sockets plentiful? (this one might sound weird, but check your common areas and you may be surprised!)
- Does the organisation own enough leads and cables to support presenters with their own computers/tablets? (including power strips and extension leads)
Rooming, and scheduling in general deserves its very own post as it is a rather complex puzzle to solve. However, there are some questions that need answering before moving on to the next stages of planning.
- What is the maximum capacity of room for main keynote event?
- What is the maximum capacity of a ‘standard’ room?
- Do any of the rooms have furniture that may need to be swapped? E.g. small chairs and tables for ‘adult’ sized ones.
- How many rooms can be used simultaneously?
- Do any of the facilities mentioned above require prior booking? Are any already booked by any member of the community?
Some countries have very strict labour laws and will prevent employees from working over a certain number of hours weekly/monthly, or require employers to pay a premium for work at the weekend.
- What are the labour laws, especially concerning working at weekends?
- Does staff have a right to refuse to work outside of their contractual working hours?
- What extra compensation would be needed for overtime?
Some organisations may require extra insurance coverage when planning and organising a large event not comprising of community members.
- Who in the organisation is in charge of insurance?
- What are the local rules and regulations in terms of third-party liability when organising such an event?
- Do delegates need to apply for their own insurance (especially health insurance)?
- Would ‘hired’ equipment be insured by renter or organising company?
It is unlikely conferences and other large events are covered by regular contracts with third-party cleaning companies. This may incur extra cost, and extra coordination.
- Who will keep the common areas clean throughout the conference?
- Who will clean toilets before, during and after the event?
- What will happen to rooms used during the conference? Will they need to be cleaned between sessions? At the end of the day? End of the event?
13. Exhibition space
Having a space for sponsors and vendors to exhibit their product to delegates is important when organising a conference. It is a good idea to check at the early planning stages whether space can be made available.
It is possible that extra security is required when organising a conference. This was not the case for us, as the campus already has round-the-clock security measures in place but it is worth checking, as it could be a legal requirement, or a clause in an insurance contract. It could be a deal-breaker.
15. Other rules & regulations
There may be other restrictions, rules and regulations in your geographical area. Here are some of the items we had to keep in mind during the planning stages
- Fire code
- Affects placement of exhibitors, maximum number of delegates in the main keynote space, etc.)
- First aid
- A nurse or first-aid trained person may need to be present on site, throughout the duration of the event.
- In our case, a first-aid kit was to be available at all times, with a designated person in charge of it.
- It is possible delegates need to apply for visas to visit the country the conference is organised in. It may be a deterrent to your delegates if they need to apply for a visa.
- Access to computer network
- P2P file sharing of copyrighted materials may be illegal in organising country, and the organiser may be liable for penalties in case of transgression.
- Delegates may need to sign an agreement before being allowed on network.
In the next post I will be looking at project management and tools that we used to keep organised throughout the planning stages.