Thursday, June 10, 2010

But how do you plan a conference?

With one week left at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection, I feel like I need to share some of the things that I have learned these past three years. Since planning a conference is fresh in my mind, my first entry will be on how to plan the Tutor/Mentor Conference.

You really should start to plan the Tutor/Mentor Conference almost as soon as the last one ends. Since there are two a year, you should start planning the November starting in May and the May one starting in November.

The first thing you need to do is to form your committee. Usually you will do your networking for your committee at the Conference. Talk to people who seem really enthusiastic about the conference and who seem to be good at networking. We have a conference e-mail list that you can build your committee around. Start having committee meetings about 5 months in advance of the conference. See if anyone has any leads to an affordable site for the conference. 5 months is usually the latest optimum time to book space. We've found that many universities will have special non-profit rates for rental space and are very accommodating for holding conferences. We usually try and have the conference at different sites in the city in order to attract different groups and organizations. Usually the conference will be host to 150-200 people and you will need one large room for keynotes and meals, and 4-5 breakout rooms for workshops.

Once you have your space and your committee, start putting together your schedule of speakers and panelists. Repeat workshops from past conferences, especially those that were well-reviewed are where you should start, but also start looking through the news and see what organizations and experts (such as university professors) are featured in news stories about poverty, violence, education, etc. The sky's the limit on what workshops and speakers to have as long as it has something to do with running a quality volunteer tutor/mentor organization. Panels are often a good idea so you can get a variety of perspectives on a subject. Definitely use your conference-planning committee to find potential speakers, or have them be speakers or panelists themselves.

After you have your speakers, you need to make sure your conference is well-attended. We try and make sure everybody in our Program Locator Database is invited as well as those who attended the two previous conferences. Also, use any media sources that you have to post information about the conference in the news. If anything, most newspapers have community calendars that you can post the conference information in. If anything, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Ning, and LinkedIn are great ways to spread the word about the conference.

As the conference draws near, you need to deal with the detailed stuff. Are all the speakers and panelists registered? Is everybody who is registered on the groundspring e-mail list? Are they entered into FileMaker pro for the attendance list? Do they have their bios in for the program? Are all of their technology needs taken care of? Is catering ordered? Is parking taken care of? Have you created the forms that need to be photocopied? Have you assigned the workshops to different rooms? Have you created room grids for both days? Workshop Evaluation forms? Conference evaluation forms? Have the folders been stuffed?

After all of this is accomplished, all you need to worry about is making sure all the necessary supplies are gathered (pens, tape, scissors, paper clips, etc.), in addition to the maps, easels, folders, and other stuff and taken over to the conference site.

Hopefully this guide will make everybody who plans the Tutor/Mentor Conference have an easier time. After you figure out how to time everything, it becomes one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of working at Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection.

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