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How to organise a great conference!.

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How to organise a great conference!.

The HEE Kent, Surrey, Sussex Simulation & Human Factors Project began in May 2019, with a range of objectives ranging from Simulation for Mental Health to developing a collaborative community of practice.

We have seen our SimNet meetings grow from an informal gathering of about a dozen to over 50 registering for our next virtual meeting, with a formal Agenda, speakers, and the traditional round robin also more formalised. Above and beyond this we held an ambition to host a Regional Simulation & Human Factors Conference and had begun planning when the pandemic intervened.

May we have a moment, as deskbound keyboarders, to thank all those service providers for everything, everywhere. Sincerely: thank you.

We returned to this in September 2021, fending off questions as to the wisdom of planning a Face-to-Face Conference, and began working in earnest with our hosts: The University of Surrey and specifically the Surrey Clinical Simulation Centre in the splendid Kate Granger Building. The Conference became the HEE SE Regional Conference.

We strongly recommend confirming your hosts early, 9 Months Prior, and as soon as you have a date, advertise, and engage with sponsors. Walk through mentally and physically:

maps, public transport, and parking

access, water, and catering

exhibitors and footfall (we put refreshments in the exhibition hall)

rooms, layout, IT & AV, toilets

beyond EDI, specifically consider a room for psychological support, nursing mothers and those who may need space for religious activities

simulation team hosts (e.g. tours of centre, any simulation activity: demonstrations and workshops)

helpers / ushers / guides

provide plenty of time in the programme for networking and exhibition, a short comfort break between welcome ceremonies and opening keynote; consider co-production and service-user participation

address EDI

consider a conference charity

Next, or rather as far as possible in parallel, make a draft agenda and contact those who will be keynote speakers to confirm timings asap.

We paid for IT/AV support as we did not want any issues especially for our virtual international keynote. We worked with the (excellent and varied) resources available, had time to adapt our programme to that: we are more adaptable than resources. Make Risk Management an early priority and ensure exhibitors complete a Risk Assessment. Consider whether any or all your conference will be recorded or streamed, including what impact that may have on attendance & whether to charge. Attend to insurance and any host legal scrutiny etc. and Photo Consent, Social Media Consent, GDPR, etc. Consider offering opportunity for networking support e.g. sharing attendee details option.

As we liaised with our sponsor exhibitors, we added Conference Bags, Logos, and opportunity to place content in the bags; as a first conference we kept charges low, providing an Exhibitors Manual with everything an exhibitor needed to know, keeping all exhibitor charges transparent and non-negotiable, and did not permit late applications (which would have been disruptive and perhaps unequitable). Exhibitor spaces and resources must be clearly marked out (& as booked). For planning and helpers: exhibitors need to be fed and watered before programmed breaks, to be able to engage with attendees without drooling or passing out.

We charged everyone for registration, this was questioned but we needed this to mitigate against non-attendance (which worked well) and we precisely charged the cost of catering per head, which we felt was defendable if not actually warranted. Nobody, other than our keynotes, had free entry, presenting, being on the committee, makes a better case for study leave and support from employers, not free entry – for a small conference with an inclusive programme and a good-sized conference committee, this is significant as well as equitable. Repeatedly check detailed and careful consideration to hosting a universal, equitable, and inclusive conference. Consider a transparent and shared liaison with a hotel and perhaps a social event.

Formalities. We did OK for our Conference VIPs Opening and Welcome but should have made the introduction and thanks for our valued keynote speakers better planned and more formal, similarly the prizegiving needed more thorough planning and execution. (For us, a larger conference committee would have helped). Consider hiring a student ambassador from the media department who would be able to take photos and video of the event, or your friendly photo enthusiast.

We called for abstracts for e-Posters, Short Oral Presentations, and Workshops; next time we will make this process even simpler and more inviting. We want to encourage attendance and contributions to an inclusive, celebratory, conference, showcasing as much as possible of the great work going on, without setting unhelpful and unnecessary academic and bureaucratic barriers to applying. Look at platforms like Learning Toolbox and Kubify for posters. Be sure the Abstract Template ensures easy to lift off content for Conference Programme/Session Chair Information Packs/Certificates (including absent co-authors). Ensure presenters are aware of IT/resources/room layout (and in planning consider what to provide).

Ensure the Registration process is well planned with all necessary to enable attendees to register for conference and select workshops (etc.) – This requires providing enough information to make a good estimation of what the session is about and what sort of participant (from beginner to expert) it is aimed for, this, we now realise, should be the primary objective of the Abstract. Separate desks for Conference Registration and Session Selection and Registration (with room capacity number of places available to sign up for). Think of strategies to ensure an even distribution of attendees. This could be posted on the door & part of the Chair Session Pack. Ideally send out workshop information in advance as part of marketing to enable attendees to choose 2-4 weeks before the conference.

The Session Chairs, supported by a good Information Pack, can contribute greatly to a successful conference – include information on programme that precedes and follows the session, Presenter Certificates, Mark Sheets (for Observer committee members on assessment duty) preferably pre-filled with each presentation time and title. Precise session timings, help call numbers …

If giving prizes for presentations etc, the mark sheet should be usable and designed to be quickly totalled so that the final count can be made, and prizes awarded in the closing session. Yet it needs to be discriminatory enough to identify a valid spread of marks.

We offered prizes for 1, 2, 3 in each category and next time we will ensure certificates are available for all Presenters as well as Prizes and of course Attendance (best as an auto online process following completion of Post Conference Evaluation).

Make use of QR Codes and Screen displays to minimise paper and allow late changes – however room changes on the day, no matter how appealing, will be very disruptive and should be avoided. Clear signage including graphic maps and clear signs on Rooms/Doors, consider arrows/way out/etc.

Consider what, when, and where music would be appropriate.

Applying for (we went to the Royal College of Anaesthetists) CPD Points is a helpful critical friend to ensure your plans are grounded, thorough, and sensible. As you get to work on this – and it can’t be too soon, ensure your Conference Committee – responsible for selecting abstracts, chairing sessions, and assessing workshops/presentations is assembled and ready. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which the conference committee became too large! Inform everyone if there are dignitaries or Formal Observers (we had GMC QA Observer and received a report with 4 commendations).

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You can watch a short (90 second) video summary of the conference here

Andy Buttery Regional Simulation & Human Factors Project Lead

Sarah Keeling-Smith Regional Project Administrator

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