8 Venue, Catering, and Logistics
Some of the tasks that the organizing handling the venue and logistics are described in the different sections below, and can be used as a basis for a TODO list.
8.1 General advice for your organization
Set a precise TODO list at least one/two months before the conference and update it regularly so that everyone in the team always knows what he/she has to perform and for which deadline. You will want a local organizer acting as the primary contact person with the conference venue. You will need to arrange things like the chair layout, table arrangement, audio-visual needs, etc so you need to have access to the conference venue at least one day before the beginning of the conference. The catering deadline (by which time you will need to provide numbers) is usually a couple of weeks before your event.
Note: Your venue may require some form of insurance and/or security gardening depending on what is available/mandatory for your local area.
8.2 Logistics regarding the venue itself
8.2.1 Before the conference
Be sure that the venue is properly furnished.
Be sure that the venue is equipped with computers, beamers, printers, etc. (Be mindful, keyboards have specific layouts depending on the country of origin, and most of useR! attendees might be more comfortable with a QWERTY layout. Will the venue be able to support this? Could you advise participants to expect to bring their own laptops and connect with a cable in that case?).
Be sure that the proper cables and sockets for all types of computers are available.
Be sure that the WiFi will be enough for all attendees (note that most people connect to WiFi on their computer and on their smartphone at the same time). WiFi access might require providing (printing) WiFi personal access code for every attendee (if needed; this code can be printed on the back of the badge for instance).
Prepare day-by-day signage of the venue (session names/schedule on room doors, overview of session at entrance, special places like breast feeding room or childcare, and so on).
Organize special rooms for breast feeding, childcare, and quiet rooms to allow attendees to take a break of the social burden.
Order desktop material like reusable glue pads (patafix, bluetac), scotch tapes (double face), gaffart tapes, scissors, marker pens, A1 sheets, A4 sheets, mosquito repellent (if needed).
Be sure that you have secure overnight storage (because both you and definitely the sponsors will need that).
Check if the accessibility considerations regarding the venue are met. Think about gender neutral bathrooms, parents with small babies and strollers, people in a wheelchairs, etc. Some people might require specific assistance (blind people might need someone to help them navigate in the conference center the first time).
8.3 Organizing delivery of important items for the conference
8.3.1 Before the conference
If needed, organize delivery of goodies, of touristic information, of printed material. You can decide to share file among the team with the list of items to receive or already received to check that nothing is missing.
Organize delivery of sponsor booth material (see TODO with an example of documents that have been sent to sponsors in 2019 to facilitate the booth delivery and installation before the conference).
8.4 Interactions with participants
8.4.1 Before the conference
Email all attendees a few days in advance with information on the conference (See this example of the email sent for useR! 2019). Be aware that a non negligible percentage of people do not read emails so also pass the most important messages on social media like twitter.
Prepare badges with names. As many people will arrive at the same time at the conference, it is easier if people have a way to collect their badge by themselves (and not wait to a registration desk to ask for it). Sort the badges ahead of time alphabetical by last, then first name. If you separate out the sponsored badges, keep in mind that some people might not know if they belong to the sponsor tickets if they are a regular ticket holder, according to how their company registered them.
Prepare the bag with goodies (not mandatory): note that filling ~1,200 bags with goodies can take several hours even if you are well organized.
Create and a conference book (not mandatory but very useful) with information on conference venue map, overview of the schedule, practical information, etc. Here is an example of 2019 conference book is given. Consider envioermental impact when deciding if and how to print the book, or to distribute it digitally.
For people registered to a tutorial or to the gala dinner, prepare a special tag indicating to which tutorial (or to which social event) they are registered. This can be printed on badges for instance.
Fill bags with touristic information (not mandatory but appreciated) and sponsor information/goodies (depending on your contract with sponsors).
Setup a webapp or a mobile app to display the program easily on mobile phones.
8.5 Interactions with guests
8.5.1 Before the conference
If possible, negotiate discounted rates in conveniently-located and affordable hotels.
Organize travel and lodging of invited speakers. Explain them in advance any local regulations they need to fulfill to get reimbursed for additional expenses, e.g. meals, taxi.
Contact the scholarship recipients at least three months in advance and explain them the local regulations for the use of their scholarship. Be aware that they might need a very precise and supportive invitation letter to obtain their visa and that this type of documents can take several months to be obtained. Send the letter as soon as possible.
8.5.2 During the conference
- Have someone dedicated to answering the problems regarding lodging or expenses (especially of scholarship recipients).
8.6 Coffee breaks and food
8.6.1 Before the conference
Communicate in advance with the caterer about the number of people at lunches and coffee breaks, including the number of special diets, e.g. vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance. To reduce food waste, you can include a question about which meals people intend to participate to in the registration form.
Organize food for special events and sessions such as the poster session or gala dinner.
8.7 Supervising sessions
8.7.1 Before the conference
Organize the opening and closing sessions, which include, at least, an introductory talk from one of the organizers.
Communicate with speakers the requirements for their communication support, if they can use their own computer or not, and if they have to send their communication support to someone in advance. Be aware that some people need several reminders before they answer to the request of sending their slides.
Communicate with participants of the poster session the requirements for their poster (printed or numeric, size, where it is displayed in the conference venue). For printed posters, some participants will ask where they can print posters in the conference center or close to it. Be prepared to this question or send a few suggestions in your message.
Assign a chair by session.
Search for and set an app to ask questions during the plenary sessions (not mandatory but useful).
Collect individual permissions to put slides and videos online after the conference.
8.7.2 During the conference
Have a member of the organization team (planned in advanced) help the chair with the technical organization of the session.
Prepare flags indicating that the speaker has only 10/5 minutes left or is out of time for each room.
Arrange slides for lightning talk sessions (the slides are to be run automatically during these sessions).
Organize display of the posters in the conference venue (you can assign number to each accepted poster, which corresponds to a unique position on a board and print a map of the poster organization in the conference venue to let people know where they have to hang their poster).
8.8 Organize staff tasks during the conference
8.8.1 Before the conference
Make a precise program for every staff member (by hour and room and type of task, based on their interest for specific part of the programs). Staff members usually include the organization team plus additional volunteers (~ 20 students for instance, in exchange of some free time to attend some sessions during the conference).
Organize a way to communicate easily between team members and a way for additional volunteers to get a hold on one of the team member (for instance, have a special badge with all phone numbers of all team members printed on it, create a group on signal or slack or whatsapp, …).