In April this year, I co-organised a major three-day conference (Margery Kempe Studies in the Twenty-First Century) and I thought it would be useful to write a post on my blog about my experience of planning and running this event. I had some experience of running a conference before as I did the domestic arrangements for the 2017 Medieval Architectural Representations conference at University College, Oxford, but I didn’t do the finances for that and I wasn’t responsible for thinking about the overall shape of the conference (apart from helping to choose the presenters). Organising a conference is an important part of academic life and it’s a great experience for your CV, but it is also a lot of hard work! I would say that I am pretty organised person and I definitely planned ahead when it came to organising the Margery Kempe conference but even I found that there were things I hadn’t thought of, things that took much longer than anticipated, and things that I wish I had done differently! Thanks to all the folk on twitter who contributed their thoughts to this discussion and while this post is not exhaustive, I hope it will help first-time conference planners and will give a realistic insight into the things that you need to think about if you are organising an academic conference.
NB this is based on my personal experience in the humanities- please do comment below or tweet me @lauravarnam if you have other suggestions and a big thank you to everyone on twitter who offered their thoughts!
Give yourself plenty of time to organise your event! For our three day conference, I think my co-organiser and I started to organise it seriously about 18months before the event but we had been discussing the possibility at least six months before that. In part this is because you need to invite and confirm keynote speakers who are often booked up well in advance (- even myself, I don’t think I want to take on anything else now before October 2019!! I have enough things on my plate!). And you will also need to check if your preferred venue is available. But also you need to have time not only to organise the conference but also to apply for funding– and this is crucial. You’ll need to check out the deadlines for funding applications and also when outcomes of those applications are likely to be known, because it can be the case that if you don’t get the funding, you can’t go ahead with some aspects of the conference, so you need time not only to apply but to wait for the outcome. Also, don’t underestimate how long it will take you to fill in these applications!!
We put our ‘call for papers’ out in July 2017 with the deadline of October 2017 (for more on this see below). It took about a month to make the decisions about who to accept, if I remember rightly, so we wrote to participants in November 2017 (this meant that people knew 4-5 months in advance if their paper had been accepted). We then posted the programme on our website in January 2018 and the conference took place in April 2018. (We had planned out the programme much earlier in terms of timings, numbers of sessions, breaks etc, but we ‘populated’ the programme with the speakers etc in the Dec/Jan). We posted abstracts on the website too so that people could see what they were getting when they came to the conference!
When timing registration, you will need to know from your venue how far in advance they need numbers for catering. For our venue, I think it was 7 working days in advance. I closed registration 10 working days in advance so that I had chance to compile the figures. If I remember rightly, we had registration open for a month but for the first week to ten days, it was speakers only (this was because we had a maximum number for registration of 70 and we had about 30 speakers, so we needed to make sure that they registered first!). I had to send the information to be put on the website for registration (which was done through my university’s online store) a couple of weeks in advance, so I needed to make sure that I knew the registration fee etc in good time (for more on finances see below).
In the humanities, keynote speakers are experts in the primary area of the conference and they will be asked to give a longer talk (usually 45mins plus questions). If you have parallel sessions, the keynote or plenary talks are the ones that everyone attends. They are important for setting out the parameters of the conference and speaking to key themes, and they often ‘open’ or ‘close’ a conference. At the Gender and Medieval Studies conference earlier this year in Oxford, there was an Early Career keynote speaker and I thought this was an excellent idea. It’s a great way to showcase new work in the field and to make conferences more inclusive.
For the Kempe conference, we had four keynote sessions over the three days. One of them was a collaborative plenary in which two scholars who frequently speak and write together gave their keynote together, which was fantastic. As well as including their own new research, the opening keynote speaker set up key ideas about the conference (reevaluating Margery Kempe in the modern world, the current state of the field) and the closing keynote speaker offered concluding remarks based on the discussion over the three days. Doing this kind of keynote, especially the concluding remarks, is a lot of hard work! So when you invite someone to give a keynote lecture, it is best practice to ask the potential speaker if they would be happy to do that particular ‘job’ as part of their keynote.
In the UK, when you invite keynote speakers, you normally cover their costs as a way of thanking them for their hard work. This includes their accommodation, travel expenses, and waiving the conference registration fee (so you therefore pay for their catering while they are there). So you will need to factor these costs into the finances.
When you write to invite a keynote speaker, make sure you include all the important details about the conference (date, location), your vision for the conference, if you would like them to talk about anything in particular, and set out what you will be able to offer them in terms of covering their costs. The most important thing is emailing the keynote speakers in plenty of time! We asked our speakers at least a year in advance and we suggested the proposed conference date. Once they confirmed that they were able to make that date, we then confirmed the venue etc . Without the keynotes, the conference can’t really start to get off the ground!
Timing and length
There are a number of things to bear in mind when you’re deciding when to hold a conference. As well as your own commitments, and giving yourself plenty of time to organise it, you should check the dates well in advance with keynote speakers and take account of things like term dates (it can be very difficult for academics to get away at certain points of the academic year, and some universities have limited accommodation/facilities for conferences during term as of course they are being used by current students and for teaching). Term dates vary in the UK, Europe, and US of course, so bear this in mind in terms of who your likely audience is in terms of participants too. Try not to clash with major conferences! In my field, that’s the Leeds International Medieval Congress in the first week of July and the big medieval conference at Kalamazoo in the second or third week in May. This year was the New Chaucer Society meeting in Toronto in the second week in July too. It may be that you want to ‘piggy back’ onto a major conference, though- if everyone is in the UK for Leeds, you could have your conference a few days before or after (although bear in mind that people are tired after a big conference too!). You won’t be able to please everyone in terms of timing but you can try!
You should also think about what time of day the conference will start and finish as this will have an impact on how many night’s accommodation people need or whether they can travel home on the same day etc.
You will also need to think about how long the conference should be in terms of days. A one day colloquium might be enough if you are starting off a major project (like the Fan Fiction Theory and the Premodern World colloquium that I attended in Oxford last week). Or for a major reassessment of a field, two or three days might be better. We did three full days for the Kempe conference and this also enabled us to have a dramatic performance on one of the evenings and a conference dinner on another. Think about whether you want to have excursions, evening entertainment, or even more relaxed informal sessions one afternoon. I had a great suggestion on twitter (from Elaine Treharne) about small symposiums of around 25 invited speakers, with research questions circulated beforehand. There are lots of possibilities so do think creatively!
You may not have a huge amount of choice in terms of venue because of the options available in your institution but you should certainly make sure that the venue is accessible (see accessibility below) and that it is suitable for your purposes. We ran our conference at my college, University College, and the best lecture room that we had had a maximum capacity of 80, so that had implications for the numbers of attendees. There was also a seminar room near to the lecture theatre that we could use for tea/coffee breaks and lunches, and there was a foyer/entrance hall that we could use for the registration desk. There were two sets of toilets nearby and a lift. The lecture room had all the relevant AV equipment (see below). There were lockable cloakrooms for delegates to leave bags and coats. There was a water cooler in the room.
Types of Session
In the humanities, we usually have the following:
Keynote papers: 45/50mins with questions (1 hour session)
Three paper panel: 3 x 20min papers with questions (1 hour plus at least 15mins for questions, if not half an hour- especially if people run over or there are any issues with the session, i.e. technical problems!)
Roundtable: often 4-5 participants who speak for 10mins each plus questions (40-50mins for talks and then 20-30 for questions and discussion, or even more since discussion is the primary purpose of a roundtable)
More recently I have seen conferences doing ‘lightning talks’ where a small group of participants talk for 7mins and then there’s discussion.
There is also the ‘poster session’ where individuals produce a colour poster of their research (usually A2 size or bigger) and stand their their poster to discuss their research over refreshments. We did this at the Kempe conference and it worked very well. A poster can be a good way of articulating key research questions for work-in-progress projects and I think presenters can get a lot out of discussions with delegates.
Another great idea that I can across at a conference I went to and then used at the Architectural Representations conference, is the ‘collaborative session’. We did this on the final afternoon of the conference and it was an 1 hour and 30mins session. Everyone participated and we divided the delegates into groups of 8 and gave them each 4 key questions to discuss. The questions were the key points from the conference (i.e. ‘how do we define architectural representation’, etc) and we encouraged everyone to contribute their own ideas from their own fields and research. This was in part to include the delegates who were not giving papers so that we could make use of all the expertise in the room. The session was a really good way of pulling together the key themes that had emerged from the conference and we asked each group to write their key points down on post-it notes which at the end of the session, we then stuck to flipcharts to pool all the ideas. These were then available for people to look at during the coffee break before the final plenary. Another good reason to do this as organisers, is if you are planning to produce a volume of essays based on the conference! You can make use of the conference audience to answer key questions that you might want to address in the introduction to such a volume (things like definitions, methodologies, any drawbacks to the topic etc).
Call for Papers and Choosing Abstracts
You can see our call for papers on the Kempe website here. The call for papers is important to get right because you are setting out the aims/objectives for the conference and offering ideas for the areas that potential papers might address. We asked for abstracts to be no more than 300 words plus a short bio of the speaker.
We were overwhelmed by the response and we had to make some difficult decisions about whose paper to accept. My best advice for writing a call for papers is to be as precise as you can be about what you want the abstracts to do, as this makes it easier to then choose between them!
As a result of having to make these decisions, I wrote a post on my blog here about how to write conference abstracts (I rather wish I had done this before the conference!) For me and my co-organiser, it was important that the abstract conveyed the paper’s argument clearly, that it was relevant to the overall theme of the conference, and that it was presenting new and original material.
But when you’re putting together a conference programme, you also need to think about the coherence of the overall programme and how the sessions are going to work. If you are going for the ‘three paper’ panel format, you need to think about how the panels will fit together. We ended up with two ‘four paper’ panels at the conference (which were slightly longer with more time for questions). We also introduced the poster session as we want to give more people the chance to present their work at the conference. We were also planning to have a ‘collaborative’ session for discussion, as described above, but in the end we decided to have another paper session because we were already turning down at least 15-20 people (we had 25 slots for papers in the conference) and we decided we just had to have more people to speak!
It was really difficult to choose the final 25 and we did have to reject some very good papers either because they didn’t fit in with the conference theme as a whole or with the particular sessions that we then decided on. We also had to turn down colleagues and friends, and that was tough! But as organisers, you have to make tough decisions on a purely academic basis. We also wanted to make sure that we had a diverse range of participants, from grad students and ECRs to more senior academics, and in terms of gender/race, and in terms of academic approach. We were particularly looking for ‘new approaches’ to Kempe in the 21st century and so we were deliberately flexible about what those new approaches might be. One piece of advice I had in response to my twitter thread was that as conference organisers you can’t just accept the papers that fit with your own work or your own ideological standpoint. You have to make sure that the conference is open to a variety of academic viewpoints and methodological approaches.
When we had finally chosen the papers we grouped them together and gave the sessions titles to indicate the shared themes of the papers (often this was quite broad, like ‘theorising identity’, ‘sights, sounds, senses’, ‘dialogues’, ‘historicity’, ‘performances’).
One thing you will need to think about when you are planning is whether you want parallel sessions or not. For the Kempe conference, we didn’t as we wanted everyone to share the whole conference experience and to be a part of the conversation throughout.
If you do have parallel sessions, think carefully about how you divide the speakers and what impact this may have on the likely audience. Don’t programme famous senior scholars against postgrads or ECRs for example!
You should also make sure that you have plenty of tea/coffee breaks at the conference and plenty of time for lunch! Conferencing is tiring and thirsty work, so make sure that you have breaks to refuel and also for participants to chat informally and get to know each other. Networking is really important at conferences and you want to make sure that people get plenty of chance to meet each other. In fact, you might want to start with the breaks and plan around them when you start to brainstorm the programme!
If you have a conference dinner, you might want to have a break beforehand so that people can change too.
Check out the programme for our conference to see how we worked out the timings here.
You will need people to chair the sessions and keynotes. You can do some of that yourself but you should also ask others to chair too- it’s good experience for grad students so don’t just ask established academics. I was running around during the conference a lot too and in fact had to get someone to substitute for me as chair for one session because I had to go and meet the performers who had arrived to rehearse for their play later that day!
Make sure you give chairs clear instructions in advance and set out your expectations at the beginning of the conference too. We asked chairs to just introduce speakers very briefly- name, institution, current research if relevant- but we had slightly longer introductions for the keynotes. We wanted people to stick to time very clearly and we said that at the beginning of the conference. It’s so important that as a speaker, you time your paper before the conference and you don’t take up more time than you have been allotted as it is unfair to other speakers. It can be a good idea as organisers to have a ‘five minutes’ sign to wave discreetly at speakers but chairs should be prepared to interrupt and ask speakers to stop if they are going over time.
It’s also important for chairs to manage the questions at the end of the session effectively- try not to let one person dominate the questions, be prepared to ask a question yourself if there are no hands up immediately (I always note down questions as I listen if I am chairing a session), and try to make sure that the questions are distributed equally between speakers (if I find that one of the speakers hasn’t had a question, I will ask one myself- it’s horrible to get no questions or comments!).
Conference Badges, Stationery, and Swag
At our conference, we decided to just include names on conference badges, with a space to include preferred pronouns. This gives people the choice to include their pronouns if they wish to, rather than making this a requirement- as organiser, I put my pronouns on my badge and the postgrads running the registration desk told participants at registration to customise their badges as they chose.
Similarly, we encouraged participants to put their twitter handle on their badges. One good suggestion I received on twitter was to have a traffic light system on badges for whether you are happy to be tweeted or not (ie red for no, yellow for yes to paper but no to photographs, green for yes to both), so this is something worth considering (more on twitter etiquette and policies below). Chairs should also check with speakers and announce at the beginning of sessions whether papers can be tweeted or not.
We chose not to include titles or institutional affiliations to make the atmosphere more welcoming for all and so as to not discriminate in any way by career stage or institutional affiliation. A great suggestion I had on twitter was to include interests on the badge instead (topics like gender or queenship, authors like Chaucer or Margery Kempe etc). This is a great way for people to start conversations at conferences, rather than the potentially difficult ‘where are you from’, ‘what stage are you at’ etc. Even ‘what do you work on’ can be a fraught question, especially if you are feeling under pressure (as a grad student or an ECR finishing a first book, etc), so ‘what are your interests’ seems like the perfect question to me!
On the practicalities of badges, I personally prefer one with a safety pin. Badges that clip on can be very difficult for women’s clothing! And while lanyards are nice, if you are a short woman like me, they can come down to your waist and make for very odd interactions with fellow attendees when they look to see your name!
We wanted to keep our stationery budget fairly low but you will need to think about whether you want to provide conference folders, paper, and pens (this can be done fairly cheaply if you buy things in bulk or online). Your college or university might have branded folders, notebooks, pens that they can give you as part of the conference package for using their facilities.
Conferences ‘packs’ should include:
- welcome letter (with contact details for the organisers, important info such as conference hashtag and twitter account, accessibility info, codes to enter buildings etc)
- map of conference location
- name badge
- abstracts of papers (we decided to make these available online a couple of weeks before the conference to save on paper)
- advertising flyers (we included flyers from publishers offering discounts on relevant books- some publishers will also make a donation to the conference in return for including their flyers, we used this money to add to graduate travel bursaries; flyers for relevant conferences coming up etc)
- forms for graduate bursaries or expenses reimbursement as relevant
On the question of conference swag, this will depend on your budget! We’re talking things like the conference tote bag or pen or badge. For the Margery conference, we produced ‘Team Margery’ badges (very cheap to do via this excellent eBay site). We were going to do tote bags but decided to forgo the expense and put the money into graduate bursaries instead.
AV Equipment and Internet Access
Check and double check, and check again!! If you have delegates using powerpoint, get them to send their presentations to you in advance of the conference so that you can preload them onto the laptop in the room and do make sure that you have tested the laptop, projector, and any other equipment that you might need. Carry a USB stick with you if someone needs to transfer a presentation or has a last minute updated version that they want to upload. Make sure that people know if they can use their own laptop or not. The policy for the room we were using was that we had to use the equipment provided so we had to transfer all presentations on a USB stick. If you can, make sure that you have access to a printer or photocopier to do last minute printing of handouts although ideally, participants should bring those with them (make sure that you email delegates just before the conference to confirm numbers so that they know how many handouts to bring). You should also check if the laptop has internet access in case anyone needs to show online materials. We also had a delegate who needed sound so I made sure that I had tested the speakers and knew how to use them.
You should also make sure that you can provide wifi internet access for participants. Many UK delegates will be able to log in automatically via eduroam but others won’t (including academics who don’t currently have a university affiliation) so make sure that you have access codes that you can issue to individuals.
Make sure you ask for dietary requirements as a part of registration and make sure you give all of this information to your caterers and check with them very carefully that they are able to fulfil the requirements listed. You should also keep a check on this during the conference itself.
Make sure there is plenty of water available throughout the conference and when you are planning the catering, do think about the following:
As well as tea/coffee, make sure there are caffeine free alternatives- decaf tea/coffee, peppermint tea, etc- but also plenty of water, fruit juice, elderflower presse etc.
This also goes for drinks receptions- it’s not all about the alcohol! Make sure there are nice alternatives to wine/beer so that the event is inclusive.
Snacks– now I love a biscuit or a sugary snack, and a piece of cake will set me up nicely, but it’s also important to have other snacks too (including gluten-free). It’s great to have fruit available, both fresh fruit and also dried fruit and nuts make good snacks as well.
Lunches– this is dependent on your budget of course but think about whether you want to do hot food or sandwiches, or buffet style. I’ve been to conferences that have had excellent sandwiches and wraps, plus plenty of fruit, salad, and some sweet desserts too. At the one day colloquium I just attended, it was buffet style with cold meats, veggies with dips, quiche, crisps etc. There’s lots of possibilities!
Committee and Helpers
I would definitely recommend having a buddy to help organise the conference! (Thanks to my partner in crime, Laura Kalas Williams!) Having two or three of you to organise means that you might have access to two or three different institutions in terms of where to hold the conference, funding you can apply for, etc. It’s also essential for sharing the workload and having someone else to discuss major decisions with (such as which abstracts to accept!). You can also help each other keep on track with what needs doing and if one of you is under pressure, the other can take over and vice versa.
You might also want some extra people to help during the conference itself- manning the registration desk, showing people to rooms, meeting latecomers, doing last minute photocopying, and just being an extra person for delegates to talk to if they have questions. We employed two graduate students as helpers and through our generous funders, we were able to pay them an hourly rate as well as waiving their conference fee which I think is a fair recompense for their help. (Grad students are often exploited because it’s ‘good experience’ for them but I was keen for them to be paid for their work).
You should also make it very clear that if any delegates are experiencing any problems or any form of harassment, that they should come and speak to you about it. I was once harassed at a conference and I was too scared to speak to the organisers (I was a grad student and lacking in confidence- I did email the organisers after the event and they said that I should have spoken to them at the time, but they were senior male professors and I didn’t feel able to do so. Perhaps if it had been made explicit that I could have spoken to them, I might have done so… Obviously we always hope to foster positive environments where harassment does not happen, and making the procedure clear for reporting problems is a part of this).
This bit is complicated!! Do take advice on this if you have a department finance officer or if there are conference planners in your university. I had an excellent conference manager in my college who was able to advise on all sorts of aspects of the process and the English Faculty finance officer was fantastic in handling the money and paying the bills for us. A big thank you to both of them for their assistance!
NB you should not be handling the money yourself! Someone in admin at your university should be able to do this for you- make sure you make enquiries at the beginning of the process. Most universities have some sort of ‘online store’ where people can pay to register for the conference and that money will then go into a university account (in my case it went to the English Faculty who then handled all the bills). You will need to send the relevant information (registration fee, optional extras, information required- like dietary requirements, opening/closing dates for registration) to the people who run the store in plenty of time for them to set it up.
You will need to make sure that you can cover the costs of the conference and this will come from the conference fee but also from funding that you have applied for (- and funding can also cover graduate/ECR bursaries below).
Aside from the individual catering costs for each delegate (teas/coffees, lunches, and dinner / wine reception depending on what you are planning), these are the costs that you will need to account for to start with:
- travel, accommodation, registration fee for keynote speakers (discussed above)
- room hire (this can be very expensive!)
- stationery (discussed above)
- helpers during the period of the conference itself (we waived their registration and also paid them an hourly rate)
- reduction of registration fee for graduate students
- any additional activities involved in the conference (in our case, the costs of the theatrical performance plus the performers’ travel expenses)
For our conference, we applied for lots of funding so that we could cover the majority of the expenses noted above already, before any money came in from registration fees. Anything that wasn’t covered by that funding, needed to be absorbed into the cost of registration, so those were the ‘additional costs’. Be aware that some funding will only cover certain kinds of costs. I.e one of our funders wouldn’t cover catering but was happy to cover travel expenses and accommodation; one funder wouldn’t cover the theatrical performance that was an extra part of the conference; none of the funders would cover the stationery so that became an ‘additional cost’.
Registration fees for each individual delegate then covered their individual catering plus a portion of the ‘additional costs’. The catering costs for our conference were the teas/coffees and lunches. The conference dinner was an optional extra. Our wine reception was very generously funded by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship.
When you are calculating the registration price, you will need to think about how many delegates need to attend in order for you to break even and cover your costs. For example, say it costs £50 per delegate for their catering but your additional costs are £500, if you set registration at £70 per delegate, then 25 people need to attend for you to break even (£500 divided by 20). And of course that is 25 people paying full price. If you decide that graduates/ECRs should only pay £60 and ten graduates register, you still need another 20 full price registrations to make back the £500. (I also built in a slight buffer to cover any unanticipated costs and that was lucky because we had one cost that I thought was covered from one pot of money but it turned out they wouldn’t cover catering, so I had to absorb an extra £110 at the last minute!) Do take advice on the finances from your university’s finance officers / conference planners. This is all based on my personal experience and I am not a trained finance person!!
We did two things to make the conference more accessible for graduates and ECRs. We reduced the registration rate (£60 rather than £85) and we had travel bursaries that we distributed between applicants after the conference. As part of this, we had an optional donation during the registration process so that those wanted to could make a voluntary payment of £10 to add to the bursary pot (I borrowed this idea from the Gender and Medieval Studies conference, it’s a great idea). We also had specific money towards graduate bursaries from two of our funders (the University of Oxford’s John Fell Fund an the Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literatures), thank you to both of them for that. Do try to make as much effort as you can to offer reduced registration or travel bursaries, it really does help!
One thing to consider is the conference dinner. Expense is a key consideration here as well as making sure that the food will be suitable for all requirements. An expensive conference dinner can mean that graduate students and ECRs cannot afford to attend. You should think about whether the conference dinner is included in the registration fee or as an optional extra (I think it’s probably better to make it an optional extra because of expense).
Alicia Spencer-Hall and Alex Lee have put together a brilliant document on accessibility so do check it out here: Making Medieval Conferences More Accessible
Website and Twitter
We set up a conference website and associated gmail email account (you’d be amazed how many emails you amass, it’s best to have a separate account to keep them organised!). On the conference website we posted the call for papers, programme, info about postgrad/ECR bursaries, how to get to the venue, registration details, how to contact us. You can check out the website here to see how we set that up. In retrospect, I would also add twitter info and guidelines, and accessibility info here too.
We set up a conference twitter account (@ConfMKempe) and we also had a hashtag that we publicised way in advance of the conference (#MK21st). Tweeting is an important part of accessibility– those who cannot attend can still follow the conversation and participate. If it’s possible (and it wasn’t in our case), some conferences are now live streaming panels (I’m thinking of the excellent initiative at the Leeds International Medieval Congress which live streamed the panel on disability and accessibility in the academy which was made available on Facebook- here if you’d like to catch up).
It’s important to have a policy for twitter which is made clear to audience members. I went to a workshop recently in which we were asked not to tweet, partly to create a safe space for open, honest, and provisional discussion of challenging topics, and for some meetings, a non-tweeting policy is the right one. For many conference though, twitter is a key part of the academic practice (and in fact just this week I saw an example of a conference actually taking place on twitter rather than in real life, as it were! I’m very intrigued to see how this will work- to find out more check out the War Through Other Stuff twitter account). If you are going to encourage participants to tweet, make sure that you make it clear that speakers and attendees can opt out of having their papers tweeted and/or photographs taken. (See the traffic light system discussed under ‘conference badges’ above).
During the conference
You will be busy!! You will be running around organising things and making sure that things run smoothly. You may have to miss sessions and you will exhausted! But it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone else is having a great time!
You may not want to give a paper at your own conference because of how much you will have to do, so bear this in mind when you are thinking about the planning and programming.
I had a little emergency kit with me during the conference- bottle of water, paracetamol, cereal bar (and chocolate stash) in case I didn’t get lunch- as well as important things like USB stick, spare pens, spare maps of the college, cash just in case, phone charger (and my new favourite thing, my portable power ‘juice tube’ that has enough charge to charge my mobile up once!). I also made sure that I had the phone numbers for the college lodge (our porters are also trained in first aid) and for the conference manager and domestic bursary for any problems with catering etc.
After the conference
You will be exhausted and need a break!! But then you will need to wrap up the admin, in particular the financial admin. Although it’s tempting to think that everyone is done by this point, there is important work still to do, so try to get on it asap! Make sure you thank your speakers and participants. Write up a blogpost summarising the key takeaways from the conference (mine is here). Write any reports that are required by the funding bodies. And get those bills paid and expenses claims sorted! If you have forms that keynotes need to fill in and sign in hard copy, give those out during the conference and get them back asap. Get graduates students applying for travel bursaries to do the same otherwise these things can take a long time to sort out (- I speak from experience and apologise for the length of time it took me to clear up some of the admin after the conference, although a couple of things were out of my control!)
A big thank you to everyone who helped me to organised my conference: my Margery Kempe ‘other half’, Laura Kalas Williams; Lila Arezes and the team at University College, Oxford; Katie MacCurrach in the English Faculty at Oxford; Sian Witherden and Hannah Lucas who were our graduate helpers; all the funders for their generous support (University College, Oxford; University of Oxford’s John Fell Fund; Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literatures; Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship); and all the fantastic participants at the conference.
And a big thank you to everyone who commented on this issue on twitter! Please comment below if you have any suggestions or thoughts to add!