How To Effectively Organize Your Conference Schedule

As an event planner, you will have many plates that you will need to juggle to ensure that your event is a success. The amount of pressure that comes with having to handle the location, promotion, hiring of conference speakers, and so on can be quite overwhelming. But one responsibility you will need to address may be the hardest and that is organizing your conference schedule.

Creating a schedule for a conference or convention takes careful consideration of the audience needs, timing and logistical constraints. Consider the following common problems with event schedules when planning a conference.

Panel is Rushed or Too Many Panelists

Panelists are typically honored guests. Often they take their responsibility seriously and prepare a presentation or answers to interview questions ahead of the conference. According to the editor of Keynote Speaker, it is best to start a panel by allowing the panelists to make a brief (5-7 minute presentation) or ask them each 3-4 questions as an introduction for the audience.

The audience needs to fully understand why they were chosen as panelists and what expertise they bring to the table. For example, maybe the speakers want to discuss how to deal with economic downturns or the importance of outsourcing. Whatever topic they will be covering, it is essential that the audience clearly understands why your speakers are on this panel.

Q & A

Be careful to allow time (10-15 minutes) for questions and answers (Q&A) from the audience after the presentations and/or your interview questions after the presentations. The total time for panel session will depend on the number of panelists. As a rule of thumb, try to limit the number of panelists to four to five (three is usually sufficient) and total panel time should not exceed 90 minutes.

Workshop Length Issues

Another common mistake conference planners make is to make the workshop sessions too long (more than 90 minutes) or too short (less than an hour). If a workshop is too long, the audience will become overwhelmed with the information provided. 

Remember that in addition to workshops, participants are often listening to keynote speeches, networking and participating in other activities. If the sessions are too short, participants just start to warm up to the concepts and they are on to the next session. Interactive and technologically heavy workshops typically require more time.

According to Motivation Ping, if your convention or conference is over more than one day, do not feel that all workshop sessions need to be the same length. Experiment with 90 minute workshops on the first day and 60 minute workshops on day two when attention spans are waning.

Room Set-up Problems

Tightly packed agendas can lead to hotel staff trying to set up meals or roll out room dividers with participants in the way. This can pose a safety issue if the venue is not big enough to allow for proper separation of hotel and AV staff and participants during set-up and take-down. 

If possible, book dedicated rooms for meals that are only used at meal times. The rooms for meals are a great location as well for displays or booths that require security protection while workshops and group sessions are going on.

Bathroom Breaks Inadequate

If bathroom space is limited, make sure there is sufficient time at breaks for at least 20% of the participants to use the facilities. Take your participant number, multiply by 20%, then divide by 2 (males vs. females), then divide by the number of bathroom stalls for each gender. Allow a minimum of three minutes per bathroom visit. You may find that ten minute breaks need to be stretched to fifteen or twenty minute breaks.

Common conference agenda problems with panel and workshop time slots, room set-up logistics and bathroom breaks can be avoided with careful planning and strong communication with venue staff.