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How to plan a conference without losing your mind by Chari Smith

Hi. I am Chari Smith, Founder/President of Evaluation into Action (formerly CRSmith Consulting). I am currently the Oregon Program Evaluators Network (OPEN) conference chair. I gained event planning skills through personal and professional past experiences.

I attended Jean King’s AEA webinar on evaluation capacity building in November, and felt inspired to suggest that as the next OPEN conference theme. I received a reply that no one signed up to lead the conference yet. I took that as a clear sign that it was time to roll up my sleeves and volunteer.

Hot Tips:

First step. Get the venue and keynote speaker first. Not always easy to make sure schedules align, so this is the priority.

Venues. Get at least 5 proposals. I created a one page summary of our space needs in terms of capacity, catering, space layout, and AV needs. This helped make the proposals comparable.

Create a timeline. There are tons of online resources with conference planning timelines. This is a project, just like anything else. It requires project management timeline so everything falls into place. I am using a Gantt chart – Great project management tool.

It takes a village. Volunteer recruitment is key. Creating clear roles that divide up the work provides easy access for volunteers to figure out what they can and want to do. For our upcoming conference, I created a one-page description of key roles:

  • Conference material heroes
  • Floor Manager Warriors
  • Event Promotion Masters
  • Committees: Programming, day of crew, and pre-conference prep

In our planning meeting, everyone filled out a form indicating what roles they are interested in. The information was useful to assign everyone a role they wanted.

Make it fun. We are all volunteers. I want to make it fun for everyone. Just total enthusiasm for getting this conference pulled together and the mantra that many hands make light work.

Hopefully, I inspired you to think about rolling up your sleeves…

Feel free to contact me at chari@evaluationintoaction.com with any questions.

Consider attending the OPEN Conference, October 4, oregoneval.org.

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