Planning a Conference 2: Crafting the Programme

The success of a conference mainly depends on the quality of the speakers. Whilst some long-established conferences have the credibility and publicity to attract a wide range of excellent presenters, starting a conference from scratch can mean a certain level of anxiety over whether it will be possible to garner enough interest from those willing to share their ideas. I am absolutely delighted that the first FSD Teaching Conference will have a number of absolutely brilliant speakers drawn from different schools and curriculum areas.

The search for a keynote speaker

When I started planning this particular conference, one of my first actions was to look for a keynote speaker who would bring expert knowledge and passion to the event. With some trepidation, I crafted an email in which I succinctly outlined the conference vision and my request for a keynote lecture. I was absolutely over the moon to be able to book writer, teacher, and education consultant Barbara Bleiman, who will be joining the conference remotely. I have attended several of Barbara’s online CPD sessions and have an enormous amount of respect for her work with the English and Media Centre. Barbara always combines richness of discussion with practical, classroom-ready strategies, and so I am very much looking forward to hearing her presentation on the day.

One important note when considering whether to invite a keynote speaker is to budget for travel, accommodation, and speaking expenses (there will be more on budgeting in a future blog post).

Issuing a Call for Papers

With the keynote speaker secure, next on my “to do” list was to organise the rest of the programme. And so I issued our Call for Papers:

Whilst creating an advert that would visually convey professional credibility was obviously important, for me the most significant aspect of the CFP was the application form. Being keenly aware of teachers’ workload, I wanted to create a form that would give me enough information about the applicant and their presentation idea, without being too onerous to complete. Hopefully this particular incarnation of the form achieved that balance, and as part of the evaluation process in April I will ask speakers their opinion of the application process.

I shared the CFP generally on twitter, and also sent it directly to some contacts by email to ensure that they had seen it and could share it with their teams. Each time I clicked “send” or “tweet” I was anxious about the outcome: would people actually apply to speak? Unlike other CFPs that I have seen elsewhere, I kept the deadline quite short – partly because 6 months is a short time to organise a conference from scratch, but more because I didn’t want people to see the advert, shelve it for later, and then forget about it.

Then the applications started to come in: more than I had planned for, and every single one of excellent quality. As we are just running one session at a time for one day, I was then faced with the issue of deciding which applicants to invite to speak. This was the hardest part of the process so far as I would have loved to hear about the fabulous work that each applicant has been undertaking in their own schools: as we are planning to make this conference an annual event, I hope that unsuccessful applicants from this year will be able to find a place in the 2023 programme, which will be focussed on the teaching of writing. I started the decision-making process by splitting the applications up into four themes (whole-school approaches, interventions, disciplinary literacy, and creating a reading culture) and then looked to see where there would be papers that would overlap significantly, which papers best aligned with the inter-disciplinary nature of the conference, and which papers would provide the most practical strategies to be used in other educational contexts.

Communicating with the successful speakers

As someone who has spoken at other conferences, I always like to have detailed information about the event, what the organisers require, and how they would like me to format my presentation. Therefore, I created a document to send to speakers alongside their acceptance email, outlining the key information they need to know:

As a conference organiser, this document is also useful as it will save me time in answering FAQs, and it is a handy reference point for deadlines in the run up to the event.

Other considerations

Other questions that a conference organiser may need to consider include:

  • How can I best support teachers who are new to presenting and have asked for assistance in preparing? (This might include rehearsing their talk with them beforehand or reading and commenting on a draft.)
  • How can I thank the speakers for giving up their time to prepare a talk and attend the conference?
  • What reduction in ticket price will I offer the speakers? (We have waived the ticket price for our speakers.)
  • What will I do if a speaker unable to attend, either at the last moment or with some notice?

I will cover some of these questions in more detail in the next few weeks, when I will be exploring the nuts and bolts of the planning process, budgeting concerns, and contingency planning.

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