3 rules for running a successful scientific meeting

Scientific meetings may vary from one-day workshops of 1-20 people to multiple-day meetings of 100 or more delegates, including keynote speeches, poster sessions, or social events. Scientific meetings are at the heart of a scientist's professional life since they provide an opportunity for networking and exploring new ideas. At their best, scientific meetings can be enjoyable experiences for the scientists that add exciting breaks to their usual routine.

Organising scientific meetings calls for forward planning, attention to detail, patience and teamwork. From our extensive experience in organizing scientific meetings we have drawn up 3 essential rules:

Rule 1. Advance planning is essential to the meeting’s success

A successful scientific meeting requires careful organisation. The time required for organising an event can vary from a couple of days to a couple of months, but whatever the size of the meeting, issues of budget, venue and whether the date clashes with other local events all need to be considered. Allow plenty of time to select your meeting venue, to arrange for affordable or discounted hotel rooms, and to book flights and other transportation options to the meeting. If you have keynote speakers, you will need to contact them months in advance. 

Ideally, the meeting also needs to be as far away as possible from other local conferences. Alternatively, your event can be organized around a main conference in the form of a satellite meeting. Teaming up with other events may increase the chances of attracting more people and also save you some administrative work.

Rule 2: Be prepared for emergencies

The unexpected can cause palpitations to the most organised person. The chosen date clashed with an important event, the chairman is ill, a key speaker turned up late, a last minute hitch may keep you up to the small hours of the morning trying to fix problems. When planning your event, always try to have back-up options for when things go wrong. Imagine you are doing a debrief session following the meeting, and that the meeting was unsuccessful. Think about what the problems might have been, and try to plan for solutions to these problems in advance. Thinking the unthinkable is an essential element of meeting planning.

Rule 3: Organise informal social events

Organising a dinner or a visit to a tourist attraction may require extra work. However, if you are trying to create a cohesive group that has to reach collective decisions, sharing a meal or enjoying a visit to some local tourist attraction will help cement relationships. In addition, always ensure there are plenty of meeting breaks and other opportunities for interaction, such as poster sessions. These less formal settings often foster solutions and new ideas and are at least as important as what happens in the formal sessions. 

While this list is far from an exhaustive planning checklist, your event will run smoother and be more enjoyable for participants if you plan well ahead, prepare for unexpected setbacks, and provide meeting participants the chance to socialize informally.

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