Planning The Program.
In planning the conference program, you can create an almost infinite number of possible designs. This is an important process because even high-quality sessions can lose their value if the program is not properly planned. The program planning process should begin after the following steps have been completed:
- The conference purpose has been defined.
- The audience profile has been determined.
- The number of participants has been estimated.
A well-planned program interrelates the above three factors with conference events, presentation methods, and event scheduling. Your mission here is to design the best combination of events, presentation methods, and scheduling to serve your conference. Although many combinations may be wrong for your conference, there is not one right program; many different programs will work well. Your program should not be set so rigidly that it does not allow some flexibility.
- Registration. All conferences need a registration period even if all conferees are pre-registered. Attendees must still check in, pick up conference materials, and receive conference information.
- Orientation. Many conferences schedule one or more orientation sessions. These sessions permit conferees to learn more about the conference or its sponsors and can also make first-time attendees feel welcomed.
- Opening Session. Most conferences have an opening session, which may feature a keynote speaker. A keynote speaker, if one is invited, should energize and set the tone for the remainder of the conference or at least for the day. Other speakers may be used instead of or with the keynote speaker, such as an officer or local member of the sponsoring association or local officials. Ceremonies, award presentations, musical groups, film presentations, or other exciting events may be part of the opening session. The energy level of your group will be extremely high at this time. All opening sessions should include a welcome address.
- General Sessions. General sessions are also known as plenary sessions--gatherings of all the conferees together. These sessions may include food functions, opening and closing sessions, entertainment sessions, business sessions, or sessions to discuss topics of interest to all conferees.
- Follow-up sessions. These sessions provide additional time for a small group to discuss topics presented at a previous session and should include the presenter or speaker from the first session.
- Concurrent Sessions. When two or more sessions are held at the same time they are known as concurrent sessions. These sessions may divide conferees into groups so that an equal number of conferees attend each one, or they may be presented so that conferees have a choice of which sessions to attend. Various presentation methods can be used in concurrent sessions, some of which are described in the next section.
- Breaks. In between consecutive sessions you should schedule a break. Breaks may be as short as ten minutes and last as long as thirty minutes. When soft drinks or snacks are available, it should be designated as a refreshment break. Breaks tell your conferees that there is a schedule, and, to help them keep that schedule, you have planned time for restroom visits, traveling, stretching, smoking, etc.
- Workshop. This is a group assembled to discuss a common issue, problem, or interest. Frequently, "workshop" is used to refer to a concurrent breakout session.
- Closing Session. Conferences that end without a closing session send conferees away feeling a little empty. Closing sessions should uplift conferees and send them away feeling informed, renewed, and energized. Ceremonies, special videos, entertainment, reports from work group sessions, or presentations made by convention bureau representatives from the site of next year's conference work well also.
- Banquets. For purposes of this section, banquets include plenary breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, or other food functions at which all conferees will gather together. These functions should have a purpose. Consider the following possible purposes:
- To offer fellowship, nourishment, and nothing more.
- To set the mood for the following event.
- To relax the group after a particularly taxing session or day.
- To make awards, presentations, or announcements.
- To provide entertainment.
- To present guest speakers.
- To offer a transitional period to bridge two segments of the conference.
- Receptions. Receptions can vary greatly in their degrees of formality. They provide a period for people to talk and to meet each other and the association's officers or local officials. Receptions can be used to entertain, to keep attendees from wandering, or to prepare for an upcoming event. These events are particularly helpful in providing networking time for large conferences.
- Tours/field trips. These trips are usually scheduled for entertainment purposes or to provide a convenient way of visiting local attractions. However, you may schedule a trip as part of conference business. For example, a tour of a model facility could be planned, followed by or preceded by a session at the conference site to discuss the tour.
- Free time. Free time is simply any break period of more than thirty minutes when conferees have time to do what they want. Free time allows conferees to take care of business matters, attend exhibits, purchase conference items, shop, check out, or simply prepare for a special part of the conference program.
- Buzz group or buzz session. In a buzz session the audience is divided into small groups for a limited period of time. Each group member is asked to contribute his or her ideas or thoughts. Buzz sessions can be used to develop questions for a speaker or panel, offer ideas regarding how to address an issue in the future, or react to the information that has been presented in the session. Buzz groups can be used in general sessions or concurrent sessions.
- Case study. A case study provides a detailed report of an incident or event through either an oral or written presentation, and sometimes on film. A discussion usually follows the presentation of a case study. This is a very effective presentation method for large workshops.
- Clinic. A clinic is a session in which participants respond or react to a common experience. A clinic may be used as a follow-up session after a field trip.
- Colloquy. This is a modified panel presentation in which half the panel represents the participating audience and the other half are experts or professionals in a field related to the discussion topic. Presentation time is equally divided between the two groups. This is an effective way of discussing issues from different points of view and getting the audience involved in the discussion.
- Debate. In a debate, two individuals or two teams present two opposing views of a common issue. Each side is given equal time. A moderator is assigned and generally the audience listens rather than participates. Be flexible; it is the role of the moderator to keep the presentations on schedule, raise relevant questions, and allow each presenter time to respond.
- Dialogue. This type of presentation requires a high skill level for presenters. Two individuals discuss issues in an in-depth conversation, but their views don't need to be different or opposing. This is not recommended for a large general session.
- Interview. Using this method, one or more people respond to questions from an interviewer. This is particularly effective for a concurrent session in which the person being interviewed is an outsider who has expertise or skills that easily transfer to victim services.
- Panel. This involves a group that makes an orderly presentation on an assigned topic. The audience may or may not ask questions or participate in the discussion.
- Role Playing. Role Playing uses participants to act out real-life situations. There is no script; players' actions are spontaneous. A discussion with the audience usually follows the role playing.
- Speech. In a speech, one speaker makes a formal oral presentation. It is usually a one-way communication.
- Skit. This is a short rehearsed presentation with a planned script. It works best in concurrent sessions. The audience may or may not participate. The purposes of a skit are varied--to entertain, to shock, to illustrate, or to provoke thought.
- Work Groups. Usually, the audience is divided into groups with a the goal of producing a product at the end of discussion. A group leader is selected to present the thoughts of the work group to the whole session. Everyone is given an opportunity to participate in the groups. The products of the groups may be presented immediately after group discussion or at a later session.
There are certain things you can do in terms of scheduling that will help produce a better conference. Most are a matter of common sense when you consider the impact of your scheduling decisions. But don't get overly concerned if the optimum schedule is not one of your options; sometimes certain scheduling options are unavailable. Here are some tips on effective scheduling.
- Tip 1: When overnight accommodations are required, schedule registration periods and events after hotel check-in is available and before check-out is required. When this is not practical, be sure to arrange for safe storage of luggage and schedule free time for check-out.
- Tip 2: Vary events between those with no alternatives and those that offer choices. Conferees like choices, and choices should be available to accommodate different skill and experience levels.
- Tip 3: When a conference lasts longer than a day, schedule free time. A conference day is longer than a normal work day, and sometimes more draining.
- Tip 4: Spread intense sessions. Follow an intense session with free time or a lighter session.
- Tip 5: Schedule sessions with stimulating presentation methods after lunch. Energy levels are lowest after lunch; stimulating sessions prevent sluggishness.
- Tip 6: Schedule breaks in between sessions. This has been mentioned before but is worth mentioning again.
- Tip 7: When conferees are "on their own" for lunch, provide information about restaurants, prices, and service time. Your conferees will appreciate this and it will help to keep your conference on schedule.
- Tip 8: Large groups need more time for networking than smaller groups. Allow for adequate networking time in your schedule so participants can learn from each other and from conference staff.