Planning a conference

Notes on planning a conference

The following notes are offered as informal advice based on the experience of recent conference organisers, and are intended to provide first-time conference organisers with a list of practical issues they might need to consider. It is not an exhaustive list of the issues or the solutions, so be prepared for anything, and if you come up with innovative solutions, please send them to the Chair of the Events Committee for inclusion in an updated version of these notes.

Finance – general

  • If there is more than one person involved in the organisation of a conference it may save confusion if at the outset one member of the team is designated as having authority to authorise expenditure and payments.
  • Your institution will probably be able to establish a conference account for you, through which all receipts and payments may be made.
  • Bank charges on foreign payments can be very substantial; you can minimize these by insisting that all payments are made in sterling by a cheque or international bankers order drawn on a UK clearing bank.
  • Your institution may be able to accept credit card payments, but check which cards it can accept and what fee is payable on each transaction (probably about 2.5%). This should be passed on to delegates, and is most conveniently done in the form of a flat rate fee (which you might calculate in the above case as 2.5% of the maximum anticipated delegate payment).

Finance – Budget

  • At an early stage you should prepare a draft budget based on realistic estimates of the costs to be incurred and the likely income from various sources (see below).
  • When obtaining estimates/quotations for a facility or service, make sure that you have ascertained whether VAT is payable, and if it is, remember to include this in your budget.
  • A contingency element calculated as at least 10% of total estimated costs is advisable
  • Apart from the Conference Fee, income can be generated by:
    • charging exhibitors for display space at the conference
    • charging for the inclusion of publicity material in delegate packs.
  • Refreshments, meals and accommodation are usually charged at cost.
  • You may wish to set a deadline for bookings after which a late fee is payable. This can help minimise last-minute bookings.


Sources of funding for music conferences include:

Some of these will have only limited funds available. Contact them and ascertain their schedule, and closing dates for applications at an early date. Your own institution will probably be willing to offer a grant or guarantee against loss.

Advertising & Call for Papers

  • E-lists and the websites of relevant professional bodies and societies offer a cost-free method of contact your target constituency, as does social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  • Flyers included in the regular mailings of relevant professional bodies and societies are useful, but in many cases, a fee will be charged for this service.
  • The call for papers should outline:
    • the topics that would be appropriate
    • the planned formats for sessions (papers, round-tables, workshops, lecture-recitals, poster sessions)
    • duration
    • deadline for receipt of proposals
    • date by which you hope to be able to announce the provisional programme.
  • To encourage well-focussed and concise abstracts, you might also specify:
    • desirable elements (e.g. title, outline of research context, statement of methodology, and summary of findings to be presented)
    • a word limit (say 250 words)
  • Ensure that receipt of proposals is acknowledged and that the proposers are informed of the outcome of the selection process as soon as possible.


  • If in the case of speakers you intend to waive some or all of the delegate fees and charges, ensure that this is reflected in all your budget calculations: you will either have to raise sponsorship/grants to cover these costs, or will have to set the conference fee for paying delegates at a level that will subsidise the waived fees.

Formal Invitations and Attendance Certificates

  • Speakers from abroad may require a formal invitation on headed paper to assist with applications for visas and immigration.
  • All participants (including those who are not speaking) may require a formal certificate of attendance, since employment applications in some parts of the world require these.
  • These can be contained in a single proforma containing both the formal invitation, and a counterfoil to be signed or stamped on attendance.
  • Organisers should send the invitation and certificate to every delegate alongside acknowledgement of booking.


  • It is a great advantage if the various venues to be used for the conferences are within a short walking distance of one another.
  • If longer distances are involved ensure that travel times are allowed for within the timetable.
  • If you wish to offer accommodation to delegates you may have to reserve a block of bookings and pay a deposit well in advance.
  • Check that your institution is able to supply all the a/v and other equipment you will require, and whether the conference will have to pay a hire fee for its use.
  • Consider whether you wish to make sound/video recordings of sessions, or live stream any sessions.


  • Even if you are not planning to charge for the event, it may be a good idea to require those planning to attend to register or apply for tickets in advance, as you will probably need some idea of likely numbers for catering and booking of rooms.