Learning patterns/A fine selection of mistakes for organizing an international conference (and how to make sure you commit them)
What problem does this solve?
A smooth conference with no hiccups or bumps along the road is - let’s face it - boring. What you are looking for is some stupid home-made mistakes (that could be avoided but were not) which generate a little challenge here and there to solve.
What is the solution?
Start too late - A classic but it never gets old as it bears so many possibilities for severe problems. A few of our favourites are:
- Enhance the pressure of complicated visa procedures by not having nearly enough time to get all the necessary bureaucracy done. Run risk of severly reducing the number of your participants by all those who won’t receive their visa.
- Finally you can make use of all your plan Bs and Cs, as being late means your preferred venues and hotels are probably not available, or you lacking time to produce the material you wanted (brochures, printing etc.).
- It assists your decision making for the program, because your options concerning available speakers will boil down remarkably.
- Being late usually also helps to make your event more costly - for further ways to screw up your budget, please see below.
Keep ignoring hidden costs in your budget - Some fun things to overlook (especially when the budgetary item for unforeseen expenses is too tightly planned or non-existent) are:
- Visa costs (fees for the visa, necessary translations, trackable courier mail to remote corners of the world, trips of scholarship holders to and from the embassy)
- Including your local team and volunteers in the calculation for food and drinks during the event
- Transportation costs (taxis, rental cars etc. to bring all your equipment to the venue and back)
Alienate your participants - The fact that you are organizing an event for them does not mean you cannot annoy them in the process
- Give them wrong, incomprehensible or no description on how to get to the venue/the hotel
- Be culturally insensitive concerning food options (i.e. not offering vegetarian, halal, or kosher options)
- Build in funny mistakes in their names and ensure there that there are no extra nametags at the conference to create a new and correct one
- Google forms are already controversial in parts of our community, in case you use them for registration make sure to give no indication what data you gather, how long you will store it and who will have access to it or at least bury that information at the very end of the form in the small print
Underestimate cultural and geographic differences - This is particularly relevant when you are organizing an event in a country other than the one you live in
- Accept your hosts' confidence that you will be able to find printing facilities, network access, computing equipment, or other equipment or facilities you take for granted where you live
- Neglect to ask a culturally informed local about holidays, or workweek schedules that may be a stumbling block; an expat living in the country is likely to not be as aware of these cultural details.
- Don’t invite participation from the local Wikimedia chapter, nor ask for an introduction to this chapter from a fellow Wikipedian, or WMF advisor.
- Don’t work with the local Wikimedia chapter to catalyze community buy-in and participation.
When to use
The mistakes can be applied to any conference or event, big or small.
- International events? Allow three months for visa formalities
- Five tips for preparing a great conference
- Event planning process
- Meals during conferences
Also related, but more general patterns: