Student Surgical Conferences
Running a surgical conference is a great way to develop your leadership, team working and management skills – as well as your CV. Follow our tips below to create a successful event.
Before planning a conference, you will need a clear vision of the following:
Why are you running the conference?
You need to decide what the focus is (i.e. skills acquisition, networking, careers/knowledge-based, ideas sharing/problem solving) and what you hope to achieve. This may be as straightforward as providing surgery skills and knowledge to students.
It can be helpful to write down in one or two sentences what you want to achieve, giving the conference team a shared focus and keeping the event on track.
Who is responsible for the event?
From a management point of view, this is usually a team. Financially, it is likely to be the surgical society.
Who is your audience?
You need to consider whether you are targeting all years, clinical or pre-clinical years. Do you want to open the conference up to other medical schools? The audience should drive the content of the day.
Planning the conference
You will need to set a both a realistic timeframe and financial plan – and stick to them.
You will also need to recruit a core planning team and a larger team (possibly the committee) to be involved on the day. Allocate areas of responsibility to the core team. One individual needs to take the overall lead and oversee all aspects of the day. Other roles include:
- Financial Officer (budget and sponsorship)
- Speaker Liaison (inviting speakers and facilitators)
- Delegate Liaison (managing booking/answering delegate queries)
- Advertising and PR Officer
- Facilities Officer (booking rooms, catering, AV)
The team leader should ensure that all roles are agreed in person and emailed to the team member. This may seem overzealous but it is important that everyone knows what is expected of them and when.
Decide on the rough format of the conference and get rooms booked as early as possible. Make sure you book enough space for stands, lectures, people to eat, workshop spaces (if applicable) and a registration area. It can also be helpful to have a small breakout room for speakers to wait/eat.
Put together a budget at this point and be realistic. If you are charging an entrance and/or stand fee include an estimate for income. While you may not have to pay for room hire, it’s likely you’ll be charged for catering, some AV, publicity and printing. Get the figures from quotes/price lists but err on the side of caution. Once the event is over, it is useful to compare the actual costs to the budget. Be sure to include some contingency funds for unforeseen costs.
Put together the programme of speakers and workshops (incorporating breaks) then start inviting your speakers. It is normal to offer to pay speaker expenses but if you stick to local speakers these should be nominal. This is a good time to decide what else you want to include in the day, e.g. poster competition, conference dinner, drinks reception.
Think about the start time of the event – if people need to travel far it is better to start around 10am. This also gives the team time to sort out venue problems before delegates arrive. Once most speakers are confirmed you can start publishing the programme and advertising the event.
Once the programme has been finalised, you should start approaching sponsors for the conference. Look at other universities and medical schools to see who supports their events. Medical defence organisations, publishers and equipment companies may be able to provide equipment, funds or goodies to go in delegate packs. Try to approach named individuals and be prepared to negotiate.
Provide speakers with a clear brief of what you want covered, how long they have to speak, how questions will be dealt with and check what AV they need in advance.
It is good practice to brief speakers cautiously about the time allotted to them; if the programme has 10 minutes they should aim to speak for about seven minutes to allow for introductions, change over etc. RCS provides speakers with a requirements sheet where they list AV requirements and provide a short biography for the programme.
If possible, have speakers email any presentations in advance so that you can check that they are compatible with your systems and will run. A good timesaver for plenary sessions is to merge all the presentations into one document with holding slides in-between. This way the next speaker just has to press one button to start their presentation.
It is standard to include catering at all-day events – speak to the venue caterers and see if you can arrange a package for the whole day. Ask if you can swap bottled water for jugs of water or water fountains. See if you can issue delegates with vouchers for lunch rather than pay per-head for a buffet: this minimizes wastage and can save money.
Most of your advertising is likely to be via email, social media and printed posters, which will keep costs down. Advertising in journals or publications is expensive and not always effective. Make sure that your website and booking system are ready before the advertising goes out and includes a draft programme. If you are planning to open the event up to other medical schools, networks like the Future Surgeons Forum are vital for advertising.
Booking and delegates
If you can arrange an automated booking system this will save considerable effort and time. If not, an Excel spreadsheet will work. Remember to ask delegates about access needs, dietary requirements and be prepared to cater for them. Keep an eye on numbers and make sure you have enough room to accommodate everyone.
Delegate packs, badges and freebies
Your delegate pack can contain so much more than just the programme and speaker biographies. At RCS we include careers leaflets, sponsors’ flyers, pens and notebooks. Start gathering the contents as early as possible. We can provide you with careers literature; your society may have pens or bookmarks that you can include.
Think about how you are going to present the delegate pack and if you can get bags or folders sponsored for the event. If the conference is taking place in more than just a lecture theatre, include a map highlighting the key rooms.
Make sure that delegate badges are easy to read and that you have blank ones available. Consider colour-coding badges for delegates/speakers/sponsors. Feedback forms should be included to help you evaluate the conference.
On the day
- Draft in extra helpers to act as runners.
- Get to the venue early, or if possible, set up the night before.
- Make the conference team easily identifiable.
- Have spare programmes/floor plans.
- Make one person responsible for looking after speakers, one person in charge of venue/catering/AV issues and a team to register delegates.
- There should also be one person in charge of timekeeping who needs to stay in the main conference sessions.
- Make sure that everyone has their mobile phone with them and fully charged.
- Try to enjoy the day – with good planning it should run itself.