10 Tips for building better programmes

3 minute read

Want to present delegates with a conference programme that’s intuitive and digestible? Here’s how.

Here are 10 tips to help you build a memorable conference programme that’ll have researchers registering to attend again next year.

1. Make it navigable

If your event has a large number of sessions, navigating the entire conference programme can feel overwhelming.

To avoid session overload, organise divergent content into parallel sessions in separate streams. Sorting similar topics into specific streams can help delegates more easily identify which sessions are for them. (Louis Rosenfeld writes some useful content about how conference programming is both curation and design.)

2. Build in lots of breaks to your conference programme

Are you asking delegates to go from 8am to 7pm with no major rest breaks? Researchers don’t run on empty. Arrange plenty of breaks to let delegates recharge, digest what they’ve just heard, and get fresh air and refreshments.  

“At the very least, breaks must be long enough for people to decide the session they want to attend next, figure out where it’s held, take a bathroom break if needed, and get to their desired destination leisurely,” says Adrian Segar. (And always over-order on the coffee, there’s nothing worse than a bunch of uncaffeinated crabby delegates.)

3. Don’t overwork presenters

Make sure you’re not scheduling researchers to present two papers in clashing sessions or over multiple presentation slots on the same day. Stressed, overworked presenters won’t have the energy or focus to give the great presentations your delegates deserve.

If someone has more than one accepted submission to present, try to distribute their presentations across your programme as much as possible.

4. Schedule coffee breaks after sessions

People will remember the connections they make at your conference long after they return home. And strong connections mean delegates will be more likely to attend your conference again next year, so create opportunities in your conference programme to make them.

Schedule coffee breaks straight after sessions (instead of after keynote speeches) to give delegates more opportunity to forge these connections. This way, when a difficult question is posed or a debate arises in a session, delegates have the perfect opportunity to discuss it afterwards.

5. Add some variety to your programme

Would different submissions be better suited to different types of sessions? Consider offering panels and workshops as well as traditional oral and poster presentations and plenary speeches. Workshops can be a great way to engage delegates after a morning of sitting and listening.

6. Make your programme accessible

Making your conference programme accessible to delegates is vital. The conference tradition of printed programmes with scribbled updates and branded USB sticks is fast going out of fashion.

Consider investing in a mobile conference app (or at the minimum an online conference programme that’s navigable from a smartphone). And consider giving delegates lanyards with at-a-glance timetables. These come in pretty handy if the wifi goes down and you don’t have an app.

7. Make space for social events

Don’t tell your presenters, but conferences aren’t just about the sessions. Social events are an opportunity for delegates to meet new faces and make memories, but they’re also a great chance to chat about research in an informal settingDon’t neglect them when you’re building your conference programme.

8. Check that presenters have registered (and paid)

Nothing upsets a session more than a whole lot of missing presenters. So that your programme doesn’t end up with more holes than Swiss cheese, as your conference date approaches, check which presenters have registered to attend. Chase up the ones who haven’t, and if they’re not attending, reshuffle your sessions.

And, when your conference day arrives, have someone noting which presenters are no-shows at the registration desk. Then reshuffle your sessions again as necessary early in the day.

9. Add downloadable content to your conference programme

Once you’ve collected presenter bios, presentations and poster material, let delegates access them directly from your programme. Having further reading material at their fingertips means they can easily follow up with the parts of your conference that most interest them.

10. Beware the conference deadzone

Researchers aren’t immune to the post-lunch slump. If you’re planning any high-energy activities as part of your conference programme, schedule them for the conference deadzone after lunch. According to New York Times–bestselling author Daniel H. Pink, this is when delegates might be better off moving around and getting some energy back rather than sitting quietly and listening.


What to look for in a mobile conference app

If you’re considering investing in a mobile conference app to share your conference programme, make sure it’s designed to work with the complexities of research conferences (like the Ex Ordo app is). Your app should:

  • Support sessions that contain multiple presentations within them. (A lot of apps don’t do this.)
  • Integrate with your conference management system so there’s no copying and pasting.
  • Allow delegates to send private messages and create public posts.
  • Give sponsors in-app ad banners and promoted posts.
  • Allow you to carry out live polls and surveys with real-time feedback.
  • Allow delegates to create personalised itineraries that stay accessible without wifi.
  • Give you the ability to send instant push notifications to delegates’ phones.

Dee McCurry

Dee helps shape the new features we build at Ex Ordo. She enjoys thinking through customer needs, and loves finding the words that make a complicated process simple. When she’s not bashing on a keyboard, you’ll find her weaving baskets from willow or drinking fancy herbal tea. Sometimes both at once.