Who sits on a conference organising committee?

7 minute read

Active conference organising committees are central to scholarly events. To pull off a stellar event, you’ll need a team of committed individuals with a vested interest in your conference goals. 

At a busy research conference, a strong conference organising committee lends you credibility. It gives your event greater influence among your community and provides a wider reach for identifying quality topics and speakers. 

Members of the conference organising committee are there to provide expertise on content and topics of interest to your community. Ideally, your committee should be made up of the type of experts your conference aims to attract as attendees. So, what roles should you be looking to fill? Let’s dive in.

A quick note… The conference organising committee roles below are the most common we’ve seen so far. However, depending on the organisation, you may see these roles called by different names. Regardless of what names you assign, every committee member needs to understand their specific role and responsibilities – before, during, and after the event.

Conference organising committee

General chair

The general chair is the figurehead of the conference organising committee. They represent the committee with both internal and external bodies and are usually appointed by the steering committee. 

The general chair typically holds the responsibility of approving the agenda and addressing any requests for discussion items from the committee. Throughout meetings, the general chair must ensure fairness and inclusivity in the discussions. Additionally, they should guarantee the provision of clear summaries for each discussion, facilitating decision-making and the assignment of actions.

Finally, it’s their responsibility to give all committee members a top-level view of how the conference fits in strategically with the association’s other activities. They’ll need to make everyone aware of budgetary restrictions to curb excessive blue-sky thinking and keep the programme grounded in reality.

Quick tip: It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Once a general chair is appointed, which usually happens 12-18 months prior to the conference, they should talk to the previous chair. The previous chair can fill them in on what they included in their budget, how many abstract submissions they received, if they broke even, etc. While costs may have changed slightly, the previous year’s budget is a great starting point to work from. 

If you’re curious about Ex Ordos software for your conference, check out our upcoming open demo.


The secretary collaborates with the general chair to organize meetings, develop agendas, and record minutes. They would also track attendance, communicate action points, and maintain a comprehensive record of committee proceedings.

Quick tip: Prevent problems with communication from snowballing. We’ve put together a handy list of the best conference apps to keep your committee members engaged in the planning process and help them stay on target. In terms of hyper-visual task-management, we recommend Trello. And in terms of project messaging, you can’t go wrong with Slack

Programme chair

The programme chair ensures that a well-balanced, high-quality technical programme is organised and presented at your conference. Together with the programme committee, they are responsible for deciding on the theme and planning the programme for the conference. And together with the general chair, they develop your conference’s call for papers/abstracts. They take responsibility for the peer review process and will likely be the one sourcing suitable abstract management software.

Quick tip: Leverage your human capital. Within your program committee, there is a wealth of collective education, training, knowledge, expertise, and skill sets at your disposal. Don’t let these brilliant minds, which have diligently contributed behind the scenes in the months leading up to your conference through the peer review process, go unused on the day of the event. As the program chair, you may consider inviting interested individuals to take on the role of session chairs during the event itself.

Programme committee

In conferences where there are 100 submissions or more, managing the entire peer review process can be too much for one person to handle. Depending on the size of the conference, the programme chair may appoint people to a programme committee, to help manage the peer review process. Programme committee members also take responsibility for distinct parts of the peer review process, or thematic areas known as tracks, within the conference.

Quick tip: Appoint track chairs. For a comprehensive program, the program committee might choose to divide it into tracks and designate track chairs. Each track can then have its specific deadlines and reviewers.

Local chair

The local chair looks after the practical side of conference arrangements. They find and suggest venues, manage the delegate registration system, and make sure suppliers and logistics have been taken care of. They may also be responsible for the conference website.

Quick tip: Thank your committee members publicly for their time and effort.  An effective website should feature detailed profiles and headshots of the conference committee members. This not only acknowledges their valuable contributions but also enhances the credibility of your conference and fosters trust among potential attendees visiting your website. For individuals not affiliated with your association or unfamiliar with the event, the presence of esteemed professionals in their respective fields can serve as reassurance regarding the expected quality of your conference program.

Publicity chair

The publicity chair takes responsibility for promoting the conference to potential authors, delegates, and wider media. They’re usually responsible for developing media releases and communicating key messages about the conference. They manage the conference’s social media accounts, and may work with the programme chair to develop the call for papers. They could also take ownership of conference branding, and oversee the creation of the conference book of proceedings.

Quick tip: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While some aspects of your marketing campaign may need to be built from the ground up, others may simply need a refresh of their current digital presence. For example, even if you decide on a total or partial rebrand of your conference, you probably already have existing social media pages, with a number of followers, which can just be revamped in line with the new branding.

Finance chair

The finance chair takes charge of creating a conference bank account, arranging conference insurance and deposits, creating a conference budget, managing expenses, and creating financial reports.

Quick tip: Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Trust your digital chair’s recommendations for the proposed technology items in your conference budget. The company you choose to partner with for your virtual conferencing software needs has to be robust and reliable. Critically, they should be agile enough to grow with you during any seismic shifts in the events landscape – a challenge many of our customers faced during fluctuating lockdown restrictions over the course of the pandemic. So, if you invest wisely now you could avoid heaps of hidden tech costs down the line.

Digital chair

The digital chair or ‘tech chair’ is responsible for creating the digital strategy for your conference, and project managing web/digital initiatives. They will have a good understanding of technology options and be able to assist with (or even lead the charge on) building your conference tech stack. .

Quick tip: Cover your digital bases for all eventualities. Too many conference organising committees have faced the panicked last-minute changes from physical to virtual events. So a word to the wise – even if you’re planning a physical event, you should definitely invest in a platform that provides virtual conferencing software. It means you’ll be covered in the event of unexpected glitches with your in-person plans. And, if it syncs with your chosen conference management software, even better. Forewarned is forearmed. Trust us on this one.

Committee-adjacent roles

Although these individuals are not members of your conference organising committee, they can play a crucial role in ensuring the success of your event.

Steering committee

The steering committee is usually responsible for appointing the conference’s general chair, and may need to approve who will be appointed as programme chair. They steer the strategic direction of the conference, acting as advisers to the general chair and programme chair, assisting them with the overall organisation and financial planning of the conference, and helping them to make decisions, especially around the conference venue and date, the budget, and the overall technical content of the conference.  

Session chairs

Session chairs manage the Q&A session after each presentation, and make sure sessions run on time. They’re usually recruited a few months before the event.

Quick tip: Find tech-savvy session chairs. Make sure they are capable of fielding questions from your virtual audience to physical presenters.

Professional Conference Organiser

What happens if your keynote speaker pulls out the month before your conference? Or your AV supplier goes AWOL the week before? A professional conference organiser (PCO) has seen it all before and, crucially, knows exactly what to do when things don’t go as planned. So if you’re not an events pro, and it’s your first time organising a conference, we highly recommend you consider hiring the services of a PCO. For a fixed fee, and sometimes also a fee per delegate, they will look after the admin and logistics of planning your conference, and ensure that everything runs like clockwork. From what our customers tell us, a good PCO is worth their weight in gold

Inclusive Approach to Committee Dynamics:

Creating a collaborative and inclusive atmosphere within the organising committee is essential for maximising its potential. Emphasising diversity in expertise, backgrounds, and perspectives ensures a well-rounded approach to decision-making. Encourage open communication and active participation from all members, fostering an environment where each voice is heard and valued. This inclusive approach not only enriches the committee’s discussions but also contributes to the overall success of the conference by bringing forth a variety of viewpoints.

Adapting to Virtual Realities:

In an era where virtual events have become increasingly prevalent, the conference organising committee must be adaptable to the evolving landscape. The Digital Chair plays a pivotal role in strategising for virtual components, and the committee should collectively explore ways to seamlessly integrate digital elements into the event. Whether planning for a hybrid or fully virtual conference, staying abreast of technological advancements ensures a smooth transition and enhanced participant engagement. Consider innovative approaches such as virtual poster sessions, interactive online networking opportunities, and immersive virtual exhibit halls to elevate the conference experience.

Continuous Improvement Through Post-Event Evaluation:

The commitment to excellence doesn’t end with the conclusion of the conference. Implementing a thorough post-event evaluation process allows the organising committee to gather valuable insights for continuous improvement. Encourage committee members to share their observations and experiences, and seek feedback from attendees through surveys. Analysing these post-event reflections enables the committee to identify strengths, address challenges, and refine strategies for future conferences. Embracing a culture of continuous improvement ensures that each successive event builds upon the successes and learns from the lessons of the past. This ultimately elevates the overall quality of the scholarly gatherings orchestrated by the committee.

Next steps for your conference organising committee

By no means an exhaustive list, this covers the basic structure of what your conference organising committee should look like. Along with the general roles and responsibilities of each team member. 

Once you choose your committee, convene an induction meeting to discuss processes, expectations, and boundaries. It’s crucial to establish accountability and responsibility. This ensures each member understands their role in the plan to prevent duplicated efforts and avoid stepping on toes.

And, if you’re looking for an extra boost on the event tech part of the conference puzzle, check out at Ex Ordo. Ex Ordo build tools that make your job as a conference organiser easier. We specialise in conference management software for academic and association events.

“We were drawn to Ex Ordo’s abstract management system because its interface is very user-friendly, not just for the submitter, but also for the administrator. It has been easy to customize the submission site for our needs, and we appreciate its versatility in accommodating different submission types.”

Mary Beth Barilla | Society for Scholarly Publishing

Brian Campbell

Brian is a data-driven marketeer, and responsible for helping people find Ex Ordo. He works part-time as a lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and loves quizzing his students on the latest business trends and insights. Brian enjoys hanging out with his little nephews, and playing and watching sports. He also likes to keep a keen eye on the scholarly research space, and has co-organised an academic conference to boot.