Your foolproof conference planning checklist

4 minutes read

Your research event is fast approaching and there’s lots to do. Use this conference planning checklist to help.

Most academic and research conferences take around 9-12 months to plan (we’ve got a free ebook that breaks down this process). So, while the bulk of the work is already done by the time conference day is on the horizon, there’s still lots to do.

But don’t panic, use this conference planning checklist to delegate and check off your outstanding organising tasks. (If you’re doing it all without the help of an event pro, you’ll need to add normal event-planning tasks – like buying gifts for plenary speakers – to your checklist of conference tasks.) 

Conference planning checklist: 8-2 Weeks before

1. Recruit session chairs. Session chairs make sure sessions run on time and encourage questions after presentations. 

2. Collect presentations and camera-ready submissions. Camera-ready means corrected drafts that are ready for publication. If you’re collecting presentations before the conference, do this now. Or if you’re collecting them onsite, organise a drop-off desk. You should be able to do this via your conference management software.

3. Compile and print your conference book of proceedings. This is the official record of your conference. You may want to publish your book at the conference or wait till after.

4. Configure your conference app. If you’re using a mobile conference app, set it up so delegates can use it to network and create a personalised itinerary before the event.

5. Send info to delegates. Send delegates info regarding your programme and how to download your conference app.

6. Order contents of delegate packs, like:

  • Pads and pens
  • Conference bags
  • Badges and lanyards
  • Certificates of attendance
  • Printed conference programme (if not online)

7. Order onsite signage.

8. Print posters. Arrange for poster presentations to be printed.

Conference planning checklist: 1 Week to go

9. Organise registration desk.

  • Confirm registration desk and information point setup.
  • Make sure these will be staffed by friendly and helpful people.
  • Organise facilities for accepting payment at registration desk if needed.
  • Ensure you have receipt books and online card payment facilities.
  • Arrange to bring printers and laptops so you can reproduce badges if needed.

10. Deliver book and posters. If you’ve got a hard copy book of proceedings and poster presentations, organise storage for them and have them delivered to the venue.

Conference planning checklist: 3 Days to go

11. Deliver materials. Send any additional conference materials – like onsite signage, delegate packs etc to the venue.

12. Check equipment. Check conference computers, projectors and any other equipment such as poster boards for poster presentations.

13. Transfer presentation material. Download presentation files and transfer to conference laptops. Ensure that all presentations are working.

14. Check AV arrangements.

15. Send welcome email. Send delegates parking info and permits, info on airport transfers, the venue wifi code and welcome reception details.

Conference planning checklist: 1 Day to go

16. Print delegate list. Hand over delegate list to registration staff.

17. Mount posters. Mount all the posters on poster display boards.

18. Mount signs. Mount conference signs and directions inside and outside the venue.

19. Update programme. Update online programme with any late withdrawals.

Conference planning checklist: The morning of the conference

20. Set up registration. Arrange the registration desk: name badges, delegate packs, cash box and card payment facility, delegate lists, etc. Make sure it’s visible and has power.

21. Hold pre-conference meeting. Brief your volunteers and session chairs on emergency procedure announcements and instructions on running sessions.

22. Hold AV rehearsal. Check AV equipment is working. Ask session chairs to familiarise themselves with equipment and ensure their sessions’ presentations are ready to go.

Conference planning checklist: During the conference

23. Welcome delegates. Welcome delegates, hand out name badges and delegate packs.

24. Complete registration. Complete outstanding payments and close your registration system.

25. Steward the venue. Have volunteers on hand to point delegates in the right direction.

26. Don’t forget to breathe. If you’re stressed and you show it, everyone else will be too. So give yourself a few moments to take some deep, slow breaths. And no matter what happens: don’t run. Walk briskly with purpose. You’re a swan gracefully gliding across the surface. (No one needs to know your legs are paddling like crazy below.)

27. Hold a steering group meeting. Hold a meeting to review the conference. Did it meet its objectives? Were there any issues or anything you could have done better? You may want to also discuss next year’s conference and choose a chair. 

Conference planning checklist: At the end of the conference

28. Distribute evaluations. Distribute and collect evaluations or circulate them via your mobile app.

29. Collect badges. Ask delegates to hand in their badges so you can recycle them.

30. Collect materials. Collect posters and arrange for items to be couriered or disposed of.

Post-conference report checklist: After the conference

No matter how well your conference went, there are always lessons learnt. Now’s your chance to document them. Use the checklist below to help you compile your post-conference report.

31. Send thank yous. Send a thank you email to delegates, staff and volunteers, VIPs and keynote speakers.

32. Collect and review payments. Collect any outstanding payments. Review all invoices for accuracy and arrange payment.

33. Review evaluations. Review the delegate survey and any other evaluations.

34. Compile tech reports. Review the end-of-conference report from your conference management software.

35. Create your post-conference report. Compile your post-conference report from your budget and financial information, evaluation results, tech reports and meeting notes. Include suggestions and recommendations for the incoming chair. Prepare a full report for submission to funding sources and for internal use.

36. Take a holiday. We’ve seen chairs try to jump straight back into teaching after organising a conference; it ain’t pretty. Budget some time and give yourself a much-needed break once all the madness is over.


Use the suggested timeframes in this checklist as a guide to help you create deadlines for each task in the run-up to your research conference.