Speaking unto the Region: Reflections on Organising a Regional Conference

Jennifer Brotherton, Wolverhampton

Jennifer Brotherton talks about the skills she developed through being an active participant in organising the Mercian Conference 2017.

During the academic year 2016-17 I was involved in organising and hosting the first conference for the relatively young Mercian Collaboration. What follows is a reflective summary of my contribution to the planning and delivery of the conference, which was hosted at The Venue, De Montfort University on 12th September 2017.

One of the best things about working as part of the conference group was the opportunity to work closely with similarly energised colleagues from other institutions in the Mercian Collaboration. We were able to plan and host a successful conference using effective communication across multiple sites, predominantly using email and shared documents. In my role as Speaker Liaison, I worked closely with the Bookings Manager and the Mercian Development Officer to ensure the correct information was available to each of us, which was presented on the website as soon as possible. Liaising between the variety of speakers, again done remotely, meant I was challenged to ensure I was organised in terms of different deadlines along with managing any content that was sent in.

The scale of work varied somewhat, dependant on the information we needed from the speakers. This year we’d asked for speakers to send us their biographies and photographs sometime after their initial proposals were submitted. Consequently, this meant quite a lot of chasing over the summer months, when people were often away enjoying a much-deserved break! Next time, we hope to collect all this information ahead of time, by requiring its inclusion in future conference paper submissions, something which will alleviate some of the challenges around the first conference. Managing different personalities was also sometimes challenging, but I felt able to respond well to all the queries and had some really great exchanges with our speakers too.

Overall, through being part of the organisation team I learnt a lot about how to organise event information, how to easily send out custom emails to large groups of individuals, using mail merge on Word. This meant I could keep track of who had received information, and also who I still needed to speak with about various deadlines. Throughout the process, from confirming successful submissions to the day of the conference, enquiries were sent through to me directly as the speakers’ point of contact. These queries varied in nature from questions about what was expected of them in terms of the session, the physical settings including room layout etc. as well as anticipated session numbers. I really enjoyed my time spent on the conference team and I am looking forward to planning Mercian 2018.

Jen Brotherton