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The no. 1 question everyone organising a conference should know how to answer

The no. 1 question everyone organising a conference should know how to answer

You’re organising a conference.

Whether you’ve done this a hundred times before or are testing the waters, you can expect questions. But can you answer the most important one?

woman raising her hand


What matters most?

Finding out what your conference guests care about sounds daunting. We’re all individuals, with different expectations.

Some of your conference delegates will be focused on budget; they’ll want to see value for money, and would prefer to see their ticket fee spent on the best guests, a practical venue and simple, no-frills catering.

For others, your conference might be the equivalent of an annual holiday. They’ll care about social time with colleagues, high-quality hotel accommodation, and a grand gala dinner at the close. They might extend their stay, too, to explore a new city.

Different needs: different questions. Use your event website to find out what questions people are asking, by tracking search terms or using a chatbot. You’ll find a real variety.

But what’s that one big question you need to know how to answer?

It’s not this.

‘What’s the ROI on this event?’

When you’re organising a conference, this is an integral part of your planning process. From initial budget forecast to predicted attendee numbers, it’s essential to select your success metrics from the very start.

Your primary stakeholders will want to know you have clear, realistic goals, so you’ll need an answer ready.

But it’s not the big question.

Man and woman shaking hands

It’s not this either.

‘Where’s the nearest bathroom?’

Organising a conference means looking at the little picture as well as the big one.

That’s why an event venue walk-through is so valuable for a conference organiser. You need to understand what your delegates will experience from the moment they arrive to register to the day they leave – and what memories will be freshest in their minds.

‘How do I get there?’

‘Is there free Wi-Fi?’

‘I’m arriving late – where do I go?’

Those small questions really matter.

But not as much as the one big question.

Commuter looking at their smartphone

Getting impatient?

Fair enough! No one likes to be kept waiting.

Your delegates won’t want to wait for quick answers either.

When you’re organising a conference, help them out with a well-resourced website or conference app. Provide mobile-friendly maps, clear signage and well-trained venue staff: they’ll make a world of difference to the conference experience.

Those well-trained staff should know the answer to the one big question too.

People gathered around a laptop

Here it is.

Enough waiting. Here’s the number one question everyone organising a conference should know how to answer.

‘How accessible is your conference?’

Not what you expected?

Then it’s time to shift your expectations. One in five people in the UK have a disability. Accessibility isn’t just a ‘nice to have’: it’s an absolute expectation, for your able delegates as well as those who need an environment with modifications made.

The UK has undergone a valuable, if slow, transformation since the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995. Its requirement for ‘reasonable adjustments’ to be made to venues, equipment and policies has made commonplace adaptations like ramps, wide automatic doors, steps with clearly marked edges and improved lighting to support those with visual impairments.

As a result, it might seem a quick an easy question to answer. Isn’t everywhere accessible now?

Step free route sign

How to take control of the answer

In reality, it’s poor practice to leave it to your venue to take responsibility for accessibility. Complying with the law doesn’t always mean accessibility results: older or listed buildings may be excluded; adaptations sometimes leave a lot to be desired; and, too often, disabled access is assumed to mean wheelchair access, and other needs go unmet.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to make sure you’ve done everything you can to give a full, honest answer to the one big question.

  • Visit DisabledGo’s website when you’re choosing your venue. Their listing includes everything from lift dimensions to the distance from the nearest Blue Badge parking.
  • Walk through the venue yourself, with their checklist in mind (especially if it’s a new venue which isn’t listed). Make a note of how easy it is to find accessible routes and transport.
  • Build accessibility into your own collateral. Make your walking map friendly to those with colour-blindness, as well as including accessible routes. Instead of print, provide digital content which allows users with specific needs to change the size of text, or use screen readers.
  • Create an accessibility statement. That way, the big question always has an easy-to-find answer.

Organising a conference? View the impressive array of accessible and flexible event venues at the University of Birmingham.

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