As board members of our local and national translation and interpreters associatons, respectively, we know how much of a challenge it is to organize profession-specific events, workshops, meetings, and -- the biggest challenge of all: conferences.
When CHICATA chose me, Judy, (via a recommendation from my friend Karin Bauchrowitz, an active CHICATA member), to be one of three guest speakers at their annual conference in May, I was amazed to discover that this mid-size organization (approximately 100 members) has been putting on an annual conference for 20 years. The entire event was fantastic, very well organized, and the attendees very extremely satisfied and felt that they got their money's worth. In my mind, the following were the key contributing factors to the event's success (read on, conference organizers from other organizations looking for ideas):
- Being highly organized. The organization's president, John Bukacek, has been doing this for more than 20 years, so he's a pro. He is very well organized and is sure to request speaker's bios, abstracts, pictures, handouts, etc. ahead of time so he can put all this information together for the conference package. The initial invite for the conference went out about a month and a half before the event. John was backed by an enthusiastic group of conference organizers, who were also on-site early to take care of registration. Name tags and pens were on hand, and tickets for a book raffle were also provided. Each attendee received a folder with several flyers (on distinctively-colored paper), including handouts, surveys, important information, etc. Not one detail had been overlooked.
- Same date every year. The conference has been held consistently the first Saturday in May. This year, the event was held two weeks later (an exception), but everyone knows this event happens in May. It's good to be consistent to facilitate planning on behalf of potential attendees.
- Diverse line-up of speakers. CHICATA scheduled three speakers. I gave the morning's keynote speech titled "Lessons from Business School: The Entrepreneurial Linguist," which was well received and generated quite a bit of discussion. Diane Howard, a well-respected linguist, instructor and presenter, addressed "Translation Ethics: More Than You See in the Codes." Her session was excellent and based on translation theories. It was very interactive and there were lots of passionate responses. The final speaker, attorney Martin McKenzie was a substitute for presenter and attorney Constance Doyle, who had fallen ill. Martin presented the same information Constance had been due to present, titled "Your Castle...Your Rules: The Importance of Using your Contract Terms When Working For Agencies or Third Parties." This interactive presentation included information that many attendees were not familiar with, and was quite popular.
- Manageable attendance. The conference drew around 30 attendees, and the room was small enough for people to comfortably talk to each other, but big enough to meet new people. Speakers did not need a microphone (there was one provided, just in case), and everyone could hear very well.
- Asking for feedback. The conference organizers included a short anonymous paper survey that they asked attendees to complete. The intention was to find out if the sessions had been perceived as helpful and whether attendees had any suggestions or comments.
- Excellent location. The Talbott Hotel in downtown Chicago is a small, luxury botique hotel with fantastic service. The room was set up very nicely, and snacks and drinks were provided throughout the day. We never ran out of water and cofffee. The location was also ideal in terms of lunch, with dozens of restaurants within walking distance. The conference organizers did a great job at providing lists of local eateries.
- Affordable rates. CHICATA keeps the fees very reasonable at $55 for members and $65 for non-members.
- Good choice of length. One day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seems to be a great length -- not too short, not too long. Also, the conference organizers and all the presenters stayed within their alloted timelines, which made sticking to the day's schedule of events a breeze.
- Combining conference with annual member meeting. After the conclusion of the conference, CHICATA held its annual general membership meeting, which many members attended. It's a great opportunity to take advantage of members being there to ask for their input on the year's activities.