Organizing State and District Conferences
Those who wish to organize a state or district conference should contact the national office of NHS or NJHS for individual assistance. However, the following are some general considerations.
Good conferences include:
- A purpose and theme developed around a contemporary issue
- A well-organized schedule
- Quality presentations by speakers or panels
- Leadership training sessions
- Student-led discussion sessions on school and chapter issues
- Entertainment or tours to add balance to the business sessions
- Seminars on such topics as finance, officer duties, projects, induction ceremonies, and selection procedures
- Sessions for advisers.
Planning a successful conference, whether on the local, state, or national level, depends on the details. Set out to brainstorm with a planning committee, not just for great speakers, but to mentally walk through a conference from start to finish and think of all the detailed specifics of the meeting. To assist in planning an outstanding conference here are some guidelines and suggestions.
Consider the audience that will attend.
- Will the audience consist of students, advisers, faculty, parents? Each requires different programming. If the attendees are from two or more of these audiences, a wide variety of issues will need to be addressed.
Determine the purpose of the conference.
- Is the purpose to give awards, provide opportunities for education, recognition, networking, fun? Again, each purpose has specialized activities associated with it. A conference may include all of these, in fact using several offers a sense of balance in a conference.
Develop a conference theme around the purpose and audience.
- Try not to make the theme too cute, but do make it catchy. A theme should be short and should be intertwined throughout the conference so that it will be memorable.
Develop an appropriate, well-organized schedule.
- Duration of a conference can be one day to several, during school and on weekends, or over a holiday. Determine which is the most effective for your situation.
- Remember your audience when planning the schedule. Leave time between functions to change rooms, stretch, obtain meals or snacks, and use the restroom facilities.
- Most conferences are held in high schools or other campus facilities. Special considerations must be made when working with a school. Make sure the proper steps are taken to secure the needed space and school support personnel to operate. If your conference is hotel-based, a contract will be an important part of your planning and securing the services of a well-trained member of the hotel's staff to assist in all of the details of the meeting.
- Take into consideration the rooms you will be using-their capacity, audio-visual/technical availability, and proximity to each other.
- Make sure to plan enough rooms for the size audience you expect. Check the facility and rooms you will use to make sure there are enough chairs or desk space, eating facilities (if needed), restrooms, and any other special needs you may have.
Plan programming for the conference.
- Again, remember your purpose and audience. Develop topics, speakers, training sessions, and discussion groups to fulfill that purpose and that are directed toward your audience.
- Workshop topics should be varied, ranging from serious to fun activities. If networking is one of the purposes, build it into the programming and also leave time for informal networking.
- Presenters and speakers should be varied. Use both students and adults whenever possible. Students can share ideas and experiences that are valuable to other students and adults. Adults can offer expertise and guidance in specialized topics.
- Develop an evaluation form to determine if the conference programming met the needs of the audience. This information will assist in reviewing the conference and also in planning the next.
Delegate conference responsibilities.
- A steering committee should be set up to oversee the planning and implementation of the conference. The steering committee is responsible for all the planning items above.
- In addition, other committees should be set up to cover the main portions of the conference. This will allow for more involvement, but more importantly, it will give more people the opportunity to give input and lessen the chance of an important detail being missed. The steering committee is ultimately responsible for the success of a conference and should carefully track the progress of each committee. Some conference responsibilities are listed below that could be delegated.
- Registration includes development of all registration related materials (tickets, name badges, etc.) and personnel for actual registration. Donations, such as pens, paper, candy, etc., from local businesses can be procured for inclusion in the registration packet.
- Publicity includes publicizing the event before, during and after the conference with posters, signs, announcements, press releases, etc.
- Program committee develops a printed program to include the conference schedule to be handed out at registration. The program can be copied or printed, bound or in a three-ring binder.
- Food committee coordinates the procurement and delivery to the attendees. Many times either the school cafeteria can provide the food, or fast food chains can be approached for the donation of a lunch/dinner.
: If an overnight stay is planned either host homes or a hotel facility must be procured. This can be a major undertaking and requires careful planning. With either option special care should be taken to oversee and chaperone the students for their safety and well being.
Transportation: If an overnight conference is planned then transportation must be provided to and from the school. Also, if an off-site presentation is to be used transportation must be provided. This can be coordinated through the school district of the host school.
Security/Medical: A safe, secure atmosphere must be provided for the attendees. Personnel should be provided for security of the facility and a nurse should be on-site for any accidents or illness that may occur.
Insurance/Liability: Sponsors of the meeting should check to see that appropriate insurance has been arranged for staff and participants. Requirements vary by state and district, and proper steps should be taken in this area.
Despite all the best plans and schedules, the conference planners will still need to improvise during the conference. Even if all details are covered, planning is exact and well done, something will go wrong. Count on it! It will happen, be it large or small. The air conditioner goes out and it is 99 degrees; the speaker goes on much too long and throws off your schedule. You cannot determine your emergency plan because you do not know what will go wrong. Don't panic-get your team to come up with a plan. Let the attendees know the problem and the plan. Keep your cool, take care of the situation, and the crisis will pass.
The national office of NHS and NJHS offers its assistance to chapters or schools when sponsoring an Honor Society conference or workshop.