10 Lessons from running a smallish conference

So, I’m still just recovering from having hosted the Horatio Alger Society’s annual conference here in DeKalb. Here are some of the important things I learned or had reinforced, having put together the whole shebang from soup to nuts, basically.

1. Deadlines are wishy-washy for most things, except catering. Always submit a higher number to accommodate last-minute attendees. You will still be wrong, but it will be close enough for everyone to be fed.

2. You can have the best speakers, the greatest setup in the world, but what attendees will talk about first, positive or negative, is 1) the food 2) the temperature and comfort level of the venue. If you nail those two things, everything else will be okay. And your speakers and attendees will be happy, too.

3. Things will go wrong. Reservations will be lost. Things will be forgotten. What matters is not that it happened, but how you cope with it. Have a plan B (and C) just in case, and you’ll be fine.

4. When buying snacks, having the option of healthy choices is important. But you will still go through twice as many cookies as fruit, and twice as many donuts as yogurt.

5. The forms you thought you needed to fill out to do that one thing? Yeah, they’ve changed from the last time you did this. Again. You will need to do them over again.

6. Your staff is awesome and you love them, and you couldn’t have done it without them and their help. They made everything look effortless.

7. You will still not have less than a 12 hour day for three days straight. Taking the following week off was a good plan. Thinking you’d use that time to paint the bedroom was a tad unrealistic. It’s okay to rest.

8. Don’t worry about not having exercised; you ran up and down the stairs enough times to cover it.

9. Take the thanks of the people who are offering it. You worked for it, and you deserved it.

10. There is nothing more awesome than handing a high school kid a surprise scholarship check for $1000 for college. That always rocks.



About Lynne M. Thomas

Lynne M. Thomas is a nine time Hugo Award winning editor and podcaster. In her day job, she is Head of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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