Guidelines and Tips for Hosting a Work Conference

Original version written by:
Barbara Bentz, Ken Gibson, Sandy Kegley, Ladd Livingston, and Bill Schaupp

Modified by Kathy Sheehan and Darrell Ross

Start early. Most hotels require at least a year's prior booking for this large a group. Most hotels also require a deposit, often a year in advance. Contact the WFIWC Treasurer to make arrangements for sending a deposit to the hotel.

Get a written rate agreement. It is essential to get a written, signed quote on lodging rates. Given that you are setting things up 1-2 years in advance, there is no guarantee the same person you initially work with will still be at the hotel when it comes time for the meeting. Having a written quote guarantees your rate. Pay attention to the US Government per diem maximum lodging rate, because many potential attendees will either not come or stay elsewhere if the lodging rate exceeds per diem.

Get a site that can accommodate the meeting space needs. The hotel will need to have a large room for plenary sessions and several smaller rooms for concurrent workshops at a minimum. Need space or a room for registration, the mixer, coffee breaks, the banquet, and poster session in addition to the meeting rooms. Also need a room for the executive meeting the afternoon before the conference starts. There often are several ancillary meetings of smaller focused groups either before or after WFIWC --- it is nice to be able to accommodate the folks who will ask for a meeting room, often at the last minute. Consultations with the current program committee and perusing prior work conference proceedings will provide an idea as to what the site will need to have.

Use meal and break food costs to defray the meeting room expenses. Most hotels will waive the fees for meeting rooms if a sufficient number of people will be staying at the hotel or a sufficient amount of food is purchased from the hotel. This means that purchasing food from the hotel for breaks and a banquet should be sufficient to get free meeting rooms. Some hotels also offer free sleeping rooms. Be sure to ask if they will do this. We have often used the free sleeping rooms for Founders award recipient, invited speakers, retired members or students. The decision of who gets the free room(s) has been left up to the organizers.

Hotel negotiating hints and pitfalls:

  • A contract for provided food will probably be required, usually after the lodging and site use situation is established; read it carefully and ask a lot of questions before signing it.
     
  • You must make it clear to the hotel management, in writing if possible, that only one or two predetermined people have the authority to make decisions for the group. If not, you'll have lots of people ordering things that end up on the bill. This is especially important regarding refreshments served during breaks.
     
  • What happens when they run out of the coffee you ordered for a break ? Decide beforehand what you are going to do --- order more or let it go. Ask about charges for this extra stuff.
     
  • Do not let the hotel staff set-up the breaks too soon before the actual time, as people think it is a fine way to avoid meal expenses, especially breakfast.
     
  • Charges for cans of soda or pitchers of juice can be exorbitant and are often levied even if folks do not use it; be careful what you ask for during breaks.
     
  • There are more and more folks who will choose the vegetarian or "lite meat" option, so there needs to be some accommodation for them at the banquet.
     
  • Audio-visual (AV) equipment rental fees from the hotel can be outrageously high; finding someone to provide AV stuff free of charge will be a big savings, but it can be difficult and may lead to uninsured losses. Same with poster hanging boards. Creativity and friends at Universities, Churches, and local USFS outposts help here.

 

Advertise at the preceding WFIWC. Announcements, information, etc. should be available at WFIWC the year preceding the one you are hosting. A poster presentation is one good tactic. Have a big pile of literature from the Chamber of Commerce to hand out near the poster. That's also a good opportunity to ask for volunteers to help you and to moderate workshops, panels, etc.

Get as much help as possible. Get firm commitments from people. It helps to delegate specific tasks such as the poster session, group photos, registration, and, of course, a program committee, etc. Good communication between local arrangements and program committees is essential.

Use the local chamber of commerce and tourist boards. These folks are there to help attract visitors who will want to return; they have a surprisingly large amount of information and willingness to help. Site selection can be greatly facilitated by using them, once you know what you need. They will probably be willing to send out a request for bids on your behalf. Often they will print name tags free of charge, if you get them a list of registrants, and they have been known to provide registration help on site, too. These sorts of organizations also provide free appealing inserts about the area for you to include in the meeting announcement mailing(s).

Complementary registration fees:  The Founders Award and Memorial Scholarship Award recipients should have their meeting registration and one night's lodging cost covered by the WFIWC. These costs should be included when calculating the meeting registration fee.

Retired WFIWC members without institutional support should be given free registration to attend workshop sessions. However, this does not include any meeting activities that involve per person charges such as lunches, dinners, field trips, etc. The retired members are expected to pay for any of those activities that they attend. (Approved at the 2005 final business meeting.)

Determining the registration fee is very difficult because many costs are on a per person basis and you don't know how many people are going to attend. Things to consider in costs:

 

Registration costs are determined by your best estimate of total costs divided by your best estimate of the number of attendees! Plus you need to add in the difference between regular registration and discounted student & retiree registration multiplied by your estimated number of students and retirees. There are a lot of fuzzy numbers here. Some costs such as room rental, AV, and printing are fixed, while others (e.g. souvenirs and food) will depend on the number of people who attend. It helps to separate these two when figuring out the registration fee. A spread sheet such as Excel can help place these numbers in context and allow you to generate low and high estimates to use.

Remember that WFIWC is nonprofit -- the WFIWC tax number is 93-0078709. Sometimes this status will provide a break on costs. Also, it is strongly suggested that you open a free checking account at a local bank (nonprofits get free accounts). Usually you get 5-10 free checks, which is plenty. That way you could deposit the incoming registration funds, and have checks for paying for AV rental, souvenirs, etc. Alternatively, you could have the registration forms and checks sent to the Treasurer and get checks from her or him for all expenses. But you would need to keep in close contact with the Treasurer to keep track of how many people are coming and other information that may be on your registration form.

Recent attendance figures:

       WFIWC       

Whitefish 2002--157
Portland 2000--140
Jackson 1998--120

Joint WFIWC/WIFDWC

Breckenridge 1999--192
Albuquerque 1994--230
Bend 1989-280

 

Registration will require several people to set-up, track, and accomplish onsite. Some folks will be spending long hours sitting at the registration desk; this is a good opportunity to have graduate students meet the membership as they check-in. Computer entry of registration information is a vital step, to be done as it comes into you. One or two laptops on site for registration, loaded with the registration data, helps a lot. Have a portable printer to make name tags for on site registrants. Keep good records and expect that some folks will want their registration money back because their plans change. Photocopy the checks you get before depositing them. Consider establishing and broadcasting a cut-off date for return of registration fees. Encourage people to register early! This may mean having a substantial early registration discount or late (on site) registration penalty. Hotels need to know number of people for meals well ahead of mealtime. Having a large number of people register at the door makes an estimate difficult.

Having a theme helps. Probably not mandatory, but it may good to develop a "theme" early in the process. Can plan around the theme with some of the panels, participants, etc.

Western Forest Insect Work Conference Logo: Native American drawing of an adult weevilThe WFIWC weevil (at right) has become our unofficial logo. You don't have to use it - but it's a widely a recognized symbol of the work conference. Download a digital version from the website, or contact the webmaster. WFIWC has unrestricted use of the image because the organization paid for the artwork.

Poster sessions are an important way for people to communicate what they are doing. It is wise to schedule a specific time when poster viewing is the only event. Provide an incentive to attend. One example is an evening ice cream social when poster presenters will be present. If you just let folks view the posters whenever possible sometime during the meeting you will find that the posters do not receive attention commensurate with their value or the effort required to produce and display them. You will need to provide poster guidelines to potential meeting attendees that includes at least the maximum size allowed. Knowing how many posters will be presented is important and may require setting some sort of deadline pre-meeting for poster registration.

Commercial exhibits cannot be displayed with posters. Commercial exhibitors will be charged $200 to put up their exhibits. The $200 will be a donation to the Scholarship Fund, and therefore tax deductible. It will be necessary to have somewhere to allow commercial exhibits to be displayed.

Set up a place and a person in charge of group photos. Make sure there is a mechanism (e.g. sign-up list passed around) to match people and their names with the photographs. Having candid photos is fun, too.

Program Ideas:

  • Include plenty of time for discussions in the workshop agenda, and encourage session moderators to structure their workshops to facilitate discussion. Suggestions discussed at the 2005 work conference include:
    • Shorten the length of time allowed for each presenter, thus ensuring more time for discussion at the end of the presentations.
    • Have formal presentations followed by a discussion session of equal length.
    • Select presenters to purposely present opposing views.
    • Utilize a debate format, with individuals representing both pro and con viewpoints on an issue.
       
  • Make room on the agenda for Founders Award Speech and Student Scholarship Winner's presentation. Have them at a place on the agenda (banquet, etc) to assure good attendance. These are special parts of the conference. 
     
  • Also, get a good "keynote" or introductory speaker. Could be local "celebrity" or someone else that would keep folks' interest. Beginning the whole affair with someone that puts everyone to sleep may not be the best way to start a conference!
     
  • Have contingency plans for last minute cancellations. You'll probably have some!
     
  • Include "locals"-silviculturists, etc. in workshops where possible. Adds a note of "reality" to some of the things we talk about.
     
  • Field trip(s) for Wednesday p.m. have become something of a "fixture" at WFIWC. Certainly optional, but they add a lot to the meeting, and are a really good way to include local folks-FS, State, other federal cooperators, etc
     
  • Someone suggested having the "latest" agenda available on website prior to meeting so it could be downloaded on a "palm pilot" if desired.

 

Proceedings

  • A repository has been established for all WFIWC proceedings. A hard copy of each WFIWC proceedings sould be mailed to Special Collections and Archives, University of Idaho,Rayburn Street - Room 008, P.O. Box 442350, Moscow, ID 83844-2350. The decision was made in 2002 to only mail proceedings to those attending the meeting, and to put a PDF version on the website. Email the PDF file to the webmaster. You should print out 10 or so extra hard copies of the proceedings for the Treasurer to keep on file for special needs.
     
  • Instruction guidelines for proceedings used in the past may be useful. Be adamant about the deadlines for the proceedings. If someone misses it, they won't be included. The length of the proceedings has gotten rather large over the years. Long proceedings are more expensive to print and mail. You may want to consider limiting the length of workshop or panel summaries.

 

Use the website (www.wfiwc.org) for posting meeting agendas, registration forms and dates, links to the hosting hotel, field trip information, special announcements, etc. Contact the webmaster for additional information: Joel Egan (wfiwc.website@gmail.com, 406-329-3278).

Contacts:

Karen Ripley (karen.ripley@wadnr.gov, 360-902-1691) -- Treasurer
Ladd Livingston (llivingston@idl.state.id.us; 208-666-8624) -- very knowledgeable about all aspects of WFIWC

Feel free to talk with people who have done this before. Hosting WFIWC can be unnerving, an endurance test, and worse, but can also be very rewarding and even fun at times. Many folks greatly appreciate the effort, perhaps most of all those who have made such an effort before. Do not plan to participate very much in the actual meeting, as you'll be running down something most of the time. While accommodating unusual and untimely requests can be rewarding, so can saying "No" to things that are out of bounds. So, use your best judgment, get an army to help you, and keep a smile on your face!

Sample Instructions for the Proceedings (a 73K pdf file)