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Tech spec: the pain points of conference content management

Managing the content for a conference means working with a lot of data. Many event planners use familiar, free or low-cost software tools for this. In the high-stress world of event management, our spreadsheets are like security blankets.

We know how to use them, and they don’t give us any nasty surprises. Plus, no license or training costs: what’s not to like, right?

Unfortunately, a few pain points arise with this approach. For example, Google forms are great for designing and publishing a simple call for speakers form and saving responses in a spreadsheet. But to import submitters’ email addresses into your email platform, share uploaded files with reviewers, schedule sessions in your agenda and publish the details to your event’s website and app means copying a lot of data around manually. Changes like late submissions that are received after you’ve exported the data can get missed, for example.

Submitter communications can also be time-consuming: acknowledging submissions, decision notifications, etc. Even with tools like Mailchimp, it takes work to export and maintain accurate recipient lists for the various messages.

The review process can involve a lot of communication. Especially if you use multiple reviewers per submission, each of whom receives several emails: review assignment notifications, deadline reminders and review completion acknowledgements.

And if a reviewer asks for more information from the submitter, or asks them to make corrections, or you want to forward their feedback, or run a rebuttals processes, you could be forwarding a lot of emails between submitters and reviewers.

Tracking each review’s progress in a spreadsheet implies a lot of work manually checking and updating it.

It takes work to export and maintain accurate recipient lists

Deciding which session will happen in which space, and at what time is straightforward for a small conference. But as the number of sessions grows, the complexity of scheduling it grows exponentially.

Most conference organisers use a spreadsheet or sticky notes to manage this. But both methods are slow, repetitive and pains-taking. They leave a lot of room for error and give you a nagging feeling that an issue will emerge on the day.

Last-minute agenda changes can be particularly difficult. The immediate run-up to the conference is a busy time, with many other demands distracting you. In summary, keeping track of all your data and communications can become a huge admin headache: our security blankets are suffocating us with low-value admin tasks. There are some excellent abstract management products on the market. Many of them are feature-rich and address several of the pain points around submission and review. However, because they don’t focus on agenda scheduling, you may still have to transfer data into your other tools and platforms manually.

Some all-in-one event management software products include abstract and agenda management modules. There are some advantages to this, for example, if your call for papers process needs to talk to your registrations database. However, these vendors tend to be more focused on their core products (registration, ticketing, event websites and apps).

Joe Atkinson, co-founder of LineUp Ninja, winner of the Event Technology Awards 2019.