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GUIDE: 15 Best Practices for Academic Conferences4 min read

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Having returned from the Annual Far West Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society, I have some reflections on some best practices, some of which were glaringly missing from this conference. I also have to say that last year’s Rethinking Hell Conference was run better, and my hopes for the upcoming June 10-11 RH conference are now up, and I plan to help make it the best it can be.

1. Plentiful Online References and Materials

In this age of mobile devices, no one wants to carry around bags full of colored fliers. If you’re giving away or selling your book, I’ll be glad to tote it. Glossy sales materials? No.

Also, please don’t hand me a printed schedule. Make ALL of the conference materials digital and easy to find online. Especially the schedule and map of the facility.

2. Helpful Staff

staff.jpgOk, so I’ve got the digital map, but maybe I’m holding it upside down. Put clearly identifiable people at key locations to help guide me. Thank you.

3. Freebies and Discounts and Stuff to Buy

Schwag like pens, shirts, and Frisbees make life fun. Discount coupons of greater than 20% are good too, but 40% and up are preferable. And yes, I’ll buy your book if you have a table there and you give me a discount.

4. Time to Buy Stuff

Some conferences have vendors around, but no time in the schedule for milling about. Give me a longer lunch please. Or 20 minute breaks instead of 10.

5. Hotel Discounts

Even if the conference is only for one day, some of us travel to bet there. Get us a discount in or near the venue.

6. Limited Number of Concurrent Breakout Session Speakers

Please, if there are more than 4 speakers per breakout session, don’t make me choose just one. Spread the conference out over another day or make your selection of speakers more narrow. Or if you’re gonna make us choose from one of 10 speakers per session, be sure to offer recorded versions later (see below).

7. Video/audio recording of all breakout sessions

Of course I want to see more than one speaker per breakout session. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth recording for others to hear. Not recording your breakout sessions says that you don’t really value the speakers.

8. Free WiFi

This needs no justification.

9. Optional Catered Meals

food-truck-lines.jpgMaking people go off site for food is obnoxious, especially because you probably can’t give them enough time to drive around a busy city at lunchtime and expect them back in a timely manner. My recommendation? Food trucks.

10. Provide Bottled Water

Keep everyone hydrated. Plus, you can keep sugary drinks out of your venue; soda + carpets = stains.

11. Nametags

We come to these events to socialize with like-minded geeks, so please help us talk by providing nametags (pre-printed or blank), and instruct us to put our name and institution on them. QED.

12. Social Event for Speakers / Organizers

When I come to speak, I want to hob-nob with the other speakers, who are supposedly as zealous about the conference as I am. These people are *doing* something, and I want to feed off of the energy and momentum they have. So Organizers, PLEASE set up more than one event at which we can mingle with our fellow speakers.

13. Projection Support for Speakers

Don’t make me bring flipcharts. I like using visuals, I don’t care how unhip hipsters think PowerPoint is. Sometimes, a chart is worth a thousand words.

14. Publishing Support

If you are not going to publish my paper or lecture, please give me options to capture it, even if it’s just a list of publishers who might be interested. Form some alliances for us instead of leaving it all on us.

15. Published Proceedings Package

Again, if it’s worth having the conference, it’s worth capturing it and offering some edited version for participants and others to buy. I know you need to recoup your costs, so sometimes post-production is too expensive, but there are plenty of online freelancer services like (a favorite of mine),,, or


I like Academic conferences, but they are not all created equal. Make yours better by following these best practices.