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How To Plan A Student Conference

4 Months Prior

Decide on the date of the conference. Notify national SHRM of the date and location selected.

Brainstorm with chapter members for topics of interest (usually current topics draw more attendees.)

Talk to potential sponsors and ask for financial support and/or donations of supplies.

Create a preliminary budget for the event.

For a spring conference, send out announcement before end of fall semester (to arrive about the week after Thanksgiving) to alert chapters that they will receive a packet of registration materials shortly after the winter break.

3 Months Prior

Arrange roster of speakers on the chosen topics (your local professional SHRM liaison can help you with this). Have speakers send you a short biography for inclusion in the program and to facilitate coming up with introductions at the conference.

Arrange a special room rate with one or two local, inexpensive motels/hotels. Make sure you ask for any special advance notice requirements, and tell them that the students will identify themselves as SHRM members. Try to get one person's name at the motel so you can include it in the registration materials so students can ask for the person who's supposed to know.

Book, and get written confirmation of, the following:

  • Room(s) for actual conference meetings
  • Room in which lunch will be served
  • Prices and lead time requirements for lunch choices
  • Room for party on the night before
  • Arrangements, prices, and requirements for food/beverages for the party. This is particularly important if you intend to have liquor served on campus. You may also be required to have a campus police officer present (more $$)
  • Arrangements, prices, and requirements for continental breakfast and session breaks
  • Necessary requirements for speakers (e.g., overhead or slide projectors, tables, chairs, etc.)
  • Registration table(s) outside of conference meeting rooms

Decide on the cost/person you will charge the students, based on the conference costs, expected attendance and expected sponsorship income. Add $5-$7 for the professionals. Don't charge the speakers at all.

Develop the program packet. The packets should include: a map of the campus, a map of how to get to the campus, the chapter advisor's phone number, the location of the Friday night party/social event (if applicable), as well as the speaker and program agenda. Also helpful is a space on the registration form to RSVP to the evening social event and/or meal functions.

2 Months Prior

About one week after Christmas, send out programs to all chapters, state officers, local SHRM chapter members, national student program manager, et al. The lead time before mailing (i.e., to develop and print them) is about 3 weeks--mostly due to the speakers procrastination about sending you their biographies. On the registration materials set a deadline for registration at least 2 weeks before you really have to give a head count for lunch, party, and breakfast. You will still have procrastinators up to the very last minute, but most lead times for food will be about 3 days, so you should be ok.

Follow up with periodic e-mails to remind students to send in their registrations.

1 Month Prior

Make parking arrangements, if necessary, for conference attendees and speakers.

Make signs for the building and parking lot so visitors can identify where the conference is and where they should park

Make lunch tickets, color-coded, so you can hand out to participants as they register. This makes it easier on the server to know whether it's meat, chicken, fish, veggie, etc.

Order folders, legal pads (small), pens, and name tag blanks for each participant and speaker.

Reconfirm all meal and room arrangements by phone.

Purchase gifts or solicit donated gifts for speakers (approx. $10-$20/speaker.)

As Registrations Start Rolling In

Keep a tally of lunch choices on a separate piece of paper.

Send out confirmation postcards to registrants. (optional)

Start typing name tags.

Deposit money in account, but keep a running list of who's paid.

1 Week Before

Notify your faculty of the conference. Notifications before this will be ignored or lost!

Announce in your management/HR/psychology classes.

Assign one student per speaker to be a "runner" if s/he needs anything during the conference. Also assign students to make sure visitors get escorted to lunch, etc.

Order food and beverages (again, the head count will not be exact until about 2 days before, but just add 5 or 6 dinners on to the order--they'll get eaten).

Have students who are going to be doing the "Introductions" for the speakers decide exactly what they're going to say, and practice it.

Day Before

Make sure meeting room(s) have an overhead, screen, slide projector (if requested by speaker) extra overhead bulbs, etc.

Something will go wrong. Don't worry, it will get fixed somehow.

That Morning

Arrive two hours before to set up and recheck everything.

Put up signs to direct visitors, and post one student near the building entrance as greeter.

Keep one person by the phone to answer "I'm Lost" questions.

Turn everything over to your conference team to run, and pray you'll live until the "Day After."

Thank you to Dr. Dale Dwyer of the University of Toledo for compiling this information.​


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