How to Organize an Event: Lessons from #PRAGMA28

This post was started from the time that PRAGMA28 was held in Nara.

By helping out at the 28th Pacific Rim Applications and Grid Middleware Assembly I picked up a few pointers on how to run a good (successful or not) public event. #PRAGMA28

Universal Access & Facilities

Event organizers need to cater to differing needs of various people. Make sure that all registered guests’ needs are met. This includes but not limited to:

  • Religious needs: For Muslims, providing just Halal food is bare minimum. Prayer area, if possible, should be prepared. Access to cleaning basin, silence, and clean floors will be appreciated. If in doubt, having a Muslim contact in the organizing team is a good idea. Do note that vegetarian food may not be Halal. One drop of alcohol is enough to make it unsuitable for Muslims.

  • Accessibility: Most places in Japan are already blindness and wheelchair-friendly. If a guest needs to bring service dogs, make sure they are allowed or have places to wait at.

  • Followers’ entertainment: Maintain a list of attractions or activities that accompanying non-attendees can use or enjoy while outside the conference halls.

The more you do to accommodate attendees, the better.

Publishing & Printing stuff

  • Repeatable Publishing: Use mail merge for everything that’s gonna get repeated. Certificates of participation may be requested on-the-fly for people who really need it (when name-tag is not enough to prove participation)

  • In student-focused conferences and events, always have a certificate of participation template handy. Some schools require them to record participation of the students, and use them to improve their annual reports.

  • How to emphasize names on a name tag or address someone:

    • Chinese names must be put on a single line, even if written using alphabet. I’m not really sure how to address them, though.
    • Japanese names are emphasized on last names (except in really international or informal events). Japanese names are usually written in Lastname Firstname format (and not “Lastname, Firstname” even in formal cases). This can lead to a lot of confusion. Some Japanese people write their names as LASTNAME Firstname or Firstname LASTNAME, so use this as a guide.
    • Westerner names should be emphasized by first names, except formally. I think this is a basic case, actually.
    • Thai people have nicknames and it’s okay to use that, except formally. Professional or military titles (Prof., Dr., Col., etc.) can be used together with nicknames. In Thailand, Dr. is more associated with Ph.D. not MD.
    • New from PRAGMA29: Indonesians can legally have just one name or take a parent’s name as last name. It does not indicate how great a person is. If a name has “oe”, read it as a “u”. For example, Soekarno = Sukarno. Sukarno uses “u” in his own name, but the airport named after him is written as Soekarno-Hatta. (Hatta was his vice president.)
    • As an exception to any and all above, if somebody introduced themselves with a specific name, use that name to address them. Get dynamic about name emphasis. Keep those IF clauses handy in your Excel file so you can modify the mail merge quickly without affecting the original data. Also, I think it would be even better if we can let attendees “design” their own name tags. Give them two lines and display result on the fly in the registration process.
  • Always write event name and date (optional: location) on the name tag. Sometimes it can be used as proof of attendance for accounting purposes. It’s also a good memorabilia.

  • According to a recent tragedy where a certain Christopher’s name tag at GDC (?) was taken by the secretary office for accounting purposes, I think it could be a good idea to print out an extra card as “proof of attendance” for each participant. These could be just business card-sized and shoved into the name tag package.

  • According to Matt Cutts, to prevent the badge flipping around problem you can just print it both sides. Also mitigates damage from rain that does seep into the badge pocket. Alternatively, consider a two-hole mount for badges.

  • Give out breakaway lanyards. Some people (this is from a non-PRAGMA case) do complain that the non-breakaway lanyards are unsafe. While the chance of death by strangulation in an academic conference is low, I think it’s a simple sign of thoughtfulness. If it’s expensive, just inform the participants that they can return the lanyard somewhere or have a box with “LANYARD RETURN” printed in boldface.

Things you need

  • A proper business card case IS NECESSARY. Even if you are a student and not permitted to use school printers to print your own card and too damn broke poor to pay to get them printed outside (means: you should actually have a few cards as an organizer!), at least have an empty case in case a senior attendee gives you one.

  • Prepare spare awards and gifts. Ties can and do happen, or suddenly more people need recognition for something.

  • Always have USB cables and drives handy. DisplayPort adapters (those white little expensive Mac dongle bastards) too. Somebody will eventually need it. For expensive stuff, mark with your institution name.

  • Always keep Internet access available. Sometimes it’s necessary to check emails, revise slides, send print jobs to the print servers, and other things. Consult with the venue early and test the network under a large number of users. Prepare a backup access. Maybe you don’t need it, but someone will, especially if it’s an international event where foreigners without data plans join.

  • Have some spare power strips. You need ten for that room? Get one or two more if possible. They do break down under stress.

  • Document everything. All posters, all speeches, all slides. Gotta collect them all. Videos would be even better. This also gives everyone importance.

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