Managing Time at a Conference
Keeping a conference to a timetable is an intangible art that requires time management, planning, contingency, perseverance, diplomacy, tact and firmness, depending on what's happening and who you are trying to keep in line. It's a racing certainty that things won’t go exactly according to the schedule – the skill is to be able to keep people happy despite this and recover lost time as you go along.
One of the most obvious ways of achieving this is to build contingency time into your schedule. This comprises blocks of time that are there purely to cover for speakers over-running, people with poor time management being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and any other disruptive elements.
Time Management in Different ThreadsWith a complex conference, one with multiple sessions in different seminar rooms or lecture theatres, make sure that one person or team is assigned with sole responsibility for the time management of the thread of the events at each location. They should make sure speakers are on time, brief them as to how long they have and make sure that they understand the importance of keeping to the schedule.
Time management of individual sessions can be diplomatically tricky. Some speakers may ramble on, and question and answer sessions after a presentation can go on for far too long. Those situations are difficult to control and, with a commercial conference at least, it's important for paying customers to get answers to their questions.
Set Time LimitsPart of planning the conference timing should be the setting of absolute limits for sessions over-running in these situations. The overall conference organiser should make sure that individual event managers know what those limits are. The staff in charge of each seminar location should be empowered to bring proceedings to a halt, and conference speakers should be made aware that they will be wound up if they over-run excessively.
In many cases the speakers at a conference are there because they are experts in their filed and not because they are born presenters. They may need more hand-holding with regard to time management and one option is to agree hand signals that can be given to indicate the passage of time and to help the speaker stay on track.