A few years ago I helped organise an international conference for a tiny not-for-profit with huge aspirations. I had plenty of experience of managing events so thought it would be easy enough. The planning committee had vision, energy and contacts. Our venue was superb. Members around the globe were poised to take part. Then the partner who’d agreed to lead on the call for proposals and programming dropped out.
“How hard can it be?”, I remember thinking. Organising academic conferences was new to me but, with some useful advice from experienced colleagues, I waded in, confident that all it would take was common sense and some graft.
Things started well. But as the event grew more ambitious – from a relatively small gig to three days of plenaries and breakouts, each with ten parallel sessions – the system I had for managing it just didn’t pass muster. I was communicating with close to 200 submitters and six reviewers using email and a spreadsheet.
Taking a spin around the Oxford Abstracts software has been a bit of a revelation. First of all, while it does really quite sophisticated things, it’s simple and easy to use – no special technical skills required whether you’re the event administrator, a submitter or a reviewer. I particularly like:
- the clean look of each page – not too many things to think about at once
- the flexibility – being able to change things like submission and reviewing deadlines, adapt forms or amend abstracts, in a flash
- the comprehensive range of email templates for communicating with submitters and reviewers, which can easily be tailored
- the different options for downloading submissions – e.g. individually or in a ‘book’, by type or category. Very handy for offline reviewing and creating hard copy conference materials
- the program builder – I LOVE this function. So easy to schedule sessions (and sessions within sessions, down to increments of 1, 5 or 15 minutes – clever!), great choice over what types of information to include and a highly professional end product
- the OA help desk – easy to search and gives step-by-step instructions for anything you might need to do with the software.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have saved a ton of time and stress and avoided some nasty faux pas (such as inadvertently listing the names of two authors in the wrong order in the conference programme – ouch!).
Next time, I won’t try to be a hero – I’ll choose the easy route.