Putting together a live event like a conference means there is no “undo” button to fall back on. You’ve only got one chance to make sure everything at your event goes off without a hitch. Not every obstacle is avoidable, but there are safeguards you can incorporate into your planning process to limit the common pitfalls that plague meeting planners.

As you plan your next conference, try to work in these three strategic maneuvers to keep some common scenarios from impacting your conference.

Scenario #1: The last-minute submitter and the secret deadline

Regardless of how long your collection site is open, it never fails that the bulk of your submissions are going to arrive in the last few days (or potentially even hours). Despite the steps you took to create an easy, “Seriously, a five-year-old could do this” submission process, there are bound to be last-minute issues that prevent submitters from having their material to you before your site closes.

Don’t let something simple like a submitter forgetting their password derail your timetable or stop a presenter from speaking at your conference! (Although, if there ever was a Darwinian way of eliminating your presenters, a missed deadline due to a forgotten password would be a good one.) Instead, set two deadlines for your call for papers. The one you advertise on your site… and the real one.

Having a second deadline means you can accommodate presenters who find themselves in this position, while at the same time allowing you to stay on track with the rest of your conference planning. A three-day buffer is good for most situations.

Scenario #2: The last-minute RSVPs and the second print run

Just like presenters, attendees love to wait until the last minute to commit to your conference. The realities of conference planning timelines don’t always allow for such late decision-making on your part. Coordinating with multiple vendors may have forced you to already submit final counts for materials like printed programs, customized USBs or bundled “welcome” packets. Avoid running out of supplies! Make sure you order plenty of extra to accommodate the influx of RSVPs that tend to come right before the deadline.

Scenario #3: The last-minute speaker cancellation and the concurrent session

Despite all your best-laid plans, confirmations and double checking, if you plan conferences for long enough, the inevitable speaker cancellation will happen to you, too. Missed flights, illnesses or sometimes just plain ol’ double booking can leave your conference one speaker short of a full day. A sure-fire way to avoid the dreaded “session gap” in your conference day is to always schedule at least one session that runs concurrently with another. If you are presented with a situation where you need to fill an unexpected hole in the schedule, this extra presentation can be moved to fill the gap with minimal disturbance to the rest of the conference.


A few simple precautions can go a long way in helping you plan and produce a smooth-running conference. It’s no surprise that the things that add the most value to your conference are the same ones that can cause the biggest headache when they get sidetracked. Be sure to take steps during the planning phase to let you handle any issues that arise. Doing so can be just the thing that leads to scenario #4: The meeting planner and the well-run conference.

Are there any other conference planning tips that you use to limit last-minute issues? What are some other obstacles that are easily prevented? Or, do you have any examples of issues that weren’t prevented (but could have been)? Let us know in the comments!

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Omnipress delivers educational content for associations and other organizations. Digital and print solutions for in-person, virtual, and hybrid conferences and training programs.

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