How Member Volunteers Can Help Support and Staff Your Conferences
If you need more onsite staff support for an upcoming conference, consider looking to your members. Last year, the North American Vascular Biology Organization enlisted a group of postdoc members to serve as session facilitators at its international conference to great success.
Last year, Bernadette Englert, executive officer at the North American Vascular Biology Organization found herself in a tough spot when it came to staffing NAVBO’s 22nd International Vascular Biology Meeting.
“Our large international meeting happens once every six years,” she said. “We had 54 sessions with six sessions running during each time slot, and we didn’t have enough staff to cover each session.”
To ensure those sessions ran smoothly without breaking the bank, Englert turned to NAVBO members, specifically a group of 18 trusted postdocs.
“It worked beautifully,” Englert said. “They met and greeted the session chairs and speakers, assisted speakers with setting up computers, helped with lights, and acted as liaisons with the audiovisual staff.”
Englert shared how enlisting member volunteers during conferences can be a win-win for everyone involved.
High Level of Care
To find the right volunteers for the job, Englert contacted postdocs she already knew and who were familiar with running sessions. “The postdocs in our online programming committee were used to organizing their own virtual sessions,” she said. “I knew they could help because of their prior experience.”
When reaching out to member volunteers, Englert recommends looking for individuals who are already planning to attend your conference, who you know and can trust, and who have had some prior experience doing the necessary task.
“Think about it like you were hiring someone,” she said. “You’re not looking for just anyone: you’re looking for people who are interested, who are invested, and who you can trust.”
Members are also good meeting volunteers because they know the subject matter and are highly invested in the event’s success.
“It’s a group of people who are already planning to attend your meeting and have vested interested in its success,” Englert said. “They’ll do the job with care and attention, whether that’s making sure speakers arrive on time, notifying you of any problems, or testing equipment.”
Volunteers had the opportunity to choose which sessions they wanted to volunteer for, and anyone who didn’t get their first choice was encouraged to put their name down to serve as an alternate.
“Member volunteers are able to provide a different level of engagement as facilitators,” Englert said. “During the setup, they were able to chat with the speakers about a recent paper or development in the field. You only get that kind of experience with a member.”
Opportunities for Growth
Having more junior or even student members serve in this role can be good jumpstart for them to start engaging in the association.
“They feel like they’re making a meaningful impact in the meeting, and being a session facilitator is something they can add to their growing CVs,” Englert said.
She listed her postdoc volunteers in NAVBO’s meeting program as session facilitators to recognize their contributions. Volunteers also received recognition from the session chairs and speakers during the sessions.
In addition, this experience can provide junior members with important networking opportunities. While they might be shy to approach industry leaders normally, being the session facilitators makes them the “expert” in the room.
Speakers came to the postdocs with questions and looking for guidance on technology issues. It was a more relaxed way to spark conversation and break the ice.
“The whole experience was really a win-win situation,” Englert said. “The postdocs made the most of it for themselves and their careers, and it was so helpful to have the extra hands on deck. I know I’ll be looking to them again for future meetings.”