George Mullens

Mar 20, 2019

Conference Management 101

Why do you want to organise a MUN Conference?

Organising team of PIMUN 2018


Organising a MUN conference is an incredibly rewarding activity. With the number of MUN conferences globally increasing, I figured that a useful series of articles would be on what are the principal questions that you have to answer if you want to run a successful conference that will continue in the future.

Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of organising conferences of multiple sizes, from conferences with 1000+ delegates to smaller conferences with 50 delegates. Through these experiences, I have realised that there are applicable skills and issues that need to be addressed regardless of size. Simply put, it doesn’t matter if you have 1000 delegates or 50, but you will need to consider delegate packs, conference registration systems, social events and the academic aspects of the conference.
The lessons that will be shown in this series aim to depict all of these aspects while providing a template for the questions you and your team need to ask yourselves if you want to organise a conference or generally improve your conference.

Why do you want to organise a conference?
This is the first question you should always ask yourself, regardless whether you are creating a new conference or whether you want to join the organising team of your university’s conference. In my eyes, the desire to organise a conference should ultimately be for two reasons: you want to educate delegates and create a fun, engaging experience for all delegates. 

In my time doing MUN, I’ve seen too many people try to organise conferences for the sake of “prestige” or for the title of Secretary-General for their CVs. Or even having unrealistic objectives in thinking that their conference or university society will somehow become a global actor. If you think that you will gain prestige just because you are organising a MUN, then you are clearly trying to organise a conference for yourself rather than your delegates: ie, the wrong reason to organise a conference. In all of the conferences that I’ve been to in which the leadership of the conference was just motivated by their CVs, the conferences were often poorly organised and there were very few repeat delegates over the years.

With the above point in mind, remember that organising a conference is a collaborative exercise in which you need dedicated people around you to ensure a successful conference. So even if you want to organise a conference for the right reasons, the people that you will aim to recruit need to be enthusiastic and dedicated to the collective vision of the conference. Ultimately, this team factor is a driving force in ensuring that your conference prospers over several years.

Be realistic
Similarly, when asking why you want to organise a conference, you need to be realistic with your objectives and what you expect to achieve. This is especially important if you are organising a launch conference, ie the first conference at your university. If you are expecting to have hundreds if not thousands of delegates with 20+ committees at the first edition of your conference, then you need to re-adjust your aims. Regardless, of how good your team is, most conferences do not reach those numbers in their first year of existence.

Keep in mind that organising a successful conference takes multiple years over successive secretariats. Even conferences like Harvard WorldMUN did not have thousands of delegates in their first edition. Instead, over several years of progress were they able to achieve those numbers. Remember that you are providing a service to your delegates and team. Through effective leadership and dedication, aim to build a stable organisation and conference that can improve over the years far past your tenure as Secretary-General or whichever position you may hold.

In short, you need to be organising a conference for a correct purpose. If you want to organise a conference just for your CV, then you might well be missing out on the true purpose of being involved in organising a conference. Conference management is a long, time consuming and stressful process. However, the rewards can be incredible, having a feeling of promoting debating to a new generation of students is a fantastic feeling which cannot be achieved by delegating or by chairing.
In the next article, we will consider what are the most important aspects of organising a conference.