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Women’s Conference Planning Checklist

Many AFSCME women’s committees organize a women’s conference every year or every other year. A women’s conference typically lasts a day or a day and a half and features speakers such as politicians, union leaders or community activists and provides opportunities for training through a variety of workshops. Social events such as a dinner or reception are usually a part of the program. A sample women’s conference program is in Appendix C.

A conference can be an excellent way to provide training and get the union focused on issues of concern to women members. Conferences, however, take a lot of advance planning and hard work on the part of the women’s committee. Don’t be discouraged if your first conference is relatively small. If you plan well-organized, useful conferences, they will develop a great reputation and attendance will grow. The following timeline will help get your conference off the ground:

One year to six months ahead:

  • Set a date for the conference that doesn’t conflict with holidays or other union functions. Generally the summer months, December, and shortly before elections are not good times for conferences. Get the date on the union calendar. 
  • Develop a realistic budget for the conference. Make sure you estimate what you will have to pay, if anything, for the meeting space and any refreshments. If members will be coming from out of town, how will their expenses be handled? 
  • Get approval from your local union for the conference budget. 
  • Find and reserve an affordable place to hold the conference. Keep in mind how many people you think will attend and how many rooms you will need to have for workshops. 
  • Decide on a theme or slogan for the conference. 
  • Decide if you will charge a registration fee. A large fee will discourage attendance, but if no fee is charged, some members may register but not show up. A small fee (e.g., $5) may give you an accurate count of attendance without discouraging people. Some conferences charge a fee just to cover the cost of meals. 
  • Start publicizing the conference in union newsletters, at meetings and through stewards.

Three to four months ahead:

  • Decide on speakers for the conference and send invitation letters. 
  • Determine what workshop topics you want to offer and how many workshops you want to have. Select and invite workshop facilitators. 
  • Prepare a registration form and determine how you will get it out to members. You may want to include a list of workshops and ask people to pre-register. 
  • Distribute the registration form and conference information throughout the union. Use union meetings, newsletters and the steward network to get the materials out. Make sure each member of the women’s committee plays an active role in recruiting members to attend the conference. 
  • Follow up promptly with invited speakers so that if they decline you will have ample time to invite others. 
  • Make a list of equipment you will need on the day of the conference. Possible items include microphones, podiums, tables, chairs, flip charts and audio-visual (AV) equipment such as VCRs and overhead projectors. 
  • Make a list of items you plan to hand out to conference participants. Order any publications that you will need from AFSCME International or local organizations (see resource section in Appendix D).

Two months ahead:

  • Decide what food and beverages will be offered at the conference. Research the cost and availability of the refreshments you want to serve. Place an order, if necessary. 
  • Order supplies you will need such as name tags, pencils, etc. 
  • Decide what you want, if anything, at the front of the conference room and arrange to get these items. Possibilities include banners, posters, pictures and flags. 
  • Ask a photographer or union member with photography skills to take pictures at the conference. 
  • Ask someone who works on the union newsletter to attend the conference and write an article on the proceedings for the union publication. 
  • Designate one person to deal directly with the hotel or meeting space if local or council staff has not been assigned. This person is responsible for making sure that the hotel knows your exact needs and makes sure that they are taken care of during the conference. 
  • Determine if you will need to rent anything for the conference such as large coffee pots, AV equipment, etc. Designate one or two people to make the arrangements ahead of time and be responsible for picking up the items, delivering them to the conference site, and returning them after the conference is over. 

One month ahead:

  • Check returned registration forms. See if registration is low from specific worksites or areas. If yes, get the registration materials out to those areas again. Have women’s committee members make calls to key people to increase registration. 
  • Double-check that all speakers and workshop leaders are confirmed and know where and when they will be speaking. Let them know where they can send materials. Make sure you have ordered any AV equipment or other equipment they may need (podiums, microphones, tables, chairs, etc.). Ask speakers for a short biographical sketch or resumé. 
  • Decide who will introduce each speaker, make sure they get a copy of the speaker’s biographical sketch, and ask them to prepare a brief introduction of the speaker. This can be a great opportunity for women’s committee members who want to gain experience in public speaking. 
  • Make sure you will have enough food for the number of people you expect. Include staff and speakers in your count for refreshments. Find out if you can change your order if your registration numbers change. 
  • Determine who will sit at the head table for each part of the program and in what order. 
  • Figure out when registration will be open and who will staff the registration table. 
  • Check again on registration. Follow up again with members, if necessary. 
  • Tally up how many people have signed up for each workshop. Adjust workshop choices, if necessary. For example, you may find out that you need to offer a very popular workshop a second or third time, or you may need to cancel a workshop with very low pre-registration. Let workshop leaders know how many people have pre-registered for each of their workshops. Decide which workshops will be in which rooms. 
  • Finalize the program and make arrangements to have it printed or copied. 
  • Make sure that any union leaders or women’s committee members whom you have asked to speak know when and where they are speaking and how long you are planning for them to speak. Short greetings should be no more than five minutes. Keynote speeches are generally best when kept to 20 minutes. 
  • Let speakers know any important details about the conference that may help them prepare. Include items such as the number of people you expect, the range of occupations they have, how many women’s conferences your union has had before, and the names and titles of union leaders and politicians who will be present.

The week before:

  • Confirm arrangements with the meeting site, rental stores and caterers. Adjust the amount of food or chairs and tables, if necessary, based on your latest registration numbers. Make sure you have all necessary supplies. Make sure that members who have agreed to help out on the day of the conference know exactly what they need to do and when. 

The day before:

  • Make sure that all materials and supplies have arrived. 
  • Set up an area to assemble conference packets, if necessary. 
  • Meet with everyone responsible for the various aspects of the conference to be sure that everyone knows what they are responsible for and when they need to do their jobs.

Early the day of the conference:

  • Go to the conference site and confirm that everything is as you requested. 
  • Set up the registration area and have a meeting with the people who will be doing registration so that they all know what is expected of them. 
  • Make sure that the main conference room is set up as you want it to be: The decorations are in place, there are enough chairs, the microphones work, the lighting and temperature are good, and there are water and glasses available for the speakers. 

During the conference:

  • Assign committee members as trouble-shooters for any problems that may arise. 
  • Greet speakers when they arrive and answer any last-minute questions they may have. 
  • Make sure that workshop rooms are set up properly, AV equipment is in place, and materials have been delivered.

After the conference:

  • Make sure all rented equipment is returned. 
  • Pay any outstanding bills for the conference and make a summary of your conference income and expenses. 
  • Write thank-you letters to speakers, workshop leaders, and everyone else who helped with the conference. 
  • Have a committee meeting within two weeks to evaluate the conference. Take notes on what worked and what you would do differently next time.