Last Revised: 25 April, 2012
GSA Section Meetings—Lessons from Noel
Noel Potter, GSA Section Meetings Senior Adviser
I have chaired or co-chaired two GSA section meetings, the NE meeting in 2006 near Harrisburg, PA and the joint NE/SE meeting in 2010 in Baltimore. For the 2006 meeting I never attended a Section Meeting Chair’s Seminar—I didn’t know there was such a thing until it was too late. I therefore floundered around getting started. My help came from requested meetings with the people who ran our meetings the two previous years, and from GSA staff. The help I received from previous meeting chairs spurred me to prepare a detailed record of what to expect for my successor chair, Wally Bothner, at UNH, who ran the 2007 NE meeting at the university. Thus was born WallyWatchOut, (See: WallyWatchOut.doc) which I have passed on to a few people from other sections. Some parts of it are out of date, e.g., there is much more help from GSA for field trips and exhibitor registration now than several years ago, but the stories of what might work and what might not are still valid.
As we prepared for our 2006 meeting, a committee formed by GSA Council to study a decline in attendance in the early 2000’s completed its report under chair Chris Hepburn. Several of the ideas in his report hit home and we adopted them for our 2006 meeting—among them, the idea of a plenary session during our meeting. The report seems to have fallen into obscurity at GSA, but it is worth a quick read (See: HepburnCommReport.doc).
GSA has an excellent Section Meeting Manual on-line at : http://www.geosociety.org/sectionmanual/toc.htm
I urge you to have your committee meet with your section’s previous year meeting committee to find out the realities of running a meeting. What I say below is not intended to tell you what to do, but rather to make you think carefully about what you do.
NOTE: File names in Bold after "See Disc:" are on a disc that will be furnished to you at the Section Meeting Chairs Seminar. Others who may read this and want a copy may contact me by e-mail at: email@example.com and I will send you one.
Your Meeting—Don’t sit back and expect it to come to you.
If you want to have a good meeting, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you sit back and wait for things, events, ideas, and proposals to come to you, you’ll have a ho-hum meeting. To have a good meeting you need to actively solicit good ideas and act on the best of them. Some of the important things for the success of a meeting need to be planned a year before your meeting. For both meetings I’ve worked on we received several good proposals for everything from theme sessions to workshops months after we could fit them into the program.
Different Sections Have Different Cultures
Each section has different traditions and events for its meetings. It is not my intent to tamper with these traditions and events, but rather to make you think about what works well for your section, do it better, and urge you to think about some things you might do to make your meeting a blockbuster and get more people to come.
Your Local Committee
Get people whom you know will have good ideas and do their part well. See: NE-SE GSA Local Comm Posns.doc for descriptions of basic responsibilities prepared for our recent Baltimore meeting.
Comps—Decide Early What Your Policy Will Be
Comps, or complimentary registration, rooms, or other items have the potential to kill your budget if you don’t decide early how you want to deal with them. A few people get complimentary registration, mainly GSA staff and President, who come to your meeting. If you don’t make a decision and tell your local committee members very early what your policy on comps is, someone on your committee will assume that they get free registration or other comps.
My approach has been to say “no comps,” except those required by GSA and perhaps for a special invited guest speaker. I just say we all pay our own way, and I pay registration like everyone else to set an example. Bottom line: decide your policy early and avoid hard feelings.
Often hotels, as part of their contract, offer some free sleeping rooms—a common policy is one comp room night for every 50 room-nights picked up. Most of these can cover required comp rooms for GSA staff, but you may find that as chair of the meeting you can use a comp room for yourself. Don’t count on it, but it is a small reward for lots of work.
What are you doing, and when? – Plan Ahead
Think of yourself as the person in charge of a giant cruise ship or supertanker. You are in charge of all plans for provisioning the ship, getting it to its destination, and unloading it. The copy for your first announcement, to go on-line in the Fall before your meeting, and eventually in GSA Today, will be due the Summer before your meeting. This includes all symposia and theme sessions, plus other events (receptions, field trips, ticketed meals, workshops, etc). Once you have submitted this copy to GSA, your ship is launched toward its destination. From then on, you can make minor adjustments to its course, and steer, but it will be too late to “load new cargo” (add events), or make major changes from then on. Get it right before you set sail!
When do I have to have things done?
Make a Time Line—geologists are good at this—with a list of deadlines and who is responsible for meeting what parts of them. A sample is attached—(See: NE/SE GSA 2010 Timeline.doc). Our NE meeting is usually in mid-March. If your meeting is "x" weeks later or earlier, change the dates by that much. I like to put code letters near the major deadlines that indicate who among our committee is responsible for certain things (e.g., P=Program, F=Field Trips, E=Exhibits, etc).
Eventually, usually in the Spring before your meeting, GSA staff will send you proposed dates for major deadlines for your meeting. These will include:
1) due date for copy for First Announcement—this includes a call for papers, theme session and symposia titles, field trips, special events such as a reception, and ticketed events such as luncheons, banquet, etc. This is all that people will see until very near the abstract deadline.
2) due date for Final Announcement—this includes adjustments to things in the First Announcement, but most importantly by this time you will have had to decide fees for your meeting and the cost of ticketed events (meals, field trips, etc). This means that well before this due-date you need to have a budget together and have spent considerable time working with your hotel (or other venue) getting the cost of almost everything associated with your meeting.
3) Abstract Deadline—you and your Technical Program Chair(s) need to be ready to turn your abstracts into a Program—this has to be done in a few weeks.
4) Registration goes live on your meeting web site—all fees must be set by this time.
5) Program copy is due at GSA—this includes all the technical sessions, organized by you but copy prepared by GSA staff, plus all the front copy—program, events, locations, meeting location map, hotel map, etc.
6) Pre-registration Deadline—this will be the first substantial sense that you will have of how many people are really going to attend your meeting.
7) Run-up to your meeting—all those last minute things you need to do
GSA staff will propose your schedule, and you will have a little leeway to adjust dates in consultation with staff, but don’t expect to change dates a lot—printing and other deadlines have to be met at headquarters. Don’t wait until you get the “official” schedule from GSA staff to start your time line—make an approximate one well before that—you can adjust dates when things are official.
GSA Staff will suggest a deadline date. You will have a little latitude, but not a lot, to adjust this date. Think about what people will be doing on your agreed upon date. In December, will people be away at the winter AGU meeting? In December and January, will students be away from university or college on holiday? About half of your abstracts will be submitted on the day of the deadline.
Putting the Program Together
Authors will submit papers under Theme Session, Symposium, or General Discipline titles. For Baltimore—remember this was a joint NE/SE meeting--we received about 50% abstracts for Theme Sessions (we had 30 Themes, of which 2-3 didn’t get enough abstracts to fly), 5% for Symposia (we had 3), and 45% for General Disciplines. Authors will tell you whether they want to present their paper orally, as a poster, or either. Think of the "eithers" as wild cards, and save them to either fill or reduce the size of oral or poster sessions.
For a sense of what can go right and wrong with the Technical Program, See Disc: Program.doc for the “heads up” that we sent to our Baltimore 2010 Program Chairs.
It is helpful to have made a schedule of times when you want oral papers to occur. Most sections like to synchronize oral papers so that people can migrate from one session to another, and they commonly synchronize breaks. See Disc: OralSessionSched.doc for a typical schedule with 20 minutes per paper. If you furnish your schedule, including breaks, to Nancy Wright, she will enter the times in the Confex computer program so that convener/advocates need only put papers in time slots. NOTE: If you don't synchronize breaks for coffee, etc, the service will spread over a longer time interval, and this could cost you considerably more—see under Food and Beverage.
Someone needs to very carefully go over the session schedules. For example, I have found that someone put more posters in a session than we had poster boards scheduled.
Go to the previous year’s meeting for your section
You’re a darn fool if you don’t do this. This is probably the most important source of information and ideas that you will have for your meeting. Keep your eyes and ears open. What’s working, what isn’t? Stick your head into oral sessions—is attendance large or small? Ask yourself why? Are the poster aisles wide enough? Measure and adjust for your meeting. Make some notes—in 6-8 months you are going to have to decide whether each oral session you organize should go in the largest or smallest room in your meeting facility. If you make a mistake with the smallest room, you’ll wish you had thought about it.
Encourage your committee members to attend. Ask the chair of that previous-year meeting to set up an occasion for your committee members to meet with their counterparts. An hour over lunch or a beer (our NE Section pays for a lunch) talking about what worked and what can go wrong can avoid lots of headaches for your committee. Exchange contact info, and make use of these people’s experience when you need help.<
Walk around and talk to lots of folks. Ask for ideas for next year’s meeting—especially theme session topics. If you run into a “live one,” ask if they’d be willing to organize a session and get their contact information. Be careful though—don’t make commitments at this stage. Just gather ideas, make notes and take them to your committee meeting where you decide what will be your themes. Then get back to these contacts.
Caution: Except for very special circumstances, I strongly urge that you not commit to a specific time during your meeting for any theme session until you meet to put the program together. You and your Technical Program people will need all the flexibility you can get to make sure you don't get sessions on related subjects scheduled at the same time, and to make maximum use of the right size meeting rooms for appropriate topics.
You or your exhibits chair should visit all exhibitors. 1) Give them a sheet with your meeting dates and location, plus your contact information. 2) Ask them to furnish you their contact info and a sense of whether they’ll come to your meeting (See: Exhibits2010.doc for sample forms).
After the meeting get counts for all registration categories, field trips, and ticketed events from your predecessor chair or GSA staff. It is also useful to have a history of how many oral and poster papers were presented. NE Section now has a 20-year record of attendance, and numbers of oral and poster papers that is invaluable as a measure of trends.
Creating Theme Sessions and Symposia
I think there is little doubt that the first key to a good meeting is the Technical Program. If you don’t have sessions that people want to attend, few people will come. You and your Technical Program chair(s) will set the tone for this. Think about what topics are geologically special to your section. What are tried and true topics that occur over and over at your meetings? Can you develop a new twist on these old themes? Are there new themes that have not been tried before?
How can I increase attendance over past recent meetings?
Program: Think of your constituency. What are hot topics in your part of the US? Are there groups who are regulars at your meeting? If so, don’t leave them out or give them an excuse to say “why should I bother to go to that meeting?” Balance the program, something for almost everyone, but do a few special things.
Start with what you consider “bread and butter” topics for your section, but then consider some special topics. Phone lots of old friends, maybe even some you haven’t talked with since grad school, and ask for ideas. Run with a few of the best ones.
Plan to have GSA staff send out an e-mail blast soon after the previous year’s meeting soliciting proposals for theme sessions. Set a deadline for receipt of these.
Special Event: See “Spice It Up.”
Advertise: 1) GSA will help with e-mail blasts to your section members. 2) Consider a poster with a nice image related to your section. NC and NE have made effective use of this at a cost of $2-4,000 for some 20 x 30 inch digital terrain images. This may sound like a lot, but is small potatoes compared to the cost of coffee breaks, a reception, or AV for your meeting. If this sounds like too much, consider making your posters 11 x 17 inches. An ideal poster is one that people will want to hang in their offices or hallways not just for the meeting, but also because it is attractive and even useful for discussions of your regional geology. If you wish, GSA will send your folded poster to all in your section stapled into GSA Today. However, note that you have to arrange printing, folding, and shipment to GSA's printer.
Don’t forget that students are a substantial constituency for your meeting. Over the last 5 years where I have statistics, the percent of students compared to professional plus students registered (I’ve left out guests, teachers, and comps) has been: NE 54%, SE 43%, NC 43%, SC 43%, Rocky 42%, and Cord 32%. The high percentage in NE is undoubtedly in part a consequence of a larger concentration of educational institutions there. Most sections try to help students with lower fees for them. Think about how you can attract more students.
Undergraduate Poster Session vs Student Papers Merged With All Others
This may be controversial. In 1992 an "Undergraduate Poster Session" was sponsored by the NE Section in Harrisburg. A year later a similar session was sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). Eventually these sessions spread to all sections. When I chaired the NE section meeting in 2006, my predecessor, Kurt Hollocher, recommended strongly that we abolish the separate "undergraduate poster session," and integrate all student papers with others according to disciplinary topic. We did this, and along the way urged students to consider giving their papers orally if the subject matter was appropriate. See: UndergradPosters.doc for our arguments in favor of doing this. Read my note and consider the pros and cons of this.
The only substantial objections I have heard to integrating student papers with all others are: 1) some schools like to know when the “poster session” will be so that they can bring their students, have them present their papers, and leave, and 2) some say that graduate schools have used the sessions as a place to look over potential students and recruit them. My response to the first objection is that students should be encouraged to come to our meetings to learn from others as well as to present their own results, and to the second is that there must be a better way than to consider the poster session a meat market.
Along the way we raised the eyebrows of some members of CUR's Geology Division, but many of my colleagues at other institutions have supported us in this move. Since 2006 (with the exception of the 2011 joint meeting with NC) we have not had a separate Undergraduate Poster Session at NE Section meetings, and if anything student presentations have increased. We have had as many as 20-30 student papers presented orally.
We bow to and recognize CUR by placing small CUR logo stickers next to all papers presented by undergraduate students on the superstats (those lists of authors, titles, and times) placed outside each session room. CUR furnishes the stickers.
Don’t Forget the People Outside Your Section Who Might Come
More than a few people from beyond your section will attend your meeting, because they do research and will want to present results somewhere within the geographic area of your section. Think about whether you can create a Theme Session or Symposium that will attract some people from beyond your section. Finding the right convener/advocate can help with this.
Spice It Up
Think about something special that lots of people will want to attend. Some sections have experimented with plenary sessions—a time when no other events are scheduled. The goal should be to have an event that lots of people will want to attend, and that those who might sit on the fence about coming to your meeting will see and say “Gosh, I better go.” Some examples:
In 2006 we first tried this for our NE section meeting. The Mars Rovers were about a year into their sojourn, and we got Jim Bell to come and talk about the latest results. When he arrived he asked for access to a high-speed internet connection, and in his talk showed the latest image downloaded a half hour before. He spoke to over 400 people. We also invited Sarah Andrews, who writes murder mysteries with a forensic geologist as protagonist. She participated in a session on forensic geology, a book signing, and was our banquet speaker.
In 2007 in NH a consulting geologist spoke on the engineering geology of the demise of the Old Man of the Mountains, and we had a talk by Sam Bowring from MIT on precision dating using U-Pb zircon geochronology.
For the last decade the NE section has had a “Map Blast” one evening during the meeting. Attendees are invited to “bring, post, and discuss past, recent, or planned mapping efforts for this informal session,” which takes advantage of the boards set up for poster sessions during the daytime. We usually have a cash bar, and this has become one of the major social events of our meetings. I note that the Rocky section had one in 2010 and is doing it again in 2011.
A group social event in a special setting is nice. Think of having a reception in a museum or a riverboat cruise.
When will I know how many people are coming?
The short answer is—you won’t know ‘til near the end of the meeting. However, you can use some past meeting statistics for your section to make some guesses. GSA can furnish you stats for the last 10-15 years of meetings—these include how many registered in various categories (professional, student, etc), how many abstracts were submitted, past fees, and other useful information.
1) Use the number of abstracts you received as your first bellweather. In the NE section, we have kept track of the ratio of registrants to papers. We know that we will have somewhere between 1.8 and 2.4 times as many registrants as papers (see graph). It is also worth noting that this ratio has generally been declining over our 21 years of record. Less people seem to be coming unless they are giving a paper.
2) Use the number who pre-registered to estimate total number of registrants based on past statistics for your section. The pre-registration deadline is about a month before your meeting.
For example, for the NE Section, we know that about 65-70% pre-register, and the rest register after that deadline, many as walk-ins at the meeting. You can obtain records from GSA and get a similar percent for your section.
Everybody (well, almost) waits until the last minute
Don’t be discouraged if a week or a few days before your abstract (or pre-registration) deadline you think the numbers are low. Lots of people literally wait until the last minute. For example, for the joint NE/SE 2010 meeting in Baltimore, about half of the abstracts were submitted between 1 PM and Midnight on the date of the Abstract Deadline! Just be prepared to wait until the next morning to get your numbers.
Dealing with the hotel (or other venue)
I have read and cringed at the potential disasters one can have in dealing with hotels or convention facilities under “What Can Happen” in GSA’s on-line meeting guidance. You should be aware of these potential headaches. In my adventures running two meetings I have not encountered any of these problems and have had good hotel staffs to work with. I’ve been lucky, but I think part of our success has had to do with how we dealt with the hotel staffs.
The facility staff you work with like their clients to be organized. They want to know what your event is going to be like and a rough schedule early on. They also want a sense that some of your events are going to make them some money. I recently asked my contact that I worked with for over a year at the Sheraton in Baltimore what I did that was helpful during our working relationship. She listed the following things:
1) My co-chair and I arrived for meetings with a written agenda and a list of events, needs, questions, and concerns.
2) We produced a schedule early on in graphic format on a spreadsheet, listing rooms and events for each day, half-hour by half hour (See: NEGSA06HotelEventSched.xls for a single section meeting, and EventSched2010.xls for a larger joint meeting). These started simple, with rooms needed but not necessarily assigned until we had a sense of size needed. These also listed receptions, meetings, etc in addition to oral and poster sessions. As plans evolved we refined the schedule so that each event was assigned to a specific room.
3) When appropriate we furnished floor plans for events. They want to know where to place tables, chairs, etc and any special hookups (e.g., AV, phone, internet). A simple example of one of these is the setup diagram furnished by GSA staff for the way they want the Registration area set up. We also furnished a setup diagram for our Speaker Ready Room, and our AV provider furnished setup diagrams for oral session rooms complete with where projector, screen, lectern, table, and chairs (with width of aisles) were to be placed. Our exhibit booth and poster board provider created a layout diagram for the ballroom with our advice—this went through several revisions as more exhibitors signed on. See: PrattA/B.pdf for a typical Oral Session room setup, http://www.geosociety.org/sectionmanual/Registration/floorpt.pdf for GSA’s preferred Registration setup, and Ballroom2.25.10 for a typical Poster/Exhibit Room setup.
4) Our hotel contact appreciated that we put everything important in writing, and kept track of prices we had agreed upon for food and beverage events. You'll need F&B prices 6-7 months before your meeting to prepare your budget. Keep track of these prices as meeting time approaches so that they don't change.
5) I prepared drafts of Banquet Event Orders for her. BEO’s, as they are known in the trade, are standard forms that are essentially the script for the facility staff to set up for every one of your events. These include room setups, food and beverage menu and serving instructions, arrangements for AV, etc. It is important to get these right and carefully check drafts sent to you before your meeting.
Food and Beverage (F&B)
Be ready to ask lots of questions, and even to negotiate prices. Meeting facilities make much of their money on F&B. Facilities can furnish you a banquet list, usually nowadays as a pdf, with prices. Options range from simple items like coffee service to menus for breakfasts, luncheons, and banquets. Be prepared to be shocked at the prices.
For example, at NE Section meetings it is tradition to have mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks with coffee and/or sodas/juice. The cost of these breaks is included in registration fees. For our recent meeting at the Sheraton in Baltimore coffee was listed at $60 a gallon! But wait--don’t stop there. Read the fine print at the bottom of every page, which says that one has to add a 22% service charge and gratuity and 6% sales tax. So the coffee really costs $77.60 a gallon!! We eventually negotiated the price downward to $45/gallon, plus the service charge and tax. Our breaks for 3 days and ~1600 registrants cost about $27,000. Yes, over $16 of everyone’s registration fee went toward the breaks.
There is a very good reason for synchronizing breaks in oral sessions. If breaks occur at different times for various sessions, service will be spread over a longer time. This will increase the cost of the breaks considerably. Think about this and coordinate with your Technical Program Chair(s).
Similarly, we had to arrange for box lunches plus a beverage for the Shlemon and Mann Mentor Programs. In our case this involved 3 separate luncheons for 60 students each. The first price we were quoted for a simple box lunch and beverage was about $36 including service charge and tax. We eventually negotiated this down to about $26, but nevertheless these were very expensive box lunches.
Don’t give in to the first price you see. F&B are among the most negotiable items in dealing with hotels.
Ask your hotel contact about serving methods. NE has a tradition of a Welcome Party the evening before sessions start. F&B includes some cold and hot hors d’ ouvres, one free drink (beer, soda, or wine covered by a ticket from registration—as at national GSA), and cash bar for drinks beyond the first one. Cold munchies (such as veggies and dip, a cheese platter) are fine at a self-serve station. But hot hors d’ ouvres go fast. Ask to have these “butlered,” which means a waiter carries them around on a tray and offers them to people. This will slow down the consumption rate and assure that the “vultures” won’t descend on a serving table and make them disappear quickly.
On the “free drinks,” the hotel will want to charge you a substantial amount per drink, regardless of whether it is beer, wine, or soda, despite the cash bar rate being different for each of these. I once convinced a hotel to keep track of how many of each was consumed and let us pay accordingly by having bartenders put tickets in one of three cups labeled for each kind of drink. Caterers will resist this, but it is worth a try to ask to save some money.
Similarly for a banquet ask about the difference in cost of a buffet vs a “plated” meal. Plated are less expensive because all can be prepared the same and the caterers control the amount on the plate.
Making a budget
Start by separating items that will:
a) be paid for with meeting fees from
b) ticketed events (e.g., field trips, meals, exhibits, etc).
The idea is that the latter should be priced to at least break even, and will be paid for only by those who buy the tickets/sign up. On the other hand meeting fees are going to have to cover all other expenses. These might include (some “big ticket” items are in bold italics):
- GSA’s Registration Fees—for 2011 these are $28 for professionals & $13 for others.
- Audio Visual—oral sessions, speaker ready room, special sessions, workshops
- Reception or Welcome Party food
- One free drink—if you offer this with registration for Welcome Party
- Bartenders for cash bars
- Coffee/Soda/Juice for breaks
- Poster boards for posters rental
- Electric, phone, internet for Registration
- Program Offprints (handed out at registration
- Superstats (large posters outside session rooms)
- Foam-core for backing superstats and signs
- Advertising—Posters or other
Be aware that your Section Secretary will expect you to return something to your section treasury. Ask your Secretary what is expected for your Section, and build this into your budget. Our NE secretary asks that we try to return a profit of $10,000-$12,000 for basic operations of the section. If more is returned, our Management Board usually plows that into the section endowment, which goes toward student travel to meetings and research scholarships.
The greatest problem is deciding meeting fees, and this depends on the number who will attend your meeting. Use statistics from past meetings in your section to get the right approximate “mix” of attendees (prof vs student, pre-reg vs on-site, etc) to build a model of income in a spreadsheet. Start with your section meeting fees from the previous year, and then add to your fees, if necessary, until you have enough income to balance your budget and have a safe cushion of income. Try this out to find potential income for a range of attendance below and above your section's previous meeting(s). I usually increase attendance by the hundred.
See: PossibleIncome.xls for an example of how to estimate registration income allowing for % of registrants in different categories and for a range of projected attendance. Be sure to check all the sheets to see how estimated income is determined.
Once I have income over a range of fees and attendance, I enter these as Income in my budget spreadsheet, and calculate a “bottom line” for various scenarios. For an example, see our early stab at a budget for 2010 Baltimore (See: NE-SE BUDGET 2010-9-13-09.xls ). For the record, we used “Option 4” fees, and had 1628 registrants. We came out considerably above my estimate of profit and the section secretaries were very happy with what we returned to them.
On the debit side of your budget, you will need costs for a multitude of items (see list above). You can build your spreadsheet so that costs for appropriate items escalate as attendance increases.
Don't simply put together a budget using previous meeting costs with little attempt to get prices in the Fall for the forthcoming meeting venue. It is fine to use a previous budget as a template, but get your own costs before you decide on fees for your meeting.
AV (Audio Visual) Support
One of the biggest ticket items in your budget will be AV—LCD projectors, screens, laptops, timers, microphones, audio hookups. You will want to get estimates from several suppliers. Some hotels/convention facilities can furnish this in-house, or have a local provider. We have had good luck with Image AV from Denver, who provides services for GSA’s annual national meeting. In Baltimore they provided what we needed for slightly more than half what the hotel wanted, and did it very well.
To get an estimate, you need to furnish potential providers with your needs. How many sessions will you have for how many days or half days? How many projectors and laptops do you need? Don’t forget laptops for your Speaker Ready Room. And don’t forget your needs for any projectors and laptops for any pre- or post-meeting workshops or special events beyond your oral sessions. Will you have any special evening or banquet speakers? All these “extras” will cost extra, and you will want to know the cost.
GSA Staff has to approve and sign the contract with your AV provider.
Some workshops may require high-speed internet connections (at the moment almost every meeting seems to have a Google Earth workshop). Find out the cost of these from your hotel.
If you have an outside provider for AV, make sure you know the hotel’s policy and possible charges for hooking up to their sound system in oral session rooms. There are often charges for this. It is best to know policy and costs up front.
Aisles between posters: In 2006 I made the mistake of making the aisles between posters 10 feet wide. In the survey after the meeting, by far the most common complaint was that the aisles were too narrow. In 2010 we worked hard to make the aisles 15 feet wide, and this made all the difference creating room for discussion of posters and for people to walk by just looking.
How many posters vs. oral papers will you get? You can get those statistics from past meetings for your section. It is clear that posters have become popular over the past 20 years compared to oral presentations. A consequence of this is that you may need a large room for the posters. In both 2010 and 2011 we ended up with so many posters that we scrambled for space to accommodate both posters and exhibits. In 2011 space was so tight that all authors who said they would do "either" oral or poster were required to do oral presentations.
Data below, as examples, is for the NE Section. Years 1991, 2005, 2010, and 2011 were joint meetings.
For rental of poster boards, ask the hotel about local providers. You can also usually find local providers by Googling “exposition services” and your city. Ideal poster boards are 8 ft wide by 4 ft high, with surfaces that are friendly to both pushpins and Velcro.
Don’t forget that free-standing (not against a wall) poster boards can handle two posters—one on each side—when you do your estimate.
Obtaining sponsors can reduce the costs and fees for your meeting. See: Seeking Sponsors… for suggestions on how to approach potential sponsors.
Remember the GSA Staff
GSA’s staff is very good to work with, but try to remember that things get busy after your abstracts arrive and from the pre-registration deadline until meeting time. What you will rarely hear from the staff as they help you is that they are also dealing with various stages of 3 to 5 other section meetings that will occur weeks to a month or two before or after yours. Also don’t forget that from Summer to mid-Fall they are working on the large national meeting. Meet your scheduled deadlines and give them a break.
We usually give student help free registration in exchange for two half days of about 3-5 hours each of help. Students mostly help with registration, in the speaker ready room, and in each oral session room. See: STUDENT HELP for several documents related to duties, recruiting, and scheduling student help.
For most GSA Section meetings one or more Associated Societies have events. You should know the traditions for your section meetings, and might want to invite other groups to join the event. For example, at NE Section meetings we commonly have a Paleontological Society Luncheon, an AWG Breakfast, a NAGT Luncheon, and a SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology) Social, Business Meeting, and Lecture. One year we were joined by the Pander Society, which migrates from year to year among section meetings.
You need to have contact information for the representatives of each of these societies and be ready early in your scheduling to make contact with these folks and ask if they wish to have the same events as in previous years, or any new ones. You need to plan rooms for these events and make sure that they don’t occur during technical sessions. And if the event involves food and/or beverage, it will be your job to get an estimate of cost and a potential menu from your hotel contact.
Signs for Your Meeting
You can get fancy and spend $ on signs. You’ll have two kinds: 1) superstats, those signs that go outside session rooms with times, authors, and titles of presentations, and 2) other signs for events (luncheons, welcome party, breakfasts, maybe even how to find a “hidden” room). Usually these are placed on easels outside session rooms. Don’t forget to arrange for easels from your hotel or conference center.
To save on costs, don’t permanently mount these signs. Instead, use foam core paper-covered Styrofoam boards for backing. Use small binder clips to clip the signs to the backing, and then re-use the boards for the next event. In the case of superstats, they are 2’ x 2’, and you can even “stack” morning on top of afternoon session sheets, and then just remove the first when afternoon session is ready to start. (NOTE: Foam Core is usually available at office supply stores, but it usually comes in small pieces and is expensive. I have obtained mine from our college print shop in 4’ x 8’ sheets at considerable saving, and then cut the sizes I wanted with a utility knife.)
For “other signs,” we created a template in MS Word to make “landscape” shaped 11” x 17” signs. We made a tasteful outline box in color, and then put the GSA logo and “Geological Society of America, Northeastern Section” in the upper left corner. Then, with a list of needed signs we created pages with large center-justified letters for each event. Our college print shop printed these for us at minimal cost on good-looking card stock. Again we had pre-cut pieces of 11 x 17 foam core and binder clips to hold the signs.
Predecessor Meeting Web Site
I recommend that as materials come up on the web site for the meeting the year before yours you pay attention. I make copies every few weeks, because items change or are added frequently. You can use some of this material, modified for your meeting, as “boilerplate” to prepare your copy for your meeting.
Your Section Secretary and GSA will expect a Final Report after your meeting. For an example, See: FinalRptNEGSA06.doc
(cell is on daytime, weekdays) You can leave a message for a call-back at either phone. I don’t have an office with a phone at the college, only a work room with computer.