Four Take-Aways From Planning a Big Convention We Can All Copy

In September 2018, Sydney and the International Convention Centre played host to the 19th International Microscopy Congress. Held over 6 days with a preceding 4 days of around-the-clock bump-in required, the event organising committee (made up of volunteers) together with one of Australia’s leading conference organisers, Arinex, managed to deliver an exceptional event worthy of a review. 4+ years in the making, there were over 2,100 delegates, 1000 speakers, 12 concurrent sessions and a whole lot more… it was a BIG event by anyone’s standards. 
We recently joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the event to learn more about how they ‘put on’ one of the biggest science conventions to be hosted in Sydney this decade.  We were impressed with what we learnt and have put together four key take-aways which we know were instrumental in the success of this event, but what more, could help you with your next important event – big or small.

A quick background synopsis of the event:

The International Microscopy Congress is held every four years. Just like the Olympics, countries must bid to host the event. Failing to secure the event for 2014 (losing to Prague as it was considered Europe’s turn to host), the Sydney Committee did not give up. After an enthusiastic campaign, with the help of Business Events Sydney, they were able to secure the event for 2018. 
Event Organising Committee: Volunteers from the Australian Microscopy Association led by Congress Chair, Prof. Simon Ringer and Vice Congress Chair, Prof. Paul Munroe.
Event Planners: Arinex
Main Congress Venue: ICC Sydney
FYI: Microscopy is the technical field of using microscopes to view objects and areas of objects that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
Right, so now that we know the background, let’s take a look at four key take-aways that they did and you can [micros] copy… 

1. Plan Big and Set Clear Goals

In one of the first planning meetings for this event they decided to set a list of goals they would like to achieve – or at the very least aim for. At the time it was suggested that it would be “pretty cool” if they could have a Nobel Laureate attend. 
In the early stages of planning they took the time to map out their purpose, be clear on what was most important to them as the host nation and what they needed to achieve this (number of sponsors, number of attendees - i.e. clear budget goals). 
In short, they made a clear list of objectives and aimed high. The result? They smashed it! Two Nobel Laureates attended and spoke at the conference, they got more exhibitors and sponsors than expected (leaving them with surplus budget to throw at catering and extra bump-in days), and they had as many people in the plenary session on day 4 as they did on day 1 (everyone was engaged and happy!). 
When planning an event, it is so easy to dive straight into setting the date, finding a venue and choosing the catering, that you can forget to create clear objectives. Take the time to map out your goals and set targets for what you want to achieve. This will most likely help all the other elements fall into place much easier too. Stick to these goals and keep coming back to them throughout the planning process. And most importantly, aim high! 

2. Market Your Event, People Won’t Just Turn Up

With four years between each Congress, the Australian Committee did not waste time in starting to market their event. Even before winning the bid, they were actively marketing the event in Australia as part of the process. 
After winning the bid the team attended conferences and events all over the world to encourage people in their industry to invest in attending their event in 2018. They found selling “Australia” as a destination was instrumental to their campaign. While abroad the committee took turns in the Kangaroo suit (an hour at a time – it’s hot!) and gave out 1000’s of clip on koalas to prospective delegates, exhibitors and sponsors. While we may think that sounds kitsch they swear it gets results! 
Another very clever marketing tactic was that they actively engaged several event ambassadors around the world to help them promote the meeting to their own connections. In return the ambassadors were given discounted registration and a lavish thank you reception during the congress. 
If you want the best of the best to attend your event, then go out and invite them. Give them reasons to attend and highlight the benefits of coming – don’t just blast them with an email and hope it catches their attention. 

3. Look Outside Your Circle

Microscopy isn’t a huge field and Vice Congress Chair, Prof. Paul Munroe mentioned that often at events it is the same speakers that everyone knows. 
For the 2018 congress they were keen to find ways they could open up the field of people who would engage with the event. This included the range of speakers they invited along, as well as implementing brand-new elements of the congress. 
For example, the two Nobel Laureate in attendance were not Engineers of Microscopes, but rather people who had used microscopes to discover the things they were awarded a Nobel Prizes for. 
They implemented an exciting new schools outreach program whereby they invited students to the conference to spend a few hours being inspired by the possibilities of Microscopy. Throughout the week school groups were invited to the event to use the microscopes and a VR experience. The aim was to engage students for the future of their industry and encourage an interest in STEM. The program was heralded as a brilliant new initiative for the Congress. 
They also offered 50 young scientists at University level an opportunity to attend an unmissable platform to network with experts in their field – including the Nobel Laureates (a one-in a life-time opportunity for budding scientists). 
And finally, one of the most beautiful elements of the event was an art exhibition they arranged. Wanting to implement elements of Australia’s Indigenous heritage in the Congress they invited artists to replicate the rich visual parallels between the representations seen in many Indigenous Australian artworks and the microscopic structures hidden in the natural world. [For more info and a closer look at the artworks created for the conference click on the image below.]
This Committee showed that by looking outside their close-knit community they were able to invite new audiences to engage with their purpose, and create new and richer experiences for those that are already engaged. 

Microscopy Artwork Australia


4. Use Technology To Your Advantage

As part of the Microscopy Congress delegates present ‘Posters’. Traditionally these have been presented in hard copies, however this year the Organisers worked towards presenting the posters in digital format. This was so well received that future organising committees will continue their legacy of embracing modern technology in ways not used by their industry previously.
The team also looked to create experiences using VR and integrated this with the schools’ program that ran in conjunction with the conference. 
Finally, we loved that in terms of running the event, Arinex implemented a range of tech-based solutions to make the experience easier on delegates. This included the use of their bespoke e-suite of software to ensure that delegates, speakers and organisers had all of the information at their fingertips via an event app, check-in at the event was smooth and pre-event registration a breeze. 
IMC 19 | Congress held at ICC Sydney

To Sum It Up…

The Organising Committee and Arinex deserve a massive pat on the back for pulling together an extraordinary event that involved not only an important scientific group, but created a legacy for future budding scientists in Australia. 
This event had many moving parts the Committee, Arinex and ICC Sydney all worked collaboratively to ensure the event was a major success. 
The committee received glowing feedback from delegates and sponsors and it proves that if you aim high, get people excited, trust your suppliers and look at the world around you, you can create an exceptional event.