How to organise an event - ESRC


Recruiting and managing event participants

To ensure that your event runs smoothly, you need to make sure you invite the right people and that they have all the information and support they need.

Event speakers

Events such as conferences will often have a mix of speakers, presenters and performers.

Choosing speakers

Choose speakers carefully to ensure the programme flows well. In many cases, you will want to consider the mix and balance of speakers, for equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as topic of discussion.

If an event is being designed around a keynote speaker or the availability of a minister, agree the date with them from the outset. Where a minister has been invited to speak, always have a back-up speaker ready in case they need to pull out at the last minute.

Select speakers for their experience in the chosen area and also for their ability to give a professional performance. They should be familiar with audiovisual equipment, including PowerPoint, Prezi or other presentation packages, and should be told what other speakers will be talking about.

Booking speakers

Contact potential speakers by telephone, and send follow-up information outlining the topic you would like them to speak on by email or in writing.

Once speakers have confirmed, you should send them a speaker’s requirements form to fill in to understand what they will need on the day.

Keynote speakers may need to be handled sensitively, with a personal approach by senior staff, such as a programme or centre director.

Supporting speakers on the day

In general, individual speakers should be given no more than 45 minutes, with a 10 to 15-minute question and answer session built in at the end.

Alternatively, two or three speakers talking on a similar topic could be invited to give shorter 25 to 30 minute presentations one after each other, with a longer question and answer panel taking place at the end. This format is popular when questions are likely to be directed at more than one speaker.

Also consider whether you want speakers to use their own presentation templates or you would like them to use one specifically for the event. You might also want them to use your own template. If your project has Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funding, you should include ESRC branding and follow the guidance on acknowledging the funder.

Keep in regular contact with your speakers. Make sure you run through the final programme with them and give them a copy of the guest list for the day.

Event chair

A chair is essential to ensure the event flows well on the day and that the programme keeps to time. The chair will often ask the first question after each presentation.

You should provide the chair with a written brief about the event including:

  • the time and place of the event
  • the purpose of the event – what it is aiming to achieve
  • biographical details about each of the speakers and bullet point information about their talks
  • a list of the delegates attending so that they know how to pitch their remarks
  • a copy of the event timetable
  • potential questions for the chair to ask after each presentation
  • general housekeeping information to remind the audience about, such as turning off mobile phones, explaining where the fire exits and toilets are, reminding speakers to keep to time and asking delegates to fill in an evaluation form at the end of the day
  • contact information of the conference organiser and others in case of emergencies.

Keep in regular contact with your chair. Make sure you run through the final programme with them.


Your delegates are your target audience who you want to attend the event. You should recruit them in advance and provide them with all the information they need before the event.

Recruiting delegates

However small your event, you will need to keep proper records of the guest list and who will be attending.

Develop a database in Excel, Access or Word format so that your list can be easily manipulated and used for name badges and mail merged documents. You should:

  • develop a list containing groups of people you wish to invite, for example, categorised by their subject area or by their profession
  • send out more invitations than spaces, for example, you may send around 2,000 invitations if you want 250 people to attend. Rather than sending them all at once, prioritise who you want to involve and send out invitations in waves. Those lower on the list need only be asked if the priority delegates cannot attend
  • monitor replies that come in and chase up people who do not respond. This is very time-consuming and you should ensure you have enough staff resource available
  • use your database to create a final list of delegates for the delegates’ packs and name badges.

Supporting delegates on the day

On the day you should:

  • supply delegate packs and name badges when they arrive
  • if you have asked delegates to book speeches or workshop sessions in advance, pin up an alphabetical list to notice boards and provide one within delegate packs to remind them what they’ve signed up for
  • accommodate accessibility needs, such as providing large print delegate packs on request, with clear signposting
  • keep a registration desk open throughout the event to accommodate any late arrivals.

Media contacts

Consider if you want to attract any media to the event and which would be most appropriate, for example:

  • national TV, press and radio
  • specialist or regional press.

Once you have decided, you should inform special correspondents or journalists who have an interest in your event theme or topic. If the event is particularly newsworthy, alert the forward planning desks of the national media.

If you think that stories from the event may work better as a feature rather than a news item, you should also try newspaper features editors or specialist TV and radio programmes.

Details should be sent to media contacts well in advance including:

  • a copy of the programme
  • speakers’ biographies
  • an explanation of what the key speakers will be talking about, including what makes this newsworthy
  • a copy of the delegates’ pack
  • contact details for more information.

Last updated: 23 February 2023

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