Ingredients of a successful event

Our recent meeting in Philadelphia, Libraries Rebound: Embracing Mission, Maximizing Impact, was, I think, quite successful. It made me think about what it takes to create a successful event.

Of course, content matters. It’s important to come up with a topic that addresses concerns of the potential attendees, enlist the right speakers, and gather an engaged roomful of participants. We had it all. null A capacity crowd joined together to discuss three topics: improved research support, aligning special collections with mission, and using space as a distinctive asset. The fact that these topics brought together a mixed crowd of top-level administrators and special collections and public services managers added to the synergy of the event. We often recruit expert speakers from outside our community to spark new ideas and approaches, but the vast majority of the speakers for this meeting were experts from our own community, the OCLC Research Library Partnership.

The first topic, directly supporting researchers, drew on the experience of David Shumaker, Catholic University of America; Tracy Gabridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Kurt de Belder, Leiden University. The reactor panel consisted of Chris Bourg, Stanford University; Liz Chapman, London School of Economics; and Dana Rooks, University of Houston.

For the second topic, aligning special collections with the institutional mission, we enlisted Fran Blouin, University of Michigan; Lisa Carter, Ohio State University; and Tim Pyatt, Penn State University Libraries. Reacting were Steven Mandeville-Gamble, George Washington University; Rachel Hart, University of St Andrews; and Matt Reynolds, East Carolina University.null

During the third session, exploiting space as a distinctive asset, we heard from speakers Andrea Will & Wayne Gehrke, Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning, Inc.; Sarah Pritchard, Northwestern University; and Shawna Sadler, University of Calgary. Reacting to them were Chris Banks, University of Aberdeen; Simon Neame, University of British Columbia; and Lorelei Tanji, University of California, Irvine.null

And kicking off the whole event was Scott Walter, DePaul University, whose framing remarks provoked many interesting discussions over the the two days — just what you hope for from a keynote speaker!null
We’ve had a number of questions about how we put the panels together. We assigned one person to coordinate each of the panels. First we looked hard for speakers who were out in front of the topic. Second, we sought knowledgeable people as reactors, expecting both to hear about their take on the topic and for them to raise provocative questions. Third, we trust our audience to weigh in and broaden the discussion. We talked with each of the speakers and reactors individually before adding them to the roster. As the event drew near, we got them together on conference calls, for the speakers to set expectations, coordinate what they would cover, and determine sequence; for the reactors, to let them know what they’d be reacting to and giving them guidelines. Then we sat back and watched it happen!

Oh, and another key ingredient for a successful meeting: flawless logistics! A great venue (Bellevue hotel), tasty catering (the circus snacks were a favorite), a welcoming reception (thanks to Ron Brashear and colleagues at the Chemical Heritage Foundation), and blissful ignorance of the myriad behind-the-scenes details that Jeanette McNicol handled seemingly effortlessly.

So here’s the recipe, courtesy of Merrilee:
First, establish theme and objectives
Then, add program and speakers
Next, mix in location and venue
Sprinkle in some reception and activities
Serve results in blog postings and on website*
Follow up with evaluation**
Repeat as necessary

* We’ll have a few more blog posts about the meeting and soon the presentations and recordings will be online. Watch this page.
** We have issued a survey to the in-person attendees and to those who streamed it remotely. Feedback about this event will make the next one even better.

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