Planning #METROcon17

It’s three whole months since my colleagues and I ran our annual conference.

I typically leave the venue mentally and physically exhausted, drink at least one whisky, and then curl up on the floor of my apartment and resolve to avoid thinking about the whole enterprise for at least little while.

And that’s why this piece is hitting the airwaves at such a delay.

A day-long event held in NYC to showcase the work of our member organizations, METRO’s conference has a planning runway of about six months. For the sake of posterity, here’re the milestones I attempt to hit along the way.

6 months out:

  • tour potential venues
  • identify an optimal date (steering clear of other library-related conferences and holidays and winter break) and secure a contract with selected venue
  • work with director to identify potential keynote speakers; start to reach out
  • map out due dates and an overall communications plan

5 months out:

  • write, post, and send a save-the-date to our community
  • continue working to find and contract with potential keynote speakers
  • recruit community members to serve as presentation selection committee
  • email committee as a group with responsibilities and deadlines
  • create conference presentation proposal form and vet it with colleagues and selection committee
  • write and send announcement re: opening of proposal form, deadline for submissions, and the date on which selections will be announced

4 months out:

  • continue to promote conference participation
  • contract with keynote speakers

3 months out:

  • continue to promote conference participation
  • secure photographer and videographer

10 weeks out:

  • close conference participation form
  • create user-friendly proposal reports for use by selection committee
  • create a mailing list that includes all conference presenters
  • write and send emails to all proposal applicants with a status update
  • open conference registration form (these days we use Eventbrite)
  • write, post, and send selected presentations to the METRO community

2 months out:

  • make travel and lodging arrangements for keynote speakers
  • create conference schedule and run it past presenters
  • update conference registration form with selected presentations
  • contract with designer to create conference program / arrange for printing

6 weeks out:

  • write and edit copy for conference booklet
  • update conference registration form with selected presentations

4 weeks out:

  • send final copy to program booklet designer
  • call venue to discuss set-up and tech needs
  • try to have a good holiday break?

2 weeks out:

  • communicate any and all updates with speakers
  • send final catering order
  • ask staff to sign up to cover conference rooms
  • de-duplicate registration form / manage waitlist
  • draft informational email to be sent to all participants
  • work with general manager to prep name tags, conference booklets, signage, and other other supplies needed on site

1 week out:

  • communicate any and all updates with speakers
  • de-duplicate registration form / manage waitlist
  • create facilitator schedules for colleagues
  • create post-conference survey and queue up thank you note in registration software
  • schedule supplies drop-off with the venue


  • wake up early / arrive at least 2 hours before the conference begins
  • greet caterers, photographer, videographer, and tech staff
  • greet METRO colleagues and thank them profusely for their involvement
  • work with morning plenary presenters to make sure mics and slides are functional
  • watch plenary session like a hawk for any mishaps that need to be addressed
  • staff one of the breakout rooms / make sure presenters have everything they need
  • take a walk during lunch
  • repeat morning activities, only in reverse

… and continue to stock our event space with great workshops and keep up with outreach throughout all of this.


METRO’s 2017 Annual Conference was my 5th go ‘round planning such event (or my 6th, if you count the re-scheduling we had to do as a result of Superstorm Sandy). I learned early on that, for my own sake, this event needs to evolve each year. Creating some minor form of disruption has the effect of keeping me alert and fully engaged.

In 2017, I moved the conference to a new venue, created a selection committee, and ditched the idea of a standard session length in order to host presentations of varying time frames. I also stopped the madness of soliciting presentation slides by 5 p.m. the day before the conference. Our presenters were asked instead to upload their slides to Google drive after they’d presented.

In 2016, we added closing keynote to the schedule and sought volunteers to lead off-site “birds of a feather” lunch groups rather than hosting lunch on-site.

In 2015, a colleague and I tried to run some sort of closing activity (not recommended) in lieu of that last session block of presentations. I also attempted to build in additional interactivity by moderating a panel discussion on Digital Public Library of America / Empire State Digital Network. Speaking during a conference you’re supposed to be running turned out to be a step too far for yours truly.

2014 was the year I learned that it is really, really boring to simply follow the same old routine from past conferences. Trying to retread old ground opens you up for mistakes. (That’s all I’ll say about that…)


I owe a lot to METRO’s conference. Planning the ill-fated, rained-out 2012 conference as an intern led me to securing a part-time and then a full-time gig at METRO. My job’s shifted since then to incorporate way, way more event planning and facilitation, so I’m putting all this experience to good use.

Of the many lessons learned along the way, this one stands out in particular: do what you can to make each year better than the last, even if it means blowing up the template every now and again. A beginner’s mind is a beautiful thing.