Are you looking for great speakers for your annual conference? Do you want your sessions to have memorable presentations with engaging content? Of course, you do. We all do. Because at the end of the day, we know that great content is what truly matters to attendees. Walking away from an event knowing that you’ve had a unique opportunity to learn or engage with something new is why people want to attend events in the first place.
If you’re an association or some kind of professional body hosting an annual conference, then you know that what stands at the heart of a great conference programme is your ability to source great speakers who will bring something new and exciting to the event. And this comes through a well-executed abstract management process.
Abstracts Are Building Blocks of Successful Conference Programmes
To attract the right speakers, conference organisers typically ask members of their community to submit their presentation proposals so as to find the most interesting and relevant content for their event. Once this call for abstracts (or papers) is sent out, the submissions are then reviewed by a team of reviewers whose aim is to select those presentations that promise to deliver a high-quality programme to attendees..
The abstract process is also important because it offers the opportunity to showcase new research in the event’s relevant field. You wouldn’t want to attend the same conference each year where the same speakers present the same content. By sourcing new and diverse research, you’re more likely to attract the right attendees and get them to come again the following year.
But getting the abstract management process isn’t easy. Imagine asking one of your colleagues to give you feedback on a short document you’ve put together. Sounds simple enough. Give them a hundred documents to read and you’ll likely encounter some resistance. Now imagine asking ALL your colleagues to read a hundred documents and give you feedback. That’s going to take some chasing. And how would you collate all their feedback? That’s essentially the task the abstracts manager has to undertake.
Last time, we looked at the first stage of the abstract management process and some of the key things conference organisers need to think about when managing abstract submissions around their events – How to Manage Abstract Submissions for Successful Conference Programmes. This week, we’re focusing on the next stage of the process – which is when the call for abstracts closes, and the process of reviews begins.
5 Ways to Improve Your Abstract Review Process
Once presentation submissions are made, the review process kicks off in order to find the most interesting content to present at the conference. Yet deciding which abstracts to accept is likely to involve a pool of reviewers, with different experts needed for the various topics on offer. Some may be reviewed randomly and some be allocated to individual reviewers. There may be many rounds and stages of reviews, each with its own criteria and grading requirements. And all of this requires a lot of time and can be incredibly difficult to coordinate.
Have a look below at five simple tips that can help you get the most out of your abstract reviewers:
1. Be Selective with Reviewers – It is an obvious point but an important one, nevertheless. Make sure you assign the right reviewers to the right topics. If the reviewer has expertise in the area they’re reviewing, then this will already save them an enormous amount of time understanding the content that’s been submitted to them. This also means they’re in a better position to score abstracts critically, which will have a more positive impact on the quality of your conference content. Be open with your selections too – don’t stick to the same reviewers year after year. New ones can put a fresh perspective on things and bring about exciting new content from new speakers.
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2. Be Clear About Review Criteria– The clearer your instructions to reviewers, the less challenges you’ll have at your end. Clearly define goals, deadlines, expectations and review criteria. Not doing this will result in inconsistency and again, can have a negative impact on your content. Have clear guidelines on the kind of criteria they need to follow in the abstract evaluation process. So, this can include things like ensuring the abstract provides audiences with new information on a topic, that it addresses important industry or academia issues, that it is appealing to the target audience and that it matches the overall theme of the conference. Whatever grading system you use, it’s always a good idea to also leave an open text box for reviewers to put their own comments – they may have suggestions which can add real value to the content of your presentations.
3. Be Realistic About Timelines – To get the best out of your abstract reviewers, you need to be considerate about their time. Give them enough time to accept your invitation and plenty of notice if they can’t. Make sure they know what timelines you’re working on – when they need to be available, when reviews need to be completed by, details on print deadlines for abstract journals and posters and so on. If you’ve done similar conferences in the past, then you’ll probably have an idea on numbers when it comes to submissions across different topic areas. Make sure you communicate that information with your reviewers so they have some idea on scale and can plan their time accordingly.
4. Plan for the Unexpected – It’s quite common for abstract submission deadlines to be extended, so be prepared and communicate the possibility of this happening with your reviewers beforehand as this means they’ll have less time to complete their reviews. Equally, you may be in a situation where during your review process, you launch another call for papers on a subject matter that has just become topical (for example: scientific funding in a post-Brexit world). If it’s relevant to your audience, then it’s probably something you don’t want your conference programme to miss out on. Lining up your reviewers for unexpected changes like this should always be factored into your review management timeline.
5. Monitor Progress– Stay on top of how many abstracts have been reviewed, which are incomplete and which of your reviewers are the most or least active. This will identify potential problem areas and help you assess the best way of addressing them. For example, if you have a large number of reviewers who start the grading process but don’t finish it, it may indicate a lack of commitment. So, you may need to get them replaced. Or perhaps they’ve got too many abstracts to review and you have to reallocate submissions to other reviewers. A good abstract management solution can help you track this kind of data and provide you with the real-time analysis you need for making more informed decisions.
Your abstract reviewers are just as important as your sponsors, exhibitors and all the other partners you deal with around your conference. Most of them volunteer their time to make your conference better, so it makes sense to make their jobs as easy as possible. Simply the process by giving them clear and defined goals. Make sure they understand your deadlines, review criteria and expectations. Offer support and guidance through open communication channels and never forget to thank them as you’re probably going to need their help again next year. Following these best practice guidelines will put you in a good position in developing successful conference programmes. It will also help you avoid what may otherwise be a long drawn-out and often frustrating process in managing abstract reviews.
Are there any other tips you’d like to add to this list? Please let us know as we’re always keen on publishing your views!
The Eventsforce Abstracts solution can simplify the whole process of abstract management – from inviting and reviewing online abstract submissions to building agendas, managing conference invitations, registrations and payments. It also provides powerful tools to monitor, manage and communicate with everyone involved. Click here to learn more.