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Report from the Executive Director

Behind the Scenes at the 2010 SPSSI Conference
by Susan Dudley

SPSSI Executive Director, Susan Dudley (standing) with conference planning pros, Carli Olsen (right) and Jill Pierce (center) at the registration table.

Everyone who attended the 2010 SPSSI Conference in New Orleans has a good idea about the extraordinary breadth and depth of the program, the quality and expertise of the speakers, and the originality and elegance of the research presented. These are the features that leave us all with that after-conference glow, energizing us so that we’re already looking forward to doing it again in 2012.

But to help make all that possible, there was a hive of behind-the-scenes logistical activity that, though vital to the success of any conference, we hope that none of the speakers or conference participants ever noticed or thought about. In the months leading up to a SPSSI biennial conference, the lion’s share of our work at Central Office is devoted in one way or another to managing the multitude of details that go into the logistics of planning for and staging the event – this year, an $89,000 project.

 A few examples:

  • For any conference, it’s a safe bet that host cities have been chosen, hotels have been scouted, and contracts have been signed not less than two years in advance. Among the reasons that we chose the InterContinental in New Orleans was the layout of the meeting space, and their ability to accommodate our group at reasonable rates. Our conference accounted for a total of 493 room-nights in the hotel, with peak usage on Saturday, when 135 guest rooms were occupied by SPSSI conference participants.
  • Months before the conference, the online registration web site had been constructed and tested and finally opened for business. This year, 375 people registered for our conference. Two hundred fifteen of them were graduate students or post-docs. Registration fees offset just about 78% of our conference expenses.
  • To get the word out, we blasted more than 30 emails to our lists of members and friends between December and June to keep everyone updated on the various conference offerings, opportunities, and deadlines. Most of these messages were sent to 3500-4000 addresses!
  • Our 150-plus-page conference books were compiled, proof-read, printed, and shipped to New Orleans at the eleventh-hour – after all the critical work of the program committee secure speakers, solicit and review submissions, and collect abstracts for the ten keynote addresses and  the scores of interactive discussion, symposium, short-presentation and poster sessions had been completed. We also managed to secure a letter for publication in the conference book, in which New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu welcomed SPSSI to the city. The total printing and shipping cost for this year’s books came to $4,600.
  • Another last minute task is letting the hotel know how many people we’ll be feeding at each breakfast, lunch, reception, and event – the goal, obviously, is to order not to little, not too much! In a city like New Orleans, renowned for its cuisine, this required a bit of crystal ball gazing to make accurate guesses about how many people would be on hand for each event. Happily, our estimates were close, and the small quantities of unconsumed food were donated, by pre-arrangement, to BridgeHouse, a local substance abuse treatment center. The cost of conference food and beverages accounted for 43% of our total expenses
  • To provide high quality AV equipment and monitor its performance to make sure that everything operated as it should, we relied on an expert team of professionals headquartered out of Pittsburgh. Their bill came in at a bargain $16,000 – thanks, in part, to the generosity of Tulane University, which loaned us the projectors we used in many of the meeting spaces. On the other end of the technology spectrum, our posters were hung on $1500 worth of tack boards that a local vendor delivered to the hotel for our use.
  • And finally, to share one of the low visibility aspects of the conference that we do hope people are aware of, we awarded graduate student-, diversity-, and international-travel grants totaling over $12,000 to help make attendance possible for just under 30 students who probably would not otherwise have been able to attend. An addition, more than a dozen undergraduate students from Tulane, Xavier, and Dillard Universities volunteered to help out at the registration desk, in return for the opportunity to attend the conference.

On behalf of everyone whose conference experience was enhanced by their meticulously executed behind-the-scenes attention to these and the multitude of other details that make up the SPSSI conference, I want to give a special nod to Anila Balkissoon and Alex Ingrams on the SPSSI staff; to Carli Olsen and Jill Pierce, our meeting planners from AMC Network in Sebastopol, California; and to Janet Ruscher, Lisa Molix, and Laurie O’Brien from our local planning committee at Tulane University. We’re already thinking about doing it again in Charlotte in 2012, and we hope to see you there!

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