There have been some comments and some direct questions about the differences between this year’s and last year’s conference, particularly about there being fewer speakers on the program this year and the ticket price being higher. As Conference Manager, I think you are entitled to receive some answers.
Last year, in our naïvety and enthusiasm, we overbooked the number of speakers for the two-day event. During the conference it became clear that the program was too full and did not allow enough time for decent length talks followed by full question and answer sessions. This year we have arranged ten speakers. Each speaker will give a talk of 35 minutes followed by a 10 minute question and answer session. And this year we will ensure that we start each session on time.
Dr. Tara Palmatier will be Master of Ceremonies and she will also be a member of the 90 minute discussion panel which will be moderated by Sage Gerard. The other five members of the panel will be announced shortly.
The conference is not just about hearing the speakers or asking questions in the panel discussion but also about meeting up with your fellow MHRAs. And so, as requested by attendees at last year’s conference, in drawing up the program we have allowed more time for you to network.
We have extended the afternoon break and the lunch time and we will be opening the doors each day at 8am. So, provided you arrive early, you will have over eight hours across the two days to mingle with other attendees and to network. And that’s not including the time spent at the evening events, socializing and networking with other like-minded people over dinner or pizza.
We’re arranging an optional taxi service to collect you from your hotel and take you to the venue and then to return you afterwards, whether after the conference program finishes for the day or after the dinner or pizza evening events.
Not long after last year’s conference I was appointed conference manager for ICMI ’15 and I immediately asked attendees, speakers and staff for feedback regarding their experience of ICMI ’14.
As you know, protesters’ threats led to the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel ensuring that we had to find a new venue for the conference at very short notice. We were exceedingly lucky and very thankful that the VFW Base at St Clair Shores was able to offer us a place to hold the conference.
It was clear from the attendees’ feedback that, given the emergency conditions we’d been working under, they understood the limitations of the venue and the catering arrangements and indeed, they congratulated us on managing to make the conference actually happen. However, it was also clear that they expected this year’s event to be rather more professional, both in venue and in proceedings.
Our overriding concern has been to choose a venue which would withstand the sort of pressures which the protesters levelled at the DoubleTree Hilton and which they also tried to inflict on the VFW Base. Fortunately for us, the Commander and his staff were made of sterner stuff.
It took time to find the right venue but I am quite sure we have found one which you will like. Inevitably, it costs more than the DoubleTree Hotel would have done or the VFW Base did but it isn’t glitzy or too expensive for our or your pockets.
The protesters from last year have already vowed to shut us down this year and though we know they will not achieve their aim, they will still be protesting (as is their right, of course). Security and safety of our attendees, speakers and volunteer staff will always be of prime importance and so, to avoid a repeat of last year’s emergency appeal for funding, we have built into the costs added but reasonable security cover.
Another reason which people tend to forget is the cost of flying in the speakers and volunteer staff and accommodating them all. Between speakers, panel discussion members and staff, we’ll have some forty-five people there. Whilst all concerned are giving their time for free, the travel and accommodation costs mount up alarmingly. It takes time to set up the conference hall properly and so we cannot just arrive at the venue the day before the conference.
I’m afraid it all adds up and the price of the ticket has been the subject of much discussion in our conference management group. Contrary to the headline which I saw somewhere, the ticket price has not been set at $649!
Unfortunately last year’s ticket price was set before all the costs had been worked out and did not cover anywhere near all the expenditure which was incurred, which means that the price was set unrealistically low. By the time we realised, the tickets had been on sale for some weeks and there was nothing we could do about the price.
So overall, comparing last year’s and this year’s ticket prices is not a straight comparison. And I’m sorry that because of last year’s unrealistic price, this year’s price may have come as a surprise to some people who would like to attend.
We know that people have travel and hotel costs on top of the ticket price and we do not want to price people out of being able to attend but neither can we afford to make a loss again. And so you see the ticket pricing structure which we arrived at. Contrary to the efforts made by our detractors to blacken our name, the ticket price is not aimed at making a profit but breaking even would be nice.
As you’ll see from the e-ticket store we have a new purchasing system which is part of a new pre-registration system. It will make it much quicker for all attendees when they arrive on the first day of the conference and will also allow us to refine our catering plans by knowing in advance how many people to expect.
The Early Bird Discount ensures that if you purchase your ticket by the 30th of April, you will only pay $399. Buy it between 1 May and 30 June and you’ll still get it at a good discount, at the price of $449. The price will increase in $50 steps until it gets to the buy-at-the-door price of $649 and we expect very few, if any, to do so. In fact, that price has been set to deter people from doing so, so that they don’t hold up those people who have been entered into the pre-registration system and only need to book in.
A sub section will be set up on the Forum soon, so that you can make arrangements with fellow attendees, to meet up and even perhaps to share hotel accommodation.
We on the conference management team have spent months making our plans for ICMI ’15 and are excitedly looking forward to it. We are promising you a pretty good event (says she with typical British understatement!).
I shall be flying in to Houston from the UK. It will be my first flight, a long one around ten hours and I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. But the end result will be worth it. I am looking forward to meeting as many of you as I can.
I hope you’ll come and say hello. You’ll find me quite easily. I’ll be the woman clutching a clipboard and looking permanently harassed. I did think about wearing pearls and clutching those but I’m told that might give the wrong impression.