Collecting abstracts is one procedure where surprises at the end can be a real pain. Managing the submission process is complicated enough when it goes correctly, so avoiding any events that derail the process is critical. This information is used to feed a variety of outputs (your website, printed program book, mobile app, etc.) so seemingly small oversights can become significant headaches.
One of the more frustrating oversights is realizing that—after you’ve started to receive submissions—there is information you need, but haven’t asked for.
Sorry, I should have warned you this was a horror story. I’ll give you a second to collect yourself.
The steps involved to fix this mistake are no less frightening than the original error. You’ll need to reach out to one or more vendors to get the missing fields added into the submission process. Easy enough (if your vendor has good customer support). The real headache will come when you have to reach out to the submitters that have already turned in their information. What’s the S.O.P. on that? Depending on your collection method, you may have to contact them individually, explain the oversight, and ask that they resubmit the missing information.
Not exactly the way you intended to kick off this year’s conference, is it?
Avoiding the unforced errors
The real secret to avoiding surprises like this is to have a clear idea of your final outputs in mind from the start. Here are 5 tips to keep in mind as you begin building your abstract management system:
Tip #1: Finalize your end products before collection begins
Today’s conference landscape means the information you collect will be used in multiple formats. If you don’t have a full list of the items you’ll need information for, how will you know if you have everything you need? Making these decisions before your collection site opens will allow you the opportunity to plan for any unusual data demands.
Tip #2: Talk with an experienced colleague about your plans
You may have a good idea of what you would like to achieve, but there is no replacement for experience. Enlist the advice of a fellow association conference planner that has actually created the kind of output you are planning to use. They will undoubtedly have insight on what works and what to avoid in your planning phase. Feel free to learn from their mistakes!
Tip #3: Work with your vendor to create an information checklist
Checklists are a great way to prevent anything from slipping through the cracks. Talk with each of your vendors and make a checklist of all the information they need to complete the project. Check off each item as you work through a test submission. This fool-proof way of auditing your collection process will let you see what information is needed. It will also highlight any extraneous data that unnecessarily complicates the collection process.
Tip #4: Make sure each output handles information consistently.
This consideration is especially important if you are working with multiple vendors. Even if you have collected all the information you need, make sure that each platform interprets it consistently.
For example, when asking for a submitter’s name, do all of your outputs support a “credentialing” field? If Joe Smith adds his “PhD” designation in a suffix form, will that information be consistently applied with each vendor you use?
Tip #5: Know which deadlines can slip and which cannot.
In a perfect world, submissions would start arriving the instant you send out your announcement. Hey, we can dream, right? In reality though, your deadlines are going to be tested. We’ve talked before about having advertised deadlines vs absolute deadlines and it’s important to know which deadlines are flexible and which are not.
Typically, mobile apps have a longer development process and some of the earliest deadlines. However, being a digital product, updates to the app can typically be made later, even as the event date nears. Compare that to a deadline for printing conference schedules. A deadline for printing has to factor in time to create the documents and ship them to the event. After a certain date it is impossible to make changes and have the documents delivered on time.
It should be no surprise that the key to a successful abstract collection process can be summed up by these six words: Fail to plan, plan to fail.
It’s essential to know what information you will need before you can begin to collect it. Having a solid grip on your intended outputs is the only way to make sure information gets from the collection site to your conference. And don’t hesitate to reach out to an experienced colleague or vendor. Their firsthand experience can help you avoid any missteps along the way.
Do you have any other words of wisdom to share with your fellow planning professionals? What data pitfalls have you come across while adding a new output to your conference portfolio? Let us know in the comments!