Leading a Conference Steering Committee: Successfully Leveraging Your Options

by | Nov 15, 2016 | Blog

No doubt the successful organisation of a conference steering committee can be a rather daunting task. This is the main reason why committees are often employed alongside more traditional means. This group of professionals is able to collate the main ideas of the event, to market to the target audience and to equally divide the logistical workload as opposed to leaving such responsibilities in the hands of only one or two persons.

Worth mentioning here, to define terms and definitions, that many conferences deploy a programme or scientific committee as well as a local organising committee which act on behalf of the organisation’s executive committee (or board).

Related: A Marriage of Function and Insight: Keys to Effective Meeting Management

Still, leading this type of committees can be quite a challenge. It is wise to highlight a handful of ways in which a conference steering committee can be successfully leveraged in order to create a massively successful conference.

Determining the Number of Volunteers

The number of volunteers involved within a conference steering committee should be clearly defined from the beginning. Too few will tend to overwhelm individual members. Too many may alternatively hinder the decision-making processes. While the exact number will vary, a typical conference organisation board tends to be composed of between five and ten volunteers.

Focusing on Strategic Concerns

Some committees can become mired in ancillary topics such as the type of food to serve, the catering staff or even the website intended to host the conference itself. This can detract energy from critical strategic areas such as organisation, advertising and attendee engagement.

The Importance of Group Dynamics

There have been countless papers written on this subject. A conference committee is only as useful as the level of interaction that members enjoy. Much of this has to do with the rather “organic” nature of each individual. To put this in another way, it is much better to recognise each member for his or her own unique skill set as opposed to the static “role” that they play within the group. This type of recognition will spur motivation and in turn, each will be more likely to contribute to the efficacy of the committee as a whole.

Conference Steering Committee: Defining the Role of the Leader

Every conference steering committee requires a central “hub” that serves as a foundation. In most cases, this is represented by a leader. Many professionals state (and rightfully so) that the best leaders are those who control the process as opposed to the people. We should nonetheless take this a step further.

[blockquote text=”A great leader’s courage to fulfil his vision comes from passion, not position. — John Maxwell” text_color=”#2e2c2c” width=”” line_height=”undefined” background_color=”” border_color=”” show_quote_icon=”yes” quote_icon_color=””]

Leaders need to inspire from a top-down position. Without being able to motivate the other members of a conference organisation, it will be unrealistic to expect any positive results. Not only should a leader be able to clearly define the goals of the conference steering committee, but it is just as important to highlight the fact that everyone has a stake in the ultimate outcome. Let us never forget that the bulk of conference organisation members will not be getting paid for their work. It is therefore essential to inspire them from the very top.

Use the Power of Modern Technology

We should never forget that committee members are likely to have rather busy schedules with regard to their professional lives. This is the problem with physical meetings. Some may not be able to attend while those who do might be devoting only a small amount of their attention as a result of the inconvenience. This is where the power of online systems can be leveraged. Virtual sessions are able to accomplish a great deal even when members are not in a physical room. This will help to facilitate meetings leading up to the conference itself.

Related: Enhancing the Delegate Experience with Effective Conference Content Distribution

Important Takeaway Points

Leading conference steering committees can indeed be a challenging task. Still, there are several approaches which can make a real difference. To review, these include:

  • Determining the number of volunteers
  • Placing efforts towards strategic concerns
  • Appreciating group dynamics
  • Defining the role of the leader
  • Using modern technology

Keeping these metrics in mind is the best way to ensure a successful conference in the future.


Congrex Switzerland is an internationally operating agency delivering integrated solutions especially for non-profit clients. This encompasses the overall organisation of conferences including the management of hotel rooms and the strategic consultancy of associations. Annually Congrex Switzerland organises approximately 33 conferences with over 73’000 delegates. Amongst our clients are international associations, governmental organisations and corporations.

If you wish to receive additional information about Congrex Switzerland, please feel free to contact Congrex.

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