A meeting of mindsOn 1 Aug 2001 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Everthought of running your own conference? It’s not impossible. The members of theMid Downs OH Group Conference Committee explain how it has run a successfulannual conference for more than 10 yearsWhatrequires 200 rolls and sandwiches, 32 litres of liquid, up to two kilos of hamand cheese and more than 16 hours of discussion? You may be excused forthinking it was your occupational health and safety meetings, and in fact youwould not be far from the truth.Thisis what the Mid Downs Occupational Health Group Conference Committee getsthrough from January through to November each year.TheMid Downs Conference and Exhibition started in 1990 and was organised topromote occupational health practice and has always been organised by OH advisers,members of the Mid Downs OH Group. Over the years the conference has developedin many different ways with more exhibitors, high-profile speakers and linkswith our European colleagues giving delegates an insight into how OH works inother countries. ObjectivesAkey objective of the committee has always been to ensure there are practicalelements within the conference that allow delegates to go back to theirworkplace with new ideas and renewed motivation to the benefit of employer andemployees. The conference also provides an excellent opportunity to network andmeet with colleagues working in similar environments.Thecommittee needs to ensure speakers provide delegates with a presentation thatis informative and interesting. Recent technology has allowed many of thepresentations to be projected onto a screen via a computer. This formatsignificantly improves quality and makes it possible to project photographs.Judging by the delegate evaluation forms it is seen to be a considerableimprovement. Theexhibitors, who usually number more than 40, have consistently given excellentsupport to the conference and the group has developed good workingrelationships with many of them. They like the venue, The Hawth in Crawley,West Sussex, because of its layout and the number of delegates that they areable to meet during the day. Delegates also have the opportunity to win someexcellent prizes and, of course, to look at new equipment, services andtechnology that they may be able to persuade their financial managers to agreeto purchase.ThecommitteeTheconference committee is made up of Mid Downs members who volunteer their timeand resources to ensure the conference maintains its high profile in the OHcalendar. A conference secretary keeps the whole bandwagon rolling and ensurescommittee members stay in line when they are given specific tasks. Theconference secretary also provides a central point of contact for exhibitors,delegates and venue organisers, all of whom need to be contacted and informed ofthe conference arrangements.InJanuary each year the committee meets to review the previous conference – inparticular, the build-up, speakers and the evaluation forms. One of the vitaltools in this exercise is the delegate feedback form. The objective is toidentify subjects for the next conference and provide a balanced programme ofspeakers. This year, as always, speakers’ subjects are driven by delegates’feedback. The diversity and relevance of the subject matter ensures a highattendance. The Hawth is very popularwith delegates due to its accessibility, size, layout, and food. But even thishas to be considered: what arrangements should be made for lunch, what will bethe layout of the exhibitors – there is always something to consider. The venuecan pose its own problems, for example, it may not be available. So it isbooked early just to be sure. PublicityOtherissues that have to be reviewed include the design of the mailshots. Theprogrammes that arrive in the post at people’s home, workplaces and educationestablishments each year are revised to ensure they reflect current trends indesign and layout. The committee adapts advertising material’s size and design,plus the advertising strategy to ensure people do not forget to put the date intheir diaries. This is based on the previous year’s response to advertisementsand mailshots. Delegates’fees have consciously been kept as competitive as possible, remembering thatthe budget for training and courses can be under pressure. Onthe dayOnthe day, the exhibitors need to be able to set up quickly for early arrivals sogroup volunteers are on hand from very early in the morning to assist withminor problems that crop up, typically with the availability of extensionleads, and so on, and space requirements. The catering is also up and runningearly to provide tea, coffee and bacon sandwiches before delegates arrive. Thelunchtime menu always provokes a great deal of discussion as we have to ensureit caters for a wide range of tastes and preferences. Generallythe day of the conference runs fairly smoothly. Speakers are allocated”minders” to ensure they get to the podium on time and theirpresentation material is loaded and ready to go.Atthe end of the conference each delegate receives a set of speakers’ notes and acertificate of attendance, the former usually hot off the press and onlyarriving just after lunch. This signals the end of the day and everything needsto be packed away, remembering that in a few months the whole process will startall over again.Long-termbenefitsRunningthe conference has brought some direct benefits for the Mid Downs OH Group as awhole and for its members. It allows the group to meet every last Thursday ofthe month at The Hawth, a venue that is easily accessible for the growingmembership who work and live in the south-east of England. Every month it hasspeakers on a wide range of subjects which have included the expert witness,manual handling and alternative therapy. Italso provides an opportunity for members to raise issues, discuss them and findout if others have had similar problems. A recent development is the group’sability to provide funds to assist members to go on courses.Since1994 the Peter O’Malley Scholarship has been awarded to individuals to promoteresearch and development in occupational health. This has been possible becausethe success of the conference has made funds available. Theconference will hopefully run for many years to come to promote occupationalhealth and provide a focal point for OH advisers to meet, have discussions withand get support from like-minded colleagues.