Proceedings

Most conferences have some kind of proceedings, a - in most cases - printed collection of papers for each presentation. This is especially important for scientific conferences, where the papers and their publication in prestigious proceedings help the career of their authors. But any conference can profit from having proceedings. They help the audience, because they don’t have to take as many notes. When they get home they can read about the stuff they have heard (or not, if they missed a talk). This is especially important when the conference has several parallel tracks.

Printing the proceedings costs money, but it gives the participants something “solid” to take home. Also most people still prefer reading longer texts on paper. If printing is too costly consider putting the material on a CD or DVD or put them online.

Printing and binding

If you choose to print the proceedings there are several ways of doing it. While it is possible with modern laser printers and copying machines to just do it yourself, properly printed material is still better, especially for graphics and images with many colors or different shades of gray. Also the printer can bind the proceedings properly for you, which looks and handles much better than thumbtacked material. There are many options for binding, depending on the number of pages and the amount of money you are willing to spend. Talk to your printer of neighborhood copy shop for help.

Slides

Instead of taking the time to write a proper paper, many speakers just deliver a PDF of their Powerpoint presentation. This is almost always an inferior option, but might be better than nothing. Generally presentation slides are not enough to understand the subject without the actual talk. If slides can be understood without listening to the speaker, it probably means they are full of bullet points and use many words instead of pictures and diagrams. But those kind of slides normally make for very boring presentations. So speakers who reuse their slides as documentation will be tempted to write bad slides.

Also there are many practical problems. Slides are often very colorful, sometimes printed with light text on dark background. This doesn’t work very well when printed in black and white. So if you use slides at all consider making a separate version only for printing.

Copyright

Authors have the copyright for their works and to create proceedings you theoretically have to ask them for permission. But most conferences will just make it a precondition for giving a presentation at the conference that the speakers allow the conference organizers to create proceedings for their work. Either speakers assign the copyright over to the organization running the conference, or they keep the copyright but give the organizers advance permissions to publish the papers. The conference organizers may still hold the copyright for this specific collection of the papers, which prevents others from reprinting it, without keeping the individual authors from re-using their own papers in any way they want.

You should know beforehand where you want to use the papers: printed, on CD/DVD or maybe publish them on your web site and make sure your authors agree to all your planned uses.

Publishing on the Internet

Today it makes a lot of sense to publish your proceedings on the Internet. Many conference organizers don’t like to do this, because they feel that proceedings which the participants get exclusively enhance the value of their conference. If everybody can get the papers for free from the Internet, why should they pay for the conference? On the other hand, freely available papers can mean free advertising for your events and your speakers. Also, the easier papers are available to interested partys the more the papers will be part of public discussion and help to further the topics your conference is about.

If you don’t like your papers to be available to anyone, you can decide to do what the USENIX organization is doing: Their papers are only available for members, through a password-protected website, for the first year after the conference and then they are opend up to everybody. For our fast-paced world, this should help encourage people who always want to be on top of things, to either come to the conference or pay for a membership.

The form

Always a contentious issue is the question of the form the paper should take. Professionally run events, and especially scientific conferences,
will generally have very strict rules about this. Authors have to write papers using specific applications and use specific templates. In most cases this is either LaTeX or Microsoft Word, but other systems are also used, for instance DocBook XML. There are always some authors who will like your choice and other who don’t like it because they are not familiar with your software. But if you want to have proceedings with a consistent look and feel, you either have to be very strict with this or you have to help you author along and do the formatting for them, which can be an awful amount of work.

An different option which has been proven to work quite well for us at GUUG, is the following: Your authors can use any applications, but they all have to give you a PDF using a specific paper size (generally A4 for everybody but US americans), leave 3cm margin on all sides and print no headers, footers or pager numbers. You can then collect the papers into one document, add headers, footers, pager numbers, table of contents, front and back matter. Your printer can help you put all this together into a proper document. If you allow slides, they should probably be printed two or three on a page. With this method you won’t have a consistent document, but you will at least have proper page numbering and a usable table of contents.

Editing papers

Most speakers don’t write perfect copy. Especially inexperienced authors need a lot of help from editors to create understandable papers. If you have the manpower, it helps if you read papers, discuss them with authors and fix mistakes. You can also bring in an outsiders perspective on the paper. It is a lot of work but it can improve your proceedings immeasurably.

Encouraging speakers to turn in papers on time

Some (mostly scientific) conferences only accept speakers based on completed papers. They don’t have the problem of speakers not turning in papers on time for printing (or even turning them in at all). But many conferences have this problem. And there is no perfect solution for that. You will have to remind speakers often that the deadline is approaching and you’ll have to push them again and again. You can, of course, use slight pressure to “encourage” them like only paying for travel or hotel costs when papers are there. But you can’t really exclude them from the conference, because your program is already published and participants expect the talks to be there. Most important probably you can remind speakers that their public image improves if they have nicely written and properly formatted and error-checked papers in your proceedings. Maybe they’ll look for a job someday and their prospective employer will google them and find out that, yes their are prolific speakers as they mention in their resume, but they have never turned in the required papers and might not be as reliable as the employer hopes.

This seems to be one of the biggest and most consistent problems with many conferences I have been involved with. Please tell me if you have any ideas on this.

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