Monday, February 21, 2011

The Ins and Outs of Planning a Conference Program

In response to a number of reader requests, I've asked author Marilyn Meredith to give us an essay on her experience with conference planning. She graciously consented, so here it is:

Public Safety Writers Associations’ Annual Conference

Planning the program for the Public Safety Writers Associations' annual conference is probably different in some ways for planning for other writers' conferences.
The membership is made up of active and retired law enforcement officers and firefighters, people who write articles for law enforcement and other public safety publications, non-fiction writers, and mystery writers—although there are no requirements about who can attend the conference.
When I first started with the job I had to dig a little deeper to find speakers and mainly those who came concentrated on writing topics. This year we are having some speakers who will be talking about writing topics including voice, characterization, writing thrillers, and screen writing, but we also have a police psychiatrist and a county coroner. 
Some speakers have been attendees of the conference who have come to me at the conference suggesting a topic they would like to present. Others have contacted me after the conference offering their services. All of our speakers must pay for the conference just like everyone else—and there is no other compensation. 
We also have panels which are usually writing topics like editing, about creating setting, writing for trade publication and promotion. This year we'll have one on writing with a partner, and a panel of experts (forensic expert, military person, lawyer, FBI agent) telling us what TV gets wrong.
It's up to me to figure out the schedule and I like to stagger the speakers in-between the panels.
We are always on a tight time-schedule; 15 minute breaks between the 45 minute presentations, so volunteers serve as time keepers, displaying signs to notify how much time is left. Some attendees love this job.
And as for the problems that occur sometimes: Once in awhile I have to switch the program around a bit because someone couldn't make it to their slot on time, or got sick, or just didn't show up. One plus to having so many professionals gathered together, there's always someone interesting who can fill in.
For anyone interested in finding out more about this conference, go to
Anyone wanting to be on a panel must register before June 1 so I can finalize the program, however someone can come to the conference and pay on the day it begins.
I love this conference because of all the interesting people I've met and become friends with and are invaluable for research. Because I write about a sheriff's deputy in one series and a whole police department in another, these people have become invaluable to me.

F.M. Meredith, also known as Marilyn Meredith, is the author of nearly thirty published novels. Her latest in the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, from Oak Tree Press, is Angel Lost. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and her blog at

Angel Lost, an E. F. Meredith Crime Novel
As plans for her perfect wedding fill her mind, Officer Stacey Wilbur is sent out to trap a flasher, the new hire realizes Rocky Bluff P.D. is not the answer to his problems, Abel Navarro's can't concentrate on the job because of worry about his mother, Officer Gordon Butler has his usual upsets, the sudden appearance of an angel in the window of a furniture store captures everyone's imagination and causes problems for RBPD, and then the worst possible happens—will Stacey and Doug's wedding take place?


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Thanks for hosting me on your blog. I do hope your readers will find it interesting.


T. Forehand said...

Great tips for planning a conference. Thanks for sharing.


M.M. Gornell said...

PSWA is a fun conference and Marilyn does an excellent job! I've learned an awful lot at these conferences. I'm not in law enforcement, but I do write about murder and mayhem, so the information I've gained at this conference has been invaluable.This year will be my third!

Joe Haggerty Sr. said...

Marilyn is well organized and well respected by the members of PSWA. She is one of the reasons I attend the PSWA conference.

Joe Haggerty Sr. retired vice detective Metropolitan Police Washington, D.C. and the author of "Shame: The Story of a Pimp," available at

April said...

This sounds like such an amazing amount of work, however with huge pay-offs!

Cheryl said...

Great post, Marilyn. Being on a planning committee for a local conference, I like to hear how someone else coordinates things, especially someone who has published so many books. I would love to make it out there one day. I better start saving my pennies.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Hi, Terri, thanks for stopping by.

Looking forward to seeing you again, Madeline.

Thank you, Joe, what a nice thing to say.

Yes, April, it is a lot of work but I've been rewarded many times over with the good friends I've made.

And, Cheryl, it's probably cheaper to fly to Vegas than most places. I'd love to meet you!


Kathleen A. Ryan said...

I have attended two PSWA conferences, and I enjoyed them tremendously. Marilyn is a big part of the success, and the members are lucky to have her on board. Thanks, Gerald, for hosting Marilyn today. She shares valuable information with your readers about what goes into planning a conference.