Organising a student SEM Conference: 8 things you need to know!

The Gait Way to Sport and Exercise Medicine – a BJSM blog series 

By Shona Kohlhardt (@ShonaKohlhardt)

I recently helped organise the South Yorkshire Physical Activity Symposium 2019. Here’s 8 things I learned on the way and that you need to know, if you plan on running your own student SEM conference!

1. Spark an idea and make a plan

Ideas can be sparked from anywhere; a previous Sport and Exercise Medicine (SEM) conference you attended, an enthusiastic lecturer you want to share with the world, or a conversation with friends. Once you have the initial idea of ‘I want to host a SEM conference’ – expand this. What is yourideal SEM conference? What do you want to learn more about? Specific sport injuries, exercise medicine, mental health in sports – whatever you are most passionate about. Draft an event programme, with a driven and passionate conference committee.

2. Establish the conference

Address key features early on. Locate a venue to hold the audience (aim for a capacity of 100-200) accommodate lunch. Is that location financially viable? Your department heads may be ready to provide a lecture theatre on campus for free– they want to see you, their student(s), thrive.

Save the date. Find an available date that does not clash with other SEM events, and accommodates most of your key speakers, and committee.

3. Choose the speakers

Speakers can be people you know; a lecturer at university, a friendly face in your city, an athlete, or someone you met at a previous conference. PhD students can be key to your conference. They are very willing to share some of their most up-to-date research! For most, presenting at a conference aids continued professional development (CPD)- so they will also benefit from presenting at conference!

Don’t be afraid to contact people you have never met before. Whether they have recent exciting research, or are a famous doctor or athlete drop them (or their personal assistant) an invitation (+make it personalised).

4. Attracting an audience

You now have a theme, venue, date, speakers and a programme. If you want to attract professionals contact the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine (FSEM) for CPD points. This entails submitting the draft event programme, speaker information and a small payment (£30).

Advertise on different social medias:  Twitter, Instagram, Facebook with a memorable hashtag for your conference. Ask organisations to share the event; BASEM, USEMS, FSEM, different MedSocs, and Health England Education (on the different deanery websites and on mail lists to doctors in training).

Make fun conference packs – everyone’s face lights up at a conference pack, it’s almost the equivalent to a professional’s party bag. Sponsors are normally happy to help fill your conference packs, for example, BASEM may supply BJSM copies.

5. Keeping Track

Team work is needed! An easy way to avoid delays while waiting for meetings is having a google team drive. On the drive, track all jobs that need to be covered; contact speakers and organisations, order refreshments and lunch, prepare conference packs, and advertise jobs. Keep dates of progress and who’s in charge of each job to help this run smoothly.

6. Finances

Conferences cost money. Money can be from two main sources; sponsorship and ticket sales. Sponsorship can be organised early. Create sponsorship packages (gold, silver, bronze), explaining to SEM and medical organisations, your conference plan, how you can advertise them, depending on how much their help fund your event and how this money will be spent.

Photo: BASEM’s sponsorship stand at the South Yorkshire Physical Activity Symposium 2019

When setting the price for tickets consider what the ticket price includes: refreshments, lunch, CPD points, conference packs and the conference information itself. Too cheap and you can get a lot of non-attendees, too high and you can put people off!

Outgoing money includes: refreshments, lunch, conference packs, CPD points, printing programmes, uniform, travel expenses/payment to speakers. The last student led conference I helped organised cost between £2000-3000 as a ball-point figure.

7. Add some Variety

Make your conference stand out more, go the extra mile. Host informative SEM stands, poster competitions, practical workshops, exercise socials and be unique!

Photos: A selection of SEM initiative stands held at the South Yorkshire Physical Activity Symposium #SheffPA19


8. On the Day                                                         

Your team will be busy helping speakers, setting up stands, setting out refreshments, registering attendees and ensuring everyone (including the team) is happy! Problems will occur during the day; a speaker may not be able to attend, technology may fail or speakers could run overtime. Do not stress when these common eventualities arise, calmly acknowledge this and adapt.

Help the speakers set up their slides, and keep to time with handy a 5 minute warning sign. Try to personally meet and thank all speakers.

Keep the conference professional and make sure your committee stand out in their uniform for any questions attendees or speakers may have.


Key take home messages

Have a strong but flexible plan, with a passionate friendly team. Show the world your ideal SEM conference, that you would love to attend

  1. Plan– Plan Early, around six months beforehand
  2. Location– Medical Schools should provide cheap or free venues
  3. Speakers – PhD speakers will be more than happy to present
  4. Progress – Document all progress from ordering food to agreeing timeslots with speakers
  5. Finances – Keep track of all finances from day one, and apply for sponsorships
  6. Advertising – Advertise on social media with a unique conference hashtag
  7. On the day – Be ready for small mistakes and adapt as necessary
  8. Enjoy!


Organisers of the South Yorkshire Physical Activity Symposium 2019 (Sheffield SEM Society): Left to Right – Molly Brewster @mollyerinbrews1, Holly Davis @hollydavis931, Shona Kohlhardt @ShonaKohlhardt, Ellie Robinson, Juliet Downs, Liam Donnelly @liamwun.


Shona Kohlhardt @ShonaKohlhardt is a final year medical student, who is currently the event co-ordinator for Sheffield SEM Society and the Northern Representative for USEMS. She helped organise the South Yorkshire Physical Activity Symposium in May 2019, and is currently organising the USEMS 2019 conference for November 2019.

Tej Pandya @PandyaTej is a medical student at the University of Manchester and co-ordinator of a new BJSM blog series aimed at undergraduates and recently qualified doctors. If you wish to contribute, please email him at

(Visited 1,145 times, 1 visits today)