Behind the Scenes with IPC Technical Conference Coordinator Toya Richardson
As part of the Technical Program Committee for IPC APEX EXPO, I have known and worked with IPC’s Technical Conference Coordinator, Toya Richardson for quite a few years, but we have never had an in-depth chat about her job at IPC. Anyone who has attended the conference sessions, and especially the speakers, is no doubt familiar with her—especially if you had a problem of some sort. Toya is the go-to person and can seemingly perform miracles by obtaining anything from a new projector to an Ace bandage (which she produced for me once when I sprained my ankle).
Patty Goldman: Hi Toya. It’s always good to see you and especially nice to sit down with you for a chat. Tell me a little bit about your role at IPC and how long you've been there.
Toya Richardson: I am the technical conference coordinator at IPC and I've been in this role for about nine and a half years now.
Goldman: Wow, I had no idea it’s been that long. How has the experience been for you overall?
Richardson: It's been exciting. It's been different. As time has gone on, there have been a couple of minor tweaks and changes to the show process to make it better. I've had a lot of help from different people. That's why the process changes as well. We've also had changes with our technical conference director and we've had changes with the technical program committee. A lot of that brings about change in terms of the technical conference.
Goldman: How do you like it? What do you see coming down? We've got APEX EXPO coming up in a few months. I know you're hard at work at it.
Richardson: Yes, actually, I love it. I really enjoy what I do. I enjoy working with IPC members, the attendees, the speakers, etc. I love the interaction. I love trying to do the best that I can to make sure that our attendees have the best technical conference experience that they can have.
It is a very challenging job. I'm making sure that I get all of the speakers together, and from there, that I have all of their up-to-date information, that they comply with our policies, etc., so that everything kind of gels and comes together for a smooth conference.
Sometimes, right at the conference is where challenges occur. We have drops right there on-site, with speakers who can't make it so they'll send someone in their position, or they don't send anyone, or someone gets sick and we have to get a new moderator. All of it is challenging. But I'm at the point (now) where I know what to do. When it first happened I was like, "Oh my gosh! What's going on?" Now I know what to do and I try to make sure that I communicate that to anyone who is helping me, to make sure that they know what to do when these changes happens.
Goldman: How is the 2016 technical conference for IPC APEX EXPO coming along?
Richardson: So far, so good! We had a relaxed submittal process at the start, but that's abstract submissions. They come in slowly and then as we get closer to the deadline it seems like all of a sudden people realize, "Oh I've got to meet this deadline." Then they all seem to come in at once with their abstract submissions. Sometimes we get so many that we fill up the sessions and then we no longer have room for late submittals.
We have all the sessions figured out [for the 2016 conference] and most of the moderators set up. We received more than enough good papers so now we just need to weed through and see where they fit in and where they don't fit in. We also have to look at our poster submissions.
Goldman: How many posters do you like to have?
Richardson: I like a room full. They typically have been located right where the keynote sessions take place. There is a waiting area with tables and chairs set up. It’s a comfortable area for people to take time and browse through the posters.
Goldman: It’s a great set-up. A lot of people look at the posters while waiting for lunch or sessions to start.
Richardson: I think it's another opportunity for speakers to come and present their work but in a different way. Maybe it's not speaking with a sit-down audience, but they get a chance to do a face-to-face and one-on-one with people and explain what it is that their company is doing, and that's good. I know some speakers only want to be in the technical conference, but I think it's just another opportunity for the speaker to get more exposure for their work.
Goldman: People can do both?
Richardson: Yes they can do both – they can present a poster and speak in the technical conference. We can get up to as many as 35 posters, depending on the size of the room. We always have to be mindful of the occupancy standard of course so that we don't cover up walkways, entrances, or exits.
I'm always happy to have as many as we can get. Those tend to come to us the same way—they trickle in faster as we get closer to the event.
Goldman: After the conference is over, there must be a lull for you. What happens once a conference ends?
Richardson: It’s funny you say that, because it feels like it's never over (laughs). But after the conference actually ends, I take all of the information from the technical conference attendees and compile it and get the feedback from our surveys that we put out for each session and for each moderator, speaker, etc.
Then, I send the results to the speakers and moderators so that they can see what the attendees had to say about their paper or the session—what they liked, maybe some things that they didn't like. Sometimes people include their information so that we can contact them. That's what happens right after the conference—and then it pretty much starts all over again with the submissions for the following year.
Goldman: You mentioned once about surveying your speakers. Do you do that now? Do you survey your speakers and get information back from them also?
Richardson: I wouldn't really call it a formal survey process. I just talk to them about how their presentation went and how they felt. I know sometimes with a survey you don't get a chance to really express all of your thoughts. Sometimes when it's a survey you don't bother to put it all on paper.
I think it’s very important for a speaker to have that experience. Maybe it's their first time speaking. Did we meet their expectations, or what did they think the process was going to be like? How did they feel after they presented? Maybe they've spoken somewhere else and it was a different experience. I just want to get the pros and the cons of their experience of speaking at an IPC conference.
Goldman: I've done some moderating and I know that one of the scariest things for me is to get up there and find that there's no pointer or you turn on the computer and the presentation doesn't seem to be there. That's always a scary moment, especially with a room full of people looking at you.
Richardson: That's good feedback for me to know, thank you. I think even the smallest things like that are very important, to make sure that the room is set and ready for each session.
Goldman: Communication has gotten easier as technology has improved, which helps. All of that helps.
Richardson: It does.
Goldman: How are things going at IPC? Any changes you can tell us about?
Richardson: Many changes are happening within our staff, which is growing. We have a membership area that is taking off. We have our Validation Services that has been put into place. But in terms of all of those changes, they don't so much affect the technical conference. If and when they do, I will be adaptable and ready. I've done this for so long that I will be able to say, "Yes that will work," or "No that will not," or, "I can work around that.”
The only challenge that really gets me every year is that, when we're at the venue, we have to work with local temporary staff, because they don't know “how it goes” (how the conference is different from other parts of the event) and they don't know the rhyme or reason behind certain things. You can't fault them and we need their help. That's just how it is. It's just a matter of retraining.
Goldman: They're probably new people every time, right?
Richardson: Yes, and It's not a bad thing. It's just one of those things that's challenging because you're on-site and the event is very busy and full of attendees. I'm excited and all of my energy is there. I'm ready to go. Then I have to take a moment out to stop and explain things. If they have a question, I want to answer it. I want to make sure that they're doing the best job for IPC, because they’re there on behalf of IPC.
Goldman: I know that this next one is in Las Vegas in a different convention center. How's that shaping up as far as the location and the venue? Do you have any feel for that yet?
Richardson: I don't. I can tell you that Kristin Scheuler, who is in charge of the conference rooms and setting all of that up for the venue, is doing a wonderful job. Kristin always does a great job with our rooms. She always amazes me when we need something like an extra room.
Goldman: That's great. It's funny you said that you don't really have any time off. I always thought that with it happening in March you would get a little break afterward, but I know that in June we're already starting to solicit papers for the next year. There really isn't any spare time, is there?
Richardson: No. There's always a back portion to it that our attendees do not see. We have to put together the call for papers. I look at that and make sure that it says what it's supposed to say and the deadlines meet what they are supposed to meet. Are we adding new topics? Are we taking any away? Are we changing names in terms of who to contact and things of that nature? That has to be done and it's a back-and-forth process before we actually put it out. Then once we put it out, we're thinking right away, “Now where are the abstracts?” All of that still takes place before June.
I'm very excited about the upcoming (IPC APEX EXPO) show, because I've never been at this venue before. This will be fun, exciting, and as always, challenging.
Goldman: Sounds good. It's always a pleasure talking with you.
Richardson: Thank you so much.