Essential Considerations for Planning Your First Conference
Conference planning is not for the faint of heart. It requires juggling, patience, attention to detail, and sometimes even many long hours away from loved ones. Unlike simple meeting planning consisting of one speaker over breakfast or a board meeting with no speakers at all, conference planning consists of multiple speakers, break-out sessions, receptions, multiple meals, entertainment, complicated audio/visual, exhibitors, sponsors, housing, transportation, and much more. Planning a conference down to the smallest detail is the best way to ensure a successful event. Keep in mind that most conferences take about a year to plan.
The most important questions to ask before delving into the nuts and bolts of conference planning are:
- What is the purpose of the conference?
- Who is the audience?
- What is the objective of the conference in regards to takeaways?
The answers to these questions will play an integral role in establishing a theme, choosing a venue, speaker selection, and much more. Once these questions are sufficiently addressed, the next step in conference planning is to create an action plan. Remember that all the event decisions need to be aligned to support the achievement of the conference objective.
Establish Your Team
Conferences cannot be executed by one single person. Establishing a core conference planning committee is essential to its success. Members of your committee should have experience in one or more of the following areas:
- Volunteer management
- Marketing; communications
- Public Relations
- Housing; hotel negotiations
- Fundraising; sponsorship solicitation
- Subject-matter expertise for speaker selection
Once your committee is in place, you can begin getting down to the nitty-gritty.
Create a Budget
The conference budget is the most important part of conference planning. Creating a budget for all incoming and outgoing money flows and maintaining actual numbers will keep you on track while planning.Revenue Budget Considerations:
- Attendee Registration
- Exhibitor Registration
- Product Sales
- Optional Event Registration
Expense Budget Considerations:
- Venue Rentals
- Venue Taxes and Gratuities
- Attendee Meals
- Staff Travel
- Staff Hotel
- Staff Meals
- Speaker Fees
- Speaker Expenses
- Optional Event Expenses
- Tradeshow Rentals
- Awards and Attendee Gifts
- Volunteer Expenses
- Registration set-up
Select a Location
Selecting the location and venue(s) for your conference is not only a budget consideration but also important to the “uniqueness” of your event and can work in your favor for boosting attendance. In our last blog post, we discussed options for alternative meeting venues. Click here for tips on how to source a venue: Hotel and Venue Sourcing Simplified.
One your location, venue, and date are all confirmed, it is time to round-up your speakers. If speakers aren’t readily available within your organization, the best way to solicit for speakers is to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP). Your RFP should be specific in regards to expectations and compensation (if any). Click here for additional tips: Finding the Best Professional Speakers for Your Medical Meeting.
Promote, Promote, Promote!
No one will know about your conference unless you tell the world about it. Therefore, the next step in conference planning is to effectively promote your event. A well thought out marketing plan is another key to your conference’s success. Integrating print, electronic, online, and social media outlets are all necessary to an effective marketing strategy. Remember to use key deadlines as a way to reach out to your audience. Offering “early-bird” rates is a great way to get participation confirmations early on. And, don’t forget to utilize your sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers to further your reach!
Conference planning culminates at the actual event. Creating a detailed timeline complete with staff and volunteer responsibilities will help to keep everyone on track. The venue will need a “run of show” indicating how your timeline affects their staff, so attention to detail is key when planning your conference execution.
There are many aspects to conference planning. But, the work isn’t over just because the event is over. It’s very important to follow-up by gauging the satisfaction of your attendees in order to plan for your next conference. Post-event surveys are a great way to do so. However, don’t forget that attendees aren’t the only people you want to survey. Remember to survey your speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors as well. Getting a good cross-section of feedback ensures that you cover all your angles.