Planning a conference, whether it be on a venue or a virtual event, is no small feat and requires meticulous planning and attention to detail in order to pull off. Once your team has decided that they would like to host a conference, there are numerous steps to turn your initial concept into a reality. This guide is here to ensure that you don’t miss any of the critical steps when it comes to planning a successful conference.
Conference planning can take anywhere from three months to three years depending on the size and complexity of your event, so you’ll want to start the planning as soon as possible.
We’ve put together this comprehensive conference planning guide to help you through the meeting planning process, from coming up with an original idea to crafting your post-event follow-up.
Determine Your Purpose
If you’re planning to host a conference, be sure to identify a concrete theme and then see if there is a demand for that theme from your target audience. You may be involved in certain communities on social media, for example, where you can start to gauge the need/ demand for the type of conference you’re proposing. Once you’ve established the purpose of the event, you can also start to get a rough estimate of how many attendees you can reasonably expect.
Assemble a Team
Having a solid planning committee is one of the most important factors in the success of any event. There are many moving parts and it’s essential to have committee members in place to handle the different aspects of the planning process and ensure that no one member or planner has too much on their shoulders.
Be sure to outline specific tasks and positions, so that everyone is clear on their role and no details fall through the cracks. Some examples of teams that you’ll want to include are logistics (venue setup, travel arrangements, etc); marketing (website, social media promotions, etc.); and finance (budget management, etc.).
Estimate Your Budget and Pricing
Before going any further in the event planning process, be sure to outline a realistic budget for the conference. This will help guide your venue research and gauge whether the proposals you receive and their associated costs will be feasible.
Take into account your revenue, such as what you will charge for conference registration fees and exhibiting space as well as whether you will sell sponsorships. These revenue streams will help you to determine the costs you’ll be able to incur.
Find a Venue
As soon as you’ve nailed down your conference theme and have set a realistic budget, you should start your conference venue research. Decide where and when you’d like to hold the conference (it’s a good idea to have several alternative dates) and look for venues that may be a fit based on factors like size, meeting space, exhibit hall, A/V, location, availability, and cost.
It’s also a good idea to consider what services are offered by the venue. For example, a hotel and convention center may have an in-house banquet team that will streamline the catering for the event, but other venues may require you to bring in an outside caterer, which means additional research and a potentially higher expense for you.
If you’re planning a virtual conference, then it’s going to be easier for you because you don’t need a venue, all you need is a proper back drop, lighting and audio for your event speakers. This may even be more cost effective both for organizers and attendees since you won’t have the allot a budget for a venue and attendees won’t need to book flights or hotel rooms if they’re coming from afar. It will even give you a larger reach because it will be more accessible to people across the country and even the whole world. Check out this article on how virtual conferences work to give you an idea of the pros and cons whether you should shift to a virtual event.
Build Your Website
In order to promote and sell tickets to your conference, you’ll need an event website. When it comes to picking the right online ticketing software make sure that they have event website building functionality. For example, Accelevants offers custom websites for conferences and trade shows that will help you increase attendance and sell more booth space while also keeping your breakout sessions and keynote speakers organized. This is also a great place to market your conference agenda.
Using a ticketing software to set up an online registration page will allow participants to easily access the registration form and submit their payment, and you can set different ticketing tiers if you are giving attendees the option to register for specific sessions or if you’re including a separate registration for exhibitors. An online platform will also allow you to track registration progress and ticket sales, as well as streamline the check-in process at the venue.
Pro-Tip: When considering event ticketing systems, make sure that the ticketing provider will pay out your proceeds before the event ends. Receiving your ticketing revenue as the ticket sales occur will help you to cover expenses such as the deposit on your venue.
Solidify Your Program and Speakers
Speakers will be the backbone of your conference. Without them, you will not be able to hold meetings or sessions and capture audience interest. Reach out to potential keynote speakers up to a year in advance and be sure to follow up regularly to confirm their attendance and send regular updates in advance of the event.
When researching speakers and building your conference agenda, be sure to schedule the sessions and presentations in a way that makes sense and allows them to build off each other to give your attendees the most enriching experience possible. Otherwise, you will end up with somewhat random sessions that may be connected to the overall theme but that don’t necessarily complement each other.
Once you’ve confirmed your program and speakers, you can start promoting them along with the rest of the event details on your event website, social channels, and any other promotional materials you will be using.
Pro-Tip: The best way to find speakers it to attend other events in your niche. This gives you an opportunity to see how the speaker performs on stage and how engaged the audience is. You can also introduce yourself to the speaker after the presentation and get their contact information.
Promote Your Event
In order to generate interest in your event and increase registrations, you’ll need a promotion strategy. Be sure to include all relevant details on your conference website, including the conference program and keynote speakers for the event. You can ask other conferences to help promote yours, set up social media pages for your event and actively post to get the word out and consider email marketing to reach as many people as possible. Don’t neglect your event ticket pricing strategy as a promotional tool too. Incentivising attendees to register early with discounted pricing will help generate demand while bringing in some early revenue to cover conference costs (eg. Early Bird, General Admission, Last Minute).
Confirm Final Details
As your event date gets closer, make sure to revisit all the items on your to-do list and confirm every last detail. This includes the food and beverage, the venue setup, and speakers. You’ll also need to get delegate badges ready and have your registration plans firmly in place. The most common complaint from attendees is slow check in so do a dry run with you check in staff to ensure they are ready to go!
Following your event, it’s important to thank everyone involved, from the conference attendees to the speakers to the volunteers. Doing so will help maintain a relationship with those who supported your event and will be useful for any future events you host down the line. This is your opportunity to collect feedback from the attendees. Common questions to ask in your post event questionnaire include:
- What was your favorite session? Who was your favorite speaker?
- What did you think of the venue? Are there any venus we should consider for the next conference?
- What could we improve upon for the next conference?
- Did you feel like the conference was worth the cost? Would you have paid more?
- How was the length of the conference? Should it be longer or shorter?
If you used an online registration software, you will be able to review the data it compiled before and during your event. If your registration software also supports registration for the breakout sessions this can be a great tool for seeing which sessions or speakers were the most valuable so that you can invite them back. Understanding the time range of when people purchased tickets leading up to the event will help you structure your marketing effort for the next event.
Even for seasoned meeting planners, organizing a conference is a stressful undertaking. With so many conferences being held each year, it is a competitive environment and requires a lot of time and stamina to get to the end. Using this conference planning checklist, you’ll be well-equipped to get started.