“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
You are reading this because you have been asked to create 'an experience'. Planning a conference can be a challenge, but it’s also a co-creation -- some would say it’s a collaborative work of art. Like a film director or curator it's your job to create the proper canvas for the top speakers and workshop leaders you want to showcase. It takes months and months of planning to do this well.
Planning Is More Important Than The Plan: 12 Steps To Planning The Best Conference
“Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
There is nothing more important for the event planner than the planning process. While the actual plan is helpful, it is the process of planning that yields the greatest return. The best conferences don’t happen because someone had great ideas, they happen because someone took the time to plan out every detail, from the fireworks show to the mundane. The most important things can seem small until they aren’t.
Step 1: Set a date at least six months ahead of time to avoid conflicts with other functions.
Step 2: Develop a budget. Estimate the cost of renting the venue, buying the food, obtaining the licensing and signage, etc. Will you charge a registration fee to cover the costs?
Step 3: Decide what food to serve. Research the cost and availability of vendors or caterers. Be sure to include multiple food options. You need enough food to serve the people you expect. Create a reservation that you can change if the numbers change.
Step 4: Reserve a venue. Consider the number of rooms and the number of people you think will attend.
Step 5: Contact a top speakers bureau. Book top rated speakers and workshop leaders. Decide who will introduce them. If they decline, the speaker's bureau can help you find additional talent.
Step 6: Hire a photographer and a translator.
Step 7: Start marketing the event. You don’t need to know who the speakers will be before you start marketing the event, but as soon as you know, include them in your marketing assets.
Step 8: Create a registration form and deadline. Determine when registration opens and closes. Decide how you're going to distribute the form. Check on all returned registration forms two weeks after the registration deadline. Adjust food, room and venue reservations accordingly. Decide who will be responsible for the registration table.
Step 9: Finalize a conference program and have it printed.
Step 10: On the day before, confirm that all material and supplies have arrived. Meet with those responsible for various aspects of the conference.
Step 11: On the day of, go early to the conference to confirm that everything is setup as required.
Step 12: During the conference, greet speakers as they arrive and answer any last minute questions.
Create follow-up reminders for each step in this process until it can be marked as complete. For example, when you make the reservation for food create a follow-up reminder in two to three months. Here’s an example of a conference planning template provided by Microsoft that can help with documenting the process steps.
After the conference, return all rented equipment, pay outstanding bills, write thank you letters and have a follow up meeting to discuss what worked and what didn’t for next year. Well-organized, useful conferences develop a great reputation which grows attendance.
You can’t accommodate everyone, but planning ahead gives you the ability to sidestep issues on the day of the conference. When legitimate issues arise you’ll have the bandwidth required to tackle them.
"If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters. Stay cool." – Claire Cook
Perhaps the most important step in conference planning is allowing for the inevitable hiccups that are bound to occur. While planning is essential, it’s also important to learn how to roll with the punches. Our expert event plannners can help make your next speaker event a success.