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Wondering how to organize a conference?
Whether you’re coordinating Comic-Con or the next Inc. 5000 list release conference, you face the same obstacles. The focus of the event doesn’t matter. The size of the event doesn’t even matter.
So what does matter? If you’re stumped, you’re not the only one.
Novice event coordinators overlook the importance of things like hiring a graphic designer. They fail to notice the importance of things like parking or handicap ramps. Instead, they focus on elements that fall much lower on the priority list, such as choosing the perfect catering service.
What about you? What do you think ranks as your highest priority when planning your event?
If you’re stumped, that’s what we’re here for. In the article below, we’ve laid out all the important elements you need to create your own conference. Read on.
How to Organize a Conference 101
Before you do anything else, you must brainstorm.
What will your conference be about? Who would you like to speak at your conference? What will set it apart from the hundreds of similar conferences around the world?
You need a 10,000-foot view of your conference, so you can see where you’re headed and what pieces you’ll need when you get there. After you let your mind wander through the landscape of your event, focus on the last question above. What will set your event apart from similar events?
Why is that important?
Well, to design a successful conference, you need people to attend. And to make that happen, you’ve got to get them interested in your event and sell them tickets. That’s why your marketing strategy is as important as the event itself.
We’ll talk more about your marketing strategy below. Just remember, it’ll rely heavily on your ability to describe how your event outshines similar events around the world.
Start Circling Dates
Next, you need to grab a calendar. You must prepare a working timeline for your event.
You won’t have concrete dates for anything, but you must decide what month and year your conference will be held. After that, work backward. Focus on big-picture items, as the rest will fall into place.
When will you open ticket sales? When you begin your marketing campaign? When will you approach speakers?
Each month, fill in your calendar to include the small picture items. Include the following: making reservations for speakers, buying decorations, etcetera. You can attend to these pieces when you have extra time. Sure, they must be completed, but leave the how, and the when fluid.
The art of how to approach sponsors and when to approach sponsors is tricky. You want enough enticing tidbits to get them onboard. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know exactly what your conference can offer without defining your budget, and that may rely on your sponsors.
We recommend approaching them early and dropping the names of the speakers you’ll ask to present. Also, describe how your conference is different than similar events. See how handy those marketing tactics come in?
When you’re planning a conference, you’ve got to know the initial ballpark figure of your budget. It’ll define what conference space you book and which guest speakers you can afford. Remember to take into account your marketing campaign as well as any food or drinks you’ll be serving.
Those are the high ticket items. You’ll want to leave an additional 30% to 35% in your budget for programs, decorations, and employee paychecks.
Book a Venue
Now your conference plan is coming together, so it’s time to pick a venue. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How many tickets do you plan to sell?
- Would a certain location attract more attendees?
- Do your attendees have any special needs, such as wheelchair access?
- Will you be holding the event in the morning, afternoon, or evening?
- How will your attendees get to your event?
Now, do your research. Start with internet research to narrow down your options. After that, schedule a walkthrough of your top 3 to 5 contenders.
When you go, be prepared to sign an agreement on the spot. That means you need to know exactly what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend. Always ask if the place also offers catering for a discount package price.
Approach Guest Speakers
Amazing speakers usually come with shocking price tags. To avoid sticker shock, check each speaker’s website for price information before you approach that speaker. Write up a list of what you find.
Some speakers intentionally leave this information off their website. If so, look at the price tags of speakers with similar experience and authority. They’ll give you a good estimate of what you should expect to pay.
Gather Your Staff
When you plan a conference, this step may also fall before the venue booking. It depends on what positions you need to fill. Some staffers may help you organize the entire event while others you’ll only need during the event itself.
Either way, hire your staff. Look for event coordinators, marketers, security, caterers, receptionists, etcetera. Draw up your plan and book your staff early. Make sure to get signed contracts to make every employee accountable.
Finalize Your Agenda
Your conference planning has now evolved to the point that you can start finalizing your agenda for the day of the event. Layout all the options you’ll give attendees.
If you have multiple speakers in different conference rooms at the same time, make sure you spread out the big names. Your audience should have the option of listening to every big name on your list. If they choose not to, that’s fine, but the choice should be theirs to make.
How you market is all a part of your campaign strategy. If you have no background in marketing, hire a professional. We can’t stress this enough.
Think about it this way. Would you rather have an event with middling guest speakers that sold out? Or would you rather have an event with brilliant speakers that sold 5 tickets?
If you plan to make a profit from this event, people must buy tickets. The more people that know about your event, the more likely you are to sell tickets. That’s why social media, digital advertising, and even billboard ads are so important.
Unfortunately, the path to expert marketing campaigns has a steep learning curve filled with costly mistakes. Don’t try to wing it. Just hire an expert.
Finally, it’s time to start selling tickets. The default method is to do it online. It’s simple, and it should be integrated with your marketing campaign.
Tell your marketing expert that your key performance indicator (KPI) is ticket sales. He’ll know what it means, and he’ll help you get set up.
Running Your Event
Walkthrough your venue a few days before your event. Picture every piece of the event in your head. Is there anything you forgot?
If so, write it down.
Begin setting up whenever the venue coordinator gives you to set up, do so. It’ll give you the chance to pick up any last-minute items that you forgot about or simply didn’t expect. And there’s always something.
Gather your staff and run through a mock event to make certain they know their jobs. Also make sure they know what to do in case of an emergency, such as a speaker malfunction or a leg injury. Tell them to arrive on the day of the event at least a half-hour before you open the doors to the public.
When the day of the event arrives, keep an eye on your guest speakers. Keep their cell numbers handy, and double-check to make sure they have everything they need before they get on stage.
Then it’s time to celebrate. Pat yourself on the back. You did a great job.
Now that you know how to organize a conference, it’s time to get busy. Pull out your laptop or your favorite journal. It’s time to brainstorm.
Start with why your audience will be interested in your event. What type of event is it? What makes it special? What speakers would really impress them?
Go on, get started. So long and good luck!