The word conference can strike fear into many, however, they really are not as complicated to plan as they seem. You just need to make sure you are prepared to give your all into the planning and organising phases and then everything else should just fall into place.
Step 1: Who is your audience?
Ultimately this will be the factor that makes your conference a success or failure. You need to ensure you have your target audience clearly in mind otherwise you’ll find you either don’t get as many attendees as you’d like or you get the wrong sort of people attending. Having your audience firmly in mind right from the start will also enable you to better consider which issues and themes would be most interesting to them.
Step 2: What is the most suitable date?
It is never a good idea to just settle on a date without checking on a number of other things first, such as:
- Does the date fall on a weekend? Business conferences are never as popular on the weekend.
- Have you checked the date’s not a bank holiday? This is a common mistake!
- Does the date fall within the school holidays? You’ll get a number of people failing to attend due to family commitments.
- Have you checked there are no other business conferences planned on that date? It’s hard enough to get people to attend with competing against other companies and event organisers!
Step 3: Sorting out the finances
Your budget will very much depend on the kind of conference you are planning to hold. No matter what you have planned you will definitely need to have a firm budget set. This budget needs to be as detailed as possible, including everything, right from the rental price of where the conference is being held right down to the company pens you might be providing.
Plan your budget months in advance since this will allow you to see if you require additional monies, perhaps from a sponsor, who might identify with your company in some way. It’s also worthwhile considering whether attendees would be willing to pay a registration fee. This is a very good way to recoup conference costs, pay for speakers and even turn a profit. Be reasonable though, after all it’s only a business conference not a rock concert!
Step 4: Choosing the best location
There are a number of things to think about when deciding on a location for your conference, for instance below you’ll find a number of useful considerations:
- Cost of hire (obviously one of the most important factors) and do they provide tables, chairs, projectors, pens, notepads etc.
- Is it easy to get to? Are there nearby transport links and do these run regularly?
- Are there disabled facilities/ access?
- Is there internet access?
- Is there enough space for all the stalls and different speaker areas you have in mind, in addition to other things such as a registration table and information area?
- What is the maximum capacity of the building? You don’t want to hire a place suitable for 100 people and then invite 300 to your conference!
- Are there enough toilets?
- Is catering provided or do you have to bring in outside help?
Step 5: Deciding on the conference programme
You should make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to plan the actual programme of the conference since this is what will attract your attendees. Once you know what you wish your conference to cover, you will need to plan the following:
- Registration is an important part of the day since you will need to know who attended your conference in order to determine success and send out ‘thank you’ letters and future invitations. Online pre-registration is a good idea since it will allow you to estimate how many people will be attending but you will also definitely need a well-thought out registration process on the day too.
- How your conference sessions are going to be formatted, i.e. how many people in each, how long does each session last etc. Make sure you allow adequate time for each session and include time for questions.
- Conference session placement is very important, for instance, you don’t want to place one of the most important sessions directly before or after lunch or right at the end of the conference since you’ll find people are distracted by hunger, sleepy after eating or just keen to get home.
- Make sure you allow ten minutes or so between each session’s start and finish time, otherwise people won’t get a break and will feel harassed.
- End the conference at a good time, allowing people to get home at a reasonable hour without hitting heavy commuter traffic, otherwise people will just leave early anyway.
One of the most important things to plan out for your business conference will be how you get feedback from your attendees. Feedback is critical to ensure you pick up any errors that have been made during the day. You therefore need to organise a feedback form they can fill out on the day and hand in or alternatively an email which can be sent out to them once you have checked they attended.
James writes for Cranfield Technology Park. When not writing, he can often be found planning conferences, birthday parties, and bar mitzvahs.