Organising a conference can be exciting, but intimidating and requires a tremendous amount of forethought and planning. The reality of planning a conference is that, without any experience, you can lose a lot of time over-thinking each little detail while overlooking the more important issues.
Nothing compares to a good conference: the atmosphere of being immersed in a crowd of people who share the same passion as you, the lessons you learn and advice you take in and the friends you get to meet and the new ones you make. Attendees should leave a good conference re-energised — full of enthusiasm for their job and full of fresh ideas. What are the key factors between organising a good conference and an average one?
- Craft a Vision of Your Conference
Every event begins with a reason for the conference. Plan out a vision and what you want to achieve then you will need to transform your vision into words and numbers. The vision will make the next decisions about the basics like who, what, when, where and why much easier to finalise.
- Plan, Plan, Plan
Put as much thought into every aspect as early as possible. Planning needs to be done months before the conference date. Key to this planning is budgeting your event and ensuring you measure costs and make informed planning decisions. Once you have established where and how you want to spend your budget, you can move to – Checklists! these checklists are the secret to planning a conference. Some checklists to create: planning timeline, promoting and publicity (if required), site inspection requirements, food and beverage requirements, speakers to list a few! You must also includes how attendees will navigate the conference, the conference running order, the general layout of each room, and the distribution of food and beverages. The best way to coordinate all of the details is to walkthrough your itinerary as your guests would. Picture how they will think and act at each point in the day to solve any problems before they arise. Think about speakers and venue very early on; their availability may affect your conference! Make sure you also nail down a cancellation policy in advance. You want a clear recourse from the outset to your attendees if they cancel.
- The Space
Once you know your expected numbers, you need to find a venue that can accommodate that in the style you want to portray. While it may seem obvious, your conference location will have a big impact on who or how many people attend the event. Furthermore, when choosing the location for their event, organisers need to choose a venue with good access for various transport types and most importantly, is safe and secure for the attendees.
It is important for those who attend not to be too crowded in the room you are considering, nor to feel lost if the function space is too big. There should be a maximum capacity posted in each function room. Take it seriously since it was approved by the fire marshal of the city and anything over-capacity can be a safety hazard. The different layouts of a room will affect how many you can seat in that space. The venue should inform you of the capacity of each room, but it will not include the additional space you may need for AV equipment, food and beverage stations, stand-up banners, so you must take that into acount when you are doing your planning.Not only should the space be the right size, but it should also reflect the look, feel and brand of the event at hand. You want your event spaces to reflect the conference so that your attendees feel the importance of the conference. Some questions you should ask: How are the sightlines? Is there enough space for social interaction and networking? Is it easy to find your way around and not get caught in dead-ends and corridors that lead nowhere? Meeting rooms need to be able to flex into various configurations. This is especially true as more and more conferences now have breakaway sessions. Does it have tables, chairs and table linen you can use? If a venue has these items, you can save a great deal of money and effort by using what they have, assuming it matches your theme and ambiance.
Keep in mind that your venue selection will also determine your catering and audio/visual costs. This is because most conference centres require you to use their in-house services for any on-site events.
Event organisers also need to be mindful of disabled attendees, and ensure that they are catered for from the minute that they arrive at the venue, ie parking spaces, lifts vs stairs, seating areas in the venue (will the tables/auditoria cater for wheelchair access) and the restrooms.
- Support Staff
Being on the organising team of an event is hard work: Your body aches from the lifting, squatting and standing on your feet for approximately 12 hours. It’s not uncommon to get up super early and go to bed late (oftentimes the next day). You want to make this whole experience as pleasant as possible. The success of an event largely depends on the event staff and how well they interact and engage with you and your audience; they are the face of your brand for the duration of the conference. Factor in the size, length, and audience of your event. This will help you to determine the ideal number of staff you require, along with their gender, age, experience level, and cultural diversity. It is important to provide them with the necessary information about your company background and product information. Doing so will keep the staff well-informed and prepared to answer any questions. You are only as good as the team you work with, so choose a venue where staff are willing to go above and beyond to accommodate your needs – albeit last minute requests. Research is key! The best option is to visit the venue and test the staff out. Remember, this is how your delegates will experience them – this gives you great insight into how much you can rely on the staff.
Being part of an event is fun: The impromptu moments of magic, the laughing fits from being up since 4:00, the unexplained guest queries. Be sure you have a team around you that wants to be part of that experience.
Arguably one of the most crucial aspects of a conference – hungry delegates are not happy delegates! For today’s foodie generation, high quality food with healthy options is now de rigueur at conferences. It is important for the catering to fit within the framework of the conference, having an experienced capable team running the catering removes a large amount of stress from your shoulders. Jugs of water, tea and coffee should also be readily available at all times. The effects of dehydration and hunger can directly affect concentration levels and general performance. Before you book your conference, make sure you have had an opportunity to trial the culinary offerings to ensure you’re satisfied with their catering standards.
- Get feedback
When the event is finished, send out a survey, perform a post-mortem with the team, and find out what you can do better. Add all those points to your checklist for your next event!