How to Plan a Conference 101

by Lauren Sauser,

14 December 2020

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When planning a business conference, build an event planning checklist as far in advance as possible.

Many factors in event planning will always be out of your control, and you cannot please every single guest (or entertainer). However, forgetting to send itineraries or issue drink tickets is what can make a professional event planner look like an amateur. Below are the seven best practices for preparing an event planning checklist:

Your Goals

Setting clear goals for your business conference is crucial. As you approach each new detail of event planning, recall your goals by asking: “What does my business hope to accomplish by organising this conference?” and “How does [a given detail] help realise this goal?”.

One goal-setting framework to consider when conference planning is SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. This framework will help you avoid vague goal setting.

The Conference Budget

You should start with the largest expense categories, such as venue, concessions, entertainment, staff, marketing, and audio/visual technology. For greater accuracy when estimating your costs, each of these larger categories can be broken down into individual parts, with a line item for each expense.

Your conference budget will reveal the financial expectations and risk of the event itself and help you monitor what you can (and can’t) afford. A detailed budget will keep spending decisions focused on the priorities of your conference.

The Conference Venue

Book a venue at least 4-6 months in advance. This will allow you enough time to plan for other time-sensitive details such as booking a caterer, printing event materials, and developing digital media. Look for a venue that embodies your brand or your event theme.

Make sure to consider traffic, transportation, and parking options on behalf of your guests. Ask about the specific services and amenities that a potential venue will provide for your event. Pay special attention to existing décor inside the venue; it’s important to consider what can be rearranged as well as the accessibility of the space.

If there are children at the event, what will their space look like? Are the restrooms convenient and clean? Is there a kitchen—or inhouse catering services—for use on the day of ceremonies? Does the venue provide tables, chairs, and a maintenance crew?

Marketing

Conduct research on your audience and industry. Who will benefit most from attending your conference? By establishing your audience, you will be able to target the proper marketing channels. Use email, social media, and your conference website to get the word out about your event. Use local channels such as print advertisements or radio stations to reach people near the conference location.

Make sure you can articulate your reasons for hosting the event in a succinct elevator pitch. Guests and potential sponsors should understand the value it offers. Research your market thoroughly before establishing your conference name, theme, and brand.

Create a conference hashtag early in the planning process and use it on all promotional materials. Encourage your guests to use it when sharing their experiences at your conference. Overall, this can help you track, collect, and reshare any media generated around your event.

Iconography

Think about how your colour scheme, logo, and tagline relate to the goals of your conference. Based on your audience research and marketing discovery, choose branding that you deem to be memorable or impactful.

Distribute your chosen iconography across all your marketing and digital media. If you’re giving away promotional items at the event, make sure that this swag is not only valuable and recyclable for your guests, but also branded with your conference iconography. If you’re thoughtful about what materials you give away at your conference, guests will have a greater probability of using those branded items.

Sponsorship

Seek strategic sponsorships to fund a portion of your conference, develop new partnerships, and stretch your existing budget. Consider working with organisations that are located near your venue or are a natural fit for your event theme.

Remember: sponsors see your conference as advertising and networking opportunities for their own business and must be convinced of the value your event can provide. Show them key event metrics, such as anticipated attendance, social media engagement, committed sponsorships, and the itinerary for the day of ceremonies.

Your Event Team

Event teams will vary depending on the size and function of the conference. But you are only as capable as your team at any scale. Consider recruiting someone to handle the marketing strategy and execution, someone to handle sales and sponsorships and someone to design experiences within the event. Of course, you will also need on-site help.

If you’re recruiting for help inside your company, decide who the stakeholders are and get them involved from the start. Make sure you’re coordinating with everyone who would benefit from the conference. 

If new sales are your main objective, you should frequently bounce ideas off the sales team. Work together to set clear goals for the conference and strategise around other sales initiatives. If you’re planning to have guests test out your product during the conference, be sure to involve the product development team.

An event planning checklist is a simple, powerful aid for organising and hosting a business conference.

Reaching your goals will depend on each member of your team knowing (and continually referring to) the event planning checklist and its benchmarks. Prepare a comprehensive event agenda with timestamps from setup to cleanup. And make sure you update it regularly as your team approaches the day of ceremonies.

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