Successful Conference Planning from Start to Finish

by Liv Hagerman, Events & Communication Assistant

Conference planning can be a lot to handle, and one must be dedicated and patient with the many details of the process. Planning and effective communication are key components to the process and we suggest that you start by pre-planning, and follow our tips and tricks to outline your timeline.

Where to Start

step1Prepare a general time frame
Taking the time to plan can go a long way. Sitting down with a calendar and identifying key dates, goals and objectives and putting them into an approximate timeline will provide incremental benchmarks to work from.

Create a Marketing Plan
Another thing to consider in the initial planning stages is your marketing plan, or how you plan to get the word out ahead of time to reach those you hope to attend or sponsor the event. This can include an event logo, website, direct mail, postcards, a blurb in a newsletter, cross-promotion through partnerships, email signatures, social media and more. With variable costs and technical capabilities, it is helpful to determine early what is feasible and the required resources.

Draft a Budget
Finally, you must establish a general budget made up of fees related to venue, food, speakers and other extra costs. Registration costs should not only pay for all of these things, but yield a profit. This will also help realize a minimum registration requirement.

Be patient. Sometimes you don’t receive answers right away and numbers have to be projected. That’s ok! It’s all a process.

Planning Your Timeline: What to Do and When

4months 1. Planning Your Sessions & Sponsorship Packet

  • Talk to the board or planning committee to direct topics and speakers;
  • The designated person reaches out to the speakers to field general interest; and
  • Create a sponsorship packet that clearly articulates the event, objectives and sponsor benefits.

Marketing advice: If there is a specific event logo, this should be created during this early planning stage so that it is ready for the conference launch.

3months 2. Choose a Date and Venue; Fundraising
Tip: The earlier a date is chosen the better the chances are that the venue you want to hold the conference at will have available space.

  • Communicate with a banquet specialist about the details on space, timing and special needs;
  • Obtain a Banquet Event Order (BEO), which is the contract between you and the venue. The BEO needs to be signed by both parties. Keep a hard copy and electronic copy for your records; and
  • Reach out to potential sponsors for the event through past relationships and targeted emails. Be sure that those you are contacting have agendas that are in alignment with what the conference’s objectives are.

Marketing advice: This is a good time to launch the website with “Registration will be open soon” text. Be sure to have a concise description, the logo (if applicable), the organization hosting the event, any secured sponsors names and logos and location information. Also, reach out to potential partners for cross-promotion will help avoid missing entry-deadlines and optimize exposure.

1-2months3. Confirm Speakers, Draft Agenda & Launch Registration

  • Secure your speakers by making sure that they are available on the chosen date and prepare any necessary contracts. Maintain regular contact with speakers to obtain bios, discuss technology needs and accommodations, session descriptions and invoicing requirements;
  • Draft the agenda. It may look skeletal, but you will fill it in as you go with the most relevant information. Keep the session descriptions concise, but be descriptive while sounding fun and exciting to sell potential attendees. It can be nice to include on a registration website for people to view (just be sure to say if it is a draft or final).
  • Prepare to launch registration. Before it goes live ask a colleague to test it for any problems that may arise on the user-end. Include fields that ask for dietary restrictions, special accommodations and session interests; and
  • Maintain regular contact with the venue to ensure that any special accommodations and room requirements are organized.

Marketing advice: Really promote the event through social media and other communication channels that are both electronic and printed. Most people need to see an advertisement 7 times before it resonates within their memory, and the best way to do so is through a variety of methods. Have your designer reach out to the printer to find out when agendas and other printed items for the conference are needed for enough time to turn it around.

 4.  Final Numbers and Reminders2weeks

  • Send email reminders to registrants;
  • Provide conference center with final counts for food, beverage service and other room needs;
  • Receive and upload speaker presentations to designated computers; and
  • Put together conference packets with the agenda and other information that you plan to hand out, such as information about the organization or future event promotions.

Marketing advice: Always look professional with the items that you put together for the conference. Sometimes spending a little bit of money goes a long way and helps you to look more professional and credible.

5. Be Early, and Remain One Step Ahead dayof

  • Arrive early to make sure the registration is set up, as well as all the rooms agreed upon are set up as you had discussed with your banquet specialist;
  • Remember to smile and be friendly, and that everyone else is happy and comfortable. If an issue arises, take care of it immediately; and
  • Enjoy the day!

Marketing advice: If you have a person available, they should take lots of photos and post them on social media (in real-time or after the fact) and future newsletters. This helps people to see what they are missing and visualize an opportunity.

6. Post-Conference Recaprecap

  • Take detailed notes and examine participant evaluates about the day to evaluate success and create reminders/suggestions for next time;
  • Make sure all speaker and vendor invoices are paid; and
  • Write thank-you notes to speakers.

…and plan away!