We've all been there - attending a conference brimming with enthusiasm, only to find it fraught with logistical hitches, disorder, or an underwhelming lineup of speakers.
In contrast, a well-executed conference can be a powerful experience, fostering connections, sparking inspiration, and offering indispensable learnings.
If you've been tasked with planning a conference or are considering hosting one and wondering where to start, you're in the right place!
In this comprehensive guide, we'll dive deep into the essential aspects of conference planning, breaking it down into three stages: pre-conference, the day of the conference, and post-conference.
This easy-to-follow checklist will provide a structured approach to planning and executing an engaging, impactful, and memorable event—whether it's your first time or not.
Let's get started.
A. 3 Stages of Conference Planning
As you can see, there are many moving parts to conference planning. To help you stay organized and ensure that you don't miss anything, we've broken the process down into three stages:
- The day of the conference, and
Let's take a look at each step in detail.
Stage 1: Pre-conference planning
i. Understanding your goals
The first step in planning a successful conference is to have a clear understanding of your objective. What is the purpose of this conference? You aim to bring industry professionals together to foster networking, or your intention is to facilitate learning by gathering renowned experts in a specific field.
Defining your conference's objective will help you decide what type of speakers to invite when the event should take place and other important matters.
Aside from defining the conference objective, setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals is crucial.
Doing so ensures that every aspect of your planning process is targeted towards a particular outcome that can be clearly evaluated.
For example, instead of setting a vague goal such as "raising awareness about climate change," establish a SMART plan like "attracting 500 attendees to our conference on climate change by distributing 2000 promotional flyers and launching a month-long social media campaign."
This goal is specific (attract 500 attendees), measurable (through the count of attendees), achievable (through the distribution of promotional flyers and social media marketing), relevant (in alignment to raise awareness on climate change), and time-bound (to be achieved within a month).
Understanding your goals forms the basis of effective conference planning.
ii. Budget setting
Before creating a budget outline, explore various funding and sponsorship opportunities. Consider approaching potential sponsors with a vested interest in the conference theme or its target audience.
Research grants or other financial support may also be available within your industry or community. A clear overview of funding prospects will enable you to estimate the resources available for your event planning realistically.
With an understanding of potential funding sources, create a detailed budget outline. Include every aspect of the conference with a financial implication, such as the venue cost, catering, speaker fees, promotional materials, and more. Try to get accurate quotes and estimates to ensure that your budget stays realistic and within the financial constraints of your available funds.
Your budget outline should also account for income sources like ticket sales and sponsorships to offset costs. To simplify the process of managing ticket sales, consider using practical tools such as Ticket Generator.
iii. Date and venue selection
Your conference date can significantly influence the attendance and overall event experience. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Avoid conflicts: Check if other significant events, holidays, or industry gatherings are happening around the same time that may interfere with your attendee turnout.
- Lead time: Give potential attendees plenty of notice. Depending on the event's scale, 6 months to a year may be necessary.
- Day of the week: Most conferences are scheduled during weekdays, typically starting mid-week to allow for travel days.
Selecting the right venue
Choosing the right venue is not just about finding a location that fits the number of attendees. It's also about matching the event's vibe, accessibility, and valuable amenities. Here's what to consider:
- Size and facilities: Ensure space can comfortably accommodate your expected audience, considering areas for sessions, breaks, and networking opportunities.
- Location: Choose a location that's easy to reach by public transport or car. If many attendees will travel from a distance, consider venues near hotels or airports.
- Tech capabilities: Does the venue provide high-speed Wi-Fi and the necessary AV equipment? These are integral elements for most conferences.
- Catering: Some venues offer in-house catering services, while others might necessitate hiring an outside caterer. Check these details while selecting the venue.
Through careful consideration of date and venue, you can optimize attendance, enhance your attendees' experience, and ensure a smoothly executed conference.
iv. Agenda development
A thoughtfully designed program schedule sets the conference pace and maximizes the potential for delivering value to attendees. Consider the following when developing the schedule:
- Open the conference with a high-impact keynote speaker to attract and engage the audience early.
- Schedule interactive sessions like workshops or panel discussions and strike a balance between lectures and more participatory activities.
- Organize sessions thematically or by skill level, helping attendees quickly identify the parts most relevant to their needs.
Sourcing and confirming speakers
The right speakers can elevate the conference experience, so consider the following when sourcing and confirming your lineup:
- Align speakers with the conference theme and objectives, looking for experts, thought leaders, or those with unique perspectives.
- Be mindful of diversity and inclusivity, aiming for representation across genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds.
- Confirm speaker availability and requirements early on to avoid last-minute schedule disruptions.
Allotment of time for networking and breaks
Conferences offer invaluable opportunities for attendees to network and forge meaningful connections. Keep the following in mind when allotting time:
- Schedule regular breaks to help attendees stay focused and energized throughout the day.
- Create dedicated spaces for networking where people can easily mingle and interact.
- Host meal events or receptions to facilitate further networking in a more relaxed atmosphere.
This combination will result in a fulfilling and productive conference experience.
v. Creating a smooth event registration and ticket distribution process
A well-organized registration and ticket distribution process is essential for a successful event. A smooth system aids in managing your attendee list, limits confusion at check-in, and enhances the overall attendee experience. Here are some steps you can follow to achieve this:
1. Online registration: Setting up an online registration system allows attendees to sign up at any time, at their own convenience, making the process faster and easier. It also offers quick access to attendee data for you as an organizer.
2. Multiple payment modes: Providing diverse payment options enhances the accessibility of your event. Let attendees choose from credit/debit cards, bank transfers, digital wallets, or cash on delivery, wherever applicable. With Ticket Generator, you can set up different payment modes for your event, depending on the nature of the event.
3. Register on arrival: For those unable to pre-register, consider offering on-site registration. Be prepared with efficient tools and staff to handle queues and swiftly process registrations.
Now, when it comes to ticket distribution, digital tickets save costs, are environmentally friendly, and ensure a swift admission process. A viable tool to consider in this context is Ticket Generator. It's a versatile online platform that simplifies the ticket generation process. With this tool, you can sell, distribute, and validate event tickets effortlessly, fully taking care of your ticketing needs.
4. Easy-to-access tickets: Distribute e-tickets directly to attendees via email or provide a link to download the ticket. This method ensures that tickets are not misplaced and can be quickly accessed on event day.
With Ticket Generator, you can distribute tickets via email or provide a link to download the ticket. The platform also allows users to print and distribute the tickets manually if needed.
5. Real-time updates: Implement a system that immediately notifies attendees of ticket purchase confirmation and sends out reminders as the event date approaches. For example, Ticket Generator can provide a real-time confirmation of ticket purchase.
6. Efficient check-In: Streamline entry at the venue by scanning QR codes available on digital tickets. For instance, a solution like Ticket Generator provides you with a validation app that instantly verifies these QR codes, reducing entry times and improving the attendee experience.
Stage 2: Implementation on the day of the conference
The day of the conference is when all the planning and preparation comes together, making efficient implementation paramount. To create positive outcomes, focus on conference management, check-in methods, staff coordination, and session conduct. Implement the following guidelines to ensure a seamless day:
- Create a detailed event timeline: Prioritize every task and assign respective time slots to keep track of proceedings throughout the day.
- Communicate with your team: Regular communication with team members and volunteers is vital to address any issues promptly.
Building an efficient check-in method
- Prep for on-site registration: Prepare a designated area for onsite registrations and ensure additional staff is present to handle the process.
- Use modern technology: Implement electronic check-in systems, like QR code scanners, to ease entry, minimize wait time, and improve guest satisfaction.
Tips for coordinating with venue staff, speakers, and volunteers
- Hold a prep meeting beforehand: Have an orientation session for the entire team, including the volunteers and venue staff, to discuss key responsibilities and event processes.
- Distribute an event schedule: Provide a detailed schedule to speakers and support staff to help them prepare and synchronize their activities with the itinerary.
- Designate points of contact: Assign a specific point of contact for each aspect of the conference, streamlining communication and problem-solving.
Guidelines for ensuring smooth conduct of sessions
- Educate speakers on session formats: Ensure that speakers are well-versed in the format and duration of their sessions, and provide them with all necessary resources, such as AV equipment and clickers.
- Allow buffer time between sessions: Schedule session breaks to allow for smooth transitions and audience movement between rooms or activities.
- Place volunteers strategically: Have volunteers stationed in strategic areas to assist and direct attendees between sessions, helping maintain a sense of order.
To optimize the day's success, plan in advance, and focus on crucial factors like conference management, efficient check-in methods, effective staff coordination, and seamless session conduct.
Stage 3: Post-conference activities
The work doesn't stop once your conference ends. Post-conference activities are equally crucial. They're an opportunity to measure the event's success, make improvements for future events, and maintain relationships with attendees, speakers, and sponsors.
Gathering and implementing feedback
Collecting feedback from attendees, speakers, and sponsors after the conference ends is beneficial to understanding what went well and areas for improvement.
- Survey participants: You can use online survey tools, like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, to collect useful data. Ask specific questions about different attributes of the conference, such as the registration process, speakers, venue, the content of sessions, dining services, etc.
- Implement comments: The key to gathering feedback is to act on it. Review the feedback carefully and implement changes accordingly to improve future conferences.
Measuring the success of the conference
This involves assessing the achievement of the conference's objectives and gathering data to inform future event planning.
- Review the objectives: Assess your initial conference goals and check them against the outcomes. Did you achieve what you set out to do? For example, if the goal was to showcase new research to a broad audience, did you successfully do that?
- Analyze key metrics: Examine quantitative data like number of attendees, survey responses, social media interactions, etc. With Ticket Generator, you can access a dashboard that shows how many people attended the conference, who they were, and what they thought of it.
Thanking participants: attendees, speakers, and sponsors
Showing gratitude to everyone involved in the conference can help you maintain those valuable relationships.
- Send thank you emails: An effective way to express your appreciation is through personalized thank you emails. You can prepare separate emails for attendees, speakers, and sponsors, each tailored to their specific role in the event.
- Share event highlights: In your emails or on your event website, include highlights, such as particularly popular sessions or insights gained from the event.
- Ask for ongoing engagement: Encourage attendees, speakers, and sponsors to stay connected by pointing them to various relevant resources, such as the event's social media profiles, or inviting them to future events.
Post-conference activities, including getting feedback, measuring success, and showing gratitude, will help you refine future conferences and sustain relationships with your event's key stakeholders.
Running a successful conference requires deliberate, detailed planning and the willingness to invest time and energy into creating a cohesive experience for all participants. Reflecting on the areas where organization and proactive thinking can improve event setup, execution, and post-event follow-up is essential for growth and successful outcomes.
The three-staged checklist introduced in this guide encourages you to explore every aspect of conference planning, from pre-conference arrangements to post-conference activities.
You should create a seamless event that excels in attendee experience and logistics using these guidelines. As the first step, set up your event page and design your tickets now. Your first 10 tickets are on us.