Planning a successful business conference

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Planning a conference requires a skill set that includes incredible organisational skills, the ability to multitask, energy, creativity, business savvy, interpersonal skills and attention to detail. It also requires a comprehensive conference planning guide that will not only keep you on schedule but will provide the much-needed assurance that you haven’t forgotten something along the way.

By KUDZAI GOREMUSANDU

Conference planning is different from other types of event planning and includes additional steps. Conferences tend to be large-scale events that typically take a year or more to plan.

Your to-do list may include selecting a venue, booking hotel rooms, setting up online registration, securing speakers, arranging hospitality suites, hosting an exhibit hall, scheduling meetings, handling food and beverage and more. Preparing a well-organised conference planning guide that maps out the steps is a must-have for any successful conference planner.

The following steps will help you prepare a conference planning guide that will serve as a blueprint for planning any conference. Customise and modify the guide based on the event you are planning and keep it close at hand. When prepared and used properly, it will soon become your most valuable conference planning tool.

Start with the basics

The first part of your conference planning guide should include the basics regarding the conference. So take out a pen and pad or sit down in front of the computer and start writing down everything that comes to mind.

Don’t worry about listing things in order of importance or in any sort of chronological sequence. That will come later. Right now, you will essentially be crafting a very long yet simple version of your to-do-list, which will be broken into different stand-alone components to be handled individually during the planning process.

Organising a conference from the ground up requires a tremendous amount of forethought and data gathering. The entire process can take a couple of years depending on the size of the group, but it is conceivable to launch a successful conference in a single year if you can make swift decisions. 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 more important issues.

To make the process simpler for first-timers, we have outlined the most important steps, while providing you links to our more detailed walkthroughs on each particular subject. The result here is a conference planning guide that will help you begin with a solid template in place.

Step 1: Craft a vision of your conference

Every event begins with a vision, but you’ll need to transform your vision into words and numbers in order to measure costs and make informed planning decisions. First, you need to start with the basics like who, what, when, where and why.

Step 2: Creating a business plan

Unless your conference is being funded by a grant or organisation, you are going to need to map out where your money is coming from and what it is being used for. The first part of this equation, the revenue, should be calculated early in the planning process. Now, in order to put a price on a conference, you need to have an idea of what you plan to offer attendees.

Your itinerary and speaker lineup will be the selling factor for potential registrants.

Step 3: Comparing venues and services

After you have a more specific idea about when your conference will take place and how many people you want to attend, you can then begin to shop for an appropriate venue.

Keep in mind that your venue selection will also determine your catering and audio/visual costs. This is because most conference centres and event hotels require you to use their in-house services for any on-site events.

Most conferences will need to provide some sort of overnight accommodations for guests travelling from outside the region. This necessity creates another set of considerations to factor into your venue decision.

Step 4: Recruiting and managing registrants

Even the most popular conferences must effectively market their event to fill every seat in the house. Attendance is the single most important factor to the success of your event.

Good attendance numbers bring revenue and sponsorship opportunities. And the more people you have registered will create more demand for advertising and participation openings. Long story short, if you can draw a crowd then everything else will fall into place much easier.

Managing registration becomes more difficult as your event grows in size. This is where an online registration system can help you track number, process payments, and organise data.

Step 5: Planning on-site details

Finally, after organising and implementing the business elements of the conference, you can begin to think about the on-site details.

This includes how attendees will navigate the conference, the general layout of each room, and the distribution of food and beverage.

This is the part of planning a conference that most people associate with event planning. The best way to co-ordinate all of the details is to walk through your itinerary as your guests would. Picture how they will think and act at each point in the day to solve problems before they arise.