5 Tips for Planning a Successful Professional Conference
There’s no doubt that planning a wedding is a huge undertaking full of small details, moving parts, and a variety of personalities to deal with. But weddings are not the only events that planners focus on, and if you’re keen on starting an event planning career, you should be familiar with how to plan other events such as professional conferences.
Conferences are exciting and energetic in that they bring together groups of people with similar interests and passions, which makes for a great atmosphere and ample networking opportunities.
But conferences don’t just come together by chance. A great deal of advance thought and planning goes into a conference, and event planners must have the expertise and skill to plan a successful one. If all this sounds intimidating, don’t worry! We’ve put together 5 tips to ensure your next professional conference goes off without a hitch.
1. Figure out the conference’s theme
Before diving into any details, the number one item on your list when planning a conference should be to decide on the conference’s theme. As an event planner, you’ll be contacted by organizations or individuals who want help organizing an upcoming conference. This means that choosing the theme of the conference likely will not fall on your shoulders, as your client will have a sense of what they want to focus on, whether it’s a technology conference, a gathering of entrepreneurs or a workshop focused on social media techniques, for example. Knowing the theme of the conference you’re planning is a key element of the process, as it will unify your ideas, help you find the right guest speakers, and of course, ensure that the right people attend.
How do you find out as much as you can about your client’s vision for the conference? Ask questions, of course! Get to know your client as much as possible in the initial consultation, and treat this meeting as your chance to create a framework for the conference based on how the client answers your questions. It’s truly the foundation of what’s to come!
2. Do your research, then write your business plan
Once you have your theme in place, and a solid understanding of the client’s vision, it’s time to get down to business. Specifically, it’s time to talk money! If you’re planning a professional conference as part of a corporate event planning firm or running your own business, you’ll inevitably end up needing sponsors who can fund it. Keeping the event’s theme in mind, of course, you’ll want to come up with a business plan that includes where the money for the event is coming from, and what it’s being used for.
Gaining sponsors (aka revenue) should be figured out very early on in the planning process, so be sure to include all of this information in your business plan. Your choice of sponsors will depend on the nature of the event you’re planning, the scale, as well as your demographic audience. Follow these helpful tips to ensure you find the right sponsors for your event, as the decisions you make at this point will play a huge role in the overall success of your conference!
3. Don’t leave room for crickets
We don’t mean actual crickets, of course! We’re talking about attendance at your conference. Do as much as you can to ensure that you have good numbers of attendees at your professional conference, and you won’t have to worry about empty tables or a disappointing event in general.
This is where marketing comes into play! You’ll need a fabulous logo and color scheme (based on the theme of the event which was decided upon earlier), and you’ll need to advertise the conference on an event website with online registration. Keep in mind that the attendance at your conference will be a big indicator of its success, so you want to do as much as possible to bring those interested out to the event, which all comes down to how the marketing is done.
4. Stay organized and on top of details
If you’re an event planner, we don’t have to tell you how extreme attention to detail is required at all times. We mentioned earlier that wedding planning is rife with details and moving pieces, but so is conference planning – in its own way, this type of event is even more stressful than a wedding!
Besides the obvious business elements of a conference, such as securing the venue, guest speakers, and registrants, there is a multitude of other details to stay on top of. And you really need to stay on top of these. Knowing how the event space will be laid out, how attendees will get around the conference (if there are various booths or tables), and how the food and beverages will be served is incredibly important to the overall success of a conference. Our recommendation? Create a spreadsheet!
Make tabs for items such as income, accommodation, expenses, contact details and food preferences, to name a few, and keep all the information you possibly can in one organized place. You’ll be able to check in on how things are going, what details are still not taken care of, and you’ll also be prepared for any worst-case scenarios. Having all of this information at a glance is a wonderful way to stay organized so you don’t miss a beat.
5. Prepare an agenda
We saved one of the most important points for last, but it’s certainly not least! Professional conferences usually consist of a few standard elements including formal speakers, workshops, lunch, and networking times. Any guest who has attended a conference in the past will likely expect your professional event to be structured similarly, but we don’t recommend letting them assume anything. In order to ensure your professional conference is highly successful, it’s important to have a detailed timeline that includes approximate start and end times, short descriptions of the guest speakers and when they’re scheduled to address attendees, lists of when any workshops are taking place, and of course, any free time available. Attendees and your corporate clients alike will seriously appreciate that their time is being respected, and will love the fact that they can pick and choose which aspects of the conference they want to take part in, based on the agenda provided.
Having an agenda also eliminates a great deal of stress and chaos that can accompany large professional events. There won’t be as much confusion about what’s taking place, and attendees will feel as though they got the most out of the experience since they were informed about where to go and what to do.