Planning a professional business conference can be demanding. Planning ahead, using a timeline and schedule, will ensure a successful event. Here are ten steps to help you prepare for the big day.
1. Organize a conference team.
Select several colleagues to help you plan each facet of the conference. Everyone can be responsible for a specific task. If there are too few helpers and too much work, enlist the assistance of professional conference planners. For a reasonable fee, they can avoid office politics while creating a meaningful event. After determining the conference purpose, you and the in-house or external planning team will be ready to put the process in motion.
2. Get a conference budget approved.
Prepare a detailed budget for approval. Line items should include expenses like invited presenters, conference facility, meals and snacks, print and Web marketing, and side trips or sightseeing excursions at discount rates, if possible. Request estimated pricing from speakers and vendors in advance. You can find many different conference planning tools online, which can save you a lot of time and money.
3. Set a planning timeline.
Establish a timeline of planning activities with deadlines. You will need to secure the facility with a security deposit perhaps a year in advance. Presenters may also need to be booked early. Food, entertainment, marketing, and signage, along with other expenses, should be planned in time to release the conference announcement.
4. Do comparison shopping.
Compare the cost of similar facilities, speakers, and caterers. Select a location that is likely to draw good attendance due to appeal and convenience. For conference venues, give some thought to the number and size of presentation rooms for speakers or breakout sessions. Choose a location near desirable eateries if attendees are responsible for some of their meals.
5. Complete paperwork on time.
Obtain written estimates from vendors. Read contracts carefully, especially cancelation provisions and technology support. Get contracts approved and signed in advance to confirm timely payment. Consult the area chamber of commerce or another business organization about recommended venues and vendors.
6. Plan a reasonable agenda.
Offer a continental breakfast by 8 a.m., with the keynote speaker or expert panel to begin at 9 a.m. Breakout sessions can be scheduled afterward, followed by another speaker or panel about 11 a.m. Lunch typically begins at noon and concludes no later than 1:30 p.m. The afternoon session may comprise workshops or small groups, although some conferences include an afternoon speaker as well, sometimes to wrap up the event. In addition to breakfast and lunch, a morning or afternoon snack may be offered. You may want to host a farewell dinner at day’s end.
7. Design a conference theme.
The conference theme, with its own logo and color scheme, creates brand identification for the event. It should be used on the conference Website, in print materials like announcements, registration forms, and receipts, and in newsletter updates or promotional brochures.
8. Conduct a final review before the event.
Schedule a pre-conference meeting for updates of each subcommittee or task force. Run through a checklist of requirements to ensure everything is ready to go. Check with vendors and the support team to confirm that signage is up, technology is functional, and employees know where to be and what to do.
Planning a professional conference requires careful planning. Choose your team carefully, and success is all but guaranteed.
Photos by Frederic Bisson and Christian Senger