Type of Conference: Are you planning a commercial conference which is advertised to a certain market and attendees then pay an entrance fee or are you planning a conference on behalf of your company to which delegates will be invited free of charge, so that you can promote your new products etc,
Target Audience: Who are marketing the conference to? Define your target audience as this will make achieving the goals of the conference a lot easier and will determine your approach to planning the event.
Date and Venue: Determine the date of your conference well in advance. Decide how many days the conference will run for and the hours each day.Do a venue inspection and determine whether the venue will be suitable for your conference, check exit doors, eating areas, plug points etc. Once you have decided on a venue or supplier you must confirm all your requirements on paper and make sure that the banqueting manager is able to supply everything necessary.
Budget: An effective budget is crucial to the success of the conference. Work out your costs, establish your budget and then make sure you stick to it. You will incur both fixed costs such as the venue and speakers fees and variable costs such as extra delegates, food, accommodation. Allocate your budget to these various costs and then try as best as possible to stick to the budget! Allow 10% of your budget to cover unforeseen expenses.
Programme: Compile a programme for each day detailing times, speakers, topics etc. Make a contingency plan in case speakers are late or do not arrive.
Speakers: Organise guest speakers to come in and present their work / products. Make sure their presentation will be of interest to everyone.
Marketing & Advertising: Consider how you will promote your conference. Will this be through press releases, direct mailings, business websites and e-zines, advertisements in specific magazines and journals. Publish proposed programmes on the conference website as well as the names of any speakers that you have secured. Keep the website current with all the latest news about the conference so that people will keep referring to the website to check the updates.
Bookings : A team must be set up that is responsible for conference bookings as well accommodation bookings if necessary as well as any other enquiries.
Print Media: Plan all the stationery that will need to be printed – conference folders, programmes, name tags, brochures, signage etc.
Conference Kit: Conference delegates usually receive a “conference kit” which may contain various things over and above the event schedule and presentation notes, a pen and notepaper. Other extras may include branded lanyards, product sample, vouchers etc
Multi-Media Equipment Hire: Determine what equipment is included in the venue hire. If the venue does not have audi-visual equipment, source a company that hires out conference equipment and that installs it as well. If it is a large conference it might be worthwhile investing in a technician to be on standby for problems that may arise.
Seating Plan: If the conference venue does not have a built in auditorium, then there are plenty of ways to set out the room. You can set it out Cocktail style, Classroom style with straight desks, banquet style, U shape and oval shape. Consider the number of people attending and the objective of setting the room up in that particular style. The U-shape is more conducive to interaction amongst delegates and the speaker and is less formal than a classroom style. Also consider the positioning of visual aids when deciding on your room layout. Provide plenty of space for delegates to enter and exit the venue.
Catering: Decide what type of catering will be available. Will there be a snack bar or restaurant where delegates can order food or will you have a voucher system or will you serve plated meals. Will you be serving Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and teas and over how many days? Whatever catering style you plan on having make sure you plan your menu and offer vegetarian options as well.
Décor: Plan your décor ahead of time. Most venues should be able to provide you with the basics such as chairs, tables, table cloths etc. Anything extra you will mostly likely have to source from a décor hire company. Flowers are a great way to add colour to a conference venue. Plan and order the arrangements in advance.
Travel and Accommodation: Do you have conference packages that include accommodation as well as travel arrangements. Are the rooms suitable for delegates? Do they provide internet facilities and a desk to do work? Both smokers and non smokers should be accommodated.
Staffing: Determine the number of staff you will need to help you on the day. The venue should dedicate a certain number of staff to help with your function but you may want to get your own team in as well. Make sure they are briefed on what to do to avoid extra stress on the day.
Delegate liaison: As soon as you start organizing the conference, assign someone to be the Delegate Liason. This person will deal with all enquiries from delegates before, during and after the conference
Financials: Make sure to keep a file of all invoices and receipts.
Run through the Programme: Once the programme has been established, run through the order of events from the start of day 1 to the last day of the conference. This will help make sure that all aspects of the conference are covered. Try and identify any problems that may arise and create a backup plan if needed.
Good questions to ask are:
- Is there enough time, space and staff to register the delegates?
- Is there sufficient security and parking for all the delegates
- Is there enough space in the eating area for all the delegates at once?
- What if it takes longer for the delegates to take their seats in the conference room than expected
- What if the audio-visual equipment fails to work? Will there be a technician on stand-by?