Planning a conference can be a great way to get your business’ name out there. It’s like content marketing on a giant scale — you’re offering potential customers and business partners valuable information and connections, just in a different format.
If you’ve never had to create a conference plan, though, it can be hard to know where to start. Conferences are big events that take a ton of effort. How do you start one from scratch?
We’ve got you covered. Read on for your guide on how to plan a conference.
Form a Committee
Planning a conference is hard work. This is something you can’t do alone — you’re going to need a great team of people around you to pull this off.
Figure out who you want to recruit to help you with this effort. Ideally, you’ll have one person assigned to each major area of planning. One person manages the speakers, for example, while another team member is in charge of the catering.
Even with a team, though, there should still be a point person. This is the one person who is going to make sure that all areas of the planning are going according to schedule, who makes the big decisions, and helps make sure that everything is on track.
Set Your Goals
You can’t jump into planning yet. Before you call a venue or start drafting a schedule, you need to know what your goals for the conference are.
Do you want it to be a smaller event where participants can get to know and learn from each other? Are you envisioning a huge expo feel? What will the main attraction be?
Decide what you want everyone to take away from participating in your conference. You should have a clear vision for the event before you start planning logistics and making decisions.
Know Your Audience
Once you know what you want people to take away from the conference, you should get as specific as possible about audience size.
This is going to affect everything about the rest of your planning – big things like your budget down to small things like how many bathrooms you’re going to need.
Smaller conferences can be good for things like training and skill building. If your goal is something inspirational, or an event where people can choose from a lot of different breakout sessions, your audience can be bigger.
Set a goal for how many participants you want to have at your conference.
Set a Budget
Now we get into what’s usually at the forefront of everyone’s minds — money.
It’s important to know your audience size first because that will give you an idea of how much revenue you’ll bring in from the conference. (That’s assuming that you charge a conference registration fee to help cover the costs.)
You’ll need to account for costs like meeting space, catering, AV, transportation, and any featured speakers you have.
If your budget doesn’t seem workable even with the participants’ registration fees, you can always look into different sponsorships. This is a great way to offset some of your costs and build a new partnership!
Next up will be booking the space for your conference. Spaces that can accommodate large events go quickly, so you’ll want to book your space at least a year in advance.
When you’re checking out venues, you want to make sure you find a space that can hold the number of participants you’re expecting. Ideally, it will be able to hold more people than you expect — the last thing you want is an overcrowded space.
Usually, hotels and convention centers are the best places to hold conferences because they’re already set up for these types of events. Take the time to find out more about what makes a good conference venue.
Plan Your Itinerary
Once your space is set, you can start planning out your itinerary. What do you want each day to look like?
It’s good to revisit those goals you set at the beginning of the planning process. They’ll guide the type of programming that you plan for your conference. Start booking speakers, asking for conference proposals, and mapping out the day-by-day schedule of your conference.
Make sure you leave time for meal breaks and time for participants to slow down and reflect on all of the great things you’ve planned.
You’ve done all of this hard work — now it’s time to make sure that people come to your conference.
You’ll want to start recruiting early so that people have time to make their travel plans and get the money together to attend. Put together a marketing and promotional plan to make sure that the news of your conference reaches the right people.
You don’t have to have your whole schedule planned down to the minute when you start marketing, but you should be able to tell people what to expect when they get there.
Plan Site Logistics
When it gets closer to the event, it’s time to plan your onsite logistics. This is when you start figuring out who does what and when.
Who is in charge of getting all of the speakers to the stage on time? How are you going to set up the registration and check-in area?
You need to make sure that you have a plan for things like organizing vendors, printing and handing out programs, even a lost and found. It’s a good idea to use Murphy’s Law here — just assume that what can go wrong, will go wrong. Then make a plan for how to make sure everything runs smoothly anyway.
By the time the day of your conference rolls around, you’ll be ready to enjoy the event with low stress.
Plan a Conference like a Pro
Conference planning is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. With the tips above, you’ll be able to plan a conference like a pro even without any event planning experience.
A conference is a great way to get your business on the map, but there are a lot of different ways you can get your name out there. Check out more of our tips for business owners.