Planning and executing a successful conference event is a challenge, even for experienced organisers. From the venue choice to the selection of conference event equipment, there are many details to iron out and tight deadlines to hit.
In order to overcome a lot of these obstacles, you need to set out a clear roadmap at the very start and follow it to the letter. Here is an all-purpose outline of what is involved in successful conference production to get you started.
Define Your Goals & Objectives
It’s impossible to measure the success of a conference event if you don’t lay out in advance the goals you want to achieve. There are lots of potential objectives to formalise ahead of time, so it makes sense to try and define as many as possible at the very beginning of the planning process.
Specifying the purpose of the event is a major factor, but the really juicy metrics will be drawn from things like anticipated levels of attendance, profit margins, cost of entry and other factors to which a numerical value can be assigned.
Depending on the nature of the conference, you may want to expand the parameters of specific objectives. For example, if people will be able to attend remotely by watching live footage over an internet connection, you need to decide whether these figures should be included alongside those who attended in person.
Outline Your Budget
Anyone who has been responsible for planning a conference in the past will have an idea of how to handle the budgeting of an upcoming event. If you are a rookie, it makes sense to look at typical spending associated with running events of a similar size and scope to what you hope to achieve. In both cases, having clear objectives to refer to comes in handy.
Event spending is still growing in the US, so clearly there is a little more flexibility when it comes to budgeting. However, it is important to avoid being complacent. Instead, try to remain realistic about costs, especially those that cannot be avoided or minimised.
The most important budgetary factors fall into four key categories; venue hire, accommodation, transport and catering. Each will offer a little leeway and the opportunity to save or splash out, according to your needs.
Also take into account the two other factors that will make or break your event’s budget; guest speaker fees and the marketing of the conference itself.
In terms of paying for guest speakers, remember that the fee may be in addition to other expenses, such as travel and accommodation. While some politicians make millions from speaking engagements, industry experts can be far more affordable and arguably provide more valuable insights.
Identify A Venue
The first requirement that a prospective conference venue must meet relates to its location; remember that its affordability and availability will be irrelevant if attendees can’t easily reach it.
The geographic position of the venue should be considered hand in hand with the transport links offered by the area. Convenience is key to convincing people to turn up. You need to steer clear of the ‘if you build it, they will come’ mantra, because it never works in practice.
The size of the venue will be central to its suitability. If it is too small for your anticipated attendance figures, frustration and overcrowding will be inevitable. If it is too large, it might look poorly attended even if you hit your original targets.
Finally, the availability of vendors in the vicinity of the venue will come into play. You need to make sure that there are enough suitable firms nearby to meet the needs of your conference event objectives. Outsourcing to vendors from other regions because there is not local availability can play havoc with your budget.
Pick A Date
Although it sounds simple, the act of deciding on a date for your conference event can be the steepest mountain you need to climb to make it a success.
It pays to have not one, but two suitable dates on the cards during the early stages of the planning phase. Bookings can encounter issues and other unexpected problems can arise, which makes it important to put a backup plan in place.
To pick a date you will also need to consider the time of year, the potential for other events to limit levels of attendance and the relevance of this period within the industry in question. Summer and winter are generally a no-go for larger conferences, for example, because of vacation clashes and disruptive weather conditions respectively.
Inviting respected individuals to your conference will give it a lot of clout in advance and help convince others to commit to attending, rather than sitting on the fence or bailing out.
Researching your guest speakers will be immensely important at this point because you want to find the best people for the job. You also need to avoid wasting your own time by courting a speaker who simply isn’t going add meaningful, measurable value to the event. Being well informed and meticulous will help on both counts.
With a thoroughly researched list of prospects to hand, you should decide on the initial offer that will be presented to them to entice them in. Base this not just on your budget, but on your expectations of their fee according to their involvement in past conferences. You don’t want to wildly miss the mark with an offer and cause embarrassment or offence.
Only when all this is in hand will the time come to actually contact your desired guests with a well-formatted invitation. Rushing this step can lead to a lot of declined invites, so avoid the temptation and take your time.
Search For Sponsors
Sponsors can bear the brunt of a steep conference event budget and like guest speakers, they need to be carefully selected and intelligently approached.
First and foremost you need to demonstrate that your event offers value to potential sponsors, which can be done by outlining the activations that will apply once the conference kicks off. This will show that you understand the need for an active approach to getting attendees engaged with their brand. It will also indicate that you have considered how to execute this, rather than expecting them to do all the heavy lifting once they have signed on the dotted line.
Selecting sponsors should be straightforward in theory; choose brands that are both relevant to the event and have a track record of providing support to equivalent conferences in the past. This will let you know that approaching them is worthwhile.
Valuing your sponsorship packages and making sure that they are in line with market expectations is equally vital. This will simplify the procurement of the main sponsor or a series of sponsors. The only hitch is that a lot of number-wrangling is required to get your pitch on point.
Select Audio Equipment
When it comes to conference production, the audio experience is perhaps the most prominent lynchpin to prioritise. Skimping on conference event equipment could leave attendees straining their ears to hear and render speakers effectively speechless if they are improperly amplified.
The audio equipment needs to be suited to the venue, as well as to the audience. The type of content being showcased will also be relevant; a solution which is set up solely for a spoken public address may not be ideal if the music is also played, for example.
Some venues will handle audio themselves, although seeking the support of a dedicated conference production AV production company is sensible at this point.
Choose Visual Equipment
Guest speakers and vendors may not be satisfied with a simple audio-only setup. Indeed the expectations of event attendees will typically be that there will be some visual element to proceedings. Even if you want to present nothing more than a handful of slideshows, it is not sensible to overlook the visual conference event equipment when organising everything.
There are several points to consider. Will you need projectors, modular screens or some other form of eye-catching AV equipment? Will the size of the displays be adequate to ensure all attendees in the room are able to clearly see the content? Will you require camera operators, editors and other specialists to get involved in the production in real time on the day, or can all AV elements be fully prepared in advance?
Decide On Lighting Equipment
A well-lit venue can make a conference seem more inviting, engaging and successful. Conversely, a lack of planning in this area might leave the event feeling dingy and will take the dynamism out of even the most expertly crafted keynote address.
Lighting should ideally go hand in hand with other aspects of conference event equipment; it is all part of a cohesive, impactful AV experience. While you could look at different firms to provide this, it makes more sense, from a budgetary and organisational perspective, to allow a single production company to take the reins.
Promote Your Event
This is where your marketing machine should really whir into action because the best-organised event in the world will fall at the first hurdle if no one knows about it ahead of time.
In the past, the options for advertising a conference were somewhat limited. Thankfully the age of the internet has made it far easier to target specific audiences with promotional materials, building momentum and interest well in advance.
Social media can be especially influential in this area today, with campaigns run across a variety of platforms helping to raise awareness and boost engagement. Part of the advantage it offers is that multimedia content relating to the conference can easily be seen and shared.
Video, in particular, is a powerful tool in the fight to get your event noticed, generating 12 times as many shares as either text or image-based posts alone. This might compel you to commission the creation of a clip that outlines the benefits of your conference to potential attendees, which can be more affordable than you might think.
In addition to a minutely tailored social campaign, you will want to build a website for your conference. This is especially sensible if you are planning to make it an annually recurring event.
Modern websites of all types need to be just as easy to use on mobile devices as they are on desktops and laptops, as smartphones have now been the dominant web browsing option for years. Updating the site regularly with blog posts about your event is also worthwhile. You can announce sponsors and guests as they are confirmed, provide updates and keep attendees informed so they know what to expect on arrival.
Most important of all your conference event planning efforts need to start as early as possible and follow a schedule which avoids the likelihood of delays occurring.