Conferences are an excellent vehicle to communicate your organisation’s vision and messages internally (training workshops, annual general meetings, major annual conferences, for example) or with key stakeholders and audiences (such as press events, product launches and technical conferences). They are also highly valuable as networking and social events, where peers and colleagues can meet in a less hierarchical, informal environment. For those expecting to find themselves as an organizer or meeting planner, here are some top tips to organize a great conference.
10 Tips to help tiptoe around the common pitfalls of conference planning
1. Think about “why” before “how”.
Before diving headfirst into all the logistics and event management of any conference, or indeed any event, the most important and probably your first job is to understand why. Two key questions to ask yourself and your team: What are we trying to achieve by having the conference/event? What will success look like at the end? The answers are critical and can prevent rework such as the agenda being changed or even the venue! Ensure you also get the input of the key stakeholders.
2. Location, location, location
Map out what the event venue will need to deliver, from start to finish. Do you have enough space to accommodate the number of delegates in the seating arrangement required? Will there be energizer activities for the delegates where they will need space to move around? Will there be workshops or rooms for delegates to split up into?
How high is the ceiling? There are many venues with low ceiling height and if you have 300 delegates in the room – it can become a little claustrophobic. What facilities are there (for example, heating and air conditioning)?
What AV will be used? If you have rear projection this will take up more space in the conference room as the projector needs a distance of six feet from the screen.
3. Feed and water the delegates.
Don’t forget the delegates with special dietary requirements. This may sound simple and something “I already know” but do you know how much food the venue is providing for the delegates who are vegans, vegetarians etc? Sometimes the choices are limited.
4. Manage catering costs
A simple voucher system for breakfasts, lunches and dinners enables you to restrict charges to only what is eaten and not pay for delegates who don’t eat.
5. Car park capers
Do you have delegates attending just for the day? If so does the venue have enough space to accommodate the day delegates as well as the venue residents? Where is the nearest overflow parking lot? How much does it cost? How far is it to walk? Can the venue provide a shuttle to collect the delegates if it is raining?
6. Clashing timetables
Always ask what else is happening at the venue. If the venue has booked out the conference room to another party in the evening it usually means you will need to be out of the room by 5pm so they can turn the room around for the next guests. Does this fit in with your schedule and plans? Are any competitors or conflicting events also at the venue?
7. Pick me ups
If you have air travellers, ensure your transportation is clear. Expect 30% of delegates to walk straight past the pick-up sign at the airport and phone up the organiser complaining there is no transportation for them. Most airports have two entrances that people walk out of into arrivals. A good tip is to have two people standing on each entrance and also a sweeper with a sign going back and forth. For those who still miss it, leave instructions in their information packet to meet at the Information Desk in Arrivals. This should avoid randomly lost waifs and strays!
8. Start early
The earlier you start the more choice you will have. Venues get booked early.
9. Choose wisely
If you are using an outside events company to help, trust your gut instinct. They should obviously be good listeners and highly organized. But you will be spending a lot of time talking and going through details together. So, as much as valuing their expertise and ideas, you should also enjoy their company and be able to work honestly and effectively together.
10. Watch the budget
Little unforeseen extras can soon blow your budget. An experienced events company will have a complete view of all the likely costs, from scotch tape to scallops and celebrity speakers. And they will have a large network of great suppliers you can tap into and can help to negotiate great rates. So together you can watch both the pennies and the pounds!