Planning a conference is not for the faint of heart. There are so many details involved, and one misstep can seriously throw a wrench in your event. You’ll need to choose a date, research venues, figure your budget out, arrange for speakers, and be incredibly organized throughout the process. From finding sponsors to creating promotions, there’s a lot to consider and coordinate.
No matter what type of conference you’re organizing, your delegates will be looking to you to keep it all together. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to getting your conference off the ground smoothly.
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What Makes a Good Conference?
Conferences that are successful are those that bring people together in meaningful ways that will lead to lasting professional relationships and repeat attendance. Your conference’s attendees will expect to meet people, to try out the latest technology, and to share information about your industry.
When events fail, the root of the problem lies in the planning. Failing to research your audience, not staying on top of industry trends, and being afraid to take necessary risks can all tank your conference. Don’t run the risk of failure by skipping any of the necessary steps.
Whether you’ve never planned a conference before or you’re looking for tips because you had problems the last time, this guide is for you.
How Do You Run a Great Conference?
Ready to run an incredible conference that sells out every year? Here’s what you’ll need to know.
Tips for Coming Up with Great Conference Ideas and Themes
One thing every great conference has in common is a great theme. You’ll have to decide what message you want to send through your conference before you can plan the other elements around it. The other elements you’ll need to consider when choosing the theme that will brand your event include:
- The logo and color scheme
- Any printing deliverables, including custom brochures, posters, and displays
- Social media promotions and hashtags
- Your speakers and the topics they will share with your attendees
If your theme is relatable, inspirational, and emotional, you’re headed in the right direction.
How to Organize and Plan the Conference
Now that you’ve settled on a theme, it’s time to answer the following questions.
Where Will You Hold Your Conference?
One of the first things you’ll need to consider is location. Choosing the right venue is critical. If you hold your conference in a dreary location to save money, it could hurt attendance. Choose a venue people will want to travel to, and if your conference is successful they’ll want to travel there again in the future. By including the right venue and city in your promotions, you can increase ticket sales.
When Will You Hold Your Conference?
Start thinking about this now, because you’ll need to choose a date that is at least six months to a year in advance. Some questions you’ll want to ask yourself before you commit to a specific date include:
- How long will the conference last?
- Will any other major events conflict with yours?
- Will people be available to attend?
Try to avoid scheduling your conference for holidays, weekends, and popular vacation times like summer break and Christmas if you want maximum attendance.
Who Will Be on Your Team?
A conference is something you definitely don’t want to try organizing on your own. Planning will be more efficient if you delegate each task to a dedicated team. You’ll need to find the right people to help you with marketing, administration, and even fundraising if necessary. People will have questions about your conference, so make sure you’ve appointed a team to answer them. The more people you’ve got working alongside you, the greater your event’s chances of success.
Who Will Your Speakers Be?
Before you begin reaching out to speakers, remember your ticket sales will largely be based on who they are. Do your research and make sure you’re bringing in credible authorities in your field. If you have the budget for a celebrity speaker, it’s worth splurging because celebrities drive ticket sales. If you have scheduling speakers trouble at first, you’ll have an easier time once you firmly set a date for your event.
What Will Your Content Strategy Be?
Your content should involve a combination of blog posts, newsworthy articles, and promotional videos. Your focus here should be on piquing your audience’s interest rather than pushing them to attend. Give them information about your speakers and your sponsors. Show them how attending can benefit them and even change their lives. By giving potential attendees compelling information about the topic of your conference, you’ll make them more likely to buy a ticket.
How Will You Handle Your Emails?
If you’ve attended conferences yourself, you already know how many emails attendees receive leading up to the event. When you have to send so many emails, it’s smart to use templates you can customize without too much effort. Email marketing is an incredibly effective tool for conference organizers because it is the primary way you will keep everyone from speakers to sponsors to attendees updated. One of the first things you’ll want to do once you begin planning is to make sure your marketing team is on top of this and has a strategy mapped out.
How Will You Handle Registration?
Focus on making online and onsite registration simple for your attendees. Make sure the process is clearly outlined, and bring people onboard for on-site registration who have knowledge of your industry and who have local knowledge of the area.
Does Your Desired Venue Offer Catering?
Most venues understand conference organizers need to feed their attendees, so they have catering services on the premises. However, if your venue is one of those that does not offer catering, you’ll need to find outside vendors who can get the job done. Before you commit to a vendor and give them your deposit, answer the following questions:
- What kind of food will we serve?
- Will there be food available for those with dietary restrictions?
- How much money is in our budget for vendors?
- Is the catering company close to the venue?
- Can the company handle an event the size of your conference?
- Do you have an approximate headcount?
Once you’ve taken care of this step, you’ll have a better idea of what your conference’s needs are and whether or not a particular vendor will be able to meet them.
Marketing and Promoting a Conference
There’s just as much involved in marketing and promoting your event as there is in planning it. Here are some things you’ll need to take care of to make sure news of your conference reaches the widest possible audience.
Stay on Top of Your Social Media
You’ve spent time building up your network of social media contacts, and this is your chance to use it. Post links to your events page and weekly updates about its progress. If your speakers write posts or blogs promoting their appearance at your event, share them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and any other social media accounts you have. You can also use paid social media advertising to increase awareness of your event’s brand.
Getting Your Sponsors Onboard
It is in your sponsors’ best interests to promote your conference, but the problem is they do not always have the time to do so. You can remedy this issue by providing them with everything they’ll need to make the job easy. Focus on creating promos your sponsors can pass along with the click of a button.
Having Fun with Your Event
From promotions to games to the promise of after-parties, there are myriad ways you can build excitement in the months leading up to the event. Host giveaways, offer VIP passes, and bend over backward to get your attendees hyped. You can also have fun with your team by hosting contests and giveaways in-house that will encourage them to promote the event they’re working on.
Don’t forget, there are professional organizations out there who can help you promote your conference so you can increase awareness and attract more potential attendees.
Conference Design and Branding
Your event’s branding will shape how your attendees will experience it. Your branding strategy and corporate graphics need to take the following into consideration:
- Does the event brand accurately reflect your organization’s brand?
- How will you brand your booth?
- What branded promotional items will you offer?
- How do you plan to brand your website?
- Do you have an email strategy in place for your brand?
When it comes to branding, it’s essential that you have a strong online presence that has been carefully crafted to reflect your organization, but to also stand apart from it. Every experience your attendees have at your conference is another chance to reinforce your brand. There are countless ways to do this, from creating branded email templates to passing out branded cookies. When it comes to your brand, you are limited only by your imagination, so don’t be afraid to get creative.
There are some specifics you’ll want to have in place for your website’s branding. The theme, colors, fonts, and logo you’ve chosen for your event should be carried over onto the website, along with plenty of calls to action. Choose a domain that is branded for your event as well. Remember, your site may be the first place potential attendees are learning about your conference, so you’ll want to knock it out of the park here. Make sure your emails have a strong subject line and call to action. Also, don’t forget to brand your emails so they are congruent with the site’s branding.
Tips for Running the Conference and Making It a Success
The most important thing to remember when you’re planning your conference is to relax. It’s a lot of work, but by formulating a plan, bringing the right people on board, and keeping your eye on the prize you’ll be just fine. Breaking it down step by step is the best way to prevent becoming overwhelmed. Remember, if you stress out, everyone else will, too.
You’ll want to create ways to receive feedback about the event afterward so you can correct any missteps in the future. Be sure to design promotions that will welcome this year’s attendees back the next time around. If you’ve followed the steps outlined in this article, your event can be a smashing success with attendees lining up for your next conference.