When organising any big event, the key is preparation. Planning a conference takes time, and patience, and making sure to account for every eventuality is the key for its success. With more businesses seeing the benefit of hosting conferences (and in person, industry events becoming more popular again), many companies will soon be organising seminars across the globe.
This guide should work as an initial framework for those wondering how to plan a conference, from which you can build upon the needs of your own event. Whether you are planning a one day conference, or a series of seminars that span multiple days, sticking to your plan and being prepared for any potential issues will guarantee you the best chance at success.
The initial plan
The first thing to do when organising a conference is making a step by step plan with set dates that should be followed as closely as possible. Everyone’s strategy will look different, but there should be some basic elements in every plan such as speakers, event promotion, and venue choice.
Those wondering how to plan a conference timeline need to ideally allow at least six months to organise. You’ll need to book your speakers and venue as early as possible, then priori
tise the other elements in your individual plan.
At the initial planning stage for your conference, you need to consider when you will host the event, your budget, and your team. Make it clear who in your organisation is going to have each role, and what are they responsible for.
Choosing the date
When proposing the date of your conference, you need to consider a variety of factors. You will need to choose a time of the year when your company will have the capacity to run the event on top of day to day tasks, and make sure that key members of your team organising the event will be able to prioritise the conference over other work.
When deciding on the date, you will want to consider the season, and if there are any school holidays around the time. School holidays may put potential attendees off, as they may struggle to get childcare, and your event could suffer as a result.
If there are any key industry events or legislation changes around the time of your event, you should make sure to mention them. You may look uninformed if there are big changes going on in your industry and none of your speakers focus on the repercussions of these changes.
Picking your venue
One of the first and most important things to consider when setting up your event is what venue you will choose. It is key to make this decision as early as possible, as the best venues often get booked up months in advance, and if you have particular specifications your venue needs to meet, there may not be many options available. There are a number of key factors you will need to consider when deciding on your venue:
- Size: How many people are you expecting to attend your event? It is essential to have enough room for everyone that will be there in person, but bigger spaces cost more money, and you do not want to waste your budget on a room that you don’t need.
- Location: Where you decide on hosting the event is very important. You shouldn’t just pick the closest place to your business, but somewhere that will be convenient for your clientele.
Facilities: Some events will require a kitchen, while some might require breakout rooms. Make sure your venue choice caters to all of your specific requirements. If your conference has any specialist elements, you may need to bring your own equipment along.
- Catering: Many venues will offer refreshments or some form of catering package along with the venue hire. If you can’t find a venue that has a package suitable for your event, you could hire third party catering. If you are providing food and drink to your attendees, you’ll need to know how many attendees you are expecting. You will also need to find out dietary requirements for your audience, such as particular allergies or intolerances.
- Atmosphere: The atmosphere of a space is more important than many people think. Some events may lose authenticity if they are set in a corporate environment, while others may need a professional setting to ensure credibility. Many event spaces can be arranged to suit the atmosphere you need with subtle props and different lighting.
- Accommodation: This is especially important if your conference is taking place over a number of days. Ensure there is enough space for your speakers to stay and potentially for your attendees too, if you are expecting them to travel a distance to attend.
- Transportation: Making sure there are good transport links is an essential element of your venue research. A city centre will likely have good public transport facilities, but less car parking. It’s worth assessing how you think your audience will travel.
- Technical capabilities: Checking the venue’s technical capabilities is something to consider, especially if you are looking at making your event hybrid. Many venues have broadcasting capabilities within their conference package. This could make life easier for anyone that needs to stream their conference, or invite attendees to join online.
When you have chosen your venue, you may need to consider any additional items that may need setting up ahead of the conference. You may need to set up your own stage if your chosen venue doesn’t have one, or consider erecting lecterns for your speakers to stand behind.
Certain conferences may even require specialist lighting, audio equipment, or high end stage production hardware. High end production will make your event memorable to attendees, help retain their attention, and could add credibility to your event, if you are in the technology or events industry.
While this equipment will add a lot of value, it is often notoriously fragile, and easy to damage in the often fast paced set up of your event. MSA can supply custom case inserts to make sure your essential equipment is protected before, during and after your event, leaving one less thing to worry about. Our packaging solutions can ensure your expensive equipment remains undamaged, and ready to use at your next conference. We can also supply tool box inserts for your event set up tools, to ensure your set up equipment arrives at the event undamaged.
When organising a conference, you may have speakers from your own organisation covering certain topics, but most conferences also feature seminars from industry experts and have at least one keynote speaker. Experts outside of your company will add relevance and credibility to your event, and hopefully draw in a bigger audience too.
The more renowned your speaker is, the more chance they are a busy person, with a lot going on in their professional life, as well as your conference. Staying in frequent contact with your speakers will help things run smoother on the day, and making sure they know exactly when and where they will be speaking will also help avoid any issues.
Make sure you understand what your external speakers might expect in terms of remuneration and accommodation, and placing your key speakers close to your event with their accommodation should relieve some stress on the day in getting them to your venue. It is also worth having a few backup options, in case your desired speakers are unavailable on your chosen dates.
When you are planning any sort of conference, you need to consider the theme, and topics of your speakers. Think about what you are trying to get across by hosting the conference, and what are the end goals for you or your business as a whole. When you are planning a business conference you need to consider topics that are relevant, will draw in an audience, and something that you can have valuable input on, to make the event worthwhile and unique for the audience.
One key thing to remember when considering topics is to make sure your speakers do not have too much crossover in their content. Speakers from outside your organisation will likely want to come up with their own topics, so keeping in regular contact with them on what their topics are, and what their talk will involve is important to make sure multiple speakers aren’t covering the same points. Too much crossover with talks will make you seem unorganised and could render some of your speakers’ seminars redundant.
Depending on your industry, companies may be willing to sponsor your event, which will keep costs down. It is a good idea to choose businesses that have synergy with your brand and conference. Make sure you
don’t sacrifice your event’s credibility by having too many sponsors, or sponsors that don’t align with what you’re trying to achieve.
Be transparent with your sponsors and let them know from the outset what they will be allowed to do for their money. Keeping good relationships with these contacts could work out in the long run, hopefully giving you opportunities for sponsorship of future events.
Promoting the event
You don’t have a conference without any attendees. Making sure to market your event and getting the invitations in front of the right people is a very important stage in your plan. One common and cost effective way to create interest in your event is through online channels, but offline methods can also be effective in getting the word out.
Promoting the event on your website, social media and through press releases is a good way to start. If you have a good mailing list at your disposal, this is a great way to reach people who your conference is designed for. You should ensure that people are booking through a professional ticketing system, so you have their contact details, meaning you can keep in touch and remind them when your event is coming up.
Broadcasting the event
Those wondering how to plan a virtual conference will need to consider broadcasting equipment. Even if your event will mainly exist in a physical space, it is worth giving your conference an online element. By making your conference hybrid, you will be able to maximise the reach of your audience, by catering to people across the world. By making a recording, the conference will be available online after it has ended. You will also have a longer lasting impact, reaching people that were busy on the day, or that find out about the conference after it has finished.
Choosing to stream your conference online will mean organising cameras, microphones and testing connectivity in your chosen venue. Good quality equipment must be used and tested as technical issues on the day are all too common, and low quality equipment will detract from the conference itself, potentially leaving it looking unprofessional and unpolished.
We have lots of experience in the broadcasting industry, and can ensure that any expensive equipment remains safe. If your event is one that will take place at numerous locations, it is even more important to protect your valuable equipment while it is in transit. We can provide the ultimate protection, and with our technical foam services we can provide a tailor-made solution to protecting your broadcasting apparatus.
Before your meeting, you should plan and circulate an agenda, first with your speakers, and then with your attendees. Checking with your speakers that the agenda works for them is key to ensuring there are no surprises on the day, and then circulating it with your attendees will help your audience know exactly how the event will work on the day.
Depending on the scale of your event, some attendees may not be interested in all the speakers, and if you are having multiple speakers on at the same time, it is important for your audience to know which room their preferred speaker will be in. The agenda can be emailed out and is a good opportunity to catch up with your attendees, reminding them of the event start date and time, and anything you recommend they bring along.
Having branding on all of your equipment and placed around the venue will not only help to advertise your business
, but will also help make your conference seem more professional. Having banners with company branding, your company logo on any presentations, and your company colours used throughout the venue are all
subtle upgrades that will elevate your event.
You may want to display your product in the conference, or give your audience something to take away with them
. We have worked on many marketing projects and if you choose MSA to design the packaging for your product we can incorporate brand logos and imagery in the custom foam design, ensuring your product is
recognisable, even when it is packaged.
On the day
Hopefully, if everything has gone according to plan, your conference will run smoothly on the day. During the event, you will need to be conscious of time management, making sure that speakers don’t overrun. If you have not assigned a designated host, you may need to chair the conference yourself, and you should introduce your speakers to the stage. Fielding questions from the audience is also something to consider, and if your event is hybrid, you will need to think about which way is best to take questions from your online audience.
Unfortunately, some things are beyond your control, and how you manage hiccups in your event on the day could make the difference between it being a success or a failure. It is worth preparing replacement speakers in case any of your experts can’t make it, and preparing a plan in case there are issues with catering or transport is worth having too.
Follow up with attendees
An important final step. Following up with your attendees gives you the perfect opportunity to remain in your audience’s minds for longer, and will make them feel valued, even after your event has ended. The other benefit of following up with your attendees is the opportunity to find out what went wrong, and what were the successful elements of your event.
An email is the quickest and easiest way to get in touch with your attendees. A simple survey in the email is quick for you to set up, and easy for your attendees to fill in. Once you collect the data about your event, you can make a plan to improve your future events based on the feedback.
How MSA can help
At MSA, our team can manufacture custom foam inserts to protect your valuable conference equipment from damage. All equipment can be scanned remotely, and we can incorporate brand logos into the foam design to ensure brand consistency. Get in touch today with a member of our team who will be happy to discuss any enquiries.