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When it comes to planning events there are a lot of things to think about and conferences are no different. With so much to do, from securing guest speakers to finding a suitable venue, it's easy to get wrapped up in the big details and overlook some of the smaller details.
We've been hiring conference furniture to event organisers for many years and know first hand all about the challenges that planning a conference can bring, so in this guide we not only talk about some of the bigger, more obvious things to think about, but some of the less obvious things too. Read on for our conference planning tips.
Before doing anything it's essential to make a plan and to set a budget. If you've never run a conference before, getting quotes from a number of suppliers or venues can help you decide a realistic budget to work to. A plan will give you a running order, timings and also means that you can work to a deadlines, knowing what needs to be agreed on or booked and by what date.
For bigger, internationally known conference venues like the NEC in Birmingham or Olympia in London, you'll need to book as far in advance as possible, ideally more than 6 months in advance. If you have a very specific venue in mind however it's worth securing even earlier.
Before booking a site visit makes a lot of sense and finding out more about the logistics of the venue, city centre locations can be appealing for visitors, but can prove a nightmare when it comes to getting things from third party vendors delivered.
Depending on the industry and type of conference, you may need to book your guest speakers several months in advance. Securing the right speakers can have a dramatic impact on the success of your event, so the sooner you secure your speakers, the quicker you can start marketing the conference and attracting advance bookings.
Even if you don't have all the details of the conference confirmed, you can still start your marketing early. As soon as you announce the conference, even before it's been fully planned out and tickets made available, you can let people know about it and even get them to register their interest. Try giving people an incentive, such as a discount to get them interested as early as possible.
Perhaps after booking the venue and securing speakers or other special guests, finding suppliers is the next big hurdle. Even relatively small conferences are likely to require caterers, conference chair hire and even things like hiring storage crates so you can get essentials safely to and from the event venue will need to be arranged.
Whether the conference lasts half a day or runs over several days, a running order is essential. Initially timings can be approximate, but as time goes on these timings should become more solid and do plan in some inevitable over run. For example guest speakers will often go over when it comes to Q&A sessions, so ensure that things like lunch timings and refreshments won't be impacted if a session over runs slightly.
There's a lot of pressure these days, what with social media to get things right and ensuring guests are comfortable and happy is an absolute must. News can travel quickly and a conference with poor sound or uncomfortable seating can generate negative publicity, so make sure you think about the conference from a visitor’s perspective.
A comfortable temperature, a good view of the stage, being able to hear speakers clearly, adequate refreshments and comfortable seating are all important, but don't stop there. "Wow moments" in marketing terms, means doing something that's novel and unexpected, so try and think of clever little ways to make your conference memorable that will stand out in the minds of visitors.
Theming a conference is a great way to create a coherent and memorable event and allows you to tie things together, like the visual design of the conference space, marketing materials, key messaging and so on.
Depending on the type of event, you'll need people around you with specific skill sets. People that excel in admin, organisation and logistics are a real bonus, as are people with strong customer facing skills.
Once the main planning has been done, the venue booked and guest speakers confirmed it's time to start marketing the conference. Your organisations website is the obvious place to start, so make sure there's a blog or news post about the event along with a link through for people to register or buy tickets to attend.
Send a press release out and work with stakeholders and industry bodies and publications to promote the conference to a wider audience. Go along to networking groups, use social media, traditional media buying and online advertising (like Facebook or Google Ads) to tell people about the conference and don't forget good old email marketing, which can still be highly effective in terms of driving awareness and securing more registrations or bookings.