Conference Planning 101: Your Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Successful Event

If you're considering hosting a conference, you're in for an amazing opportunity to offer professional development, networking, and industry growth to your community. But before you dive in, there are several crucial steps you need...

If you're considering hosting a conference, you're in for an amazing opportunity to offer professional development, networking, and industry growth to your community. But before you dive in, there are several crucial steps you need to take to ensure your conference is a success. In this article, we'll provide you with a comprehensive guide to conference planning, covering everything from finding a venue to post-conference follow-up.

The Key Elements of a Successful Conference Plan

A good conference plan is detailed, organized, and easy to follow. It includes clear goals, milestones, and timelines for achieving them. Your plan should cover everything from pre-conference preparations to the post-mortem meeting. It's important to note that a conference plan is not a one-time task but a collaborative effort that should be regularly reviewed and updated.

Before You Start Planning

Before you jump into the planning process, there are a few essential decisions and tasks that need to be addressed:

1. Assemble a Team

Organizing a conference can be a daunting task, so it's important to have a dedicated team to help you. Identify who will be involved in organizing the conference and assign clear responsibilities. If you don't have enough staff members available, consider assembling a volunteer committee to assist you.

2. Set Objectives

Clearly define what you hope to achieve with your conference. How many attendees, new contacts, or new members are you looking to gain? How much revenue do you aim to generate? Setting specific objectives will help guide your decision-making and ensure the success of your conference.

3. Identify Your Target Audience

Determine who your conference is for and what they stand to gain by attending. Understanding your target audience will help you effectively promote your event and attract the right attendees.

4. Come Up With a Theme and Format

While not essential, having a theme for your conference can help create a cohesive experience for attendees. Consider basing your theme on current trends, seasonal relevance, or the general landscape within your industry. Additionally, decide on the format of your conference—whether it will be in-person, virtual, or a hybrid event. Establish the duration of the conference and the number of sessions you plan to offer.

5. Develop a Budget

Determine your conference budget and allocate funds accordingly. Consider if sponsorships can help offset some costs and prioritize where you want to invest more money for key elements like keynote speakers.

How To Keep Your Team Motivated During Conference Planning

Conference planning can be a year-long endeavor, so it's important to keep your team motivated and engaged throughout the process. Here are some tips to ensure their enthusiasm and prevent burnout:

  • Clearly define roles and set expectations for each team member.
  • Break down tasks into manageable mini-goals and assign them to team members.
  • Regularly remind your team about the mission, vision, and objectives of the conference.
  • Celebrate even the smallest achievements and share wins along the way.
  • Maintain open communication and encourage your team to ask for help or guidance whenever needed.

Your Conference Planning Checklist: 17 Steps for Success

Now that you have a solid foundation, let's dive into the 17 essential steps for planning a successful conference. This checklist is a guide, and you may need to adjust the timeline based on your conference's size, format, and team resources.

9-12 Months Before the Conference

  1. Book a Venue: Find a suitable venue that aligns with your conference goals, considering factors such as capacity, session requirements, and theme.

  2. Confirm Date(s): Finalize the conference dates in coordination with the venue's availability.

  3. Create a Master Plan: Develop a detailed plan that outlines all tasks, deadlines, and responsibilities from Day 1 to the post-conference phase. Share this plan with your team and update it as necessary.

  4. Choose Your Technology: Select the necessary tools and software to support your conference, such as a conference platform, website builder, event registration software, CRM system, and project management tool.

6-9 Months Before the Conference

  1. Find Speakers: Secure inspiring and knowledgeable speakers as early as possible to attract attendees and promote your conference. Look for industry experts, utilize your network, and consider the National Speaker's Bureau for additional assistance.

  2. Find Sponsors and Exhibitors: Seek sponsorships to help offset costs and secure well-known companies to enhance your conference's reputation. Additionally, consider allowing exhibitors to showcase their products or services at the event.

  3. Develop Branding: Create a unique and cohesive branding strategy for your conference, including a name, slogan, logo, color palette, messaging, and imagery. Utilize professional assistance, such as photographers and graphic designers, to ensure high-quality visuals.

3-6 Months Before the Conference

  1. Order Branded Merchandise: Select relevant and useful swag items for your attendees, aligning with your industry and conference theme. Order these items early to save costs and reduce pre-conference stress.

  2. Find Suppliers: If necessary, hire external suppliers for services such as catering, security, A/V equipment, furniture, and Wi-Fi. Confirm their availability and ensure they meet the venue's requirements.

  3. Recruit Volunteers: Determine the number of volunteers needed and recruit them for various tasks, such as parking management, attendee check-in, wayfinding, and more. Advertise volunteer opportunities within your organization and relevant local programs.

  4. Start Promoting: Set up a website and registration page, and begin promoting your conference through various channels such as email, social media, press releases, and advertisements. Offer special deals, giveaways, and registration prizes to attract more attendees.

1 Month Before the Conference

  1. Finalize Conference Schedule: With speakers and events confirmed, create a detailed schedule for attendees and a comprehensive master schedule for everyone involved. Include essential contact information for contingency purposes.

  2. Finalize Tasks with the Team, Volunteers, Speakers, and Venue: Provide customized task outlines and responsibilities to each individual or group involved in the conference. Ensure everyone is aware of their roles and what is expected of them.

1 Week Before the Conference

  1. Send Out Reminders and Check-In: Send email reminders to all attendees, provide an FAQ section on your website, and make yourself available for any last-minute questions or concerns. Check-in with your team, speakers, and volunteers to ensure they are prepared.

1 Day Before the Conference

  1. Last Team Check-In and Kick-Off: Conduct a final check-in with your team to address any concerns, communicate any last-minute changes, and boost morale before the event.

During the Conference

  1. Conference Management: As the organizer, ensure your team and volunteers are supported throughout the conference. Monitor engagement, manage communications, and address any issues promptly. For hybrid conferences, ensure effective live-streaming and engagement with virtual attendees.

After the Conference

  1. Follow-Up and Analysis: Send a follow-up email to all attendees expressing gratitude and encourage them to complete a post-conference survey. Thank sponsors, speakers, and volunteers for their contributions. Analyze attendance, revenue, engagement rates, and other metrics to evaluate the conference's success. Conduct a post-mortem meeting with your team to review strengths and areas for improvement. Keep in touch with attendees for future events and opportunities.

Make Conference Planning Easy with All-in-One Software

Conference planning involves multiple complex tasks that can be simplified with the use of all-in-one software like membership management software. Such software can handle website creation, registration, payments, CRM management, and more, saving you time and reducing expenses. WildApricot, the top-rated membership management software, offers comprehensive solutions for event planning and community engagement.

Planning a conference requires careful strategy, organization, and attention to detail. By following this comprehensive guide, you'll be well-equipped to host a successful and memorable event that leaves a lasting impact on your community. Good luck with your conference planning journey!