By Roland Michael Pinto
Hosting a successful conference has many benefits. They include helping to promote your organization and networking, in addition to expanding your reach through marketing and industry advocates. Best of all, you can generate revenue!
Recent event marketing statistics show that 41 percent of marketers believe that events are the single most effective marketing channel over digital advertising, email marketing and content marketing. This reflects a 32 percent increase since 2017, according to Bizzabo.
There are a variety of factors to consider when planning your conference. The top two factors to start with are the time of year and venue. When deciding on the best time of year to hold your conference, think about the peak season for your attendees’ businesses and professional roles. You’ll want to stay away from their busy periods, when they won’t necessarily be able to attend your event.
From a budget perspective, be aware of peak conference season in the region you are planning to hold your conference, such as January-March, in resort destinations. Also, consider destinations that may not be the first ones that come to mind. Second and third tier cities can offer unique appeal, as well as deliver great rates for those who are more budget conscious.
You want to offer attendees an excellent conference experience, which could be a challenge. There are many facets to the planning process. It requires a dedicated team of people, with expertise in different conference planning areas, to handle the diverse set of activities. Those activities cover the gamut, from promotion and registration, to meeting planning and agenda planning.
It’s imperative to have a conference planning checklist, to keep everything in order. The checklist is one, all-inclusive document that encompasses a list of tasks that you and your team need to complete before, during and after a conference.
The checklist also will help to keep your team on the same page, with key dates and items that you don’t want to miss. You’ll need to update the checklist weekly, to keep it a living document and ensure you stay on track.
There are different ways to approach a conference planning checklist. It can be broken out by pre, onsite and post items, by category of activity, or can be in timeline order. Regardless of the format, it needs to include due dates and who’s responsible for each line item.
Here’s an example of a conference planning checklist, which includes the highlights:
- Develop an event marketing plan
- Determine event brand strategy
- Strategize theme, based on location and event goals
- Initiate sales program for sponsors and vendors
- Create a dedicated conference website
- Develop advertisements and schedule
- Develop social media posts, content and schedule
- Develop press release and coordinate other public relations activities
- Develop Eblast series reminders and schedule
- Distribute promotional brochures or flyers
- Initiate Request for Proposal (RFP) with the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) in the desired location(s)
- Research conference center venue options
- Conduct site inspection
- Finalize selection, confirm details and negotiate contract
- Initiate RFP for audio/visual and Wi-Fi
- Establish schedule for room block reports from hotel
- Coordinate security
- Plan catering and banquet event orders, including food and beverage
Off-Site & Destination Related Activities
- Review and select DMC partner
- Research off-site options, to offer conference attendees
- Finalize off-site contracts
- Finalize off-site counts
- Confirm transportation
- Verify pick-up times and locations
- Develop event budget
- Arrange for event cancellation and liability insurance
- Apply for music license
- Coordinate staff travel
- Create a daily onsite action item checklist and assignments
- Develop an internal “show flow” agenda
- Hire show contractor; determine exhibition area layout
- Determine and finalize entertainment
- Determine and purchase giveaways
- Develop program book
- Mobile App implementation
- Review signage options and order
- Coordinate decorations
- Coordinate any special needs
- Develop a master slide deck, to include sponsor slides
- Set registration fees
- Set-up a registration system and online registration
- Coordinate badges
- Order lanyards, determine final quantities
- Be ready with the Square, to process payments
- Contact Speakers Bureaus, to source keynote speakers
- Identify industry topics and speakers
- Finalize topics and speakers
- Develop spreadsheet of speakers with all contact information
- Schedule prep-call with speakers
- Collect speaker presentations
- Add speakers to the web site
- Coordinate VIP hotel reservations
Post Event Planning
- Update conference website after the event
- Send thank you letters
- Distribute post-event surveys
- Respond to venue and CVB post-event surveys
- Develop post-conference report of financial information and results
Although I shared some of my best conference planning tips, as you can see from this extensive checklist, event planning touches on many areas and has many layers. Depending on time and resources, it could make sense to work with a conference planning partner, who has its own dedicated team and the expertise to handle all types of events.
There are conference planning companies who specialize not only in event management, but also can offer a full-range of services, including marketing. Having one company to handle all components will result in a more seamless, enjoyable and successful conference.
Do you need assistance with planning your next conference? Contact us today, to get the conversation started.
Roland Michael Pinto is the Director of Association Operations at CMA, a full-service communications, marketing and association management firm, which has provided its clients with award-winning and proven results for more than 30 years.