How to Organize a Conference Event
Hosting a conference helps to build customer loyalty, create a user community, and boosts ROI. Sure, planning a conference is a complex task, but the rewards are worth it.
Here is the ultimate conference guide filled with tips and a timeline for how to plan a conference.
How to organize a conference step-by-step guidelines
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” ― Yogi Berra.
1. Start early.
Ideally, you have an entire year to plan your conference. However, this may be impossible depending on your schedule and your team’s availability. Your goal is to allocate as much time as possible for planning.
The reason to start planning a conference as early as possible is not just to help you remain sane. Many vendors, including the venue, catering, entertainment, etc., may need to be booked months in advance. It would be a shame to miss out on that band or the ideal venue because someone else booked them ahead of you.
Also, if you seek corporate partnerships or sponsorships, most companies set their budgets a year out. The same is true for speakers and exhibitors who may need to make their plans months in advance.
1A. Give yourself some buffer time.
There are many moving parts to hosting major conference events. That many variables mean you can count on one thing: Not everything will go according to plan. Vendors may drop out. Speakers will miss content delivery deadlines (and then miss the new ones you give them, too).
By beginning months in advance, you have some buffer time to handle the inevitable complications.
2. Build a team.
You do not want the responsibility of planning a conference entirely on your shoulders.
We repeat: You do NOT want the responsibility of planning a conference entirely on your shoulders.
Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. For example, someone who is a master planner and organizer may not be a strong marketer. You need a team dedicated to the different aspects of the conference:
- Planning: finding a venue, allocating rooms for out-of-town guests, conceptualizing activities, booking vendors, etc.
- Administration: creating a budget, monitoring registration and ticket sales, recruiting exhibitors, etc.
- Marketing: developing campaigns, creating promotional materials, maintaining the website and social media accounts, etc.
- Sponsorships: nurturing corporate partnerships, etc.
- Organizing volunteers: obtaining commitments, delegating tasks, coordinating the teams throughout the event, etc.
Select your team carefully. A significant aspect of how to organize a convention is ensuring that the team is fully committed to the event’s success and understands the importance of their individual roles.
3. Determine why you’re hosting this conference.
Once your team is in place, gather everyone together to kick around some conference ideas planning and themes. Your first significant hurdle for how to plan a convention is establishing why you’re hosting a conference and what kind of conference it is.
There are five broad categories of conferences:
- Educational: the goal is to build attendees’ knowledge; the overall topic, speakers, and breakout sessions are the primary draws.
- Networking: while these events have speakers and breakout sessions, the main focus is the meet-and-greet receptions.
- Trade shows: the exhibitors are the selling point and attendees come looking for new and innovative products and services.
- Community: the goal is to bring like-minded peers together to share best practices (typically around your business’s products and services); when properly nurtured, this community can thrive beyond the event.
- Academic: researchers gather and present their work to their peers; events are targeted toward a specific educational field.
The ultimate goal of any conference is to build a business’s reputation, gain customer loyalty, and improve revenue for the host company (or some combination of those factors). However, no one will attend your conference to build your business. Attendees (and exhibitors) have their own reasons for attending a conference, and it’s to build their businesses.
You need to design a conference for the attendees. What are their needs, and how can you help them achieve their goals? How you answer that question should become the theme for your event. Your best opportunity to build a crowd is to connect with your potential attendees and give them the justification for attending your conference.
Once you establish your conference theme, distill it down to a brief, memorable catchphrase (you will use it in all of your event promotions). The final step is to decide on the conference’s name. Before finalizing the name, search it online to confirm that it doesn’t have any unexpected negative connotations or isn’t associated with another event in your area.
4. Build a budget.
While the point of your event may not be to turn a profit (for example, some educational and community events generate ROI by building brand awareness), the goal certainly isn’t to lose money. So, creating (and sticking to) a budget is essential.
As you move toward your conference’s big day, you’ll encounter two types of expenses: fixed and variable.
Fixed costs are expenses that do not change. Examples of fixed costs include:
- Venue fees.
- Equipment rental (AV tech, etc.).
- Team member salaries.
- Licenses and permits.
- Speaker fees, including travel and lodging.
Variable costs are expenses that fluctuate due to factors such as the number of attendees. Examples of variable costs include:
- Marketing and advertising.
- Catering/meals per attendee.
- Conference software (if it charges per attendee).
- Printed materials.
- Attendee swag and speaker gifts.
Once you clearly understand all the line items required to make your conference a success, you can begin creating your conference budget. Be thorough and always get quotes from a minimum of three vendors, especially for big-ticket items. Multiple quotes give you the leverage to negotiate and find the lowest possible price.
4A. Budget for the unexpected.
One thing that is certain when planning an event is that nothing is certain. There will always be unforeseen complications.
Just like it is wise to give yourself plenty of planning time, it is prudent to build a buffer into your budget. Once you settle on the final budget number, add 10% to 15% to cover unexpected costs like overtime pay, extra supplies, or unforeseen vendor fees.
5A. Select a date and venue.
5B. Select a venue and date.
These two steps are listed together because you cannot do one without the other. For example, if you are absolutely set on a specific date, you may need to be flexible regarding the venue because your initial selection(s) may be booked. Similarly, if you have found the perfect venue then it helps to have a few options for dates based on the venue’s availability.
You are more likely to land both your perfect venue and ideal date the earlier you settle on a date and attempt to book the location.
Tips for selecting a conference date:
- Pick a date that doesn’t overlap with other major events in the city (parades, music festivals, etc.). Multiple events make everything more difficult for your attendees, including booking flights, securing hotel accommodations, traveling around the city, getting dinner reservations, etc.
- Avoid dates that overlap with peak vacation times (such as summer and winter holidays). Don’t make potential attendees choose between your conference and that family trip to Hawaii.
- If your conference is a work event, try to schedule it during the week. Most two-day conferences run Monday to Tuesday or Thursday to Friday.
- The number of days you select is entirely dictated by what you need to accomplish at the conference. A general rule of thumb is that an event with 300 attendees (give or take) requires at least two days.
- Events held toward the end of the week may attract attendees who want to extend their stay and sightsee over the weekend.
Tips for selecting a conference venue:
- If you are new to conference organizing, it is easier to select a banquet hall located in your city, as long as that city has a nearby airport and a variety of hotels.
- If you want to attract out-of-towners, hold your conference in a destination city that people want to visit.
- Find a venue with a central location that is easily accessible by public transportation and has plenty of available parking.
- Select a venue that fits your anticipated crowd size. You don’t want to try and cram too many people in a small room or have an intimate gathering in a cavernous hall.
- Make sure the venue can accommodate your needs regarding catering, AV equipment, space for entertainers, etc.
6. Book vendors.
Once you book the venue, it’s time to secure your vendors.
If you are feeding your attendees, what and when are you feeding them? Breakfast? Lunch? Snacks? Cocktail hour? Will it be a formal setting or a banquet setting? Also, remember that some of your attendees will have dietary restrictions. Make sure your caterer has options that accommodate vegetarian, nut-free, gluten-free, kosher and other meal preferences.
If you have difficulty finding a suitable caterer or another vendor, reach out to your contact at your venue. They have experience with various caterers and vendors and will recommend ones nearby with a track record of exceptional performance.
7. Secure speakers.
When the time comes to promote your conference, you’ll be happy you spent time researching and booking the best possible speakers. Not only does securing a well-known speaker drive attendance, but it also boosts the credibility of your conference. A high-quality speaker is often all it takes to motivate someone to purchase a ticket.
Now, “high quality” means different things to different people. For a major conference, it may take an ex-president or sports star to move the needle. However, for a smaller, niche conference, an industry influencer or notable thought leader can generate significant excitement.
8. Develop the conference schedule.
Now, it’s time to bring everything together and shape the agenda to create a conference. Remember that you want to craft your schedule to fit the needs of your attendees. What is the ideal number of sessions or speakers that will energize and motivate your attendees without exhausting them at the end of the day?
Along that same line of thought, what is the ideal length of a session or speech? Generally, breakout sessions and talks range between 20 to 40 minutes, while a featured keynote speaker may last up to an hour (however, this varies by industry and conference type). Also, do you want everyone to participate in each session or have several running simultaneously and have attendees register for their preferred topics?
Remember to schedule time between sessions so your attendees can process everything they just learned (and whatever else they need to do). Consider supplying some coffee and light snacks during these breaks.
9. Create the conference website
A digital presence is essential to promote your event successfully, and that begins with a professional website.
Hopefully, you can secure a domain with your conference’s name. If not, get one that fits your theme or is as close to the conference’s name as possible. Then, populate the website will all relevant data about your event, including:
- The essential details: where, when, who, what, why.
- Conference calendar.
- Event program / conference guides.
- Relevant marketing materials (continually populate as new material develops).
- Registration page (perhaps, the most important page).
Finally, make sure that your event website is SEO optimized. You can’t just cross your fingers and hope that someone searching the word “conference” will stumble on your event. You need to research relevant keywords and use tags and headers that include those words. Then, create a detailed event description (one or two paragraphs). Include your keywords and add links to other areas of your website, especially your registration page.
10. Promote your conference
The final step is to build buzz for your event.
To develop a marketing plan, you need to know your audience and how to communicate with them. For example, social media generates a great deal of the traffic to a conference’s registration page. So, do you know the platform(s) where your audience is most likely to be found? Facebook? LinkedIn? Twitter? TikTok? Discover how your audience likes to communicate and reach them on their preferred channels.
Since you will use it for every video, tweet and post, develop your hashtag early. It’s no good waiting until a couple of weeks before your event, too much valuable time has passed. Make sure your hashtag tells the story of your event and share it across all relevant channels. A memorable hashtag is a great way to generate buzz, boost engagement, and keep your event in the conversation.
Now that you know how to organize a conference event let us help you with one task. DFW Celebrations is the perfect venue for hosting major conference events. Our Dallas corporate event venue includes:
- A spacious prep kitchen with convenient pass-through windows.
- A bar with a commercial ice maker.
- Plenty of free parking.
- A projector and a giant video screen.
- Two charming fountains for selfies and professional photos.
- A large entertainment stage for a DJ, band, or panel discussion.
- Microphones and clear, balanced speakers.
- A large corner stage to highlight an honoree or special guest.
- Hologram and slide show projectors.
- A GOBO projector to highlight honorees.
- Several large restrooms with modern décor.
- Private dressing rooms to use as green rooms for speakers and special guests.
- Security personnel and security cameras.
- Numerous nearby name-brand hotels.
To schedule a tour of our well-appointed venue and banquet halls, please contact us here