What makes a conference successful? Careful planning and preparation. If you acknowledge that you are already ahead of the majority of event organizers.
I remember my first big conference – there was a ton of planning and research involved, we thought we had mapped out everything that could happen. It was a disaster! I had to actually host two of the attendees in my own home because it turned out that there weren’t enough available rooms in the hotel. It turned out that conference planning is useless if it isn’t the right planning.
That was a long time ago and now I know that there is much more to planning than choosing the right date and time. But hey, if you are here, you already know that. So let’s dig deeper into the most important factors.
Conference Planning Success Factors
It’s important to understand that before you start planning the actual event, you need to have a clear goal, engaging speakers and a key takeaway for participants. Without those basic ingredients you aren’t ready to start planning just yet.
The location you choose is key to successful conference planning. Not only from a budgeting perspective but from a practical one. Your location needs to fit the following criteria:
- Suitable for the target group of the conference
- Large (or small) enough
- Experienced in hosting similar events
- Health and safety regulations
- Transportation convenience
- Serving your conference goals (think workshops vs. seminar)
If the location is wrong for the event, participants will feel uncomfortable and distracted. People can’t concentrate on content unless they feel they’re in the right place.
Pro Tip: Make sure that the location of your conference helps people feel “Yes, this must be the right place” when they’re looking for the venue.
If you don’t want to host participants and speakers in your own home, you’d better make sure that the availability of accommodations is sufficient. Or even better – that there will be an excess of it. It is also wise to offer different types of accommodations to meet the needs of various participants.
It all goes back to who your participants and speakers are – business people, professionals, journalists, or someone completely different? Can they afford it? Will you pay for it? The character and features of participants should determine the type and variety of accommodation.
BUT… How do you find out where they want to stay early in the conference planning process? Simple… ask them!If you have a database of possible participants or confirmed speakers, run a short survey and find out their preferences. If you don’t, just do a quick research on similar events – what accommodation has been offered?
Pro Tip: Utilize quick & simple surveys with your ideal attendees. Gather data on the types of events that would WANT to attend, and where they would WANT to stay. You can’t go wrong with that data!
While participants are mostly responsible for arranging their own transportation, you can impress everyone by going a step further by taking care of transportation for them.
It’s perfectly okay if you choose a distant hotel out of town in the midst of beautiful natural landscape, but don’t forget people need to be able to access the location, and get back home again easily.
When you evaluate the cost of a venue, consider the cost of transportation that you might need to provide. It might turn out that a conference hall in the city center is a much better investment when you take accessibility into account.
Pro Tip: Make sure you’re always thinking about simplicity in each decision you make, including transportation and accessibility. The “cool factor” is lost on attendees if everything is difficult.
We live in a world where instant communication is the rule – with platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and email at our fingertips you must always be thinking about how any conference planning task will affect communications.
Outside of just access and the ability to communicate, don’t forget to think about the cultural and language differences of your attendees! Odds are, in this ever-changing and increasingly global age your attendees will have at least 2-3 or more languages that you will need to communicate in.
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Pro Tip: Engage and communicate with a language consultant early on in the conference planning process. Their insight into cultural needs may help influence better decisions throughout your planning.
One of the worst and most embarrassing things that can happen at your conference is that the technology doesn’t work properly. It looks unprofessional and it makes your speakers uncomfortable.
Worst of all, you lose the attention of attendees.
People have a very short attention span. The average adult attention span has plummeted from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes now. [Fortune] If your technology isn’t working right and you need to adjust microphones, slides, plug and unplug projectors, you’ve lost the audience.
Making sure that you have technology alternatives ready and waiting. A glitch can occur at any time, and being prepared is key to successfully overcoming these challenges. An example might be having two or three microphones available, or making printed versions of the presentation slides available to all participants so that even if something goes wrong the show can still go on.
Pro Tip: Plan for alternatives to technology because even if you make sure everything works minutes before you start, technology can fail you at any time.
Conference planning is a must for a successful event. The biggest takeaway from this article is that you need to start planning with the participants in mind – who they are and what their needs will be. In addition, having contingency plans for each and every aspect of your conference is a good idea.
Failing to plan is planning to fail.