If you’ve been tasked with organising a conference, then some considerable conference planning lies ahead. It’s not easy getting it all together and making sure everyone turns up – at the right place and time.
Fortunately here at Venue Finder Pro we know a thing or two about organising conferences, and we’re more than willing to share some of that wisdom with you!
While we’d never say that conference planning is easy, it’s a lot simpler when you know which steps to take. Hence this planning 101. Here we’ve covered all you need to know when you’re trying to plan the perfect conference – whether it’s for 500 people, 500 or 5,000.
Use this as your conference event planner and we can guarantee success. Well not quite, but barring a major disaster on the day (and really, the odds are miniscule) you should be all set for a conference to remember. For all the right reasons, of course!
A step-by-step conference planning guide
One year to 9 months before (or more) – working it all out
Work out what you want to achieve
With so much work involved in conference event management, you need to get a headstart wherever you can. The first stage in this is working out what you want to achieve by holding a conference.
A company conference may be used for networking. If it’s a retail chain, for example, then this is a chance for each branch manager to meet others doing the same job, in different locations. Networking in this way can help with support and the sharing of knowledge and tips.
A corporate conference is also a chance to look forwards. Everyone can draw a line under the year between the last get-together and this one, and set out their individual and collective goals for the coming year.
Work out what you can spend
Now you know what you want to achieve, the next step for the convention planner is to set a budget. It’s important to do this now, before you think about themes, venues, formats and locations – because how far the purse strings will stretch may well affect those factors.
The money will mostly be swallowed up by the venue, but there may be other costs too. If you haven’t planned a conference before, it’s useful to know what most hotels and conference centres charge per delegate. This means you can calculate a maximum price to pay per head when you have some idea of how many attendees there will be.
Don’t forget to budget for extras such as printed materials, meals, accommodation, travel costs, marketing, software and speaker fees. Always allow some extra too, as in our experience unexpected costs always seem to pop up at some point!
Also remember – the longer the conference lasts for, the more it’s going to cost. Especially when you have delegates to keep fed and entertained for days on end.
Think about branding, formats and themes
Now you know how much you can spend and where you’re headed, you can work out what sort of theme, format and branding will fit the bill. How will the day – or days – of the conference reflect where you’re going as an organisation?
The options regarding format include keynote and motivational speakers, speed networking, a trade show set up and discussion sessions, seminars or workshops.
Try to mix things up a bit if you can. The most boring conferences we’ve seen are just more of the same all day long, or even day after day. And no one wants their conference to be remembered as the most yawn-inducing ever.
6 to 9 months+ before (or more) – choosing where, when and who
Choose a location
Once you know how much you’ve got to spend, the type of conference you want and what you’d like the outcome to be, it’s time to get serious. Where to hold the conference may be obvious, if, for example, all employees work at the same premises. That’s simple, as somewhere close to there makes complete sense.
If you have delegates who are based all over the UK, though, then you need to reach some sort of compromise. Which destinations could all attendees reach without too much travel time, or stress?
London, for example, is the obvious choice. It can also be ideal, as there are so many venues and so much in the way of public transport. The disadvantages, though, involve driving and parking – a nightmare – and the price.
You’re likely to pay more per head in London than anywhere else. However if it’s cheap to travel to and convenient, it may be worth it. This also applies, of course, if many delegates are already London-based.
Don’t forget that if the location is difficult or time-consuming to get to, you may find that lots of attendees suddenly develop a mysterious illness on the morning of the first day – or even the night before. What are the chances?
Making your conference easy to reach can have a huge effect on who will agree to attend. Including, perhaps, speakers or other special guests.
Choose a date
When will the conference be? Some flexibility regarding dates will make the next stage of the process much simpler, but that’s not always possible.
It may seem obvious, but do avoid peak trading times, year end, or any time that puts extra pressure on the organisation. It’s not the best time for all your key players to be out of the office!
Depending on the location, weather could also be a factor in winter. So maybe think about whether that castle in the Scottish Highlands is really the right place to go for if you’re hosting a winter event!
Choose a venue
This can be the trickiest part of all. If you need a venue in London for 250 employees, for example, and you want a certain kind of image, theme and format, where do you start? It can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Enter the professional venue finder. They can draw you up a shortlist in minutes, as they know which places can tick all your boxes as soon as they see your brief. Perhaps surprisingly, venue finders in London and the rest of the UK don’t charge for their services, so you have nothing to lose by getting one involved.
If anything, it’s going to save you tons of legwork. Why sift through thousands of potential places when you don’t have to?
Once you’ve chosen a venue, date and theme, don’t forget to book speakers, order any materials and equipment and promote your event to all attendees. Sending regular reminders is always a good idea too, especially during the final countdown.
Find out more about how to choose a venue