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Step-by-Step Conference Planning Guide

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Group of executives listening to man leading seminar in auditorium
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Organizing a conference from the ground up requires a tremendous amount of forethought and data gathering. The entire process can take a couple years depending on the size of the group, but it is conceivable to launch a successful conference in a single year if you can make swift decisions.

The reality of planning a conference is that, without any experience, you can lose a lot of time over-thinking each little detail while overlooking more important issues. To make the process simpler for first-timers, I have outlined the most important steps while providing you links to our more detailed walkthroughs on each particular subject. The result here is a conference planning guide that will help you begin with a solid template in place.

Step 1: Craft a Vision of Your Conference
Every event begins with a vision, but you’ll need to transform your vision into words and numbers in order to measure costs and make informed planning decisions. First, you need to start with the basics like who, what, when, where and why.

Read More: Event Planning 101: Drafting Essential Details

Step 2: Creating a Business Plan
Unless your conference is being funded by a grant or organization, you are going to need to map out where your money is coming from and what it is being used for. The first part of this equation, the revenue, should be calculated early in the planning process.

Read More: Choosing the Right Conference Pricing Strategy

Now, in order to put a price on a conference you need to have an idea of what you plan to offer attendees. Your itinerary and speaker lineup will be the selling factor for potential registrants.

Read More: Conference Content that Attracts More Attendees

Step 3: Comparing Venues and Services
After you have a more specific idea about when your conference will take place and how many people you want to attend, you can then begin to shop for an appropriate venue. Keep in mind that your venue selection will also determine your catering and audio/visual costs. This is because most conference centers and event hotels require you to use their in-house services for any on-site events.

Read More: How to Evaluate Each Venue

Read More: 10 Tips for Hiring a Caterer

Read More: A Cost Controlling Approach to Audio/Visual

Most conferences will need to provide some sort of overnight accommodations for guests traveling from outside the region. This necessity creates another set of considerations to factor into your venue decision.

Read More: How to Choose a Partner Hotel for Your Event

Step 4: Recruiting and Managing Registrants
Even the most popular conferences must effectively market their event to fill every seat in the house. Attendance is the single most important factor to the success of your event. Good attendance numbers bring revenue and sponsorship opportunities. And the more people you have registered will create more demand for advertising and participation openings. Long story short, if you can draw a crowd then everything else will fall into place much easier.

Read More: 6 Low Cost Ways to Market Your Conference Online

Managing registration becomes more difficult as your event grows in size. This is where an online registration system can help you track number, process payments, and organize data.

Read More: Online Event Registration Solutions Reviewed

Step 5: Planning On-Site Details
Finally, after organizing and implementing the business elements of the conference, you can begin to think about the on-site details. This includes how attendees will navigate the conference, the general layout of each room, and the distribution of food and beverage. This is the part of planning a conference that most people associate with event planning. The best way to coordinate all of the details is to walkthrough your itinerary as your guests would. Picture how they will think and act at each point in the day to solve problems before they arise.

Read More: Popular Meeting Space Floor Plans

Read More: Ideas for an Effective Registration Table

Read More: Signage Strategies to Manage Conference Flow

Read More: Coordinating Event Shuttle Transportation

Read More: Managing Last Minute Food Requests

Step 6: Exhibition Management Tips
Conferences typically feature an exhibition area or convention floor where sponsors and vendors rent space to promote their products. This can be a very lucrative opportunity for your conference if you organize everything well. Keep in mind though that an exhibition area will require a significant commitment in both time and resources, so make sure you are prepared to manage the needs of multiple vendors before you commit to this format.

Read More: How to Manage Exhibitor Needs

Read More: Revenues and Expenses in the Trade Show Business Model

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