Millions of conferences are organized and run every day around a world. I’ve been to a couple of them already, both on the attendee side and on organizing committees.I personally believe that to make a conference great you need to worry about the overall experience of the people involved, from the first moment they hear about the conference until they make a positive reference to a friend months after the event.
To make that happen the organizers need to go over logistics, sponsors, inviting speakers, etc. and make everything happen months before the conference date because they will need time to advertise and promote the event to gather as much attendees as possible.
A big part of any conference is of course the website, where people will refer to access any information they need. And in many cases this information will ultimately determine if they will be buying a ticket.
When it comes to considering the challenges and expenses related to creating, updating and maintaining a conference website people normally opt for hiring a design consultancy firm or a freelancer to outsource the job.
Sometimes you may have a big budget but most often you’ll likely be faced with the challenge of reducing cost, either because the event is not-for-profit, low profile or has little resources. I always advocate the use of a Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress to make a dynamic website that allow the content to be easily managed on-line, in real time, through an online interface text editor. But even with WordPress, one of the challenges you will face is what theme to use that suits the conference.
WordPress has two default types of information: posts and pages. This means for example that if you want to display the speakers on two different pages (say the homepage and one specific speakers page) you will have to copy-paste the content yourself which is very inefficient. By using a theme dedicated for conferences websites you’ll have features tailored for conference organizers.
This will greatly improve the ability to manage content and soon you’ll noticed you’ll have more than a website - but rather the entire conference information in one tidy place (speakers, sponsors, talk sessions, etc.). At that point you can use page templates to format and display this information to attendees and everything becomes a lot easier.
An important feature for any conference website is the payment and registration integration. There are a number of platforms already available for this purpose and integrating with them is likely to be the best option. The bigger platforms are Eventbrite or Amiando and I’ve used both in the past with no hiccups. With Eventbrite you have the option to accept both PayPal and standard credit card processing.
A recent experiment of mine is the WordPress Conference Theme that comes with everything one needs for an event or conference right out of the box. There are no other solutions as complete as this offered in the WordPress community.
The biggest advantage for me in using this theme is to have all your conference information packed in one place. Besides displaying it all on the website, you can also integrate the mobile app so that your visitors can browse the information no matter where they are.Regardless of what theme you use I want to leave you 3 tips to highly increase the success of your conference website:
1. Run Split Testing
With the need of having more people registering for the conference we tend to start thinking about what to do. We start asking what options we have and thinking about the profit potential. And then the site launches and nothing happens. A better approach is to test different options within the website content and layout to measure which performs better. Remember, what can be measured can be improved. With Google Analytics Content Experiments and WordPress this is very easy to do. You can generate two different homepage layouts and test which one performs better.
2. Learn to Say No
Probably the hardest skill you’ll need to master is saying “No”. You have the right of saying No without providing any justification to the other person. If you feel a certain speaker won’t be adding value to the conference, or if a particular sponsor wants to control the show then simply say no. This single insight is difficult to master by most of us. We struggle with being defiant, offering excuses and perhaps even lying to ourselves because we are afraid of damaging relationships with people. Don’t give in to a making an excuse for your decisions. You’ll soon notice it is a lot easier to state your answer.
3. Have a FAQ Section
Create template answers to common questions about your conference. Keep them on all on the same page if possible so you can direct most of your inquiries to the same place. Some of things you should consider including are directions, accommodation options, related websites, and links to other important pages on your own site.
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About Nuno Morgadinho
Nuno is a Code Poet from Lisbon and co-founder of WidgiLabs, a development and consultancy shop focused on WordPress, creators of the WP Conference Theme. Passionate about using technology to make cool stuff and "beautiful software" like WordPress. Tweets as @morgadin.