So you’ve decided to organize a conference. Conference planning can be quite a task! You should start planning the conference at least three months prior to the date. (For larger conference, the planning might start a year in advance.) You’ll be keeping track of a lot of moving parts.
You must have a million questions on your mind. Where do you start? How do you find the right speakers to invite? Which venue will best suit your needs? Not to worry, Naterow Africa’s MICE Uganda team dives in to your rescue.
The truth is, even though organizing a conference is a demanding endeavor, you’re not the first one to face it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s all about following a few specific steps.
Our Mice Uganda team has prepared this top-level guide on conference planning tips. It’ll walk you through the main steps involved and link you over to valuable tools and articles that will make your job a lot easier. The steps aren’t strictly chronological—you may well start contacting potential speakers before you’ve secured a venue—but they give you a rough idea of what to focus on first.
Ready to start arranging that 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 event planning basics like who, what, when, where and why.
Unless your conference is being funded by a grant or organization, you are going to need to map out were the 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.
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.
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.
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 decisions.
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.
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.
Finally, after organizing and implementing the business elements of the conference, you can begin to think about the onsite details This includes how attendees will navigate the conference hall, 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 walk through 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.
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 of both time and resources, so make sure you are prepared to manage the needs of multiple vendors before you commit to this format.
here is an order of operations to event planning, so looking past the basics can cost you time and money. Marketing is the first one that comes to everyone’s mind, but transportation to and from the event, as well as emergency contingencies, make it an intensive—but rewarding—process. But before you begin choosing a venue or hiring a speaker you need to know the basic parameters of your event.
Everything revolves around the date of your special event. Ideally, you want to have three potential dates in mind so that you can compare availability and prices across the board. Try to include different days of the week for maximum flexibility. Asking promotors or event rental managers if they offer discounts for certain days or weeks of the year can often lead to increased savings.
Even a single hour difference can make an impact on your planning, so you need to get specific about your anticipated time frames. For example, starting at 10 am instead of 8 am means you may not need to allocate a breakfast budget. Overnight stays might affect payments, and while travel might sound like a romantic idea, sometimes the logistics are just not there.
It is one detail that is often too broadly estimated for productive negotiations. Get realistic with your attendance projection. Discuss in advance who you will invite and put your projections together on a spreadsheet. Attendance and budget are directly correlated, not approximated.
You may only need one banquet room if you are hosting a dinner, but a full-scale conference will likely require additional breakout rooms and exhibition space. Once again, you won’t be able to measure costs until you define how much space you need. For conferences, the best approach is to plan a mock itinerary in your very first meeting. Sharing ideas and piecing them together on paper will help steer you through the next planning decisions.
It might sound impractical to work on a budget before knowing the venue and catering costs, but working this way provides a benchmark for you to measure all of the vendor proposals. Begin with your revenue sources. How much should you charge for attendance? Will you call on sponsors to help offset costs? What will exhibitors pay to participate? Revenues will ultimately dictate your budget, so it only makes sense to protect them first.
After you have identified your revenue sources, the next step is to outline your marketing plan. What is the best way to reach and engage your revenue generators? Perhaps you have a list of potential attendees as an employer or membership association. That would obviously be helpful, but what about sponsors and exhibitors? If you are planning to attract more than 20 exhibitors, then you must be able to reach them.
Running a local conference typically eliminates any concerns about transportation. However, you still need to address lodging for speakers, exhibitors, and special guests. Some hotels provide discounts on meeting space if you book enough room nights. The only way to capitalize on this is by knowing your lodging needs in advance. Go back through your attendance data and project how many guests are from outside your area.
As you can see, the bones of event planning are not all glamorous. Spending the necessary time to solidify the basics ensures that when you finally do add some gloss, you won’t have to worry about blowing out your budget or other discretionary costs.
Following this roadmap will help guide you through steps in choosing the perfect event space.
When venue planning for an event, one of the most important pieces of information you must know is who your guests will be and how many you expect to attend. While the type of event will certainly inform the venue choice, one of the largest limiting factors for event space is its capacity. Be sure that the venue reflects not only the event itself but the guests’ tastes and expectations.
Check your calendar because timing will influence many decisions, including your venue of choice. After your guest list, the date of your event will be the next limiting factor. Depending on what type of event you are planning, you may find that you either have to be flexible with your event date to get the venue you want or you will have to be flexible with your venue choice in order to get the date you want. Here are some questions to consider:
With an open-ended budget, anyone can plan a great event and have an infinite selection of venue choices. We do always plan a great event within a reasonable budget.
Once the guest list numbers and possible event dates are narrowed, it’s important to identify the locations where the event could be held. Hotels and event or conference centers are some of the most popular event spaces for corporate events and wedding receptions, but they are not the only options. This is a time to be creative in your thinking. Consider the following:
The venue you choose must have an appropriate space for the type of event you are planning. Will your event require a dance floor? Will you need a PA system? What about a speaker’s podium or a projector screen? What sort of table setup do you need? In addition to considering these sorts of questions, here are some of the top venue planning questions to ask yourself:
In addition to finding the right type of event space, you will want to look into the types of other services offered by the venue and decide their value to your event. Some venues will also have a preferred vendor list from which you must work to find vendors or suppliers for other services. Other venues have restrictions on decor or other aspects of the event itself. Some questions to ask include:
A venue’s reputation for service is critical. This is often the difference between holding a good event and producing a great event. The way a venue manages its facilities, staff and clients will always be remembered. To get a sense for a venue’s reputation value, consider these questions: