Conference planning involves a lot of detail. An event planning committee shares responsibility for the program, fiscal management, facilities, and more. A successful organizational meeting can advance your career, but getting there can be a long trip. All sorts of organizations plan meetings of various sizes, but the steps to make it happen are about the same:
Know what your organization — which usually means the board of directors — wants. It will save time and energy if you take time at the beginning to set a theme, the location (or at least the city), and maybe even the “headliners.” Be sure everyone is “on board” to avoid troubles later.
Gather a committee.
Yes, “a camel is an animal created by a committee,” but don’t do this alone. Find people with specific skills: budgeting, program planning, networking, publicity, marketing, and more. A meticulous and tireless registrar will make a big difference. Good collaborators are essential.
Set a date.
Give yourself at least a year — two are better. If you’ve been appointed at this year’s conference, start to work on the next one right away, even if you have three years to go.
Set a budget.
Estimate your expenses and what it will cost people to attend. Wishful thinking isn’t helpful; this will take research.
Remember expenses such as travel for speakers, gifts for volunteers, notepads, and pens. Seek donors for specific items.
You need to know what the venue will provide and for how much money. So, do two things at once and complete Step 5.
Select a location.
Check out conference centers and hotels (a.k.a. venues). Compare rates and what services are included. This is where the details really matter.
Think of everything you will need. Keep adding to the list. Remember things like Internet access, sound systems, tables and chairs, coffee, and snacks. Remember everything.
Hotels and centers charge by the number of rooms you use and meals you serve. Estimate attendance numbers carefully.
How many free lodging rooms will the hotel include for speakers and board members?
What are food costs? The fewer choices you offer attendees for meals, the more money you can save. The venue’s managers for conferences, facilities, and catering can advise you. Use them.
What technology services will the facility provide? You may have to hire a tech trouble shooter for the inevitable computer and projector glitches.
Check with other conference planners for reviews of your possible venues.
Engage your major speakers or presenters.
The board may have someone in mind, but keep your options open. The Internet can help you find speakers and their agents. Read proposed agreements carefully. What does the speaker require? Will they mingle with the crowd or dash in, talk, and disappear?
Publicize the event.
Use everything you can: e-mail, social media, postal mail — all of it. Keep marketing — send out bulletins when a speaker is signed. (But not before you have a signed contract!)
Set up registration and keep track of registration numbers
There are companies that will provide online registration services or you can do it “on your own”. Be sure deadlines are realistic and that you have a system in place to collect payments.
Communicate with your venue contacts to adjust room usage and services at the venue if it looks like you’ll have a bigger crowd — or a smaller one — than you estimated.
Plan carefully and expect changes just about hourly.
Good communication with the venue representative and facilities manager will help you adjust to changes while the conference is happening.
Wander around the conference so that you know what’s happening.
Meet daily with the committee to be sure their areas are working. Reward them. And enjoy yourself.