HOW TO PLAN A CONFERENCE
Whether you are looking to host a corporate retreat, an annual sales meeting, or an education seminar, the number of details you will have to coordinate is enough to overwhelm anyone. That’s why it is important to have a clear picture upfront of all of your needs and expectations, so that you can successfully execute the conference and come away with an effective and rewarding event. Here at SweetPea™ Meetings & Events, we know what is needed and how to get started in the process. We’ve put together this conference-planning guide to help you plan a conference from start to finish.
There can be giant hurdles in the initial planning phase of any conference that become important to overcome in order to start on the road to success. To begin, it is important to begin planning as soon as possible and as far in advance for your event. It is not uncommon to plan and book out 2-3 years in advance for a conference, ensuring space available at the perfect venue.
1. SET OVERARCHING GOALS
- What is the purpose of your conference?
- What do you hope to accomplish?
- What do you hope attendees will gain from their participation?
- Why are you hosting the conference in the first place?
- How many people are you hoping will attend?
- What is your budget for the event with estimated revenue?
- Where do you want to host the event?
- Where are your attendees travelling from? Do you want to be close to them? Choose something central?
- Any other location specific activities you want to offer to attendees? Golf? Beach?
- When is the best time to host the event? Consider:
- Weather – Phoenix in August isn’t too fun for attendees, neither is Minneapolis in January.
- Holidays – Avoid holiday weekends
- Conflicts – Any competitor hosting a conference the same weekend? Are your speakers available?
- Budget – If you have a higher budget, consider a location attendees really would enjoy. On the other hand, if you need to save money, consider an off-season location.
- Are your dates flexible or predetermined?
- What is your conference pattern? Tuesday-Thursday? Friday-Saturday?, etc…
These questions are the beginning to helping you understand the full needs of your conference. Setting manageable overarching goals will help when you need to go into detail with the specific conference needs. If your conference purpose is just for publicity and to build morale, you will have different goals than if you are putting on the conference in order to make sales or gain future clients. Making sure that your conference goals are clear will help your entire team understand more easily how to execute the different aspects of the event, and will determine on which areas you need to spend the most time focusing. Answering these questions will also help you move to the next step in your conference planning process: Determine the Appropriate Venue.
2. DETERMINE APPROPRIATE VENUE
Now that you have a more clearly defined purpose, budget, dates, and estimated attendance for your event, you will be able to choose a location more easily. These questions will help narrow down the type of hotel and venue needed to host the event.
- Do you need space for breakout sessions, or will you only have keynote speakers?
- Do you need smaller conference rooms for mini-meetings or follow-up sessions?
- What do you plan to do for meals?
- Will you expect attendees to eat on the hotel premises, leave the hotel and go to local restaurants, or have a sit down dinner at your event?
- Do you plan to have any receptions for attendees?
- What are your audio-visual needs for the event?
- Will you need a stage, microphones, video and audio capabilities? Will music be played?
- Any side events or outings you want to offer to attendees? Ie… golf outing
- What star level of hotel are you looking for? Attendees expecting? 3 star, 4 star, 5 star?
Once you have answered these questions, it is recommended you discuss the details with your conference planner and they will help you determine site needs, number of room nights (room block commitment), and make suggestions on location. After finalized, they will reach out to multiple hotels to determine availability, rates, and negotiate with the hotel on concessions for your conference. SweetPea™ offers this site selection and contracting as a FREE service and has years of experience handling the often complex contractual negotiations. In addition, SweetPea™ has strong relationships with many venues, allowing for maximum concessions and favorable rates. In addition, the planner will discuss guest rooms, conference rooms, audio-visual needs, chairs, equipment, food & beverage, and all concessions (freebies). SweetPea™ can handle all of this for you so that you stay out of the negotiation phase but stay within your budget.
Remembering all of the necessary details can be difficult and costly if you are not experienced in planning. That’s why SweetPea™ focuses on understanding the ins and outs of your conference and communicating those effectively with the hotel of your choice. The contract process often takes time working back and forth with the venue on the fine print and details, ensuring a favorable contract for the client.
Once your hotel contract is signed, now comes the fun part, reaching out to potential attendees.
Continued in PART TWO