SWEETPEA™ MEETINGS BLOG
News and Helpful Information for Planning Events
Conference planners are always searching for conference ideas to make their events more memorable for attendees. They want to create occasions that are engaging for attendees, but often struggle to find great ideas or don’t want to take a risk and try something new. Since every attendee is different, planners have the difficult job of appealing to many types of people. The following are a few ideas SweetPea™ has found to be very successful for conference planners wanting to add fresh new experiences:
An effective way to start your conference off with a bang is by holding a reception on the first night. This could be as simple as a cocktail reception, or as involved as a full dinner reception. A reception provides networking opportunities and a chance for attendees to interact in a casual environment. It will also set a positive tone and break the ice for the rest of the conference. Additionally, many hotels will waive your meeting’s room rental if you reach a food and beverage minimum and a reception is one way help hit those F&B minimums. A reception provides the perfect setting to introduce attendees to each other, and to the conference as a whole.
Not every presenter is great at standing in front of an audience and speaking, and not every attendee effectively responds to this method. One way to navigate this issue is by changing the way speakers deliver their message. Panel discussions are a great way to shake up how information is relayed. This type of presentation allows for higher attendee engagement as they are learning from more than one expert as well as asking questions and getting immediate, educated answers from the panel members.
QUESTION & ANSWER SESSIONS:
You can be sure that throughout your conference, attendees will have questions during speaker’s presentations. By allotting time for a Q&A session, attendees have the opportunity have their questions answered in a setting that is casual and comfortable. One way to make these sessions efficient is by providing a cell phone number that attendees can text their questions to, or a Q&A drop box at a location in the room. This method allows for timid attendees to ask their questions that they may not feel comfortable doing otherwise.
Another crucial method to ensure attendees are fully engaged at your conference is by making them feel comfortable and at-home during down time. This can be achieved by delegating common areas that offer lounge furniture, charging stations, and coffee stations among other homey aspects. With these stations, attendees won’t feel the need to return to their hotel room between sessions, but instead stay and engage with others. The conference space should be a place that attendees want to be in and ensuring a comfortable environment will increase attendee satisfaction and networking.
One way to up your conference ante is by allowing attendees to interact with each other by comparing opinions through a crowd poll. With today’s technology, facilitating a poll is an easy way to get attendees to engage with presenters and other attendees alike. Consider using an app, like Poll Everywhere to make this process easy. Polling will help attendees feel that they are not only sitting in the audience, but a significant part of the conference experience.
The focus of any conference should be on the attendee, their enjoyment and learning, and a satisfied attendee is crucial to developing a profitable and successful conference for years to come. SweetPea™ loves helping clients plan great events, and incorporating any of the above should increase overall satisfaction, leaving attendees feeling glad that they came and excited to return next year. If you do end up using any of these in your event, we would love to hear how they turned out. Though, we are confident they will be successful!
HOW TO PLAN A CONFERENCE
Continued from Part One HERE
3. PUBLICIZE AND COMMUNICATE WITH POTENTIAL ATTENDEES
What good is all this planning if no one attends your event? Once the venue is secured, now is the time to start all the specific planning of the schedule as well as to begin to publicize the event. Secure your speakers and presenters, and create your publicity strategy for the coming months. Create an event website with integrated registration & payments, making it easy to find out information about the event, register, and pay for their tickets. You want to offer as many different opportunities for people to hear about your conference as possible, so send out press releases to relevant media outlets or to publications specific to your industry or niche. Seek out websites that might be interested in doing an interview with someone on your team to learn more about the conference. Make sure your speakers have all of the information necessary for them to be able to promote the conference to their audiences as well. Utilize social media, podcasts, blog posts, and email newsletters to get the word out about the event and encourage people to sign up. Set up automatic responses in your email responder so that registrants get immediate confirmation and information when they complete the registration process online.
You will also need to coordinate printing materials at this point, and that includes banners, flyers, schedules, folders, name badges, brochures, or branded gifts that you would like to include for attendees of the conference. Depending on your hotel and restaurant decisions, you may want to offer a way for your guests to inform you of any special dietary restrictions or needs or special accommodations that need to be made for them. You will also need to plan for special transportation (shuttles to and from the airport, etc.) that you may need for attendees or your speakers and presenters.
4. FINALIZE DETAILS WITH THE HOTEL/VENUE
About one month before your event, you will need to work with either your event planner or with your hotel/venue to finalize the details of your event. This means you will need to finalize all of your event needs, menu needs, number of hotel rooms reserved, AV equipment needs, number of meals needed, etc. Now is the time when having an event planner can be especially helpful—as you are continuing to handle your publicity and answer attendee questions, your event planner can work directly with the hotel on your behalf to confirm and coordinate all of the nitty-gritty details that must be discussed. This time-consuming process also requires that you know exactly what to ask the hotel for and that you are prepared for every eventual possibility. Having a certified meeting planner like SweetPea™ assist you at this stage of the game can truly transform the process and reduce stress on your team as they know that the conference needs will be exactly accommodated.
5. GET READY TO ROLL
The last week before a conference is always full and can be a bit stressful. It’s important to double check your needs again and to confirm that everything you need will be completely taken care of. The last thing you want is for your speaker to arrive hoping to give a PowerPoint presentation only to learn that there is no overhead projector in the room that they are speaking in. And you would hate for the five vegetarians on your list to be overlooked and served pork for dinner. These types of things are the minutiea that a meeting planner will review over and over again with your hotel contact person to ensure that every detail is in order. That way you can spend your time compiling your registration packets, getting nametags in the right folders, and making sure that you have your introductions written for each of your speakers. Review your attendee list and highlight those people you want to be sure to connect with during the conference. Review your meeting goals with your team and discuss strategies for achieving those goals during the conference. Review your own presentations if necessary, and continue with your press releases and social media strategy so that you are getting the most publicity possible from this event.
6. JUST DO IT
Now is the time to shine. Thanks to the detailed planning over the past six months to a year, you can walk into your conference this week knowing that it will be a success. You don’t have to worry about any of the details because you are secure in knowing that they are taken care of—and if any challenges do arise, this is another opportunity for your meeting planner to show their stuff. If SweetPea™ is your coordinator, we will have regular access to hotel staff to ensure that everything runs smoothly. We can make certain that your agenda is perfectly executed, as well as coordinate transportation and registration, amongst all other day-of necessities. SweetPea™ can add additional comfort to you and your conference by handling any and all issues that may arise.
7. ENJOY THE RESULTS
Now that your conference is complete, you can look back over the week with gratitude for the many things that were learned, the connections made, the positive publicity your company or organization received, and the incredible feedback gained from your colleagues and attendees. Thumbs up for a job well done!
As you can see from this list, conferences can be difficult to plan. Planning requires a good amount of lead time to get everything organized. It is very important to have experience working with hotels and to have excellent negotiation skills to be able to secure good contracts with hotels and to achieve everything desired within budget. Your team also must show a high attention to detail in order to ensure that nothing is forgotten throughout the process. In the midst of all you have to do to plan a conference, connecting with a meeting planner is an excellent way to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. SweetPea™ Meetings offers strategy, site selection, negotiation and contracting to help you in this process. Site selection and hotel contracting is even free of cost—you don’t pay us for our time. Other services we offer are: agenda planning, transportation logistics, full on-site event staffing and website design.
Having a qualified and experienced meeting planner on your team gives you the support system you need from the get-go to make your conference a success.
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