Top tips for running a successful conference

Posted by Jo Kelly

Company conferences provide the ideal time to communicate your key businesses messages, be that internally to staff, promoting a co-ordinated approach and boosting team spirit, or externally to customers, to build relationships and carefully position your product or service.

Whatever your motivation may be, getting the execution right is imperative, so planning every last detail must be done with precision and a practised eye.

Preparation

  • The venue is a huge part of your conference and should reflect your brand and your company values in some way. Research is key, ensuring that you have options and are well-informed to make the decision.
    • If you have a theme, will your venue accommodate this?
    • Is it easy for delegates to find?
    • Is there parking or easy access by public transport?
    • Is accommodation available if required? Devise a list of questions that will lead you to your ideal venue.
  • Your budget should be agreed and firmly in place before planning begins, so that you can refer to it throughout and stay within its limits. Note every cost as it arises, so that each transaction is carefully recorded for reference.
  • Get planning. Everything from timings to suppliers, presentations to logistics, every element should be anticipated and accounted for in advance.
    • Build a timeline for the run-up to your event, as well as for the conference itself, so that you can cater for every eventuality.
    • Allocate responsibility, so that actions are shared and no one person ends up under pressure.
    • Make sure all those involved are copied in on everything, so that knowledge is shared and any issues are more likely to be noticed and flagged before the day.
  • Remain calm – conferences can be stressful! Your detailed and well thought out plan should get you through the day, and will allow you a reference point if challenges arise. Exuding calm will inspire confidence in your delegates. If any incidents arise, deal with them privately to prevent any effect on the event.

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Arrival

Advance booking

  • Communications should be sent prior to the event stating the benefits for attendees to encourage prompt registration. These could be flyers, direct mail or online, perhaps featuring a short clip to attract interest and explain the benefits in more detail.
  • Ensure the registration process is straightforward and fast to maximise the number of delegates signing up.
  • If costs are involved, stagger your pricing with a reduction for advance registration and state the deadline clearly on all communications. The more early bookings you can secure, the better.

On the day

  • Make the onsite registration process quick, easy and seamless, as first impressions can make a big impact.
  • For an optimum onsite registration,:
    • make sure your reception area is spacious in case crowds accumulate;
    • provide plenty of well-informed staff to assist visitors;
    • direct delegates into designated areas according to their roles to keep them moving and facilitate networking opportunities;
    • be sure to place relevant signage in prominent positions.

Timetable

  • Your conference should be organised to provide broad and varied points of interest for delegates. Items should range from education to entertainment, presentations to relaxation points. Offering visitors the chance to sign up for particular activities will help them to personalise their day and feel that their time has been well-spent.
  • Ensure entertainment and activities are targeted for your audience, so that they find it relevant and informative. Keep their interests and needs front of mind during the planning stage and incorporate research and feedback to help you pitch it at the right level.
  • Use industry experts as keynote speakers and reference up-to-date stats and research material to keep it current.

Remember your key messages; your whole event should revolve around your company branding and what you want to communicate. Ensure your speakers stay relevant and are briefed on your messaging, so their presentations complement your brand and help to bring it to life.

See our other conference tips

Networking

  • Allow time out for your delegates to mingle and relax. Providing a chance for them to socialise with peers is important, so they have a chance to compare notes and discuss what they have seen. For large organisations with teams spread across disparate locations, this can be an ideal opportunity to network and catch up.
  • Make sure your schedule provides delegates with some free time to host dinners or drinks at local venues. This allows them to perhaps invite customers or peers to foster relationships outside of the structured conference format.
  • Consider booking a well-known venue one evening (budget permitting) for delegates to enjoy as a destination beyond the conference centre and a bland hotel room.
  • Make sure your brand messaging stands out clearly at entrances and in reception areas. This is particularly important at large venues, to make it known that you ‘own’ the event. You could use clever lighting to draw attention to certain areas and use music or entertainment to create atmosphere and make your delegates feel involved.

Final advice

  • Promote your event in the run-up and during through social media, which can generate enormous interest and enable delegates to share their own interactions and observations too. It also allows you to respond to comments in real time, maximising the visitor experience.
  • Follow your event with a feedback form or even a focus group, to collate the response to your event. It’s always useful to know what was popular and what shouldn’t be repeated for future planning.
  • Plan and prepare. Meticulous preparation will help your conference to run smoothly from start to finish.

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