#1 Stay Focused
Probably the #1 thing to start from when jumping into conference planning is to identify the target audience and the event theme and the overarching message of the event. Who is this conference designed to speak to and attract? This will determine how you market to them and keep them engaged once they are onsite. What is the overarching message of the event or said another way – what makes your conference relevant? This will help to determine the most appropriate speakers and presenters.
In the world of business and incentive travel IMEX does this very well. Their focus from day one has been on industry progression, via highlighting innovation, educational programming and cultivating personal connections. This has resulted in consistently bringing together over 10,000 attendees that represent a solid mix of buyers and exhibitors, and has become known collectively as THE trade show for meeting and event planner professionals.
#2 Design the Experience
Once targets have been defined, the task now is to backfill with relevant content. This comes in the form of top-quality speakers, dynamic presentations, opportunities for networking and creating connections, social events, entertainment, interactive event mediums, and the list goes on. Basically, what is the attendee experience going to be from registration to the closing session? What can they expect to learn, how do they engage with the content, what should they plan for, and what can they look forward to? Defining, fine-tuning, and then messaging all of these things is what drives interest to sign up and attend, satisfaction once on site, and loyalty year after year.
A great example of the power of this approach is hands down SXSW, which started as, and continues to be, the industry standard in what’s new and trendy in the music world. But SXSW continues to grow and remains a mainstay because of the programming and user experience. SXSW has grown to highlight so much more than just music, featuring 11 keynotes and over 2,800 presentations across the business, advocacy, of course, entertainment, absolutely everything tech, and as many attendees describe it, “Networking Gold!”
#3 Make Sure You Deliver
Ok, so you’re feeling good that you’ve got your conference all mapped out, but the real work begins once the event starts. It’s one thing to advertise an amazing experience, it’s an entirely different thing to bring that to life. And it may go without saying that if you don’t execute well, consider your event DOA, but we’ll say it anyway – you better deliver!! Our focus here starts, again, from the experience, and starts as well from your website and event platform. Is the website easy to navigate and informative? Are there opportunities to interact ahead of time by checking programming calendars, pre-registering for events, watching pre-recorded videos, reaching out to other attendees, etc?
Once an attendee is onsite, is the check-in process simple and smooth, and is the venue (whether in person or virtual) easy to navigate? Are the keynotes, presentations, and breakouts all produced at a top-tier quality with no glitches, including no delays in scheduled events or wi-fi outages? And while this may sound like a lot of responsibility, we are here to say – You’re Right, It Is. Attendees simply expect things to go smoothly, so when it does, and things go smoothly, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear much from your attendees. You may have to do a little data gathering to capture the feedback of your success and don’t hesitate to do so. That feedback is gold and can help you market your event for the next year!
#4 Choose Your Medium
Pre-covid this wouldn’t have made sense or been a consideration. But post-covid, event professionals now have options for hosting their next conference either in-person which is now referred to as F2F (face-to-face), virtual or hybrid as a blended event. Technology has developed quickly over the last 2 years, and accessibility has skyrocketed. Hosting a virtual or blended event is easier, cheaper, and more dynamic than ever. But is it right for you and your event? Every event and every conference is different, even from year to year, so really making sure to evaluate and make an informed decision will be key. And while we can’t tell you which may be right for you and your organization without learning about your event, what we can say is that all three are good options. In fact, the virtual/blended trend has been so effective, that many organizations are ONLY moving forward with blended for the near future. Cvent CONNECT provides a great example of the value of being open-minded. It is good to be aware that their 2019 in-person event had ~4,500 attendees, and their all-virtual event the next year had ~40,000 registrants. And while there is no replacement for the face to face interaction, virtual inclusions have proven to be extremely effective, valuable, and widely accepted.
#5 Hire a Pro!
Sure, we do this every day, so we make it sound so simple. That experience is worth its weight in gold if you’re not feeling comfortable with some element of planning. It’s why the profession of ‘event planner’ exists. This stuff isn’t always easy, and it’s not always fun, and can get out of hand quickly if you don’t see it coming. Having a steady hand and a seasoned pro by your side helping to execute your conference plan, not only saves you stress, but also time and money. Hiring a planner will help ensure things go smoothly before, during, and after an event, and also allows for you to sit back, watch your plans unfold perfectly the way they should, and gives you an opportunity to enjoy your own event, instead of running around all day keeping things moving.
That’s what we are here for!