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How to organize a conference – The 10 steps

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Organizing a conference is not the easiest task.  It requires months of planning, strict attention to detail and the ability to foresee disastrous events before they happen.  However, the organization process can be a lot less intimidating if you follow some simple, yet effective steps.  Below you’ll find a helpful 10 item check list will help show you how to organize a conference.

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Step 1 – Gauge demand

Spending the time, energy and money organizing a conference is worthless unless you can assure people will sign up.  Whatever niche you’re planning to organize a conference within, make sure there is sufficient demand.  An easy way to see how many people out there are looking for an event like yours is to tap into the statistics behind Google’s search history.  For instance, if you’re planning on organizing a conference about antique tricycles, and you know that 50,000 people conduct Google searches about antique tricycles every month, it’s safe to assume there’s an audience out there for what you’re organizing.  But you may ask, isn’t that information private to just Google?  Nope.  Google offers a free keyword statistics tool you can use to look up the search volume of every possible phrase.

 

Step 2 – Choose content

Once you realize there’s sufficient demand for your niche, you want to decide what type of content you want to deliver on event day.  Think broadly at this point.  What are the areas you want conference presentations to be focused on?  Try to make your conference stand out.  What are the hooks that are going to assure people in your niche get excited about the event?  Are there any hot topics going on in your industry?  Are there any controversial debates happening in your industry?  Is there a new break through in your industry people are dying to learn more about?

 

Step 3 – Fundraise

Securing the money to fund your conference is often challenging, especially if you’re going to be relying primarily on money from other people.  When pitching investors and lenders about giving you money, treat it just like pitching any sort of a business deal.  You’re going to want to put together some promotional material.  You don’t need a 50 page business plan (most people don’t read those anyway).  Instead, stick with a lean but effective Power Point presentation of no more than ten slides.  Touch on the following topics:

  • How big is the potential audience for your conference?  You can use your Google search statistics to support your claim.
  • What are some performance statistics surrounding similar conferences that have occurred in your industry?
  • What makes your conference stand out from others in the industry?
  • What’s going to be the main draw to get people to your conference?
  • How much money will the must-haves for the conference cost, such as venue and equipment rental?
  • How much money do you plan to sell admission for?
  • How do you plan to market the conference?
  • When do you expect to pay back your investors and lenders, and at what level of return?

 

Step 4 – Make an honest budget

Once you’ve moved passed the initial fundraising step, make an honest assessment about how much money you’ve raised and what you can and can’t have at your event.  Make sure you account for the must-have costs like venue rental before you start thinking about the options for meal service.  Once your budget is set, get a second opinion on it.  Show it to people who commonly work on budgets as parts of their jobs, and see if they have any feedback.  You’re not so much looking for them to help you decide exactly where to allocate your funds, but rather, to see if you may have overlooked a certain cost.

 

Step 5 – Get the right speakers

Once you’ve decided on the content areas, you want to then find the right people to be conference speakers for those areas.  To identify a list of possible speakers in each category, turn to trade publications and industry blogs.  Who are the thought leaders in each category?  Also feel free to turn to your professional network.  Send out an email to colleagues asking if they know of any experts in Field X.  Once you have a list of potential speakers, reach out to each one via email to get a feel on their interest level.  Don’t be afraid to contact high-profile people in your industry.  They often love the opportunity to speak at conferences.  Once you have an idea of who would be interested, you need to collect two important pieces of information from each one: When are you available, and how much is your rate?  Once you get an idea of the various rates, see who fits inside your budget.  Some give and take will likely be needed.  If the desired speaker for your main “draw” event is asking for triple the rate of everyone else, it may be worth it to pay it and chop a couple satellite presentations you had planned.

 

Step 6 – Rent a venue

Once you have your speakers confirmed, and you have an idea of the types of programs you’re going to be putting on, it’s time to find a venue to house it all at.  Things to consider when choosing a venue:

  • Price.  Can you find any deals?
  • Rooms.  Is there enough space for each individual program?
  • Size.  Is there ample stage room for presenters and ample sitting room for spectators?
  • Equipment.  Can all necessary equipment easily get in and out?
  • Parking.  Is parking easy and affordable?
  • Lodging.  If needed, is nearby lodging available, and at convenient terms?

 

Step 7 – Get your troops in place

Running a conference takes a lot more than you, your speakers and the audience.  There are a ton of other people that contribute behind the scenes to make sure everything goes smoothly.  Figure out the places you’ll need help, and then look for the right people.  Common services like security, audio/video and catering can easily be outsourced through professional firms.  Do a simple Google search for these types of firms in your area, or reach out to someone for a referral.  If you need any sort of specialized talent, try online job boards for freelancers looking for temporary work.

 

Step 8 – Market, market, market

Now that you have many of the organizational pieces in place, it’s time to get some butts in the seats.  You need to market.  We at StadiumRoar are huge supporters of online marketing strategies.  They’re easy to get set up with, are very cost effective, have a large reach and are measurable.  There are two flavors of online marketing; paid and free.  We recommend many forms of both.  Some effective paid strategies are buying Google AdWords and banner ads on industry-specific websites.  A very helpful free strategy is to reach out to bloggers in your industry.  These people always need fresh content to write about.  If you’re putting on a cool conference in the industry, send them an email and ask them if they’d like to cover it.  If so, you’ll instantly get put in front of their audience.  Make sure you include a link to your conference website, so the blogger can post a link back to you for interested prospects.  Don’t have a conference website?  No problem.  With StadiumRoar, you can get a free conference website.

 

Step 9 – Get a registration system in place

Using marketing to get people’s attention is awesome, but if you can’t get those people to actually sign up for your conference, then you’re in trouble.  You want to make it extremely simple for the people who find your conference online to be able to learn about it on your website and then sign up for it.  In today’s digital world, people want to register for conferences with an online system.  Paper sign up forms and mailed in checks are things of the past.  Need conference sign up software.  StadiumRoar provides conference registration for free.

 

Step 10 – Communicate heavily

Once you have your final attendee list, you want to get people excited about your event.  Make sure you frequently communicate on your conference website.  Post speaker lists and the schedule online.  On the actual day(s) of the event, make sure you have your conference schedule available online, and have a conference email address you use to quickly respond to questions on the fly.  In addition to conference websites and registration software, StadiumRoar also offers free conference scheduling services.

 

That’s it.  Hopefully these 10 simple steps have taught you how to organize a conference in a structured, stress-free way.  If you haven’t already, check out our free online conference tools to help you get started.  Got any other tips for organizing a conference?  Leave a comment and let us all know.

 

 

 

 

 

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