There is no “one fits all” template for organizing a successful event. Required efforts differ strongly by type of event, and its size. In this four-part and twenty-point series, we will focus on what’s happening behind the scenes when organizing corporate conferences.
Managing large-scale events is an art in itself. Since no one person can do it all, management skills are required throughout the process: people skills are essential, and project management is key!
Let us take a look at the roadmap leading to a successful large-scale event, e.g. a 5,000-attendee conference:
No matter what the topic of the conference is, planning and implementation of a large-scale event takes time. Therefore, be prepared to start working on your event’s objectives and vision more than a year prior to the desired event date. As soon as objectives have been set, target groups need to be determined. Once you know who should attend your event, it is time to find a location convenient for potential attendees. And, based on the selection of location, the date and time for the actual event can be finalized. All of this will ideally happen about one, to one-and-a-half years prior to your 5,000-attendee conference. Securing a location for a large conference is THE driver of the timeline. Remember, conference centers sell out fast!
2. Event Vision & Objectives
Especially when managing a conference, an event manager’s role is not limited to juggling logistics. Their role is also to guide conference hosts and sponsors through the process of defining objectives, and to set a vision for the event. “It is essential for an organization to determine the main reason, and sole focus for hosting the conference, outside of just hosting it,” says Sean R. Schuette, CMP, a 14-year veteran in the meeting industry. Both, objectives, and a vision, are essential for assuring that sponsors and the entire event team are on the same page. In order to work towards the common goal of event success, everyone involved needs to understand the ideal outcome. A conference vision statement is an excellent tool for communication with internal and external stakeholders. It can be key in outreach activities to potential attendees, since it clarifies the benefits of attending the event. “At the end of the day, it’s all about goals and objectives,” Schuette agrees.
3. Target Group(s)
Defining your target group prior to setting the date, selecting the location, working on the agenda, scouting potential speakers, and planning marketing efforts is essential. All should be aimed and tailored at your potential attendees: their schedule, geographic location, available travel budgets, interest, and preferred communication channels. Senior management should be involved when narrowing down the target group(s). Start by analyzing attendees of previous internal events, similar second-party conferences, and look at industry benchmarks. Define who could be in your target group(s), and who should not be. Defining the latter might be even more important when it’s time for deciding on the content for the conference. Focus your resources on information your target group(s) are looking for, and you will succeed in attracting your ideal attendees with a perfectly tailored conference program.
4. Time & Location
When organizing conferences, flexibility with date and location is often limited due to attendees’ schedules, and availability of conference facilities. If you are hosting an annual conference, assure the event is set to take place during the specific month, and on the specific day(s) of the week that will allow your industry’s representatives to attend. When scouting potential locations, keep accessibility, such as vicinity of an airport, public transport, and parking in mind. Some host organizations alternate geographic location of the venue annually so guests don’t have to travel the same distance every year – certainly a plus for attendees with limited time and travel budgets!
I suggest taking a cue from the fashion world, when building an agenda: Design the agenda, and when it is done, take out one piece – or one session in our case. Less is more! People’s top reasons for attending conferences are content and the opportunity for networking. Having shorter sessions, and working longer breaks into your agenda will help attendees fulfill both of these goals. As a rule of thumb, individual presentations should not exceed 20 minutes, and sequential presentations should be limited to half an hour. Any longer, and you run the risk of loosing your audience’s attention. Also, consider integrating networking activities into the conference agenda. Schuette suggests, “creating not-to-miss events such as key session speakers and or opening/closing receptions along the way to help keep energy levels up”. Know your audience, and select activities accordingly. Attendees will be grateful for not only being presented with quality content, but also ample opportunities for networking.
There is more!
Continue with us along the road to a successful conference. In Part 2, we focus on Speaker Selection, Marketing Efforts, Event Success Measurement Metrics, Budgeting, and Accommodations.
What are the first steps you take when planning a large conference? Please share your experiences with us!
This contribution features opinions of Sean R. Schuette, CMP. Sean works for IntrinXec Management, Inc., and has more than 14 years of experience in planning trade shows, conferences and events, some with attendance as high as 15,000 people.