Conferences are a great way to meet new acquaintances, learn new and valuable information, and many people find it refreshing to get out of the office. While a conference may often be an enjoyable event for attendees, hosting a conference can be a nerve-wracking experience. Having so many parties involved in the organisation of the event make for more variable factors than most people would feel comfortable with. Also, despite taking great care in organising a conference, the event can still easily take a turn downhill.

Hosting an outstanding conference does not have to feel like an impossible feat. These tips will help you focus on some of the most important elements to guarantee a delighted audience.

The speakers

How to Host an Outstanding Conference

Make sure that the speakers at your conference have valuable and relevant information to share. Don’t focus too much on the public speaking experience of a speaker, but rather find out who in the business is doing new things and who might have something compelling and authentic to share with the audience. Keep in mind that the most popular speakers are usually booked far in advance, so plan ahead. Consider whether you can afford speakers. If you can’t, be upfront about it. Some people will still be happy to speak at your event without compensation. Make sure you do everything you can to make it worth their while.

The content

Nothing makes conference attendees’ eyes glaze over faster than a topic of discussion irrelevant to them. Avoid this by developing a theme for your conference and giving it a striking name. This will help you to bring your ideas together, select relevant speakers and focus marketing on the right audience. You can even define a mission statement to help attract your audience and help yourself stay focused.

The venue

How to host an outstanding conference

Little Fig Conference Venue at Umthunzi

Your guests will be spending the better part of their day sitting down in an auditorium or conference room, therefore, choosing the right venue is extremely important. Make sure that their seats are comfortable, otherwise an uncomfortable seat and lower back pain may be all they remember from your conference. Also, consider the lighting – do you want a spotlight on the speaker or will the audience need lighting to make notes? Also, consider whether the attendees will want to work on their laptops and make sure that ample space is provided. Some people may need to work in the break times throughout the day – make sure you do your research on the audience and organise accordingly. Also consider whether you’ll cater for the audience, what you’ll serve early in the morning and during tea breaks, and pay attention to the finer details such as having water bottles and sweets available for the attendees.

The actual organisation

Choose carefully when hiring service providers such as caterers, technical teams, head volunteers or printers.

  • Do your research – some venues offer in-house catering that can work out less costly and spare you a bunch of logistical headaches.
  • A technical team is usually worth the extra cost if they can provide you with the peace of mind that nothing will go wrong with microphones, laptops or projector screens.
  • When looking for printers, remember that certain items such as name badges may only need a week for printing while others, such as lanyards and banners, may need more time. Always double-check the information that was printed, and print a little more of everything than you actually need.
  • Keep record of everything and update the information as often as possible. A good tool to use can be an Excel spreadsheet with multiple tabs so that everything you need is in one place.
  • Have a best-case and a worst-case scenario plan for everything that could potentially go wrong.
  • Use your network to your advantage. Ask for introductions to people who may be of help to you, or ask for any help or advice. You can even ask people to promote your event on their own social networks.

Finally, make sure you clearly stipulate a good cancellation policy. Not only will this protect you, but it also encourages attendees to keep the commitment they made to turn up at your event. If you don’t want to be too strict, a good compromise is to allow attendees to resell their tickets, but not to offer refunds.

The business of it

How to host an outstanding conference

Remember that a conference is, after all, business oriented. A conference should always provide business opportunities. Make sure that your conference provides an environment that facilitates easy networking and simple ways of scheduling appointments between attendees.

When it is all over, the best way to find out how the conference actually went is to find out from the people who attended it. At the end of the event, send out a survey to gather feedback. Encourage people to complete the survey by offering an incentive such as a random prize. There is always room for improvement, and constantly looking for ways to improve will eventually help you to refine your job of organising outstanding conferences to a fine art.

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