Planning a conference is one of the most rewarding things you can do. The sense of satisfaction that comes with watching throngs of attendees interact with what you worked so hard and long to create keeps us coming back for more, despite the sometimes-crazy hours, stress and hard work. But, as we all know, planning a conference is also a huge project not to be taken lightly. To help you in your journey, we’ve created a quick and dirty high-level guide on how to plan a successful conference. This guide provides a solid foundation for those who are new to conference planning, and veteran planners should find a few new tips and ideas, too.
Just like every other business effort, conference planning should start with strategy. It’s been done this way a long time, like 2,500 years. Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu is quoted: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” I believe he was talking about war strategy, not corporate conference strategy. But if conference planning is your business, and your business is what you love, well, another as another wise philosopher once said, “Love is a battlefield.”
Conferences vary in scale, complexity and number of stakeholders involved, but no matter how complex things get, your strategy should be your North Star. Quite simply, a strategy is the approach you’re taking to achieve a goal. Your strategy may be predetermined by someone higher up the corporate chain, but it’s good to understand how strategy is established because it should guide everything you do moving forward.
If you are planning a new conference, your business team will start by generating a feasibility study to explore things like cost-benefit analysis, competition research, etc.
Once it has been established that your conference is a “go,” you’ll want to define the goals for your event. Here are some of the things you’ll want to consider: What does the event owner want? Who is your audience? What topics do you want to cover? What is your budget? What are the key messages or themes for the coming year? Are there big new releases coming?
Once you have defined your goal (or goals—you may have primary and secondary goals), your strategy should become more clear. With that strategy, you will then establish tactics to achieve that goal, as well as KPIs that will help you measure success.
More on that later, but if you can’t wait, check out the Essential Conference Planning KPIs for Event Managers.