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.
The best way to manage your logistics and planning process is to create a high-level work-back schedule. Consider the REALLY BIG things that need to happen, and when, and then work backward from there to fill in the rest of your schedule. If you sign up to get Hubb’s Timeline for a Strategically Planned Conference, you’ll get a free example work-back schedule to model yours off of.
Use the same RFP (possibly with some additional information, where relevant) and go select your support experts. You may need quite a few vendors. Common ones include software, internet/Wi-Fi, audio-visual, transportation, decoration, catering, website, and so on. We like to select vendors early; they’re experts in their field and the earlier you bring them in, the more you can leverage their expertise. You’ll also want to select and onboard vendors, such as an event content management platform like Hubb, early in the planning process. If you plan to release your call for content 6-9 months out, you’ll need to onboard an event content management platform 9 to 12 months out. Website, as we’ll discuss in the next section, is another vendor you’ll need to identify early in the process. We also like to rely on local vendors, if possible. Not only will this often be cheaper (less transportation and travels costs) but you can often benefit from their local knowledge and contacts—it gives you a “home field advantage”.
Create your schedule of weekly and monthly meetings aligned with your important decision dates or collaboration points.
You’ll also want each one of your vendors come in and build out your work-back schedule, filling in the details of when certain decisions need to be made by to ensure they can do their jobs. For example, your food and beverage provider may need the first draft of your menu three months out so they have enough time to source the food inventory they’ll need. Different suppliers will have different time constraints—if a supplier is in a foreign country, you may need to work around their holidays—so working with them early will help you avoid issues.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and great conferences aren’t either. Time, and lots of it, is an essential ingredient for building a strategic event that moves your organization (and, let’s be real, your career) forward. With this Timeline you’ll have a guide for making the most of the time you have and planning that difference-making event.