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.
Conference planning timelines should be considered flexible depending on the scale of your event, but for a mid-sized or larger event (500+ attendees) you’ll ideally start 12 months out. A large city-wide event would require a planning timeline that starts more like 18 months out. Adjust the timeline below as necessary to fit your event.
If this is not a new event, spend some time reviewing what happened the previous year. Which goals did you meet and which did you miss? What from last year do you want to continue or to put a greater focus on this year? Unfortunately, if you’re planning an annual event, this will have to happen right after you’re wrapping up the previous year’s event (Check out our: 9 Steps To Ensure Next Year’s Success).
With your goals and objectives in place, there are a few more basic high-level pieces of information you’ll need to establish before you can get into the details. You will need to establish many people you’re planning to attend, the number of days your event will be, and the format for the program. With that information, create a Request For Proposal (RFP). Here’s more information on how to create an effective RFP.
The bigger your event the more challenging this will be, and the earlier you’ll want to get started on this; large event spaces are in competitive supply and they often book up years in advance. To select your location, think about who your attendees are and where they are located. You want to balance ease of access, or a place that’s easy for your attendees to get to, with excitement about the locale, or a place they’re excited to visit.
You’ve laid your foundation, now it’s time to break out and focus on the main work streams of your conference (Event Content Management), all of which should start 6-9 months out from your event.
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.