News & Blog » How to Organise a Conference: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Organise a Conference: A Step-by-Step Guide

Researchers love going to conferences to learn or share their knowledge, and, above all, to enjoy spending time with like-minded people.

The key to being a successful event organiser is exactly that: ensuring everything runs smoothly and everyone is having an experience to remember.

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Our guide will list and describe all the essential steps to follow in organising a professional conference, from choosing a conference centre and time of the event to arranging last-minute details. Each section of this step-by-step guide is accompanied by a short overview, important organisational aspects to consider, recommended timing, and a list of top tips.

The secret of successful conference planning is to keep a thoroughly organised list and take each task one at a time. That is why we have also picked a useful event planning checklist for you to print out and pin it in your office at least six months prior to commencing implementing the overall concept of the event.

THE ESSENTIAL STEPS IN ORGANISING A SUCCESSFUL CONFERENCE

STEP #1: CHOOSE A DATE

Overview: the first and most important aspect of running a professional event is starting early. Before you contact speakers and allure attendees to a conference, you need a time and place.

Recommended Timing: book the perfect conference venue for your event before you start developing your plan. That would be six months prior to the event.

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Finding the perfect conference centre is a priority. However, before you contract the venue, you need to decide on a date.

Recommended Timing: choosing the time of the event should happen six months prior to the conference.

IMPORTANT ASPECTS TO CONSIDER:

  • Take into account the fact that many venues must be reserved months before the event.
  • Make scheduling arrangements depending from how far the speakers and attendees may travel. It is important to let them know the date of the event months before you even start setting up the conference agenda.
  • There may be also other type of constraints on the time you choose owing to particular situations. There may be other events taking place at the same time such as festivals or political campaigns, and even elections. Make sure you conduct an onsite research and find out the industry norms in your area.
  • The length of the event is also important and depends on how many participants will attend. Estimate the number of speakers and attendees. It is recommended to plan two full days for a conference of 250-300 people. This seems to become an international norm.

TOP TIPS ON HOW TO CHOOSE THE TIME OF THE CONFERENCE:

Avoid holiday periods. In Europe, participants rarely attend conferences during summer or winter. So, it is recommended to choose a date between mid-March and late June, or between early September and late November.

Never plan a conference during the weekend. From organisers to speakers and contractors, conferences mean work, hence they should happen during the week.

Set the event on a Thursday and Friday and give attendees the opportunity to play the tourist during the weekend.

STEP #2: FIND THE PERFECT VENUE

Overview: This section gathers the essential aspects to consider when choosing the perfect conference venue, from the type of event you are planning, to location facilities and costs.

There are many unique conference venues out there. Make sure you choose the one than meets the criteria listed below.

Important aspects to consider:

TYPE OF VENUE

The second goal of a professional organiser is to find the venue that suits the type and overall concept of the event. Generally, there are three types of venues you can book in your city:

  1. University buildings: these are fairly cheap and suitable for small, academic events.
  2. Independent venues: these are more expensive and distinctive, but are limited in seats and availability during the year.
  3. Hotels: these are the most expensive venues, ideal for corporate events that benefit from a large budget.

LOCATION

Regardless of the type of venue you find to be most suitable for the scale of your conference and business needs, the location has to be welcoming and serene.

If you are looking for a peaceful location, a complex surrounded by beautiful gardens and even set in a lush woodland is your best choice. The more picturesque it is, the better.

However, the location you choose should address the following questions:

  • Conference facilities: where will the event take place?
  • Accommodation: where will the conference guests sleep?
  • Parking & Transportation: how are they going to get to location?

Also, if the venue does not provide en-suite bedrooms, dining rooms, or coffee lounges, make sure there are restaurants and other points of interest nearby to facilitate accommodation and additional event networking opportunities.

The touristic potential of the location is another aspect to take into account. Conference people love the chance of playing the tourist and discovering new places.

SIZE OF EVENT

It is no use to book a venue that can accommodate hundreds of participants for a small group of delegates. Alternatively, it is unprofessional to book a small room for a large-scale conference just to save money.

ACCESSIBILITY

The proximity to airport and other means of transportation (rail or automobile) is paramount for maximizing event attendance. Before you book the venue, ensure that transportation needs are taken into account.

For instance, if you are organising a corporate event and the attendees are high level executives constrained to take multi-stop flights, you may lose important participants. Likewise, if they choose to drive to the event, ensure there is a valet service for attendees or at least an ample parking.

AVAILABILITY

Once you check the availability of the venue according to the date you have previously set, check if other spaces are available too, such as nearby hotels or onsite facilities like VIP lounge and SPA. These will impact the traffic in general areas, hence the networking opportunities of the event.

SUITABILITY

Not only that the venue should complement the event image you want to project, but it should also suit the profile of your targeted audience.

Don’t forget about sponsors and stakeholders. Make sure there won’t be other onsite events to clash with your event or branding concept.

step-2COSTS

Even if you do not have a thoroughly built budget plan at the time you book the venue, the implied financial constrains should be conveyed to the venue from the start.

Anticipate the overall costs of the event before you consider a five star hotel. The venue should adhere to quality and safety standards and keep your attendees well-nourished and hydrated.

Pro tip: Consider negotiating with the venue representatives. If you have found the perfect fit for your conference, but the costs exceed your budget, suggest lowering the venue fee for a multi-year contract.

TECHNICAL: IT AND AUDIO-VISUAL EQUIPMENT

All of the above should be part of the ideal conference venue. Additionally, before booking the venue, ensure every conference room has the necessary audio-visual equipment and tech support.

TECHNICAL CHECKLIST:

  • Projection screens & cordless microphones;
  • Wi-Fi access, heavy duty cables and charging stations;
  • Light fittings & power points.

See if the venue offers charging stations and Wi-Fi availability for all participants. Nothing is more annoying that wandering around to search for Wi-Fi or having the smartphone or laptop discharged.

ACCOMMODATION & LEISURE FACILITIES

If the conference is going to run for two days, overnight accommodation with unlimited Wi-Fi facilities and quality dining opportunities should be at the top of your checklist at this point.

Always check the adequacy of facilities in a venue, as well as the leisure opportunities before you book it. If the conference venues you look for should and claim to have dedicated meeting and leisure facilities, check the following:

  • Conference rooms;
  • Meeting and training rooms;
  • Gym and sport facilities;
  • Coffee lounge & dedicated bar;
  • En-suite facilities.

See if the venue offers charging stations and Wi-Fi availability for all participants. Nothing is more annoying that wandering around to search for Wi-Fi or having the smartphone or laptop discharged.

CAR PARKING

For minimum hassle, choose a venue that offers free on-site parking. However, if the conference venue charges for the facility, make sure you include that in your budget.

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CATERING

If the location you choose also provides food services, that’s even better. Otherwise, you will need to contract another service and supervise the coordination of suppliers.

Still, you will have to decide on a menu and handle any special guest queries. It is essential to:

  • Consider the dietary restrictions of each attendee such as allergies or preferences that make planning rather difficult.
  • Order any special ingredients, favours, or other necessary items that are not available at the venue.

Let the venue know about any special requirements in advance so the caterer can create options to suit all needs.

Here, at Lane End Conference Centre, we can accommodate any special dietary requirements, including vegan, nut-free, kosher, gluten-free, or dairy free. For more information, check out our dedicated catering page.

TOP TIPS ON HOW TO BOOK A VENUE:

  • Choose a suitable location for the type of conference and number of participants you have planned.
  • Insure that obligations, such as insurance, health, and safety, are adhered to.
  • Get involved into venue management if needed. Communicate effectively with the caterers, stand designers, contractors, equipment hire, and so forth.

See if the facilities for car parking, security, hospitality, and the media are well taken care of at all time before and during the event.

STEP #3: FORM A POWERFUL & CREATIVE TEAM

Overview: this section will list the main jobs that need to be done. At the same time, we will bring into light the importance of building and coordinating a creative and effective team.

There are many unique conference venues out there. Make sure you choose the one than meets the criteria listed below.

Recommended Timing: six months prior to the event.

As a conference coordinator you will take major decisions, but you will also need support. Therefore, before you select the right people for each job, you should call together a conference committee.

Having more than one person to ensure that you pull everything together and have enough perspective on the event, will streamline your overall workflow.

WHO’S WHO: TEAM ROLES AND DUTIES

  1. Administration Team: ticket sales, budget, attendee database, main point of contact.
  2. Communication & Marketing Team: media partners, promotional materials, social media, website.
  3. Event Team: venue affairs, hotel, parties, catering.
  4. Sponsor Affairs: fundraising and contracts.
  5. Volunteers: registration, on-site preparations

RECRUIT VOLUNTEERS

You should recruit volunteer’s months ahead the conference even if they will help out on the event day or starting with the previous afternoon.

Volunteers are typically young and enthusiastic. That is why they can do a great job with registration affairs, venue preparations, and attendee queries.

ASK FOR HELP

Don’t be ashamed if there are administration and management aspects you do not know how to handle.

You may be have excellent people skills, but deal with difficulties when it comes to creating and maintaining a budget. Ask for expert advice and make use of helpful tools.

TOP TIPS

  • Don’t act like a manager! Be part of the team. Formally speaking, you will have to coordinate staffing requirements and staff briefings. The secret to a well-performing and well-motivated team is to make everyone feel comfortable with their role.
  • Find people with specific skills: publicity, social media, administration, budgeting.
  • Make sure everyone is on board.
  • Choose a motto to motivate team players more. “Team efforts achieve miracles” sounds great, don’t you think?
  • Get everyone’s contact details. If you are planning on organising an annual conference, you may want to contact valuable team members for the following year too.
  • Learn to say “thank you” more often and reward your team for its achievements.

STEP #4: SET UP A SOLID PLAN

Overview: we will continue with the overall concept and plan that should be ready at least six months before the conference.

Note: the following guidelines applies to any type of event you plan on organising. However, if the conference is larger in scope and has over 150 participants, you should consider begin early stages of planning eight months or even a year in advance.

Recommended Timing: begin planning six months prior to the event.

IMPORTANT ASPECTS TO CONSIDER:

CHOOSING A CONFERENCE THEME & NAME

Choosing a theme from early stages is paramount as you will need to create a logo and other themed items about four months prior to the event. Your conference needs a name too.

Marketing-wise, both the theme and name of the conference should be adequate to the industry field the event addresses, and invite everyone to talk about it too.

LOOK FOR BRANDING OPPORTUNITIES

Think ahead branding opportunities. If the budget allows, you should hire a designer to create a brand for the event.

Choose a catchy name and a representative logo for the event theme to use on tickets, posters, brochures, programmes, and social media coverage.

Consider if there are branding opportunities available throughout the venue. Maybe you can use an on-site marquee or a place signage.

SET A BUDGET

One of the main responsibilities of a well-prepared organiser is to build the event budget. There is no way you can start implementing a plan without knowing how much money you can spend. The key is to set monetary limits and make sure everyone adheres to them.

Important things to include into your budget plan: venue and marketing costs, team members and speakers’ fees.

HOW TO BUILD A BUDGET FOR A SUCCESSFULLY PLANNED CONFERENCE:

  1. Set the upper limit of the amount you can spend on the event. This would be the overall budget amount.
  2. Decide on what tools you are going to use to actually build the budget plan. There are online budgeting tools you can use, but you may also stick to the usual spreadsheets.
  3. Set up categories such as venue expenses, entertainment, rentals, marketing (event website, advertising materials), leisure activities (sports, spa), awards (prizes, favours), printing (invitations, name badges, programmes).
  4. Then put down budgeted amounts for individual line items that fit each category. For instance, Catering may include food, beverages, cakes, as well as catering staff fees.

PRO TIPS

  • You will see that the budgeted amount may not coincide with the actual costs. Try to negotiate payments and consider production loss too.
  • Carefully set a registration fee that can cover professional help and catering facilities.

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Image Source & Further Reading: Dummies.com – Ten Tips on How to Organise a Conference

ACCOMPLISH TASKS, TASKS, TASKS

When it comes to planning, you will see this is a very detailed ongoing process. Time is precious and there are tasks to accomplish at different time frames.

EARLY STAGES OF ORGANISATION SHOULD INCLUDE:

  • Setting a Date (see Step #1).
  • Choosing the location (see Step #2).
  • Gathering a committee (see Step #3).
  • Setting a budget (see Step #4).
  • Find Sponsors (see Step #5).

Book influential speakers (see Step #6).

TWO TO FOUR MONTHS PRIOR TO THE CONFERENCE YOU SHOULD:

  • Publicize the event (see Step #7).
  • Engage the Media (see Step #8).

THREE TO SIX WEEKS BEFORE THE CONFERENCE YOU SHOULD:

  • Generate shopping lists. You will be coordinating supplies so you need to purchase basic kit including batteries, scissors, duct tape, paper, safety pins
  • Purchase non-perishable items;
  • Calculate anticipated attendees;
  • Purchase and personalize thank you notes;
  • Create a photo checklist with group and event photo ideas.
  • Consider a suitable outfit: is it a fancy-type of conference or a more formal but less pretentious seminar presentation?

TWO TO FOUR WEEKS PRIOR TO THE BIG EVENT YOU SHOULD ALSO:

  • Prepare floor plan. See where everyone will be seated. Also plan room layouts too, as well as the entertainment programme.
  • At this point you will have to schedule workshops or demonstrations too.
  • Ask a team member to go through all items, check and double check everything.
  • Purchase remaining items and make sure everything is well-stored until the event.
  • Confirm with all contracted help, including the photographer, speakers, caterers, bands, etc.
  • Check equipment and lighting.
  • Start printing out the conference programme.

THE LAST-MINUTE TASKS YOU WILL PERFORM ONE-TWO DAYS PRIOR TO THE CONFERENCE. ENSURE YOU

  • Have all important phone numbers saved on phone. These include the team member’s, all services’ (venue & contractors) numbers.
  • Pick up last minute items such as balloons, flowers, and ice.
  • Pick up rental items you have booked in advance.
  • Prepare payment for all those involved in the organisation and smooth running of the event.
  • Begin setting-up early so you will deal with less unexpected situations

ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT YOU SHOULD

  • Ask for feedback (see Step #9).
  • Say “Thank you” to everyone involved (see Step #10).

PRO TIPS

Develop a straightforward plan and stick to it.

The plan will shape every decision you make. Knowing what you should convey as well as the right people to help you out before you begin, will ease the stress of moving forward.

STEP #5: FIND POTENTIAL SPONSORS

Overview: As an event organiser you will also need to find marketing and financing solutions. You may have the opportunity to sell sponsorship space to potential partners. In this section, we will discuss the benefits, as well as the disadvantages of including sponsors into your plan.

Recommended Timing: six months before the event.

Not all conference organisers look after sponsors. Why? On one hand, they are an important source of money, especially if you have a limited budget and you need to make deposits during the preparation stages. On the other hand, sponsors will influence the overall image and content of the conference.

On the minus side, they want to get a say in the conference content. Some even want to host presentations and have their own speakers. Placing their logos on all branding materials is a compromise you will have to comply with.

One of the trickiest aspect to consider when including sponsors into your plan is the layout of the venue. Many sponsors will ask for exhibition stands. Decide early if you want to go further with that and if the venue allows for it. Sponsor stands require extra space, but also two or three people in charge there.

On the plus side, however, sponsors give you money you can work with as you plan the event. Not only they influence the budget, but they also might have a positive impact on the conference content if they include industry leaders to touch on the topic you choose.

TOP TIPS:

  • Make sure sponsors are adequate to the theme and overall content of the conference.
  • Offer sponsor stands only if you have the ideal spots in mind after visiting the venue. Whether the setup is possible depends on the venue.
  • Try to set the budget without including sponsor funds just to see if running the event is possible this way.
    ack to Options

STEP #6: ENGAGE INFLUENTIAL SPEAKERS

Overview:booking the perfect speakers to participate in the conference is no easy task. We have a few useful tips and recommendations to help you out.

Recommended Timing: six months prior to the event.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER:

IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER:

  • Once you have decided on a topic, ask your marketing team to find inspirational professionals and industry leaders to contact.
  • Create an ordered guest list. Make sure you include more names than you plan on including into your agenda. Once the time to invite them comes, you can go through the list top to bottom and stop contacting the as soon as the slots are filled.
  • Don’t throw away your guest list. Speakers may cancel their engagement shortly before the conference and you may have to take up the list again.
  • Contract a big headliner and ask if you can use his or her name on promotional materials. That will convince other people to participate.

TOP TIPS ON HOW TO BOOK AND TAKE CARE OF SPEAKERS:

  • Take into account the appropriate compensation for every speaker.
  • Consider every speaker’s needs and special requirements. These may refer to dietary preferences, transportation, or accommodation.
  • The conference needs a few renowned speakers to validate itself. Potential attendees will first take a look at the programme.
  • Nonetheless, you should invite less well-known speakers too. Consider local talents. This will help you save money on accommodation and transportation.
  • Ask the speakers if they need supporting equipment for their presentations. These include: big screens and projectors, computers, etc.
  • Kindly ask the speakers to blog about the conference or share the event on major social media channels. This will increase the event awareness and generate more registrations.
  • Don’t hesitate to call out for help to promote the conference. Speakers have a stake in the event and bad sales can also affect their image and reputation.

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STEP #7: PROMOTE THE CONFERENCE

Overview: whether it is the brochure of the event, the conference online page, or a slideshow you create, presentation is key. Liaise with marketing and PR specialists to promote the conference impeccably.

Recommended Timing: launch marketing up to six months in advance.

CREATE A HOT TOPIC AGENDA

At this point, you should have a name and a theme for the conference (see Step #3).

Conference come in many types and each industry requires a different approach. Now it is time to decide how the conference will actually play out.

The event agenda is essential to attracting attendees. As they will pay a fee to attend, the more reservations, the bigger the budget to work with will be. From this point of view, the topics and activities you include on the agenda should address a targeted audience.

HERE ARE A FEW ORGANISATIONAL TIPS:

  • Begin building the agenda four months prior to the conference.
  • Identify the profile of the “ideal” attendee.
  • Don’t throw away your guest list. Speakers may cancel their engagement shortly before the conference and you may have to take up the list again.
  • Know how large the market is and determine how you can effectively rich it.
  • Keep in mind that the type of sessions and activities you include in the programme will influence the way you promote the event.
  • Decide on a content that is most meaningful to your target audience.
  • Also, decide on what type of entertainment to include in the programme. This may range from comedy shows to concerts and local tours.

IF UNSURE HOW TO PROCEED NEXT, STICK TO THE COMMON CONFERENCE FORMAT AND NORMS:

  • Begin with a keynote or presentation given by an influential name in the field. Start in the afternoon and end with a dinner.
  • For the remaining day or days of the conference, you should divide the agenda into short sessions.
  • Adjust the length of each presentation according to the proposals submitted by participants.
  • You can plan one session at a time or have several sessions running concurrently.
  • The type of session depends on the specific of the conference. They can range from workshops to power-point presentations and open-floor exhibitions.
  • Include workshops, film screenings, and other entertaining moments regardless of the type of conference you organise. High-quality papers should be just the skeleton around you plan the conference. Playlists, slideshows, or other media will spice up the programme.
  • Finally, end the programme on a high note. Go for a motivational speech or a challenge to the attendees.
    Additionally, you may want to include other important moments into the conference schedule such as business meetings and awards. Don’t forget about lunch and coffee breaks.

CREATE EYE-CATCHING PROGRAMMES

Simple invitations are not enough when it comes to attracting attendees and sponsors. Smoothly designed programmes are powerful marketing tools to entice people to attend your event and one of the essential aspects of conference development.

So, once the agenda is ready, the next mandatory task for your marketing team to accomplish is designing or ordering high quality booklets and other promotional materials.

So, once the agenda is ready, the next mandatory task for your marketing team to accomplish is designing or ordering high quality booklets and other promotional materials.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CREATING THE PROGRAMME:

  • The conference theme: the programme should give a glimpse into the main topics of the event agenda.
  • The attendee profile: think about the audience and its needs.
  • The speaker profile: read about your speakers and include a short bio of the key-speakers.

CREATE A CONFERENCE WEBSITE

Besides professional advertising materials, digital presence is key to organising a conference effectively.

These days, creating an online page for promoting your event is not only mandatory, but also super easy. To get a highly usable and spectacular website for the conference, we recommend you to hire a designer.

HERE ARE THE IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CREATING A WEBSITE FOR YOUR EVENT:

  • Find an available domain to include the conference name or a meaningful derivative of it.
  • Be sure to include all important details for the conference: date, location, name of influential speakers and industry leaders participating.
  • Upload registration information and create a link for potential attendees to access.
  • Embed the programme once it is designed, as well as an event calendar.
  • List the URL on all promotional materials.
  • Update the conference website during the preparation stages.

 PROMOTE YOUR CONFERENCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Building a strong online presence is all about using the social media tools effectively to enhance communication with potential attendees, increase event awareness and ticket selling.

  • Create a Facebook page for the conference, especially if you plan on organising the event annually.
  • Create a hashtag and begin using it two to four months before the conference to share event info.
  • Invite speakers to blog about and share the event on their social media channels. This will give a boost to the overall conference attendance.

STEP #8: INVITE THE MEDIA

Overview: this section will provide tips on how and when to send invitations to the Media.

Recommended Timing: Two to four months prior to the conference.

PRO TIPS

  • The invitations sent to reporters and bloggers should include the 5 Ws – who, what, when, where, and why.
  • Do not include too much information in your email. Entice the Media by writing no more than two paragraphs that communicate the purpose and all key details related to the conference.

STEP #9: ASK FOR FEEDBACK

Overview: Be present at the conference and do your best to be on top of everything during the entire event. There is no pressure, but both the smooth running of your plan and the failure of your endeavours will be on your shoulders.

Recommended Timing: Two to four months prior to the conference.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER:

  • Take note of how everything worked before and during the event.
  • Visit the conference venue and meet the staff the day before to ensure everything is in place. Ask their opinion on the organisation too.

TOP TIPS

  • Addressing the participants naturally should be the main source of feedback. Direct attendee feedback should be based on asking your guests what they thought about the event.
  • You can opt for written anonymous feedback as well, as some speakers find it difficult to.
  • Try not to implement paper based surveys to ask for feedback. Nobody actually wants or likes to complete those in their time off. People go to conferences socialize and exchange ideas, not to review the quality of food or toilet paper.
  • Don’t be afraid, though, to address complaints. Every little detail is important and criticism will help you improve.

Experiment and capture feedback by doing selective and contextual interviews.

STEP #10: SAY THANK YOU!

Overview: This is the last yet one of the most important tasks to complete for a conference organiser.

IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER:

  • Everyone who contributed to the event, from speakers to sponsors, from contractors to staff members, deserves a personal “Thank You!”.
  • Take time to congratulate yourself and your team members.

ORGANISING A PROFESSIONAL CONFERENCE: THE ULTIMATE CHECKLIST

The following checklist practically sums up everything stated in our guide. Organising a successful conference is all about NOT leaving anything to chance.

simple-event-planning-checklist

Don’t think your duties are over yet. There are also post-conference aspects to deal with such as:

  • Dismantling of the event and effective clearing of the venue.
  • Post-event evaluation: at this point you will gather all pieces of feedback and try to complete the puzzle.
  • There are also reports produce, but let’s stick to the fun part.

 FINAL THOUGHTS: LAST BITS OF ADVICE ON COORDINATING A PERFECT CONFERENCE

Whether it is a 50 people symposia or a 500 people conference, our guidelines suit all types of conferences. As stated so far, event planning involves a lot of details. While you should plan carefully, you should also be open to changes.

Also, there are a few golden rules to keep in mind:

  • Be organised and keep calm every step of the process. No wonder that planning such an event may take up to a year when there are so many tasks to accomplish.
  • Hire the right people and always ask for help if needed.
  • Be honest with yourself. People don’t participate in conferences just for the papers. They enjoy meeting new fellow researchers, exchange ideas, but also good food and quality entertainment.
  • Keep track of time. Don’t be afraid of asking people to hurry up.
  • Send everyone a thank you email.
  • Don’t forget to pay the bills.
  • Reward your team and congratulate everyone involved for the success of the event.
  • Smile and enjoy every moment!