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Planning a business conference is not something that happens overnight. There are venues to book, sponsors to gather, and speakers to engage. There are also little details such as where attendees will stay while in town, what meals are provided, and a world of other matters that must be addressed if the conference is to be a success. If you are about to engage in the task of conferencing planning, here are some things to keep in mind.
First, never assume you can handle all the details yourself. In fact, it is highly likely that you will not be able to make a complete list of everything that must be arranged without some assistance. For this reason, your first task as a conference planner should be to assemble a planning committee. Usually, a group of five to six individuals is sufficient to put together an annual conference for anywhere between a hundred to five hundred attendees. The committee as a whole is much more likely to cover all the bases and make it possible to address every key aspect of the gathering well in advance.
Along with putting together your committee, it is extremely important to begin making preparations as soon as possible. It really doesn’t matter if the business conference is eight months away. Experts in conference planning often begin work on an upcoming event ten to eleven months in advance. As a benefit, you will have more time to compare pricing at various conference venues, investigate and negotiate better hotel rates for attendees, and also have more time to find the right speakers for the event.
Make sure each member of the committee has specific tasks to accomplish. Each task should be prioritized and have a delivery date established. Conference planning often involves arranging tasks in a logical sequence, so that action items that must be done before other items are addressed get completed on time. With each member of the committee responsible for a specific set of items to complete before the next meeting, there is less chance of being overwhelmed with tasks as the dates for the event approach.
Always get commitments in writing. You want written verification from the hotel that your attendees will get a specific daily rate while attending the event. Also get documented and detailed information on what the hotel will provide in the way of conference rooms and assembly halls for speeches, dinners, and classes offered during the conference. The same is true for any special air or rail rates you secure for attendees. Not only will this give you peace of mind, it also makes it much easier to review the progress that has been made at each of the planning committee meetings and maintain an accurate picture of what remains to be done.
Provide exhibitors for the event with detailed instructions and guidelines in advance. Prepare a simple schematic that indicates where each exhibition booth can be set up at a conference or exhibition hall, along with information on where to ship the booth materials in advance and where to pick them up on the day they arrive to set up the exhibition. This will save everyone, including the conference planning committee, a lot of headaches on the eve of the event.
One final tip with conference planning is to expect the unexpected. No matter how thoroughly your committee plans the event, there will always be some type of hiccup. A speaker will fall ill and have to back out, or the hotel will accidentally overbook one of the banquet rooms. Draw on the collective experience of your committee to identify some of the most common last-minute issues that could arise, and decide in advance how to handle them effectively.
When the conference planning is done efficiently, it is relatively easy for an organization to host a conference, and equally easy for interested parties to attend a conference. Your goal is really twofold in nature. You want the flow of the conference to be as even as possible. At the same time, you also want to make sure that any unforeseen issues can be addressed quickly and effectively. By planning ahead, delegating tasks to an able committee, and processing action items in a logical manner, you are sure to keep the conference planning process manageable and ultimately very successful.
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