Organising a work conference may sound like a challenging feat, but with sufficient planning you can make it a success. From choosing a venue to deciding on seating arrangements, there are a lot of factors to consider. This helpful guide tells you everything you need to know about organising a triumphant conference. So, if you want your work event to be a hit, read on…
Your conference will need to project a unifying message that your speakers will deliver and can serve as the key takeaway for conference attendees. This theme will guide your branding and promotion, and influence your social media and marketing strategy. Concepts like unity, teamwork, creativity and collaboration are usually good options.
It’s impossible to put together a conference on your own, so enlisting the help of capable professionals is crucial to delivering a successful event. You will need:
- Planning team: Conference venue, accommodation, activities, catering.
- Administration team: Budgeting, attendee registration, ticket sales. This team/person will also be the main point of contact for questions related to the conference.
- Marketing team: Contacting the media, creating promotional material, managing your website, blog, and social media activities.
- Sponsorship team: In charge of securing sponsors, applying for grants, and fundraising.
- Volunteers: Helping with all on-site activities on the day of the conference: door management, ticket scanning, keeping track of the guest list, manning the wardrobe, guiding people, etc.
Before making any purchases, you will need to work out how much everything will cost. Your budget will need to cover:
- Speaker fees
- Team members
Remember, it may be worth recruiting sponsors for your event. Sponsors pay a fee to support the conference but also get a say in the content of the conference itself. If you have a sponsorship, your sponsors will typically host presentations or panels with their own speakers, and they may brand conference materials with their logos.
This is by far one of the most important decisions you will make when planning your conference. First of all, you’ll need to consider a broad location – a specific town or city to host your event. This should preferably be a place that people can access easily. Next you’ll want to start thinking more specifically about the venue itself. Conferences are usually hosted in one of the following locations:
- University campuses: These are best suited for smaller, academic events and are relatively cheap to hire.
- Hotels: These typically have dedicated conference facilities and own catering. They’re the best overall choice since they offer both accommodation and conference space, although it’s worth remembering they also tend to be the most expensive option.
- Independent venues: This category includes all other types of venues that can host conferences – many of these specialise in specific types of events.
When planning venue choices, you’ll need to take into account several factors to work out if it’s feasible to host your event there:
- Size: Booking a tiny venue where everybody has to squeeze into a tiny room is clearly a bad idea. Similarly, securing a giant venue for a relatively modest crowd will not only hurt your wallet but also make the conference feel empty and poorly attended.
- Location: It’s best to pick a somewhat secluded location so that participants are better able to focus on the conference itself. However, it will still need to be accessible.
- Atmosphere: It’s crucial that the vibe of the venue suits your target audience and theme. You don’t want to host a business conference inside a giant gym or shopping mall, for example.
- Facilities: Does the venue have the proper layout and the right conference room styles for your needs? Does it have the necessary facilities like e.g. smaller rooms for breakout sessions?
- Accommodation: Does the venue provide accommodation or are there hotels nearby?
- Catering: Is catering included or can external catering companies easily get to and work inside the venue? If not, are there suitable restaurants and cafes in the area
- Transportation: How easy is it for participants to travel to the venue by public transport? Are there enough parking spots for those who drive?
- Technical aspects: Does the venue have the right IT, audio, and video equipment? You’ll need projection screens, microphones, plenty of charging spots for participants, and most importantly solid WiFi access.
Your speakers will be the main attraction of your conference, so you’ll need to create a solid lineup in order to attract attendees and guarantee a professional experience. A good place to begin is to start looking for thought leaders that focus on the same themes as your conference. You can then create a prioritised list of potential speakers you’d like to invite and start making those calls and sending emails.
Once you have a conference title and theme established and some prominent speakers lined up, you can begin to formulate a schedule for your conference. If you’re unsure of how to structure things, it’s a good idea to follow this format:
- Begin with a keynote or opening address. This is usually given by someone well-known in the industry and should introduce the theme for the next couple of days. The rest of the conference should be divided into shorter sessions.
- The next few days should involve shorter hands-on sessions and workshops, as well as networking and team-building activities. You can also plan for workshops, film screenings, or other formats that you know you want to include. Remember to include breakout sessions for people to discuss what they’ve learned.
- End the conference on a high note, with a motivational speaker or a challenge to the audience.
An important aspect of the day is making sure speakers, guests and attendees have somewhere comfortable to sit. For speeches and events with a big turn out, you’ll need to provide extensive conference chairs to make sure everyone can sit down. If any meetings are likely to take place, you’ll also need to sort out boardroom seating.
Typically, an experienced conference venue will also provide on-site catering but if that’s not the case, you’ll need to bring in external vendors. It’s a good idea to reserve up to an hour for lunch and a few 15-20 minute breaks for coffee and snacks. If there’s room in your budget, you should opt for proper hot meals instead of sandwiches when it comes to lunch. Don’t forget to source canteen chairs to make sure people have a chance to sit down and enjoy foods and refreshments.
A bar is a great place for people to relax, socialise and network. They’ll be able to make industry connections and discuss the speeches, events and activities they have attended. Luxury bar stools and furniture makes an opulent addition to your conference and provides a comfortable place for people to sit and enjoy a drink.
To increase attendance and publicity, it’s essential to promote your conference. You should create a website that includes the date, time, and address of the conference venue, and names of any prominent speakers – be sure to list the URL on all print materials and advertisements related to the conference.
No matter the size of your budget, you have many great opportunities to publicise your event on online platforms:
- Social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – all depending on your audience)
- Relevant forums where potential attendees might hang out (e.g. a community for engineers where you can promote your tech conference)
- Own blogs and press releases
- If your promotion relies heavily on social media, consider a catchy hashtag you can use whenever you post about the upcoming conference.
You should encourage your speakers to promote the conference to their audience on their own channels. They have a vested interest in doing so and can expose the conference to people who are more likely to be interested. It can also be beneficial to reach out to the media and ask them to cover your conference, especially journalists who specialise in your particular topic or industry.
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