Tips for Planning a Successful Business Conference

Tips for Planning a Successful Business Conference

Event planning is a complex and extremely detail-oriented field. People devote their whole careers to mastering the talent of bringing together well-executed and well-attended events from weddings, birthdays, and social celebrations, to conferences, conventions, and business meetings. And the extensive list goes on…and on.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the pleasure (and sometimes the headache) of planning a wide variety of different events: political fundraisers and rallies, golf outings, grand openings, legislative roundtables, conferences and meetings, receptions, sit-down dinners, company tours, even a pheasant hunt and a Kentucky Derby party! While each experience has been vastly different, I’ve noticed some themes among the key things that help to make for a successful event.

For the purpose of today’s blog, we’re going to focus specifically on business conferences and how you should approach such events from a planning and execution standpoint. Take a look as I share my top tips for planning a successful business conference.

Limit your planning committee to a few influential and engaged individuals.

Let’s start with the tip that is bound to save you some major headaches. You want to start your event planning process by forming a committee of people who can help you. There is only so much an event planner can do and inevitably there will be tasks where you either need additional manpower or influence and connections to successfully complete. But I caution you, bigger is not always better!

Focus on forming a small or moderately sized committee of individuals who are influential in their field, and who demonstrate that they will be engaged and helpful throughout the process. There are many moving parts to planning an event, so you can’t afford to carry dead weight on a committee. Make it clear that you need people who will be present during meetings and phone calls and who will complete the tasks assigned to them.

Make everyone’s role clear.

Once you have established a committee, assign them clear roles and expectations. Who will take the lead on developing the agenda and inviting people to be a part of that agenda? Who is best equipped to solicit sponsorships or grants to help fund the event? As the event planner, you are the task master, but you need other individuals to take the lead on items that are outside your areas of expertise. You may event want to go as far as writing out the roles for each person and go over these roles as part of your kick off meeting. Putting it down on paper and having everyone agree to the roles helps to solidify your expectations of them.

Start by confirming your most important detail.

In my experience, there is almost always one important detail for any event around which everything else must revolve. Sometimes it’s the date that cannot budge, or the venue. Other times it’s the keynote speaker’s availability. Search and find that most critical detail. This is where your committee can be of assistance. Once you’ve found what it is, lock that in so you can begin building everything else around it.

For example, if the conference needs to be on the first Saturday in April, search for all venues in the areas in which you wish to have your event and check availability for this date. This will weed out some options automatically. Then, you can present the narrowed down options to the committee for a quick vote, knowing the date they want is available. This prevents a lot of back and forth, and frustration. Now with those key details in place (the date and location), you have the ability to move on to other items like agenda and attendance.

The majority of the event income should not rely on attendance.

While one metric of success is the number of attendees at your event, don’t forget that this does not always mean the event was successful, at least from a financial perspective. You can have a packed room, but if many of the people are there on comped tickets, you may still lose money at the end of the day. If your goal is to at least break even, if not raise a little (or a lot of) money from your event, look to sponsorships and grants which can be secured well in advance of the event.

You will want to think ahead as to how you plan to structure such opportunities to raise a little more money. What will sponsors get in return? Most often they want recognition, a speaking opportunity, or maybe a bundle of tickets to give out to their network. This works well because it also helps to fill out your event if a sponsor commits to bringing 5, 10, or more people to the event as well as financially supporting it above and beyond ticket price. Grants can be a bit trickier. This would depend upon if there are any grants available for your specific type of event and its mission. You will want to look to people who are well connected in that particular industry to identify such opportunities. If not, no big deal. Focus on sponsorships!

Disagree selectively, but confidently.

Finally and most importantly, always remember that you are the event planner and the committee relies upon your expertise. Should an idea be brought to the table that you know is not a wise choice for the event, be sure to speak up. I’ve had to learn this many times from experience, and from not speaking up when I should have. Disagree selectively (i.e. pick your battles), but when you need to do so, do so confidently. At the end of the day, this event is linked to your name and reputation. You want it to be successful just as much as your committee does. If you are truly committed to working in the event’s best interest, standing up to a decision you don’t agree with is not only commendable, it’s imperative.

While these tips can be tailored and applied to almost any type of business conference, it’s important to remember that no two events are the same. Even year-over-year, planning the ‘same’ event, you’ll want to be sure to take a fresh look at your event planning approach. Reference your closeout notes from the prior year’s event and establish a new plan for how you can make this year even better.

Do you have a question to ask or thought to add? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

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