A successful conference does not unfold on its own - that's become very clear after working in the events and hospitality spaces for so many years. In fact, I've discussed how to ensure your event is A+ on more than one occasion. Organisers have to take the proper steps to avoid critical mistakes that can derail a conference and leave attendees regretting that they ever completed a registration form. Below I've listed 10 mistakes rookie conference organisers make and how you can avoid them.
1) Failing to properly promote the conference.
All the planning in the world will not drive attendees to your conference if you have failed to adequately promote it. Make sure that you prepare a strategic marketing campaign to ensure that you attract a healthy number of attendees and create a buzz of excitement.
2) Being poorly organised.
Nothing is more frustrating for conference attendees than arriving at a conference and being forced to endure a lengthy wait in a check-in line while organisers search for your badge or wait on additional lanyards to arrive. Be sure to have all badges printed before the conference and plenty of staff available to assist with the check-in process.
3) Not rehearsing.
Assuming that your presenters are comfortable with the AV system is a recipe for disaster. Make sure you schedule a brief rehearsal to ensure that the AV system is set up and functioning as it should. This will also give speakers and personnel an idea of how things will run, the way the physical space is structured, and it will also minimise potential hiccups.
4) Failing to provide attendees with an agenda.
Conference attendees and presenters prefer to be aware of a conference's schedule of events. Nothing can disengage and disenfranchise attendees as much as not knowing what exactly is going on, and when. It's best practice to have a preliminary agenda prepared prior to people registering for the event, so they can at least get an idea of the program. Make sure that all presenters and attendees have a copy of the complete conference agenda at least one day before the start of the event.
Attendees and presenters will definitely notice if you skimp on refreshments. Make sure that you know how many people will be on hand and have an abundant supply of water, coffee, soft drinks, and snacks for everyone in attendance. Also, make sure you have enough break time in your conference schedule for people to consume the refreshments. So often we see people missing out, getting tired and getting grumpy because there are insufficient breaks in the schedule. Having coffee and tea prepared for your delegates is handy - it's revitalising, inexpensive and can be transported easily around the conference. This will keep your delegates switched on, satisfied and stop them from leaving the venue to source refreshments elsewhere.
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6) Choosing promotional materials that are not relevant or useful.
Giveaways and swag bag items that do not relate to your conference or its mission are poor choices. Promotional items should have long-term utility and effectively support an event's cause or purpose. Think about the items you've recieved at events and how many of those you still use - it's probably not many. But those that have taken pride of place on your desk, your keychain, or in your car are probably pretty handy things you might not have bought yourself. So think about how you can source merch that's going to get your brand exposed for longer than just the conference period.
7) Ignoring the small details.
Sometimes it's the small details that are the difference between a good conference and a great one. Providing guests with suggested hotels, restaurants, and parking will contribute to your attendees' overall comfort level. Logistics are very important too. Try to make sure that chairs are comfortable, attendees have access to internet access, and that you have sufficient support staff help delegates and ensure a smooth roll out of all proceedings.
8) Not requesting feedback from attendees.
Failing to request attendee feedback can prevent you from improving your conference from one year to the next. Participant feedback will help you gauge the effectiveness of speakers, content, accommodations, and overall satisfaction with your conference. You can obtain feedback by administering a brief survey at the end of the conference before attendees adjourn. This will give you insight into what worked, and how you can improve to make the experience better and more appealing to prospective delegates.
9) Forgetting to follow up with speakers and attendees after the conference.
Failure to follow up periodically after your conference will lead attendees to forget key takeaways and conference highlights. Here are a few follow-up steps you can take to ensure that attendees remember your conference and consider attending next year:
- Send a thank you note or e-mail message within the 5 business days following the conference
- Provide attendees with a summary of your conference highlights or presentation decks.
- Offer a discount for early registration for next year's conference
10) Delaying promotion of next year's event.
Do not wait until after this year's conference to begin organising and promoting next year's event. Strike while the iron is hot! Be sure to advertise next year's conference in your handouts and marketing materials. You can also put next year's conference date and location on attendee lanyards and badges. That gets people soaking up the atmosphere and planning ahead - which should help bolster registrations for your next event!
As you can see, a well-organised approach is vital to the success of a conference. By avoiding the ten mistakes above, you can help ensure that your conference is well-attended and highly rated by guests.
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