Let's cut to the chase - we've discussed previously how planning a conference is no mean feat; what with all the elements to consider (and usually a tight budget). So a refresher on some key tips for hosting better conferences might be helpful. Keep these things in mind while you're planning, and you'll greatly increase your chances of hosting a successful conference.
1) Choose the Right Venue
Choose the place where you hold your conference carefully. Consider the following:
- Size - too small and attendees will be crowded, too big and it may raise the cost for no reason. Plus, it might make it look as though there is a lot of empty space and unlike artwork, negative space can be a bad thing.
- Space - what is the room like in which you will be meeting? How close are the restrooms? Are there enough tables? Is it in good condition, with tasteful decorating? Is it clean? These may seem like basic requirements for an event venue, but you’d be surprised at the number of event spaces that haven’t thought these through.
- Parking or Transportation - is there room for attendees to park nearby, or (if your event is really large) is there a shuttle bus or some kind of transport available from the parking area?
- Accommodation - are there hotels available for attendees who might need to stay overnight? Sourcing an accommodation partner and offering a decent package can really bolster attendance.
- Style - does the kind of venue suit your purpose and audience? A conference room rented out of a steakhouse might work for some types of conferences, but others might want something a little more professional. Conversely, if your attendees or your event theme is more casual, an upscale conference center just won’t feel right. Remember, it’s all about creating a feeling that this event could only be put on for your organisation, cause, or celebration.
- Food - does the conference center include catering, or will you need to arrange that? Are the attendees just going to provide their own food? My tip – don’t let that ever happen. Make sure you’ve organised refreshments – it’s going to be a dealbreaker for most attendees if they’ve got to go elsewhere for food and drink.
2) Send Agendas to Attendees Beforehand
Letting attendees know what will happen at the conference and when it will happen will allow them to prepare to make the best use of their time. It is often a crucial factor when individuals are deciding whether to attend, or when businesses are choosing who they will send. Send agendas ahead of time so people are able to make these decisions well in advance of the event.
3) Keep All Segments to Their Scheduled Time
Conferences are notorious for going off schedule and running over at some point. This can cause difficulties for any plans your attendees had formed - they might miss a meeting planned for the lunch break, be late getting back to work, or even miss a flight. You may end up having to cut-out an important segment at the end of the day if segments in the morning run over time. Plan carefully, rehearse, and have a showrunner in charge to keep each segment to its allotted time.
4) Have Enough Breaks Scheduled In
People get tired and stiff at conferences. After a long period of sitting and listening, their attention wanders and they become uncomfortable. They need time and opportunity to stand up, stretch, use the restroom, and get something to drink.
Often professionals are just able to eke out time in their busy schedules for a conference, but have phone calls or must-reply emails that they weren't able to delay. They need time to deal with the unavoidable business. They usually plan to do this during breaks; be sure the agenda includes those breaks.
Don't forget to make sure the breaks are comfortable. When choosing a venue, ensure there are enough restrooms and that there is space for attendees to talk and to walk off some of the stiffness. Have refreshments available. Even if you are not catering, have at least coffee, tea, and water. These will help attendees to stay alert and awake throughout the sessions. They will also make the attendees feel more welcomed, more like you the host values their attendance.
Networking (a major draw of conferences for attendees) also goes a lot more smoothly when people involved are holding a cup of coffee and have a light refreshment in hand.
5) Have Dedicated Working Areas for Attendees
Your conference attendees will often be busy professionals, and some of them will have calls and emails that can't wait until the conference is done. Conferences can be busy, noisy places between scheduled segments and during breaks – these are the times when your attendees might be trying to reply to that can't-miss-this phone call. Have areas set aside in which they can work.
These areas should be away from the hum of the refreshment tables and the networking crowds mentioned earlier. Ensure there’s power for charging devices, tables and chairs at which to work, and perhaps a smaller coffee and tea station nearby. If your venue supports it, have wifi available for use as needed.
These thoughtful tips will help your conference attendees feel more comfortable, get more out of the conference, and help them be more likely to choose your conferences for attendance in the future. If you're after some more event inspiration, download our free eBook '5 Crucial Considerations for Successful Conferences' below.