Steps for Preparing a Conference Planning Guide

Organization is Key to a Successful Conference

Audience sitting in a semi-circle watching speaker lead a presentation at a conference.

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Planning a conference requires a skill set that includes incredible organizational skills, the ability to multitask, energy, creativity, business savviness, interpersonal skills and attention to detail. It also requires a comprehensive conference planning guide that will not only keep you on schedule but will provide much-needed assurance that you haven’t forgotten something along the way.

How It Differs From Other Event Planning

Conference planning is different from other types of event planning and includes additional steps. Conferences tend to be large-scale events that typically take a year or more to plan. Your to-do list may include selecting a venue, booking hotel rooms, setting up online registration, securing speakers, arranging hospitality suites, hosting an exhibit hall, scheduling meetings, handling food and beverage and more. Preparing a well-organized conference planning guide that maps out the steps is a must-have for any successful conference planner.

The conference planning guide acts as a blueprint for planning any conference. Customize and modify the guide based on the event you are planning and keep it close at hand. When prepared and used properly, it will soon become your most valuable conference planning tool.

Start With Conference Planning Basics

The first part of your conference planning guide should include the basics regarding the conference:

  • Event date and time
  • Event location (if known)
  • Event purpose

Include any other known elements, such as alternate dates or number of attendees.

What’s the Plan? 

Before getting into planning the various elements of a conference, you have to figure out what those different elements are and where they fit in the overall scheme of your event. So take out a pen and pad, or sit down in front of the computer, and start writing down everything that comes to mind.

Don’t worry about listing things in order of importance or in any sort of chronological sequence. That will come later. Right now, you will essentially be crafting a very long yet simple version of your to-do list, which will be broken into different stand-alone components to be handled individually during the planning process. 

This section may list any of the following:

  • Venue selection
  • Hotel selection
  • Meeting space
  • Hospitality suites
  • Conference exhibit hall and booths
  • Opening ceremony
  • Speaker/exhibitor registration
  • Attendee registration
  • Travel arrangements
  • Attendee badges
  • Program of events
  • Food and beverage
  • Audio-visual
  • On-site staffing

Take some extra time in compiling this list so you don’t overlook anything and go ahead and add anything that comes up later on. Don’t be overwhelmed by the many areas of responsibility listed; the purpose here is to think of everything now so you can plan and manage each item efficiently.

Select a Venue

Once you have determined when the conference is to be held and have an understanding of the overall scope of the event, the next step is to select a venue. Depending upon the size of the conference, you may be able to select one venue for all of your conference needs, from the exhibit hall to meeting rooms, banquet halls, and hotel rooms.

If the conference is too large to be accommodated at one location, seek a venue that is in proximity to outside hotels or catering sites so that conference attendees do not have to travel too far to shuttle from one conference event to another.

Think About Attendee Registration

Consider the best way for attendees to register for this conference and how you will confirm their registration. You may want to look into creating badges or name tags for the attendees. As you move into registration, be sure to review and update the planning guide.

If an event is expected to draw large crowds, then an online conference registration system is the way to go. The system can process payments, track registrations and organize other relevant information and assist in generating reports and lists of attendees. 

Exhibitors and Conference Exhibit Halls

Exhibition areas are a common feature at conferences, providing an opportunity for sponsors and vendors to rent space to promote their products and services. This is also an opportunity for the conference host to bring in revenue if the exhibit feature is effectively promoted and well received. Depending on the size of your conference, managing the exhibitors and exhibit hall will require additional time and resources so plan accordingly.

As noted above, online conference registration systems are the best way to track registrations so if you are expecting a large number of exhibitors, then consider incorporating exhibitor registration into your attendee registration system. Exhibitors will also need the following:

  • Exhibitor badges
  • Map of the conference exhibit hall with booth numbers listed
  • Manuals for exhibit booth set up and tear down
  • Exhibit booth contracts
  • List of on-site vendors available to assist with exhibit rentals and services

As the conference planner, you will be responsible for hiring security to ensure the safety of materials located in the exhibit hall.

Plan the Conference Details

With some of the larger responsibilities tackled, such as conference venue selection and attendee registration, you can shift your focus to planning the particulars of the conference. As is the case with planning an event of any nature, being organized is just as paramount as attention to detail.

Now is the time to pull out that long laundry list of to-do items that you put together at the outset of the conference planning process. Look through the list and make changes or additions as necessary to reflect the latest tasks and responsibilities. Next put these items in chronological order, starting with items that can or must be completed far in advance. For example:

  • Book block of hotel rooms
  • Reserve exhibit hall space
  • Research online conference registration systems
  • Plan a conference marketing plan

Start at the beginning and go from there. For every detail that must be tended to include a follow-up to be sure that contracts are signed and received. As the conference date nears, your action items will include short-term tasks such as:

  • Select color scheme and decor
  • Make floral arrangements
  • Cthe hoose menu
  • Arrange for airport transportation for speakers or VIPs

Consider your conference planning guide as your go-to manual for everything that is included in planning a conference, no matter how small. This guide will quickly become an invaluable tool that will not only keep you organized and on schedule but will soothe the nerves as the big date approaches and you question whether you have forgotten something.