As a venue we host a lot of events, from exhibitions to live events, sitting in amongst these is a full calendar of conferences. Having watched them pass through our doors, some having been more successful than others, I thought it would be helpful to anyone organising a conference if we shared our experiences and knowledge to help you organise your conference. I know that not all conferences are alike, in fact there are probably more differences than similarities so this series of blogs and the associated eBooks are intended to share everything we have encountered and as much information as possible to help you make the most of your conference.
With that thought in mind, here's the first in the series and it's all about three key aspects of the pre-conference thought process.
Firstly, let's look at what you want from the conference, I'm sure that by this point you will have your subject matter and the general aims of the conference nailed down. So that leaves the plan for the content. I'm putting this at the top of the agenda because it should drive everything else – if your conference is speaker led to an audience in one auditorium over a single day that will determine the rest of the plan. However, if it's a multi-day programme with break out sessions and interactivity you may need to think about a different type of venue. The content you are wanting to share with your audience will determine the style of the event, laying out all of the content on a sheet of paper and moving it around will give you a flow to the programme and from that you will be able to discern the sequence of speakers or sessions. Once you have this you will know how the content will be delivered to the audience and the facilities required to do so. At this point, I would urge you most strongly to speak to the prospective venue or venues and get them involved in the project. Discussions at this point will identify shortcomings in some venues and a host of opportunities in others, which will make the final venue selection a much easier process. At this point you will also have an idea as to what your speakers and sessions will require in terms of support – will they need projection, microphones, will they be lapel, lectern or handheld mics, will there be a need for audience mics, will there be interactive sessions that may need third-party technical support or break out sessions with their own specific technical requirements.
Secondly, after you have built the framework and defined some of the needs for content delivery, it's time to think about the timing of the conference programme, what will happen when. The timeline of the programme will need to include arrivals, registration, welcome beverages, coffee and comfort breaks throughout the day – ensuring that they are sufficiently long to allow people to do this at a reasonable pace and return to the auditorium in time for the next session. If the agenda spans a meal then it's at this point you need to be thinking about what type of food you want to serve, if it's to be eaten at tables or standing, do you want to keep it out of the auditorium. One warning I would put out for consideration is restricting the supply of alcohol until the conference, it adds to the bonhomie it can really knock the edge of afternoon participation. And, whilst on the subject of getting the most out of your audience, speak to your caterers about food options – they may have some very innovative ideas about how to avoid the 2 pm slump. You will also need to speak to them about planning for any special dietary requirements, planning in advance will save cost and waste.
Thirdly, we get to the actual layout of the room, or rooms, you will be using. Depending upon the style of event and the content you are planning to use, you may want to adopt theatre, cabaret or classroom style for your seating. The style of seating used will also help to determine what you will need in the way of AV, something that the venue will also be able to advise and support you with. There are a few things to consider in this area too, the audience needs to be able to hear the content right to the back of the room. If they cannot hear clearly you will lose your audience. You also need to consider projection at this time if you are planning to show any content, remember that back projection will use space and may shorten the room.
There are a lot of things to consider when you start to plan your conference, once you have got the basics of a plan together I cannot stress enough how valuable it will be to engage with your chosen venue as early as possible. Don't forget they have done this many times before so their experience will be invaluable. To help you we have put together an eBook covering as many things as we can think of, to help you plan effectively.