Setting the agenda

In my last blog I discussed pre-planning, all those things you need to consider when scoping out your event. This time, let's take a look setting the agenda for the event itself and how you can work that into your choice of venue.

One of the most important factors making your conference a success is the effectiveness of your communication, and it all starts with communicating your agenda. Once you have the plan of what you want the conference to deliver you will have a good idea of the kind of venue that will accommodate your conference.

Clearly, choices will be controlled by delegate numbers, budget, scale and scope of the content and many other factors. However, the agenda, or running order for the day, will be driven by your content. Communicating what you are trying to achieve as soon as you are able to the venue and suppliers you are using to deliver your conference will allow each of them to offer advice and assistance that can save time, money and improve the overall effectiveness of your conference.

You may have a number of key audiences for example your venue ops teams, your AV supplier, your staging company - you may have chosen to use a production company and they will manage that part of the process on your behalf. But let's assume, for the purposes of this blog, that you are managing the entire process yourself. It is worth looking at simple collaborative resources, such as Google Drive and Calendar, WhatsApp, Slack, in fact, there are a lot of online tools that you can use to build your team comms around. At this point you should be able to construct a timed running order for your entire conference and your delivery partners will have had their input.

There’s lots to think about surrounding the sequencing of your conference programme, but the most important thing in your conference is your content. You may have a number of sessions of speakers, break out sessions and interactive content, but the order in which you deploy them can be the making or breaking of the event.

There are some good parallels to be drawn from the music industry and how they mix and match the acts at a gig or festival. Mixing and varying the content keeps things fresh and not putting your keynote speaker on first is also a good idea. Much better to bookend the day with two strong speakers, one to kick off the day and get everyone's thinking aligned and in tune with the theme of the day. A great speaker at the close leaves people with a memorable end to the day.

One tip I would pass on is just how valuable it can be to see your proposed speakers in a live environment, YouTube is a good standby, but there is nothing to gauge how delegates will react to a speaker better than seeing it for yourself.

No matter how good or engaging your speakers may be, your delegates are going to need breaks. It's difficult to maintain concentration for more than twenty minutes at a stretch so to keep their focus on the content you'll need to have sufficient breaks of a suitable length to allow delegates to do 'what they need to do'! But don't let a toilet break become a coffee break and then morph into a mini-networking session. If you need to get everyone back into the auditorium after a break I've found that using the venue PA with a professional sounding announcement it does have the desired effect. Many conferences plan every last detail but often breaks can become a bit free-form, plan for them and execute them as you would for any other part of the conference.

So, now you have a running order for your conference, it will provide the spine from which the rest of the day's activity hang – everything from delegate activities to production. To help you plan your conference we have created an eBook that you can download for free.

Conference organisers checklist

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Written by Jason Lunn

Jason is Venue Director of the East of England Arena and Events Centre, running the entire site including hospitality, catering, maintenance of the site and all 3rd party and internal event services.