With so many moving parts to juggle, planning a conference can seem like a daunting task. But pulling it off can be incredibly rewarding–both for your organizations and your attendees!
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through how to plan a conference from A to Z. We’ll cover everything from budgeting and marketing to finding sponsors and speakers to reporting and analytics.
What Does It Take to Plan a Conference?
The first key to success is to start early! But how long does it take to plan a conference? That’s like asking “How long is a piece of string?”–the answer varies in each unique case.
Consider the size and scale of your conference to help you determine how much prep time you’ll need. A good rule of thumb is to begin planning a simple conference at least 6 months out and to give yourself a year to plan a large-scale conference with thousands of attendees.
Now let’s look at the fundamental elements you need to consider when planning a conference:
A clear goal
What do you want to achieve with your conference? For example, conferences can provide attendees with valuable knowledge and networking opportunities, but they can also be a great way for your organization to promote your brand and generate leads.
So define whether the purpose is to educate attendees, provide networking opportunities, promote your brand, or generate leads. Start with a well-defined goal and the rest of your plan will unfold more easily.
Knowledge of your audience
Who is your audience, what are their needs and how should you tailor your conference to suit those needs? Answering these questions is critical to the success of your conference!
For example, knowing how to plan a business conference is quite a bit different from knowing how to plan an association summit. Focus on communicating the benefits of your specific conference in a way that’s relevant to your audience, so you can maximize attendee registration and participation.
A reliable team
Planning a conference is not a one-person show. Rather than attempting to plan an event on your own, bring together a team of professionals and volunteers you can rely on.
Having a competent and diverse team is critical to your conference’s success. Make sure you understand the skills and experience of each member, assign tasks accordingly, and regularly keep each other updated on your progress!
A strong brand
Ensure your conference aligns with your organization’s branding—this includes your brand elements like logos, colors, and fonts as well as your messaging. A strong, consistent brand image immediately sets the tone for your conference and helps build confidence and trust in your brand among your attendees!
An event tech stack
Whether you’re hosting an in-person, virtual, or hybrid conference, tech’s going to play a crucial role. Choose the right event tech tools to help you streamline different aspects of planning and executing your conference, like registration, check-in, networking, panel discussion, and more.
How to Plan a Successful Conference: 15 Things You Need
Now that you’ve set up a good foundation for your conference planning, Here’s a list of the 15 things you’ll need to pay attention to when planning a conference:
Your budget will dictate many of the other decisions you make about your conference—remember to establish a budget early on!
Your marketing plan outlines how you’ll reach and persuade your audience to attend your conference. This might include digital marketing channels like email marketing, paid ads, or content marketing on your website.
Event apps and tech can help you with everything from registration, check-in, networking, and more!
Choose a venue that is the right size for your event and has the amenities you need, like A/V equipment and catering facilities. Make sure to have a venue map on display at the event (or in your app!) so attendees can find their way around.
Relevant sponsors can help offset the cost of your conference and provide value to attendees in the form of discounts, free products, or exclusive content.
Exhibitor booths allow companies to show off or demo relevant products and services to attendees.
Speakers are one of the biggest draws for attendees! Invite speakers who are experts in their field and can provide attendees with valuable insights.
Workshop, panel, or breakout sessions
These are a great way to provide attendees with in-depth knowledge on specific topics while allowing attendees to interact with each other and network.
Your agenda should outline the schedule of events, including speakers, workshops, and discussion panels, plus time for breaks and networking.
Event management system
An event management platform like EventMobi brings together many of the steps and tools you’ll need to pull off a successful event. This includes everything from designing a custom event app and simplifying attendee registration to post-conference surveys and analytics.
Make sure you have a smooth and easy registration process set up! If you have a website for your conference, the registration form can be embedded on the event website.
Whether you want a DIY badging solution, on-demand printing at your event, or pre-printed badges delivered in advance, it’s important to figure out badging logistics and choose a solution that fits your budget, event size, and timeline.
What type of check-in experience do you want to create for attendees when they arrive for your event? With the right technology, you can offer a range of hassle-free check-in solutions that get your attendees in the door in a flash–like self-service check-in kiosks or QR code check-in.
Foster attendee engagement with networking tools, gamification, live polls, surveys, and appointment booking.
Make sure you always look into post-conference analytics and reporting to know what’s working and what should be improved.
Now that you have the overview, let’s take a look at the breakdown of these steps to planning a conference!
Step 1: How to Plan a Conference Budget
According to Knowland’s 2023 State of the Meetings Industry, increasing event expenses is one of the biggest concerns for event organizers! Effective conference budget management is essential to prevent financial surprises. Here’s a simple process to plan your conference budget.
- Set financial goals for your conference. Prepare a profit and loss budget and predict as accurately as possible if the conference will result in a profit, loss, or break even.
- Determine your fixed and variable costs. Fixed costs do not change based on the number of attendees and are calculated as a total amount. Variable costs change based on the number of attendees and are calculated on a per-person basis.
- Identify your sources of revenue. Examples include advertising, management fees, registration, sponsorship, etc.
- Create a conference budget proposal. This is a document or presentation you’ll put together to convince your stakeholders to sign off on.
- Review and track your conference budget. Meet with your company’s accounting or financial officer to review your conference budget.
For more details on planning a conference budget, check out our ultimate guide to event budgets.
Step 2: How to Develop a Marketing Plan for Your Conference
With a strong marketing strategy, you can get your audience to not only take notice of your conference, but to actually register, attend, and participate! Here are a few tips for developing a successful marketing plan for your conference:
- Identify your target audience. Who are you trying to reach? Once you know your target audience and where they hang out, you can develop marketing messages that they’ll see and appreciate.
- Create a website for your conference. Your website is a central hub for all information about your conference! Be sure to include information about the speakers, agenda, venue, and registration process.
- Consider organic content marketing. Social media, blog articles, email —these are great ways to reach your audience and get them excited about your conference!
- Run paid ad campaigns. Paid advertising can help you reach a wider audience and generate more leads for your conference. Consider running ads on social media, search engines, and other relevant websites.
- Measure your results. Keep an eye on which marketing channels are getting the best results. Which marketing campaign worked best with this audience? What should you do differently next time?
If you’re organizing a conference for your association, you can always fold your conference marketing plan into your association marketing strategy!
Step 3: How to Find & Secure a Memorable Venue
Conference event planning always involves a choice of venue, ideally a memorable one! Before you start shopping around, make a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves—that way, you know what you are willing to compromise on, and what needs to be available. This could include:
- Capacity to fit your expected attendee numbers
- Space for speaker sessions, breakout rooms, exhibitors, and social space
- Location, such as proximity to transportation and hotels
- Technical capacity and support
- Bookable equipment
- Accessibility requirements, like ramps and accessible bathrooms
- Food and drink
Not sure where to start looking for venues? Take inspiration from conferences held by other organizations in your space, or look at event listings in your area. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, reach out to your most promising options and compare quotes. Remember to ask about the following:
- Whether the venue is available on the dates of your conference
- Whether they can fulfill all your must-haves
- Quotes for venue rental, as well as any additional costs for equipment or staff
- Any booking requirements, such as using their caterer or insurance
That’s how to plan for a conference venue that meets all your needs!
Oh, and if you’re wondering how to plan a virtual conference? Think about how you use your branding and event virtual space to make sure even your virtual venue makes an impression on your attendees!
Step 4: How to Secure Event Sponsors
Securing the right sponsors can make or break your event — and the right sponsorship levels can exponentially raise your chances of success!
To secure amazing sponsors for your conference, follow our tips:
- Come up with sponsorship levels. These provide potential sponsors with options to support your conference depending on the associated perks. You can even catch your sponsors’ attention with unique sponsorship level names!
- Create a sponsorship deck. This deck should outline the benefits that sponsors will receive, such as branding exposure, speaker opportunities, and access to attendees.
- Target the right sponsors. Identify companies that are relevant to your target audience and that would be interested in sponsoring your event.
- Reach out to potential sponsors early. This will give them time to budget for your event and give you time to develop a sponsorship package that suits them well.
- Follow up. After you have reached out to potential sponsors, be sure to follow up with them regularly to check in and answer any questions they may have.
Step 5: How to Find Speakers for Your Conference
Having the right speakers at your conference will captivate your audience’s attention and make your event truly memorable! Here are a few tips to help you book amazing speakers in no time:
- Be active in your space. By staying in the loop, you’ll know who’s making waves and who would make a fantastic addition to your conference.
- Look at past events. Review the speakers who performed exceptionally well at previous conferences. Past success could be a good indicator of a repeat performance!
- Survey attendees and members. Ask your attendees who they want to hear from. Not only does this generate ideas, but it also builds excitement for your event.
- Network, network, network. Never underestimate the power of a solid network. You never know where your next great speaker recommendation might come from.
- Post a call and advertise it. If you’re open to applications, post a call for event speakers and advertise it widely!
- Local and industry publications. These sources often feature thought leaders and influencers. Plus, they could offer a wealth of topics and issues relevant to your audience.
- Partner recommendations. Partners can offer valuable insights and suggestions. They may know of great speakers who align with your event’s goals.
And if you’re still wondering how to secure a great speaker, check out these tips on how to successfully find a speaker for your event!
Step 6: How to Plan a Conference Workshop, Session, or Panel
Conference workshops or breakout sessions are key to facilitating important conversations, networking, and skill-building! They break up the pace of the conference day and diversify the attendee experience.
So how do you organize a conference session? Follow our tips:
- Provide a framework or outline. This helps you share your goals for the session with attendees. Make sure participants know what’s expected of them—and how to time the components of the session.
- Appoint breakout leaders. Identify leaders before breaking into groups, or ask the groups to elect one amongst themselves.
- Facilitate introductions. This is a great time for an icebreaker question, or even an activity if time permits!
- Dive into the activity. The reason everyone’s here!
- Wind the session down. Provide some light guidance on how groups should wrap the session amongst themselves before returning to the main room.
- Reunite and share findings. Everyone will be eager to share what they learned! Have a plan for how best to discuss the conference breakout session once everyone’s come back together.
- Ask for feedback. Find a way to collect feedback efficiently (like through live polling) and implement those suggestions in the next session you host.
For more tips on how to plan a conference workshop that works for your audience, check out this list of 36 conference breakout session ideas.
Step 7: How to Plan a Conference Agenda
Your conference agenda, or your conference schedule, helps guide your attendees throughout the event. To create a conference schedule, make sure you include the following:
- Your organization’s name and details
- Conference topic and theme
- Conference venue details
- Day, date, and time
- Speaker details
- Breaks and/or networking sessions
Consider the balance of your conference program and include a mix of keynote speakers, workshops, or panel discussions. Always remember to be flexible and test your agenda beforehand, including running it by your hosts! Things don’t always go according to plan, so be prepared to make adjustments to your agenda as needed.
Step 8: How to Choose an Event Management Tool
The right event management tool can take a ton of pressure off your shoulders! Here are a few factors to consider when choosing an event management platform:
- Features: What features are important to you? Do you need a tool that can help you with registration, check-in, scheduling, and more?
- Budget: How much are you willing to spend on an event management tool?
- Onboarding and support: Does the tool offer onboarding and support? This is important, especially if you are not familiar with event management tools.
- Ease of use: How easy is the tool to use? You want to choose a tool that is easy to learn and use for both yourself and your team.
- Integrations: Does the tool integrate with other tools that you use, such as your CRM or email marketing software?
- Onsite/hybrid capabilities: Does the tool have the capabilities to support onsite, hybrid, or virtual events?
- Great reviews: Read reviews from other users to get their feedback on the tool. This can help you to make an informed decision!
Looking for an easy way to plan on-brand, on-budget conferences that your attendees will love? 👀 Book your personalized demo of EventMobi today!
Step 9: How to Run Event Registration Smoothly
A smooth registration leaves a great first impression on your conference attendees. Here are a few tips for running event registration smoothly:
- Choose a user-friendly registration platform. There are a number of event registration platforms available. Choose a platform that is easy to use and that offers the features that you need.
- Make it easy for attendees to find the registration page. Promote the registration page on your website and social media channels. You can also send out email invitations to potential attendees.
- Collect the information that you need. When attendees register, be sure to collect the information that you need, such as their name, email address, and affiliation.
- Send out confirmation emails. Once an attendee has registered, be sure to send them a confirmation email. This email should include important details about the event, such as the date, time, location, and agenda.
- Offer multiple payment options. Make it easy for attendees to pay for their registration by offering multiple payment options, such as credit card, PayPal, and invoice.
Step 10: How to Manage Conference Badging and Check-in
Here are a couple of tips to ensure your badging and check-in process is as smooth as possible:
- Create the ideal check-in experience. Prevent long lines and wait times at the check-in desk with a check-in app or branded self-service kiosks!
- Set up multiple check-in stations. This will help to reduce wait times for attendees.
- Test your badging and check-in solution. Before the event, be sure to test out your badging and check-in tool to make sure that it is working properly.
One of the simplest ways to manage badging and check-in is by integrating with your event management platform! For example, EventMobi’s drag-and-drop Badge Designer lets you create custom, branded badge designs that you can choose to print yourself, send to a third-party printer, or have printed and shipped right to your door.
Step 11: How to Foster Engagement
Nobody likes a boring conference. With an all-in-one event management platform like EventMobi, there are endless ways to foster attendee engagement at your conference! Some examples include:
- Interactive tools and activities like live polls and surveys to keep attendees engaged and involved
- Group sessions to help attendees participate and network effectively
- Appointment booking for 1-1 meetings among attendees
- Live session chat and activity feed to keep everyone up-to-date
- Gamification during speeches, workshops, or breakout sessions to create a fun, exciting, and memorable experience for your guests
Step 12: Use Reporting for Your Event
Track and analyze your event data so you can measure the success of your conference and improve future events!
With an event management platform like EventMobi, you can track data on attendance, interest, and action. Gain insight into which elements—video sessions, booths, networking activities, or games—were most valuable to your audience and use that knowledge to run future successful conferences.
Planning the Perfect Conference Starts Months in Advance
Conference planning is a complex yet rewarding journey. The strategy you choose and the decisions you make months in advance will shape your success on the event day. By following the tips in this conference planning guide, you can run successful conferences that inform, engage, and impress your attendees!
From huge conferences to smaller meetings, EventMobi makes event management simpler than ever. 🪄 Book your demo today!