30 November 2007

Organizing a Conference

Organizing a conference can be fun! Really! I enjoy it. The only problem is, you usually have to organize the conference and still do all your other work and that makes for some pretty hectic days leading up to the event. You definitely need to be organized!

Start with a good To-Do list. I am convinced that with a good To-Do list you can organize just about anything! Some things that should be on your To-Do list are:
  • Fix date and finalize speakers. Until these things are done, you can't move forward.  Usually it will not be you who needs to do this, but you might have to nudge the person in charge.  If you have your To-Do list completed you can show them all you need to do and until the date and speakers are fixed, you can't move foward.
  • Book venue and organize food.  I wrote an article about reading contracts that would be useful for this stage of your planning.
  • Prepare the invitation list.
  • Arrange for promotional materials if you are providing any to your participants.
  • Determine what supplies you will need.*
  • Arrange for printing of materials and binding.  If this is done onsite you might want to give your mailroom staff a heads up it is coming down the pipes.  If you are having it done with an external printer then you should meet with them and decide exactly what your requirements are.  They are the experts and will be able to assist you.  If you are doing it yourself block some time in your calendar to do this and if you have a large boardroom block some time there as well so you will have enough space to put everything together.
  • If there are invited guests you need to create an invitation or draft a letter of invitation. You can do a merge from the invitation list to the invitation letter as well as to the address labels. Block some time for yourself to go over the invitation list to verify names, titles and addresses.  Proofreading is essential as you don't want to spell their names wrong or put someone down as a manager when they are the President.
  • Send invitations and start an RSVP list so you can keep track of who is coming.  If you are having a dinner, then you will need to know their food choices and if there are any food allergies that you need to be aware of. 
  • You can also use the RSVP list at the registration table to check off names as people arrive.
  • Prepare name tags.  You can put the name tags on the registration table in alphabetical order for people to pick up with their meeting packages and any promotional materials you have for them.
  • If you need to advertise the event, contact a local paper or if it is going in a professional magazine, organize that so it will be advertised well in advance.  You may also want to post it on your company website and will have to arrange that with the appropriate person in advance to have that done.
  • Prior to the event send an email reminder to invited guests to make sure they are still attending.  You would be surprised how many come back and say they now can't attend, especially if it is a free event.  They tend to remember more when they pay for it.  This is very important if you are ordering food for the event.  The hotel will give you a date that you have to confirm your final numbers, so you should do this before that date.
  • Deliver all your materials to the venue if it is off site.  If it is on site, have them all prepared and ready to hand out.
  • Materials you will need at the registration table such as pens, a pad of paper, highlighter, black marker, extra name tags and holders, yellow stickies, phone numbers for all the speakers and key contacts, cell phone to call said speakers and key contacts if they have not arrived on time or if you need assistance.  The hotel concierge is a good person to have on speed dial.
  • The hotel will normally provide complimentary pens and pads of paper for the participants, but have that on your list to check with them.
  • Signage to direct participants to your event if needed.
I like using a timeline To-Do list so I can see everything I need by when.  For an article on how to do that, click here.

In my early years of being a secretary I didn’t want to have anything to do with organizing a conference or any event. Everything seemed to go wrong when I did! I organized a Departmental group meeting once and when we got to the hotel they had no record of my reservation. Fortunately they were able to accommodate us, but I had the feeling I was jinxed when it came to organizing.  With the To-Do list, things have changed.  I know exactly where I'm at in organizing the event.

I love the planning, organizing and especially the interaction with the people who are registering. The day of the event is great as you get to meet the people you have only met by email. As you are handing out name tags you can finally put a name to a face and greet them on behalf of your organization. It is nice to see all your hard work coming together and everything going smoothly. Of course you are madly scrambling behind the scenes to make it look that way to the attendees!

Each time I organize an event I learn something. One dinner event I organized I must have been having a chocolate craving when I chose the menu items. For our first snack I ordered some chocolate chip cookies.  After a great meal the dessert was served – a rich chocolate cake. Break time came and I looked and there were chocolate crunch bars. Now when I set up menu items I get the help of the hotel event co-ordinator. They are a great resource to assist you in picking meal items, determining how much to order, suggesting table set up and just about anything to do with your event. They want to assist you to make it successful.

I am always preparing for the next event so if something about this conference didn’t go as nicely as I would have liked, I make a note of it on my To-Do list to remind myself for the next time. You can be sure that I put NO CHOCOLATE! after that last one.

*Notify your Mailroom staff (or whoever orders your supplies) of your needs so they will have enough in stock when you need it. There is enough to worry about when organizing a conference without finding out at the last minute that the supply room doesn't stock more than 100 name badge holders and you've confirmed for 250!  If you are responsible to order the supplies, have a template of things you need when you plan a conference so each time you can go through it and be reminded of what you need.

Even the smallest things I put on my To-Do list. You think you will remember, but you are so busy on the day of the event that unless you have it written down you can forget. You need something you can check off to make sure everything is in the box going over with you to the conference.

1 comment:

Corry Mahnke said...

There's an upcoming training on how to plan successful events, which follows the event "cycle" and gives pointers along the way. Check it out at www.lorman.com.

Best Practices for Successful Event Planning
5/20/14 at 1pm eastern