Conference planning is stressful. There’s no denying it. Whether you’re an experienced professional or just making your way into the industry, it’s tough to stay on top of all the moving parts that go into planning an event. In fact, CBS News named Event Coordinator the 5th most stressful job in America in 2018. The key to managing that stress is staying organized. And that’s where a conference planning checklist comes in.
We’ve created a free, print-friendly Conference Planning Checklist to help you stay on target and on time. Here’s how it breaks down.
Conference Planning Checklist: Before the Event
18 months out from the event:
No matter what industry you work in, it usually takes at very least a year to plan an event. And the sooner you get started the better, so we really recommend starting a year and a half in advance. When you’re 18 months out, here’s what you need to do:
Determine the event objective/theme: The first step in planning any event is determining your objective and how you're going to incorporate an event theme into that objective.
Decide on a date: Next, you'll want to decide on a date. Do a little bit of research to see when competitor organizations are holding their event, and whatever you do, don’t pick those dates.
Pick a city: We don’t want to be captain obvious, but picking a city that has a special draw, whether it’s warm weather, outdoor attractions, or a bustling nightlife, can greatly impact attendee numbers. Here are the top 10 cities to host a conference or event in 2019.
Secure a convention center/event space: Once you’ve decided on a city, it’s time to start looking for a convention center or event space. It's also never a bad idea to conduct a site visit. Think about how many people you're expecting to attend and ensure that you'll have a large enough exhibit hall and ample meeting room space.
Finalize an event budget: Finalizing an event budget early helps give you an understanding of what types of sessions, speakers, and technology you'll be able to include in your conference programming. Once you finalize an overall event budget, create benchmarks for different categories and check in periodically as you continue to plan your event. Here's a 7 step process to simplify and prioritize an event budget.
Decide on ticket price: Ticket price is a huge factor in how many people register for your event. Do some research to see what similar organizations are charging. Determine how much you need to charge based on what you want overall revenue to be. It should be enough to make a substantial profit but not so much that it turns too many people away.
Solicit sponsorship: Sponsorship is an incredibly important piece of the event planning process, so start your reach out efforts early. Put together a sponsorship sheet that illustrates the benefits of each level.
Hotel reservations: Once you've secured your convention center or event space, start looking for nearby hotels and make room reservation blocks. The closer your hotel is to the convention space, the better. Usually, you can get some sort of deal for reserving so many rooms.
RFPS/Contracts/Deposits: Ahh, yes. Collecting RFPS. Reviewing never-ending contracts. Making deposit after deposit. While this part of event planning isn't always the most fun, it is necessary. Don't forget to focus on these in the early stages of your planning process. It'll make things that much easier down the road.
Marketing plan: You can't plan a conference without creating a marketing plan. Include your outreach strategy, how and where you're going to advertise, which platforms you're going to use, and who your target audience is. How are you going to reach people who have attended previously and encourage them to come again? And how are you going to branch out and build awareness to people who haven't?
Save the date: Send out a save the date email to your entire email list! This way, they can block it off on their calendar and let their employers know early that they're interested in attending. It's also a great way to create some initial excitement around your conference or event.
Agenda and session rough draft: Research speakers, brainstorm sessions, and think strategically about what kind of education offerings and breakout sessions you want to offer. Do they align with your overall event goals? Are they within budget? After your rough draft is put together, start reaching out to the appropriate people/organizations. Many times event speakers are booked way in advance, so the sooner you get on this, the better.
12 months out from the event:
Build your website: Your event website is extremely important. Oftentimes, it's the first impression potential event goers get. The site should be easy to navigate, with an eye-catching design. The last thing you want is an outdated look. This is your chance to create excitement and encourage attendance. Oh, and it needs to be responsive, meaning it needs to be mobile friendly.
Configure your event app: If you're using an event app, now is the time to start getting things set up. Ensure it offers a user-friendly experience. Even apps should never make thing more complicated – in fact, they should do the opposite and make things easier for your attendees. Here are some top event apps & software to consider.
Book speakers and collection bios: By now you should have reached out to potential speakers to gather information about their rates and typical speeches. Decide which people (or person) aligns most with your event theme and budget. After you've finalized this, collect a bio and photo to include on your event website. SpeakerHub is a great way to secure top industry speakers.
Finalize programming and put together event schedule: Speakers aren't the only thing to check off the list at 8-12 months out. By now you should be working to finalize your programming so that you can put together a comprehensive event schedule. Once finalized, publish to the website. People want to know what types of opportunities they're going to have from attending.
Whether potential attendees are interested in the star speakers, next level networking opportunities, or unique educational sessions, giving them as much information ahead of time is sure to increase their likelihood in actually registering.
Implement your marketing strategy: As awesome as your website or event programming might be, you won't hit the ticket sales you want to without marketing. Take advantage of all the platforms.
Consider offering an early bird registration discount: Early bird registration discounts are a great way to create excitement and boost attendance numbers early. They create a sense of urgency that says, "I need to register for this now."
Decide what kind of event security you'll need: Security is becoming increasingly important in today's event world. From large crowds to data protection, security is something you'll need to discuss with your team. And it's always better safe than sorry, so err on the side of overly cautious.
Check-in on your budget benchmarks: How are you doing on your budget? Are you hitting your benchmarks? What categories have you gone over budget on? Are you under budget anywhere? Adjust as needed to stay within your total event budget.
6 months out from the event:
Finalize any catering needs: Events are about much more than just the sessions. Every detail matters, especially food. Finalize what types of food you want to serve and gather estimates. You could even do a taste test.
Rent AV equipment: When you're six months out, you'll want to put in rental requests for AV equipment. Do some research and see which company best fits your needs. We recommend checking out Endless Events.
Send out reminders to attendees, speakers, sponsors, and vendors: Keeping in consistent contact with each of these groups helps keep everyone informed. Keep your attendees posted on any schedule changes or additions, ensure your speakers and sponsors know what's going on, and work with your vendors to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to help make your event a success.
Continue to market, market, market: We can't emphasize this enough. High attendance rates come down to one thing: how well did you market your event? In today's world, there are so many ways to raise awareness.
3 months out from the event:
Collect any presentation submissions: The event is quickly approaching and it's time to collect any and all presentation submissions. Review them carefully, checking to make sure each contains relevant, valuable information.
Order conference materials: This includes any lanyards, badges, conference bags, or any other SWAG items you're planning to give out to attendees. 4imprint is a great company for all SWAG items.
Order any print signage or posters: Signage and event posters help direct conference-goers. Order these at least three months out because printing, as simple as it may seem, takes time. And if any information is incorrect, you'll have time to reprint without having to worry if it will be finished in time.
Week of the event:
Deliver signage and materials: Once you're a week out, start delivering any signage and materials so that you can easily set things up the day before or the morning of. Be careful with these materials – the last thing you want is to damage or break them.
Provide final numbers to your caterer: By now you should be able to give your caterer a final headcount. Try to be as accurate as possible so as to not waste food or drink.
Check technology and equipment: When it comes to technology, there's so much that can go wrong. Test everything out ahead of time and familiarize yourself with how everything works and how you may need to troubleshoot should something go wrong.
Backup all presentation materials: If all you have is one thumb drive, that is not enough. We repeat. That is not enough. Back up everything. Your presentation materials should be able to be accessed in multiple ways by multiple people.
Check AV arrangements: Again, ensure everything is working properly and contact your AV company if it isn't.
Send welcome/what to expect email: Send out an email to all of your attendees! Get them excited. Let them know what to expect and what they're going to take away from attending. How will this event make them a better professional? What new knowledge or skills are they going to be leaving with?
Conference Planning Checklist: During the Event
The first day of the event:
Set up registration desk: Get there early and set your event registration desk up. Event check-in can quickly become a stressful situation if your table isn't well-organized. Think about how you want your attendees to flow and what's going to get them through the quickest. Organize any badges or name tags alphabetically and make sure the table is appropriately staffed. Attendees are going to have a lot of questions about where to go and what to do. Ensure you have enough people to help with registration and help with directions and expectations.
Brief staff: We can't stress enough how important it is for you to brief your staff ahead of time. Go over any last-minute changes and touch on any important parts everyone should know. It'll help you and your volunteers/event workers feel much more at ease.
During the event:
Try to enjoy yourself: We know this is easier said than done, but you put a lot of hard work in. Try to take some time to sit back and enjoy it. Understand that at this point, you just have to give up some control and let things happen as they happen.
The last day of the event:
Collect conference feedback: Collecting conference feedback is incredibly important. The more attendee data you can get, the better. Don't wait to do it after the event. Do it during it, when it's still fresh in their minds.
Conference Planning Checklist: After the Event
The day after the event:
Rest: The day after the event should be dedicated to rest. Seriously, this is important. You put in months of hard work, long hours, and late nights and you were probably running around the whole week of the event. Let yourself recover from the hustle and bustle.
One week after the event:
Sent thank you letters: Send out personalized thank you letters to your speakers, sponsors, and vendors. This isn't just common courtesy – it's a great way to build industry partnerships and help you secure the same organizations for the next year. Email is great, but handwritten is even better.
Post-conference feedback meeting with the team: Once you've all had a chance to breathe, set up a meeting with the team. Talk about what went well and what didn't. Take notes of things you want to remember for next year. And let your employees know how much they're valued and supported. Like we said, planning events is stressful, for everyone involved. Showing appreciation makes it all worth it.
Do you have any other items you add to your conference planning checklist? Everyone has their own process, and we're always open to hearing what you have to say. What's helped you stay organized? Do you follow a different timeline of events? Let us know what's worked and what hasn't.
And, if you're interested in exploring session ideas, allow us to introduce to you the ideas of speed networking. Speed networking is one of the fastest growing forms of networking in the world. Our company, SpeedNetworking.com, takes the traditional value of face-to-face meetings and combines it with matchmaking technology to ensure each attendee can pre-select the types of people they're interested in meeting. Through predictive analytics, we can ensure the highest quality of connections for each person.
Happy event planning!