Any conference is a complex endeavor, no matter whether you organize it as a webinar or as a live event. There are so many things to take care of and so little time. In this article, we will delve deep into the topic and discuss what makes an on-site or online conference great.
So, how do you ensure your conference is a talk of the town? Here are some things to consider:
Topic and Name
A topic and name are the foundation of a great conference. Here are some aspects to consider:
The degree of specificity
The topic/name may or may not be specific: that depends on the expected audience size and conference’s goal.
When you aim for a larger audience, do not make the topic or name of your event too obscure. If your conference’s theme is design, the good name would be Discover 2019 Design Trends, while the bad example would be something like Chain Pillar Design Conference.
If you aim for a smaller audience, you should go for a more specific topic. A good example would be the Dutch PHP Conference: a narrow topic focusing on a particular skill. The bad and simply misleading example would be Dutch Tech Conference.
The goal of your conference must reflect in the name. For instance, if the purpose is to discuss the modern trends in e-learning, the good name would be “E-Learning Annual Conference 2019.”
This may sound counterintuitive: after all, abbreviations can be confusing. However, they are also great for hashtags, memorization and sometimes even branding. Just don’t forget to decipher the abbreviations in the title, such as CALA 2020, the Conference on Asian and Linguistic Anthropology.
If a conference is truly great, it tends to create buzz on social media. Therefore, you should ask participants to share their experiences with a hashtag. To make the process faster, you can provide them with the event’s official abbreviation such as AICon instead of Artificial Intelligence Conference.
Abbreviations are also easier to remember than the long-winded and often generic conference names. When people talk about the event, it is faster for them to say IFCon than the International Film Conference.
What is more, some abbreviations have already become brands. For example, IBM Think lands more credibility than International Business Management Conference, specifically because IBM is a recognizable brand.
Note: Just make sure your abbreviation does not stand for anything offensive.
First of all, you must make sure the name of your conference is original. If there already exists a conference with the same title as yours, not only do you risk confusing or reducing the number of participants, but you may also be sued for copyright.
Secondly, it is good to include the city where the event will take place (Seoul, Berlin), the theme (such as architecture) and the year/duration (2019, week). This way, when people are searching for an architecture conference in Seoul 2019, they’d find Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2019.
The conference’s name rarely reflects the full scope of its content. That is why you need to provide a detailed description of its agenda. This way your potential visitors do not end up feeling disappointed or, worse, fooled. For example, mention if your tech conference focuses heavily on speaker presentations rather than practical workshops, or if your Berlin Art Conference only deals with German art, rather than the world’s heritage.
If you consider all the above points, you will be able to achieve a goal, crucial for the success of your conference: get the right number of people with shared goals and interests to sign up for your conference, or basically, hit your target audience.
A great conference must make money, no matter how elevated its goal is. Once you know what your event is going to be about, you should create a detailed budget plan, whether in a simple Excel spreadsheet or an online app.
First and foremost, you must calculate all expenses that should come with the event and add 15% on top for the unexpected. Expenditures vary according to many factors. For example, if you prefer a webinar format over a live event, you do not need to factor in the venue, coffee breaks and hotel expenses.
Be very careful with this step, as miscalculating your budget may result in considerable financial losses for you personally or for your company. You may even get fired for your mistake; that is why it is always a good idea to get advice from the experts.
Sponsors can agree to fund your conference for the opportunity to present their products or services, network with other professionals, or recruit potential employees. Remember: good sponsors not only relieve the financial burden but also provide extra value to your participants and add credibility to your event. However, make sure to check on their reliability and sign carefully on the dotted line.
Income could come from sponsors, tickets and sales during the conference. Make sure to set your prices reasonably, as if they are too low or too high, you may incur financial losses.
Location and Venue
There is no denying the fact that location and venue are extremely important for the conference’s success. But what are the specifics you must consider?
The easier it is for your potential attendees to get to the conference, the better.
Of course, you can just launch a webinar, so that your participants do not have to spend time on travel at all. This is perhaps the most convenient option for most people nowadays. However, if you give preference to on-site conferences, you should ensure it is easy to get to it by car, train, bus, plane, etc.
Make sure there are ample parking space and shuttle services for those traveling without a car. Additionally, your venue must be wheelchair accessible.
Staffing and equipment
If your conference is online, the only help you may need is a chat moderator, as it can be hard to present and answer questions at the same time. With live conferences, you simply cannot forget to ask about the venue personnel, especially the number of security officers. People take their security very seriously nowadays and will be aggrieved if you fail to provide it.
At live events, you must take care of all kinds of tech and equipment: projectors for presenters, microphones, video cameras, charging stations or outlets, routers for WIFI, air conditioning, etc. Online conferences are a bit easier, as you are not responsible for your attendees having the right tools. As a good host, however, you should remind them of the necessity to download the required software.
Food and beverages
Yet again online conferences are easier in this regard, as you are not responsible for your attendees’ lunch. When it comes to live presentations, however, you must definitely provide food, and not just the regular coffee breaks. You must ensure that your participants, guests and sponsors can buy lunch at the venue vendors or, if that is not an option, have it delivered to them through external suppliers.
Also, you should not forget to account for allergies and special meal preferences. Someone may be fasting; someone may be a vegetarian. If you want your attendees to have the best impression, you must take those factors into consideration.
It is not enough to contact a bunch of experts and put their presentations in a nice and linear timeline. There are a lot of aspects to review when choosing the speakers for your conference:
Speakers with established names in the industry as well as various celebrities would attract more people than regular professionals. If you are looking to draw a wider audience, you should consider inviting at least a couple such speakers.
Even though famous authors, comedians, scientists attract many, they may fail to satisfy your audience’s needs. Therefore, you should not get fixated on the status, but rather pay attention to your attendees’ background and expectations.
The common advice is to start and end with a bang, which is why you should let your most relevant, qualified and inspirational speakers present at the beginning and at the end. To ensure a good conference flow, you should also allot just enough time for their presentation (best keep it no longer than an hour) and Q&A (about 30 minutes).
You should not strive to get the most recognized speakers, as they tend to be pretty expensive. It’s best to get just a couple of those and focus more on relevancy, rather than fame. Sometimes raw diamonds can be found in the most unexpected places, you just need to be willing to search.
Manner of presenting
You must know what you are paying for, which is why you should check your potential speaker’s presentations online or ask them to share their recordings with you. Your speakers should be inspirational as well as knowledgeable. They must employ ethos (credibility), logos (facts, data), and pathos (emotion) in their performances.
Your speakers’ views are just as important as their credentials. Basically, you do not want to invite a racist or homophobic speaker to your conference, as it can lead to bad press and even sabotage.
Willingness to cooperate
Some speakers have a “my way or high way” attitude. This can damage your conference, if, for instance, they refuse to reduce the amount of text in their slides or be more interactive with the participants. If the speaker is not willing to adapt to your desires as a conference organizer, perhaps, they are not worth the time and money.
Materials and Freebies
Materials can help prepare your audience for the conference and provide deeper insights into the topic. For example, a simple brochure, whether physical or electronic, explaining when, where and who will present, can save your attendees from mindless wandering around the halls or missing an interesting event online. Busy people can decide what events to attend without having to constantly check the conference’s webpage.
In the same vein, a PDF file detailing the content of every presentation can help participants get the most value out of your conference. If they forget something, they can just open the file and quickly re-read the relevant chapter.
And who wouldn’t like getting a free book, a coupon or a discount as a reward for participation? It will not break the bank for you, but it will definitely help you build a good rapport with the attendees.
Date and Time
Finally, you must choose just the right date and time of your conference.
When scheduling any conference, you must consider the topic (for example, product intros are best done 2 weeks before), season (many people take a vacation in summer), and day (more people would have an opportunity to attend during the weekend).
However, you have more flexibility with online conferences. For example, you can set your webinar to happen at 8 or even 9 pm, and there is a high chance that most people would attend. After all, they can participate from the comfort of their beds, which is not an option with live events.
With live events, you need to deal with external factors, such as how busy the city and your venue are during that particular time period. For instance, you wouldn’t want to schedule your event in the middle of the World Cup season, as many hotels would be full, and some of your participants may end up sleeping on the bench as a part of their great conference experience.
Every conference is special and requires an individual approach. However, there are common criteria you need to consider if you want your event to be the greatest:
- The topic and name
- The budget
- Location and venue
- Materials and freebies
- Time and date
We believe the tips covered in this article will help you organize a fantastic conference.