ARE YOU EVENT-READY?
Ten tips to set you up for success
A successful conference starts with a good plan, plenty of research and realistic expectations. A year in advance should give you ample time to get everything in place and make sure nothing gets overlooked. Set a realistic timescale of activities to get event-ready, decide the delegate headcount and book the venue as soon as you can.
Set an agenda packed with gritty, inspiring content that stimulates conversations and new thinking then engage charismatic professionals to lead it and headline fringe events. Diaries fill up early and you need to be quick to get the best. For almost every aspect of the event, you need a Plan B, because the devil is always in the detail.
BE SAVVY WITH THE BUDGET
Financial constraints mean you have to be realistic. You want the best deal their money can buy venue, accommodation, hospitality and plenty of local attractions to please delegates. But you don’t have a bottomless bank account. Consider the demographics of the audience. Do they warrant the eye-watering costs of staging events in the capital, or would a slower pace be more fitting, and cheaper?
It’s the venue that swallows up most of the budget, but if you opt for a two-year deal you should be able to secure a worthwhile discount. In locations with abundant accommodation, you can usually get special deals for delegates with competing hotels. Just allow yourself plenty of time to find and negotiate the best deals.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Who’s coming to the show? Doctors, nurses, tech-heads, trade union members, charity groups? The venue and the facilities around it will matter to these people. Choose a destination that’s easy for everyone to get to, with a good choice of accommodation, from B&Bs to 5-star. Is there plenty of parking nearby, how good is public transport, does the place have good environmental and safety credentials? Check out things to do – sports, nightlife, eating out, bars, clubs, theatres and cinemas. While delegates aren’t on holiday, after show activities are great for bonding and fully engaging them in the event.
GET THE SCALE RIGHT
Getting the right fit is just as important as being in the right place – regardless of the event’s size, value or significance. Do you want quirky and off-beat, or simple and traditional? Are we talking tens, hundreds, or thousands of delegates? Town venues with accommodation, or out of town conference centres and sports stadia? Do you need everything on site, or is the venue within walking distance of local hotels? Does the venue and location reflect your brand image and values? Does this feel right?
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE LOCAL FREE AGENTS
Popular event destinations will have a local conference bureau that specialises in working with organisers to find the best deal for their event. They have a wealth of local knowledge and working relationships that they can exert to help you promote and run a successful event. Anything from venue finding and delegate accommodation, to tailor-made hospitality and social activities. Best of all, it’s completely free.
FEED THE SOUL
Delegates will often judge an event by what you give them to eat and drink. The last thing you want is bad hospitality reviews. Choose venues and hotels with an impeccable reputation for quality, variety and service, and who are willing to theme and brand hospitality to tie in with the conference. And remember, it’s not only about lavish, fine dining, but wholesome bread-and-butter options to keep energy and concentration up during a busy day at conference, with plenty of fresh water on tap.
CHOOSE LOCAL SPECIALISTS TO SET UP AND RUN THINGS SMOOTHLY
Many venues bundle in a whole range of services as part of the deal. But where you have a choice, you may need a bit of help choosing the best suppliers in the area. Rather than do the research yourself, ask the local conference bureau to help. They’ll have list of tried and tested AV companies, guest speakers, caterers, security providers, and more, who’ve worked on similar sized events and come with recommendations and an excellent track record.
CREATE THE COMPLETE DELEGATE EXPERIENCE
As with most organised events, it’s the after party that creates lasting business relationships and a buzz in the conference. Bespoke activity packages that reflect the interests of the audience can go a long way to making an event not just enjoyable, but more relevant and valuable. You can team up with local hotels and eateries to stage workshops in cooking, chocolate making, pizza building, or organise a food safari to sample the best that local producers can offer. Or maybe organise outdoor events like high ropes, coasteering or beach yoga. This is how you make an event memorable.
DRAW THE CROWDS
Event organisers face tough competition for the delegate purse. So your event needs to offer something special and different to get good attendance numbers. Creating unique and fulfilling delegate and hospitality experiences gives you a vital edge. But you need to spread the word loud and clear. Use social media to keep the event front of mind, with regular tweets, posts and candid commentary about what’s coming up. Talk to the local media. If you have celebrity speakers or a hot agenda, they can often be persuaded to carry out radio and newspaper interviews. And think about creating a sponsored event, like a charity run or litter pick-up, to leave a legacy and win community support.
NOW FOR THE AUTOPSY
Regardless of how well you think it went this time, you’ll need to do it better next time. And every event, no matter how frequent or well planned, will throw up a surprise or two to keep you on your toes. Get as much feedback as you can from delegates, speakers and exhibitors on all aspects of the event – accommodation, catering, customer service, communications, operations. Run a survey with a prize draw and make it easy for delegates to log their feedback online in order to get as much info as possible, and share it with the venue, conference bureau and suppliers. This will help identify opportunities for adding features to make the event more appealing to delegates, and you can use this in the marketing messages. It shows you’re listening.