How to Run an Effective Conference: The 7 Steps You Need to Follow
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Running a conference can be a massive undertaking. And, the bigger the event, the more variables there will be to address, be mindful of and plan for.
But we can’t overlook the many benefits of holding an event for your target audience, whether that means giving its members a chance to experience your business in a new way, building stronger partnerships with your vendors and suppliers or generating additional revenue.
Based on my experience running LTV Conf, a 300-plus person conference for SaaS business owners, investors and executives, I've learned that running an effective conference is an art and a science. Here are the key steps needed to ensure your event connects with your audience.
1. Work out the key details in advance.
It’s important to set yourself up for success. So, while the temptation might be to gloss over the finer details of running a conference, you have to take the time to think ahead about how it’s all going to come together -- or your event could end up a disaster. Start by considering:
- What are your goals for your event? What do you hope to achieve?
- Who is this event for? Why will these people attend?
- When and where will the event take place? What should a ticket cost?
- How much will the event cost? What is your budget?
- Who is going to speak at your event? How will the schedule be organized?
At the start, your answers to these questions can be broad strokes. What matters is that as you begin to consider the answers, the details you still have to consider will present themselves, whether that means details for catering, additional seating or lodging for out-of-towners.
2. Determine what your value proposition is.
As with any product or service, you must be clear on what your guests will walk away with after attending your conference. And, depending on who your target audience is, that’s going to vary.
Common elements to consider here include networking opportunities, tips and advice shared from the stage or in work sessions -- even the entertainment offered. MicroConf is a great example of a conference that created two versions of the event, geared toward two different entrepreneurial levels and two different regions of the world.
Organizers also built in networking-happy hour events to ensure attendees could connect with one another, which helped the conference grow into one of the strongest communities in the SaaS industry. This was a direct result of the conference organizers' knowing who their audience was, and is.
3. Choose the perfect venue.
Your venue can make or break the event. That may at first seem like an overstatement, until you consider all relevant factors. A great venue should offer a "hallway" area in which attendees can network during the breaks, as well as be a relatively private area for the event as a whole.
Convene is a great example of a venue designed for exactly this purpose, and the venue's professional staff can help you build the small details into your conference day that will make a difference (hint: Food and snacks matter more than might you think).
Consider, too, whether there are hotels or restaurants nearby. Many conferences even hold their event in a hotel to allow guests to more easily connect and network after a long day of learning. Removing the barriers to intra-event gatherings is one of the best ways to ensure that your attendees enjoy themselves, build relationships -- and ultimately come back.
4. Decide the best time to hold your event.
Give yourself plenty of time to plan in advance for your event. If you have too tight of a deadline, many things could fall through the cracks. Additionally, you'll want to do some research and uncover any competing events occurring. Another benefit of deciding your event in advance advance is giving your potential audience plenty of notice.
Although the most important events to be aware of are those taking place in the same city, also consider larger events happening on a global scale that might compete with yours. Further, be aware of any major sporting events, music festivals and concerts, exhibits and the like.
It’s worth thinking about the season of the year, too. When is the most popular time for conferences for your niche? Attendees are likely to build a conference schedule around the biggest events in your space, so make sure to research events lists to determine the optimal time to hold yours.
5. Set your budget.
Taking all considerations into account, how much will your event cost? Assess the pertinent areas, including the venue, speakers, entertainers, catering, staffing and the like. Tools like Demand Metric’s conference budget template can be really helpful in laying out exactly what the event is going to cost.
Many organizations put on events that initially don’t net revenue at all in the short term, but do result in long-term sales because of the awareness, authority and credibility built through the audience targeted. Just be sure you decide what you are hoping to gain from your event.
6. Choose your speakers carefully.
Depending on the size and nature of your event, you can also put the call out for speakers and have them apply to win a spot on your roster. Just keep in mind that ticket sales could hinge on who will be coming to share, which means your list should be at least partially curated.
Naturally, there are speakers and presenters in your industry that are more credible, authoritative, notorious, popular or something else. Consider what prominent experts you could bring in based on their availability and your budget. At LTV Conf, for example, we made sure to bring in a range of speakers who were experts in different facets, to offer attendees a variety of available knowledge categories. Celebrity speakers can also be worthwhile if you have the budget for it.
The availability of speakers is another reason to leave plenty of planning time. Not all speakers will be available when you want them. And, it’s always good to be thinking about plan B and even plan C if your dream team doesn’t come together.
7. Find attendees on Facebook.
Facebook groups are especially valuable for this task. You can create an event, invite prospects and continue to share information on the event as the date approaches. You can also see how your competitors set up their event, who RSVP’d, determine how to position your event and more.
With all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, you’re ready to run an effective conference. Be sure to give it the attention it deserves, as the bar for summits is high, and your audience members will not stay engaged if they aren’t being served.
Systematize every aspect of the conference. Checklists are invaluable tools in helping you ensure every aspect of your event has been planned for. That way, you’ll be able to replicate your success moving forward. You’ll also be able to tweak any areas that didn’t work well this time around so that your event in future runs more efficiently, with subsequent iterations.