Throughout the course of our first year in business, we have worked with many conference organizers. Some of them have been complete pros. Others not so much. We have come to notice a few things that will make or break a conference and have detailed them below:
How far in advance should I plan my conference? The best conferences we have worked with have full-time staff that works year round on their conferences. If you don’t have this amount of firepower, we recommend that you start planning your conference, and working on the details, at least 9 months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to make sure all of your ducks are in a row and allow time for the inevitable mess up.
When should I send my attendees critical information? Don’t wait until the week before your conference to send out critical info. Make sure your attendees have the Who, What, Where, When and Whys months in advance so attendee questions don’t pile up on you in the few days leading into the event. This information should include: agenda, location, parking info, speaker profiles, WIFI passwords, Q&A format, event organizer contact info, maps of the space, etc. Ideally, most of this information will be sent out in a confirmation email upon registration but we recommend it be sent out 2 months prior to the conference.
Should I include WIFI as part of the registration fee? Absolutely! We live in a WIFI era and this is a necessity at any large event. Also, your attendees are paying a pretty penny to attend your conference and nickel and diming them on WIFI fees is not good (we’ve seen this frustration all too often). Bump up your registration price a bit, have the WIFI included and send them the access information prior to the event. On the WIFI note, make sure the event space has plenty of bandwidth for the attendees. Slow internet is almost worse than no internet so check into this when you are taking bids from event spaces. This may sound silly but, going along the lines of WIFI, your attendees have given a great amount to be here and running out of juice on their device(s) is no good. Whether this is a single location with multiple outlets or a powerstrip under every table, having the ability to charge a device can turn a mediocre event into a stellar one.
How should I provide speaker Powerpoints to my attendees? We’ve seen this issue addressed every which way. This is a tough problem to solve as one solution (cloud based) draws on the internet bandwidth and the other (hard drive) is expensive, tedious and not-so-scalable. Having said that, we recommend you go with a cloud-based solution. Do this by putting document links up on your website, dropbox or using 2Shoes to attach your presenter slide decks to each sessions. One thing that we think is great about using 2Shoes for this function is that if your attendees are curious about a presentation, they can access the powerpoint from our application and also ask questions to the presenter in the same location. It just makes their lives that much easier.
Should I gather feedback from my attendees? Yes. Having metrics on attendee feedback can increase registration at your future events. Not only that, but these points of data can let you know what smaller event variables to change such as food, location and content of the presentations. Through 2Shoes, you can gather feedback during each session and compile the answers into a bar graph for the whole event.
Should I have a Q&A during each session? We recommend it! Think of it this way: many of your attendees are coming to this conference to engage with a specific speaker that they look up to. Just hearing them present is great, but having your specific question answered by them is even better! Your attendees will feel more engaged and you will see increased attendance at future events due to having a Q&A.
How should I take questions during the Q&A? With 2Shoes App, of course! But let’s examine the reasons. We are in a technological era, and using paper and pen is seen as unimpressive by your attendees and a pain to go through by your moderators. Using a microphone is one solution but you end up with ‘mic hogs’ who tell their life story and shy attendees that are uncomfortable voicing their question in front of the crowd. By using 2Shoes, you will give your attendees an easy way to ask questions to the presenter. You will manage ‘mic hogs’ and empower your shy attendees.
What are some creative ways to make my conference memorable? Have a sense of humor as part of the culture of your event. Giving your attendees stretch, walk and even laughter breaks is a nice change from sitting in a chair all day. Scavenger hunts and happy-hour mixer, at your sponsor’s bar, are also a nice addition.
How can I attract more sponsors to my conference? Securing sponsors for your conference is a critical component to the event. Potential sponsors will want to know that your attendees are the correct demographic that they are targeting so try to have as much information as you can about them. Also, showing that your event is growing will make sponsors feel more comfortable taking the risk for the first time as they may be getting in on the ground floor of something special. Finally, make sure to introduce your sponsors to key individuals at the event so that they feel appreciated and make the most of their sponsorship.
How do I run a conference using volunteers? Using volunteers to run a conference can be tricky. The reason being, it is hard to have leadership with a volunteer group and tasks usually end up being unorganized. It can absolutely be done, but if you are going the volunteer route, we recommend that you have a clear leader of the group and managers for each task. In this way, everyone will know who to report to and will be able to stay on task.