Hosting a conference? These tips will help you prepare.
Conferences can be really valuable for an organization or association. With hundreds of people under one roof, you as conference host have the chance to impart a lot of information quickly and efficiently. Plus, attendees benefit by sharing and learning from each other.
I have attended numerous conferences. All were well-done overall, but in some cases certain aspects were lacking. If you are hosting a conference, keep these suggestions in mind to help ensure your program runs smoothly. (I offer more tips in another blog column.)
Hosting a conference entails many variables
1. Incorporate sufficient break time between sessions. Fifteen minutes is reasonable. That gives attendees time to visit the restroom, check for messages, and get to the next session. Anything less than that is cutting it pretty tight.
2. Have presenters set up at least 15 minutes early. Doing so should avoid the delays caused by those annoying and distracting “technical difficulties.” While the ultimate responsibility rests with the presenter, you as the conference planner may receive some criticism. Anything about a conference that goes badly tends to reflect negatively on the organization.
3. Tell presenters to speak loudly. This is particularly important for break-out sessions, because audio systems are rarely used. Some rooms are very large and/or have high ceilings. Those environments call for extra energy on the part of the presenters. Encourage them to crank up the volume.
4. Offer appropriate topics. One break-out session during a Rotary conference discussed the value of tourism to the local economy. It was interesting stuff, but there was no connection to Rotary or its projects. I don’t know why event organizers booked this presenter.
Presentations do not have to be tied directly to the event, but the information should still be valuable to the audience. This particular presentation was off-subject, and I commented as such on the evaluation form.
5. Offer popular seminars more than once. Attendees won’t have to choose one over the other. You can usually tell which break-out sessions will be in higher demand. If the presenters are available, ask that they hold more than one session.
6. Create useful evaluation forms. Ask relevant questions such as, “What did you like or dislike about the conference? Which sessions were useful? What would you like to see discussed in future conferences? What programs should we offer?” These questions give you the information you need to plan an even more valuable conference next time.
7. Monitor room atmosphere. The temperature in meeting rooms can change as the seminar or speech progresses. Make sure someone has access to the thermostat. Attendees will find it difficult to concentrate (and even stay awake at times), and you’re sure to read about it on the evaluation forms.
8. Include downtime at end of day. Attendees like to relax and freshen up after a long and intense day. Schedule an hour or so of break time before the evening events begin.
9. Schedule a strong keynote speaker in the evening. A long day can make for tired attendees. Add in a large dinner, and you have a recipe for a snoring audience. Choose a speaker who can liven up the crowd. Humorous speakers are great, but someone with a strong inspirational message will hold the audience’s attention, as well.
10. Delegate responsibilities. You can’t do it all alone. Partner with individuals who can be entrusted with the various tasks. Hosting a conference successfully is truly a team effort.
As conference host, you have a lot to do. These suggestions will help you as you prepare for your next event.
For related reading, see “Ensure that your meetings are informative and worthwhile.”
What has been your experience hosting conferences? Feel free to comment below. If you found this column helpful, could you do me a favor and share it with others? Use the buttons below. Thanks!
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