There can’t be many things in your work life that can provoke more feelings of sheer panic than being volunteered to set up the regional business conference for your industry sector. As the most experienced marketing manager within your company, you were half expecting to get the first refusal on the task only for some young, ambitious upstart to come and take it off your hands. This hasn’t happened, and you have been lumbered with the seemingly impossible task of coordinating an event where all of the head bods within your sector need to attend, have time to speak, be well fed and have a jolly good time. You can feel yourself reaching for the brown paper bag as your palms become sweaty and your palpitations become more pronounced. Take a step back and don’t panic. You can do this. Simply follow these steps to make your business conference go smoothly and without a hitch.
Creating An Atmosphere
Many businesspeople head to a conference to relax and actually escape their mundane office jobs. An excuse to network and let their hair down means they may turn up at your well-planned conference with little impetus to actually learn anything new or take anything back to their own companies. It’s up to you to motivate them and relocate their industry mojo.
Begin by choosing somewhere interesting to host your conference. Lecture halls are boring and bland. Why not select a venue that is more of a talking point but not too much of a distraction. You could select a large boat on the river in the center of the city. Perhaps a penthouse overlooking the city skyline is more exciting than past conference venues you’ve had the pleasure of attending. Or why not think outside the box and venture to a cinema. The old arthouses now cater for conferences, and you’ll be surrounded by art deco furnishings and cool movie memorabilia.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been attending conferences, you know that the key talking point is the food. A platter of egg and cress sandwiches isn’t going to see your conference go down in history as one of the best. To make sure that your guests are well catered for, ensure that special dietary request forms are sent out well before the event to give you time to prepare.
External caterers can take the food burden off of your shoulders. Keep things simple and to a theme to add a little interest. If you’re hosting your conference in London’s achingly hip east end, why not opt for the traditional pie, mash, and jellied eels? If you’re venturing into a casino for your conference, why not explore a range of canapes and finger food alongside some mocktails? Keep it relatively simple and don’t give too much choice. Ensure that there is a steady and constant supply of hot beverages, water, fruit and snacks and everyone should be content.
Secure Engaging Speakers
If the headline speaker for your event is Jim from the third most profitable company in your sector who is churning out the same speech as he did three years ago, your attendees won’t stay awake let alone feel enthused with your conference. Secure the services of a headline speaker who is engaging and aspirational. Head to social media, tweet to them every day, try and pin them down via their PA and don’t rest until you have secured a signature committing to your conference. The guests will relish listening to an industry-leading professional, and it will inspire them to ask to speak also. A hubbub of forward-thinking industry talk is what you’re after.
The best speakers utilize a good mix of technology, audience engagement, and confident presentation. By putting someone on the stage who knows what they are doing first, it will inspire those other speakers to brush up on their game.
If your conference runs for one or two days, you need to make sure that there is a watertight agenda. Try and ensure that every minute is covered even if this is scheduled break times. Adults, like children, crave routine and like to know what they are meant to be doing and when. Introduce a few more options into the agenda like specific workshops and encourage all attendees to sign up. By giving them the choice of what area they’d like to focus on whether this is PR, market forecasts or new technology, you are empowering them to take control of their own professional development.
When the more professional aspects of a conference have been completed for the day, it’s a good idea to have some ideas for leisure time. Organize a meal out and head to the local bowling alley. Set up activities that enable your attendees to switch off from industry talk and business jargon, and that allows them to let their hair down a little bit. A stuffy conference with no opportunities for downtime makes for a less than enjoyable experience.
Prior to your conference, ensure that you begin to communicate with all potential attendees as early as possible. Link to them via social media and set up a Facebook group. Create a forum where everyone can share their ideas, aims, and objectives of the event. After the conference has been held, you can utilize this forum for feedback. This enables you to develop a wide-reaching consensus when considering the successes and failures of the event. There will always be things that could have been done better, but you should also be able to celebrate the successes as well. You could then present this feedback to your manager and reflect on how to improve for next time.
Although they aren’t the most exciting events in the world, if you take the bull by the horns you can reinvent the business conference, making it the regional industry event that everyone saves the date for.