6 Tips for Planning a Successful Conference

Event planning ranks high for being a creative career with good job prospects, but it’s also among the most stressful occupations out there. Whether it’s a breakfast panel discussion, an all-day conference, or a multi-day annual meeting, the pressure to plan an enjoyable and worthwhile conference can push the stress level up to 10. One way to dial down the anxiety is to avoid careless mistakes and hone in on a few details.

After the jump, we’ve got a few suggestions for how to make your conference go smoothly and successfully based on the many events we’ve visited over the past couple of years. Any others you’d like to add to the list? The comments section is open.

Self-promotion is a cardinal speaker no-no: This is a core commandment at TED conferences, where speakers are sent strict rules in advance. For some events, exceptions apply, such as authors discussing recently published books. However, event attendees don’t want a sales pitch, so a carefully placed reminder to speakers is advisable.

Speakers should hit the refresh, not the rewind, button: It may be tempting for popular speakers to repeat the same presentation. We even heard a speaker who bragged that he’d just given the same talk at SXSW. However, with livestreaming, tweeting, and other ways of transmitting info about a live event, you run the risk of repeating your presentation to a group that’s heard it before.  Speakers may need instructions to provide new content.

Speakers need to bring more than themselves: Even in this multimedia age, speakers occasionally show up with no presentation materials. This causes the audience to start using their own electronic devices while they listen. It’s rare for speakers to be compelling enough without visual aids or videos, so it’s best to request an advance presentation preview.

Align the keynote speakers with the optimal time slots: At a recent event, the midday presenter detailed exotic medical conditions. Lunchtime speakers should inform and entertain with the appropriate meal-time discussion. A dynamic end-of-day keynote speaker is also important. Instead of the event winding down, lively speakers leave attendees energized and headed home with a favorable impression.

Long waits and standing-room-only crowds are better suited to nightclubs: In particular, the registration check-in process shouldn’t be overlooked. Similarly, having enough seats in the main conference hall is expected. Last minute sign-ups should be the ones standing, not those who registered early.

Skip the odd menu offerings: The lunch entrée was catfish at a conference last month, so half the table requested a vegetarian option. Chicken may be an over-served meal, but it’s still more widely eaten. Buffets can be a good alternative, as long as the lines are efficiently managed.

Who let the dogs in? At a recent dinner event panel held in a midtown office building, there was a dog on the lap of the woman seated across from us at the table. Some occurrences are so far out of the ordinary that the only answer is to roll with it. Actually the dog was among the best behaved, though he might have started barking if catfish had been the entrée that night.

Last year, we highlighted various ways to keep event audiences tuned in to all the event happenings. Check that out here.

And click here for last summer’s guest post, offering a few how-tos to event organizers on the rise.

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