Hosting a conference or corporate event is one of the best ways for a business to boost its reputation and emerge as an industry-leading authority — especially if that conference delivers lots of practical value to attendees in a vibrant, entertaining venue. Our ‘planning a conference checklist’ is designed to guide you through the steps of organising a conference and help you create an unforgettable event.
How To Plan A Conference Timeline and Checklist
A successful conference takes creativity, understanding your target audience’s needs, and lots of planning. The larger your event, the more time and assistance you’ll need to organise it. We recommend starting your planning at least 8-12 months prior to the big event and enlisting the help of an event coordinator to make the process as seamless as possible. Here is our recommended list of steps to follow 12 months before the event.
Step #1: Craft a vision for your conference
Having a clear vision and concrete goals will make the conference planning process and your event timeline easier to create. Here are a few questions that will help you make informed planning decisions:
- What is the purpose of your conference?
- What is your event’s theme?
- How will this theme resonate with your audience?
- Why should people attend?
- What value will your conference offer your attendees?
- What will your event look like?
- How many people will be in attendance?
- What are your goals?
- What are your attendees’ expectations?
- What knowledge do your attendees already have and what would they like to learn more about?
- Will your conference have seminars, break-out workshop sessions, a tradeshow?
- What types of sessions (presentations, tutorials or workshops) will best help your audience absorb the ideas discussed?
- How many people do you want to attend?
- If your event must turn a profit, how much do you want to make?
Clearly articulating and understanding your goals will help you create a detailed timeline, resulting in a smooth planning experience.
Step #2: Create the budget
To successfully plan your event, decide on your event budget first. A clear budget will help you decide where to allocate money. If you are unsure, borrow similar figures from past events for a baseline, make educated guesses for additional costs, and review regularly to avoid exceeding your budget.
Step #3: Set the conference date
In the early stages of planning your event, it’s best to select two dates: an optimal date and a second best ‘backup’ date. In most cases, Thursday or Friday are the most ideal days for a conference. When setting a date, it’s best to cross-check against a calendar to ensure the date does not compete with any major events or festivals in your geographic area.
Step #4: Choose the conference’s venue
The location and atmosphere of your conference’s venue will impact its success. Your venue is one of the most important decisions you will make when planning your conference. When deciding on your venue, it’s important to consider:
- What geographic area is best for your event?
- Is the venue well-located?
- Can participants easily travel to the venue by public transport?
- What size venue is required? Will the venue accommodate the number of people that you expect to attend? Are smaller rooms available for breakout sessions?
- Does the atmosphere of the venue suit your target audience and theme?
- Does the venue have the infrastructure you need, such as information technology, audio and video equipment?
- Does the venue offer high-quality catering? If so, do they cater to special dietary requirements such as vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free?
- Does the venue have a list of recommended vendors to enhance the entertainment and experience of your conference?
Step #5: Organise speakers
An exciting line-up of speakers can give you a competitive advantage in promoting and creating a successful event. Look for speakers and panellists who will complement and strengthen your brand, and grow attendance. Here are some key steps for organising speakers:
- Find speakers: Make a prioritised list of ideal speakers you’d like to invite to speak at your event. Look for thought leaders whose expertise lends itself well to your conference’s themes. Your speakers should be well known and respected within your industry to boost your conference’s credibility and entice more speakers to sign up.
- Decide on your value proposition: Make a list of reasons why speaking at your conference will benefit your speakers. Keep these in mind when contacting and inviting potential speakers.
- Confirm your speakers: Finalise your speakers and confirm their chosen topics. Schedule speakers’ deliveries and confirm the performance schedule with speakers. If you are paying your speakers for their time, you will need to finalise the details of their contracts.
- Coordinate promotional material: Request speaker biographies and photos to prepare marketing and signage.
- Prepare speakers for the event: Arrange travel and accommodation bookings for your speakers.
Step #6: Design your conference’s agenda
Now that you have pinned down the key details of your event, it’s time to shape them into a detailed agenda. Ideally, your agenda should be organised for at least four months before your conference. This agenda should include a start and end time and multiple food breaks to help your attendees refuel throughout the day.
Step #7: Set up registration
Attendance is one of the most important factors for a successful event. Before you start to market your event, you will first need to decide on ticket prices, including VIP, early bird and the launch sales prices, to help your organisation meet its profit goals. Next, you’ll need to select an online ticketing and registration system for your website, which will help you track the number of registrants and attendees, process payments and understand the demographics of the people attending your event.
Step #8: Market your event
Marketing and promotion are crucial to holding a successful event. The first step is to create a strategy.
- Define your target audience – Who is your target audience and what do they want to experience at such an event? Where does your target audience interact online? Are they on LinkedIn or Facebook? What do they value? What excites them? If you will have multiple exhibitors sponsoring the event, you will need to promote the event to prospective exhibitors. The better you know your audience, the easier it will be to select your marketing channels and craft compelling marketing messages for each audience.
- Design a website for your event or create a landing page to promote the event on your existing website – Make sure this website and/or landing page are mobile-optimised.
- Organise promotional collateral – Design and print brochures and advertising materials for your event, and distribute them to potential attendees.
- Create a logo and colour scheme for your event – Display this logo and colour scheme on your event website with a link for online registration.
- Spark early interest in your event – Let your email subscribers and social media followers know about the event and why they should attend. Write blog posts and guest posts in online media about your event targeted to your audience.
- Attract new audiences to attend your event – Reach new audiences with paid advertising, online event calendars, promo videos, industry journals and newspapers.
- Remarket to interested audiences – Use online remarketing on Facebook and Google ads to entice prospective buyers to purchase tickets.
- Encourage last-minute buyers to purchase tickets – Create a hard-to-resist ‘last minute’ offer to promote via email and social media.
Step #9: Plan ahead to make the day of the event as smooth as possible
Here are some steps to ensure the day of your conference proceeds as seamlessly as possible:
- Communicate with the teams involved in your event to ensure they know what time to arrive and understand their role
- Reach out to speakers, panellists, and sponsors to address any concerns and make sure they are comfortable
- Contact vendors to confirm their commitments
- Set a clear starting time so attendees know when to arrive
- Organise speakers’ start times and measure the estimated length of their presentation ahead of time
- If you have multiple speakers, add buffer time between each presentation for smooth transitions
- Work with your venue’s catering staff ahead of time so that catering is
- Confirm that media is attending
- Set up signage
- Ensure registration tables are prepared
Step #10: Promote the next event
After your conference winds down, this is an ideal time to find out what your attendees enjoyed about the experience, what you could improve on, and how you might attract them to come back next year. You might:
- Send surveys to attendees to ask for feedback
- Send surveys to staff to measure success
- Collate feedback to use for parenting
- Prepare video content, keynote speeches and blog posts to recap your event and provide extra value to attendees and keep them engaged after the event
- Capitalise on the success of the event and build buzz by offering an early-bird special to attendees for next year’s conference