Hosting a tech conference is an exciting but nerve-wracking time. The size of your event will determine how much time you need to get everything in place. Many moving parts must all come together in a perfect dance of elements at just the right time. There is no reason for you to compete with giants such as Google or IBM to gain attendees, however. A small conference with a niche focus will attract just the people you want.
Event planning is a big business. There are around 134,100 event planners in the United States, and the job market in that sector is growing at a rapid 7% per year. There is no lack of resources to plan your first tech conference, and you may even be able to find a mentor who will walk you through the technical aspects of putting on an event.
Start with a checklist of things needing to be completed as you move toward the big day. You may have planned for this for years and already have some ideas, but there are some very specific things you must do as you go along.
One Year Before the Event
A year before the conference may seem like a long time for planning, but you can never start too early when it comes to putting things together for a large group of people. One year before, you should:
- Secure your event venue based on expected attendance. Will you need hotel rooms for out of towners? How many will you require, and what size should they be? Does the venue offer catering and other services?
- Set a date for the conference.
- Brainstorm who you want for a keynote speaker and others you might reach out to.
- Get your planning committee in place.
- Announce the event.
- Establish a budget.
At one year out, you may have a hard time securing caterers and such for your meeting, so gather lists of local companies but don’t settle on one just yet. It’s a plus if the venue offers catering — especially for your first conference.
Six Months Ahead of Time
You’re getting closer to your big day. It’s time to start fleshing out those little details, paying deposits and making sure your speakers are still on board.
- At this point, you should have met with your planning committee a couple of times and delegated some of the tasks that need completing. If you’ve not yet done that, now is the time.
- Hire a catering company.
- Check on the equipment you’ll need for various events, such as a dynamic audio-visual system for the main stage. It’s best to hire a company to do this, due to safety risks associated with DIY rigging.
- Begin event promotions and start early-bird registration.
- Flesh out the rest of your speakers for the event.
From this point on, the conference leaders should meet more frequently. You may want to start an online task management group to keep up with what’s completed and what still needs to be done.
Three Months Prior
Three months might still sound like a long time, but you’ll be surprised how busy these three months before your event will be.
- Check with the caterers to make sure everything is still scheduled
- Order flowers or centerpieces.
- Organize details on the speakers, such as bios and which days each will talk.
- Update conference details and make a big online push for registrations. Offer a final early-bird discount.
- Order supplies, such as badges, signs and promotional canvas bags.
Push meetings to every other week for the next two months.
One Month Left
How did you get here? You only have one month left before your seminar. There’s a lot to do, so now is the time to delegate all those little tasks.
- Finalize the schedule and create a printout for attendees.
- Appoint workers to handle registration and directing people from one event to the next.
- Check again with your vendors and suppliers. The caterer is a big one to stay in close contact with. Many event planners run into issues with caterers backing out at the last minute and having to order pizza or figure out what to do in a panic.
- Figure out how you’ll keep attendees engaged throughout the days they are there. One survey found that 39% of event planners felt keeping conference registrants involved was the most important task on their agenda.
You should start meeting every week at this point to put out any fires that crop up and take care of last-minute details you might have forgotten. Your attendees may also be in touch much more frequently as they prepare for arrival.
Two Weeks Until the Big Day
You’re so close now! Two weeks prior is a great time to:
- Send reminders to attendees. Offer suggestions for what to pack and information about things they’ll want to do while there.
- Touch base with all your speakers and confirm you have the equipment needed for presentations. Check on any travel arrangements.
- Walk through the event venue and look for any problem areas, such as traffic bottlenecks.
- Push out final promotions for those last-minute registrations.
- Confirm timing with the caterer and any deliveries.
- Make sure all roles are staffed, such as registration table, set up for keynote speaker dinner and so on.
At this point, you may feel a bit overwhelmed. The conference is on the immediate horizon and things seem to fly in from every direction. You’re putting out fires faster than you can say the word. Take a few minutes for yourself to destress and find your focus.
Week of Conference
If you’ve done your preplanning, the meeting should run smoothly. However, there will still be unexpected things that crop up and have to be solved. Work closely with your venue manager. They are familiar with events and can help you navigate emergencies, such as your caterer canceling at the last minute or a speaker suddenly backing out.
Have a backup plan for how you’ll handle emergencies and keep a calm demeanor. Registrants may never realize things didn’t go as planned. Hopefully, your seminar went off perfectly and you’re ready to start planning for next year. Gather reviews, testimonials and feedback to make improvements and start the process all over again.
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