You’ve been given the task of organising the next staff conference. If your day job doesn’t involve event planning and management you may be feeling a bit daunted right now. But, if you’re organised and hire a great venue with a strong event team, you’ll have everything you need to organise an event that the business will still be raving about next year. Here are some tips to keep you on the right track.
Whilst you may be tempted to dive into venue finding, it’s important to get a handle on a few important basics first, that will inform all of the decisions you’re about to make. Get together with the key decision makers in your organisation and discuss items such as:
- What is the purpose of the conference? E.g. is it the annual senior management or sales meeting, or the launch of a new strategy or product?
- Who should attend? Is it for senior management, sales and/or the whole company?
- What do you want the delegates to think, feel and do as a result of attending? This will help inform the vision for the event, and possibly help with the creation of a theme, should it be required.
- What potential dates do you have in mind? It’s good to have two or three date options to give some flexibility when organising the venue. Once you have the dates, check to see if they clash with other important events in the company and your industry. Also try to avoid holiday times and key dates, such as Valentine’s Day.
- How many delegates are you aiming for?
- Are external speakers required?
- Will you require breakout rooms for group sessions, or will any such activity be done in the main room in table groups?
- Do you want your event to be held in a standard hotel suite, or do you want something a little different – for example, our Essex Business School venue?
- How many days will the conference run? Will guests arrive on the morning of the event or the night before? Ensure there is accommodation nearby for your delegates to stay at if necessary
- Will there be a gala dinner? Is entertainment required?
- Budget! Ensure you have a clear budget plan in place.
Source the venue
With all of that information established, you can now start the process of sourcing a venue. Choose somewhere in a good location for the majority of your delegates and speakers. If people are flying in for the conference, consider a venue that’s reasonably close to an airport. You also want to ensure that they have enough spaces, e.g. main conference room, breakout rooms, accommodation, parking, to suit your brief. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a couple of options, book appointments and go to the venue to meet the event organiser. If you’re working with a conference designer/AV specialist, take them with you so that they can ensure the venue meets their requirements.
Whatever you do, don’t skip this step. Unless you only have a week to pull your event together and simply can’t get to the venue, you must do this visit. Do a walk-through as though you are a delegate. Where’s the registration area? Where will people put wet umbrellas if it’s raining? Is the venue fully accessible? Where will meals be served? Is there a strong Wi-Fi signal? Where is the accommodation? Is it suitable for your level of guests?
Also, find out who will work with you to run the event, what level of service they offer, do they have preferred suppliers they can recommend, can you bring in your own suppliers, what level of AV is offered, what’s included in the delegate package and what’s charged as extra?
Make the most of the venue’s event team. They are experts in event management and their venue. They’ll have seen every type of event many times over and will be able to give you solid advice.
Once you’ve decided on your venue, make the booking and get the paperwork agreed. Now you have a date and a venue, the fun can officially begin!
Issue your invitations as soon as you have the date and venue secured. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t worked out all of the details; it gives you a good excuse to drip feed more information and build excitement for what’s to come. Just make sure that everyone has the date in their diary and have plenty of time to make any necessary arrangements, such as childcare.
Speakers on message
Get together with your ‘client’ for the conference and start planning who will speak at the event. Are external speakers, such as suppliers, required? Do you want a motivational speaker to give the keynote address? Everyone needs to be booked and briefed so that they can start preparing their material. Will you be providing the corporate PowerPoint template or one that has been designed specifically for the event? Or can external speakers use their own branding? Make sure everyone is clear on what’s required and the timescales for submission. Bear in mind that a lot of speakers will be working on their slides the night before or the morning of the event, so be specific about when slides need to be submitted.
For your internal speakers, you’ll probably want to go through their presentations with them a couple of weeks in advance, to ensure that there is a consistency of message and a natural progression to the story that’s being delivered over the conference. Then, do a run-through the day before and tweak as necessary.
Get clear on what tech equipment is needed for your event. Will you be live streaming? Will there be any social media interactivity? What specific equipment might your speakers require? Does anyone want an autocue – bearing in mind that will require an autocue operator? Talk it through with the venue and/or your AV specialist. You’ll want to do a run through prior to the event starting. Ensure you have a tech team booked for this, they don’t always come as standard!
If your event involves an overnight stay, there may well be at least one dinner involved. Will you hire entertainment for the evening? Will it be something the guests can participate in, such as a casino night, or will you bring in an entertainer? Talk to your venue about this as they’ll have local, preferred suppliers they can recommend.
Involve your delegates
Add all of the delegates to a closed group on a social media platform, and let them know information as it becomes confirmed. You may want to keep some elements as a surprise, but let them know the theme, post pictures of the venue, details of the agenda, add speaker profiles, and whatever is relevant to your event. If you want to encourage real engagement, why not leave one slot free on the agenda and ask the delegates to suggest a topic to be covered?
Your event should really be taking shape by now so it’s time to hone in on the details. Start creating a set of joining instructions for everyone involved. This will give them all of the information needed for the event, and may include information such as venue, directions, parking, dress code (day and evening), transport arrangements, agenda, event objectives, key contacts with contact details, suggested pre-event reading, social media hashtag, whether there will be photography/filming taking place, arrangements for dietary requirements, and event website and/or social site. As you put the joining instructions together you’ll notice any holes in your planning and be able to address them.
Keep a firm grasp of the costs throughout the organisation process. Always ask if there are any extras to anything or anyone you book. For example, a motivational speaker may require travel and accommodation costs on top of their fee. Adding tea and croissants on arrival at the last minute could add hundreds of pounds to your catering budget. Track all of your anticipated expenditure and ensure you’ve left a contingency of around 10% in your budget for unexpected surprises.
Get ready for a great conference
As you prepare to leave for the conference put together a supplies box. This should contain items such as your delegate badges, pens and notepads (if not being supplied by the venue), post-its if required for breakout sessions, scissors, rulers, Sellotape, highlighter pens, stapler, etc. With your box underarm, head off to the conference venue to check set up and do the run through with the speakers. Prepare to work into the wee hours fixing last minute issues, most usually with speakers!
Get to the venue early and complete your set up and then let the venue, their team, and the speakers work their magic to deliver an impressive and memorable event.
If you would like to know more about our venues or would like a chat about what we offer please complete our contact form here or give us a call on 01206 872358 – we hope to hear from you soon.
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