Step-by-step guide to organising a conference

Start planning your conference at least six months ahead – for larger conferences the recommendation is a year ahead as there’s a lot to consider and plan.

Decide on a theme

Every great conference needs a theme. What’s the unifying message that your speakers will deliver and what’s the key takeaway for conference attendees? The theme is more than just a rallying cry for all participants; it will also guide your branding and promotion, from designing a logo to coming up with social media hashtags to printing your posters, brochures, and other collateral.

Assemble your conference team

Your core team will likely include:

  • Planning team: Conference venue, accommodation, activities, catering.
  • Administration team: Budgeting, attendee registration, ticket sales. This team/person will also be the main point of contact for questions related to the conference.
  • Marketing team: Contacting the media, creating promotional material, managing your website, blog, and social media activities.
  • Sponsorship team: In charge of securing sponsors, applying for grants, and fundraising. (Only relevant for conferences that rely on external sources of finance.)
  • Volunteers: Helping with all on-site activities on the day of the conference such as door management, ticket scanning, keeping track of the guest list, manning the wardrobe, guiding people, etc.

Prepare a budget

Whether your conference is funded by sponsors or not, you’ll have to put together a budget. You need to know where your money is being earned and spent. Having a budget will also help you set the price for participating in or attending the conference. Here are the most common items you’ll want to budget for:

  • Venue
  • Catering
  • Speakers
  • Marketing
  • Team members

Settle on a date

Decide when your conference will take place. Here are some great rules of thumb to keep in mind:

  • Pick a date that doesn’t conflict with other major events like festivals or big football matches. City-wide events make booking flights more expensive and generally hinder transportation to and from the conference. Besides, you don’t want your conference to compete for attention with big events.
  • Avoid summer and winter holiday periods when people tend to go on holiday. It’s best to aim for a date between the middle of March and end of June or from early September to late November.
  • Never plan a conference during the weekend. For most participants, attending a conference is a part of their job, so schedule it during the working week.
  • Try to aim for the end of the week, so that travelling attendees get the chance to stay behind and sight-see during their time off. The best days for a conference are Thursday and Friday.

Book the venue

Once you know the date, you can start looking for available venues that match your requirements. Here are a few factors to consider when looking for the right venue:

  • Size: Booking a too-small venue where everybody has to squeeze into a tiny room is clearly a bad idea. Similarly, securing a giant venue for a relatively modest crowd will not only hurt your wallet but also make the conference feel empty and poorly attended.
  • Location: It’s best to pick a quiet location so that participants are better able to focus on the conference itself but the venue also needs to have good links to airports, train stations and motorways to make it easy for delegates to find and get to.
  • Atmosphere: It’s crucial that the vibe of the venue suits your target audience and theme. You don’t want to host a business conference inside a giant gym, for instance.
  • Facilities: Does the venue have the proper layout and the right rooms for your needs? Does it have the necessary facilities like e.g. smaller rooms for breakout sessions?
  • Accommodation: Does the venue provide accommodation or are there hotels nearby?
  • Catering: Is catering included or can external catering companies easily get to and work inside the venue? If not, are there suitable restaurants and cafes in the area? (Keep in mind any special dietary requirements: vegan, kosher, nut-free, etc.)
  • Transportation: How easy is it for participants to travel to the venue by public transport? Are there enough parking spots for those who drive?

Technical aspects: Does the venue have the right IT, audio, and video equipment? You’ll need projection screens, microphones, plenty of charging spots for participants, and of course good WiFi access.

Start registering attendees

Your best choice is to make a professional website for the conference. At the very minimum, that should include:

  • An appropriate domain (i.e. www.myconferencename.com)
  • Must-know details about the conference (where, when, who, what, why)
  • Browsable conference calendar / programme
  • Registration form where people can sign up or buy tickets

Promote your conference

You now have your venue, key speakers, a clear conference programme, and a website (or event page) to guide people to. From now on, your main focus is promoting the conference via all available channels.

  • Online, you have numerous ways to promote your conference on a relatively small budget:
  • Social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – all depending on your audience)
  • Relevant forums where potential attendees might hang out (e.g. a community for engineers where you can promote your tech conference)
  • Own blogs and press releases

Encourage your speakers to promote the conference to their audience on their own channels.

Follow up after the conference

After it’s all over, you should follow up with all the people involved: your team, speakers, volunteers, vendors, and attendees.

  • Say “Thank you”: You should thank everyone for their participation and efforts. Not only is this a common courtesy but you’ll also get to leave a positive impression. There’s a good chance this isn’t your last conference, so you want to nurture any connections you’ve made.
  • Collect feedback: This is the perfect opportunity to hear what people thought of the conference and what could be done better in the future.

Dunham Forest is set in a beautiful, quiet countryside location but is still just 8 miles from Manchester Airport and 5 miles from the M56. The Clubhouse offers two conference rooms, the smaller of which can accommodate up to 30 people and is ideal for more intimate meetings or seminars. Our larger Rooftop Executive Room can cater for up to 106 delegates, depending on the seating arrangements, and has floor-to-ceiling windows giving loads of natural light.

Call us on 0161 928 2605 to arrange a tour of our facilities or to discuss venue availability and pricing.