It's time to plan a conference and you're in charge. Maybe it's a meeting that happens annually and there's a good process in place. On the other hand, it might be something your company, association or nonprofit wants to launch or transition from a successful small meeting to something more substantial. Here's a very basic conference planning checklist of 20 items to help put on your conference thinking cap.
1. Determine purpose/goals of the conference.
2. Create a short list of possible destinations for the conference. Consider where the bulk of attendees are traveling in from, cost and what places best fit the purpose, goals and personality of the conference.
3. Identify preferred and alternate dates for the conference.
4. Talk to destination marketing organizations (convention and visitor bureaus, tourism boards, etc.) in the communities you are considering. Gather information to see if the town is a fit for lodging, venues, activities and cost. The earlier you start this process the better, especially for larger conferences. Organizations may have conference planning tips specific to their locations; ask plenty of questions.
5. Narrow the list to a manageable number, make site visits and begin submitting requests for proposals. Some destination marketing organizations can assist with the process to make it easier, and there are destination management companies, meeting planners and third-party companies that can be hired to handle the process.
6. Review proposals and select from lodging and venue options. Sometimes they are all at one location. Negotiate terms and sign contracts.
7. Will there be a general theme for session topics, marketing efforts, activities and gifts?
8. Begin searching for supplier partners such as an audio-visual company, décor firm, florist, speakers, caterer, printer, team-building facilitator, outfitters for activities, etc. and get a feel for costs. Select partners and communicate vision for the conference to get the ideas rolling.
9. If this is a company event, develop a budget to determine registration costs to report back to your boss or committee. Will sponsors and exhibitors be part of the funding plan? If so, recruit both and make the necessary plans for a trade show and sponsor involvement and exposure.
10. Create a conference website or update an existing one and consider if there will be an app or any other meeting technology tools needed.
11. Consider what other ways the conference can be promoted to potential attendees such as direct mail, email blasts, announcements at meetings, social media, etc. and create a communications plan. Will there be exhibitors? If so, how will you recruit and inform exhibitors?
12. Create a plan for managing registrations/meeting RSVPs and consider what information needs to be delivered to attendees (registration confirmations, options for travel, room blocks, conference schedule and more) and how.
13. Begin developing the conference program and solidify it as the meeting approaches.
14. Circle back with keynote speakers and presenters and finalize plans.
15. Purchase supplies, firm up menus, make plans for shipping any necessary items and prepare nametags. Will there be a need for amenities like gifts or tote bags? See if sponsors want to provide any materials for the gift bags.
16. Arrive on-site early to take care of any last-minute tasks and meet with partner suppliers, staff and volunteers assisting to review plans and procedures.
17. Enjoy the fruits of your labor as attendees arrive and have a crisis plan for problems that might arise such as bad weather, speaker cancellation, major illness of an attendee, etc.
18. Gather feedback from attendees while the conference is underway or conduct a post-event survey.
19. Review and pay outstanding invoices and review final numbers.
20. Document important points in a post-event report. Send thank you's anyone who helped make the meeting planning process successful.
We hope this meeting and conference planning checklist has been helpful and make sure to celebrate a job well done. Also check out our article on How to Plan a Conference, Meeting or Trade Show.