What kind of experience do you want your conference attendees to have?
Asking this question about every detail of your conference and making sure every team you work with has the same goal is incredibly important.
I couldn't have handled conference planning without the help of professional video crews, audio/visual teams, venue managers, caterers, rental companies, hotel sales members, printers, and my coworkers on the seanwes team, who stepped up to do anything from emcee-ing to setting up signs.
Everyone you work with needs to be on the same page.
How to start conference planning with different teams
In 2016, we decided to host seanwes conference because we wanted a physical counterpart to our online community.
Our goal at seanwes is to help people build and grow an audience-driven business. Building a business is lonely, so we've created a space online where entrepreneurs can find friendship and accountability with like-minded people.
Hosting a conference helped us bring all of the incredible members of our community together into one physical space for facilitating connections on an even deeper level.
Planning a conference is an enormous task, and it’s impossible to do alone. But with the right team and support behind you, it’s absolutely possible! Here are the event teams we set up to make sure we can host the best conference possible for our attendees.
Where you host your conference says a lot about the event itself.
The two most common conference venues are:
- A hotel meeting room.
- An event venue.
If you host your conference in a hotel meeting room, you can often pass all of the planning onto the hotel staff. They will often have a team of people who will handle everything for you.
There's nothing wrong with using a hotel meeting room, but it’s important to think about the kind of experience you want to create.
- What kind of vibe do you want to give?
- How do you want your attendees to feel?
- How memorable do you want the experience to be?
Hotel conference rooms are a good option if you don’t want to handle any of the planning yourself, but of course, they’re not always the warmest or most welcoming venues.
On the other hand, while an event venue is a great way to create a more unique experience, it will typically require a little more work on your part. But even if you need to hire a local event coordinator (or run the event yourself), it's often worth the investment to create a great experience for your attendees.
To find a unique venue, it can often help to search for wedding venues or music venues in the city you’re hosting your conference. These kinds of venues are usually simple industrial buildings with neutral color schemes that can house a lot of people. They have character and a clean slate to build your conference branding on.
Even if you don't host your conference in a hotel, it's still important to find a venue with at least one hotel nearby. Most urban cities have venues near a “hotel district” in the downtown area with a whole ecosystem built around tourists and travelers. Choosing an area of town like this gives your attendees easy access to accommodations, transportation, and restaurants.
Event venue managers are another great resource to lean on for finding other vendors. Venues often have a “preferred list” of vendors and companies they’ve worked with before. These can range from event coordinators and DJs to rental companies and audio/visual teams. Using companies the venue already likes working with will make things go a lot more smoothly.
A big reason we chose not to host seanwes conference at a hotel is because most hotels require you to use their in-house restaurant or catering for all of your food and beverage needs.
Because of this, you're often forced to pay a huge markup on catering services. This usually isn't budget friendly and (let's be honest) eating hotel food and drinking hotel coffee isn't always the greatest experience. Look into having some local restaurants cater the event so your attendees get a taste of the city.
Food is one part of the conference experience that is really dear to my heart. Food creates a space for people to connect in a way nothing else can. Providing good food also gives your attendees the warm and fuzzy feeling that you've taken care of them. I’d suggest providing at least one meal at your conference over which your attendees can connect.
The kind of chairs you rent or the swag you provide isn’t necessarily important, but what is important is the reason behind why you made those choices. The swag, the chairs, the signage, the furniture and linen rentals, and the badges all work together to create an environment and experience.
It's worth asking, “What kind of environment and experience do we want to create?”
Work with a designer to create high-quality conference shirts, badges, and signage. This goes a long way toward building a professional and welcoming environment. The visual aspects of your conference branding are what transforms a building into a unique space for connection and creativity.
I worked with our branding designer, Kyle Adams, and sign printer, Micah Guynes of i45 Signs, to have signage made for seanwes conference. We talked through floor plans and virtual tours to get an idea of what our attendees would be seeing once they walked in the door and throughout their time in the venue. Together, we strategically made signs to fit the venue's design and architecture.
Conference branding and signage may not seem like a big deal, but they are the visuals that transform an event space into what feels like your conference. Don’t cut corners or choose the cheapest options, or it will show in the results. It’s worth investing in professional design to make your conference experience a memorable one.
Pro tip: When creating your signage, go beyond creating signs just for your conference branding. Also create signs to help your attendees navigate that venue so they can find things like restrooms, water, and food.
While it might sound silly to have signs for things in the venue that you feel like are obvious, this helps your attendees feel comfortable. Remember, many of them are traveling to a new city (or even a new country!) so any added sense of familiarity is welcome.
A solid tech team is one of the most important parts of putting on a great conference. The technical side of things include the stage design, audio/visual setup and operation, Wi-Fi, lighting, music, and video production/streaming. All of these things happen behind the scenes, but they need to run smoothly. Ideally, your attendees never notice them. It’s not obvious that they are key players in creating a good experience until one of them isn't working.
I found a local audio/visual team through our venue's preferred vendor list. Because this team knew the venue well, they were able to help us create the best possible version of our conference. We had extensive meetings about our audio needs, drew up stage designs, and did venue walk-throughs in advance to make sure the days of the conference went smoothly.
You should also hire a professional audio/visual crew to run the sound and projector during the conference, because, as a conference host, the technical things shouldn't be on your mind. Have someone else who's sole responsibility is to make your speakers feel comfortable with the setup. They will help ensure there are no technical glitches.
A great way to find help for your conference is to provide an opportunity for people to volunteer. Accepting volunteers is a win-win situation for all parties involved. You may not have room in your budget to hire people, but don’t overlook the people in your audience who are eager to help! Many people who might not otherwise have the funds to attend would be happy to volunteer.
Aside from the professionals you hire, you can have volunteers help with things like setting up, tearing down, stuffing swag bags, registration, greeting attendees, or refilling water stations.
Some of the best conference organizing advice I received when planning our first year was this: If you know exactly what tasks each of your volunteers will be doing, you don’t have enough volunteers!
I didn't want my volunteers to run themselves into the ground every second of every day during the conference, I wanted them to participate. In turn, they were able to contribute to the experience for the attendees as well.
How to get started hosting a conference
Hosting a conference can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right teams in place, it's one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences!
Now that you have an overview of what teams to work with when hosting a conference, here are your next steps:
- Choose whether you want to host your conference in a hotel or an event venue.
- Search for event, wedding, or music venues in the city of your choice.
- Decide to not cut corners and start talking to professional designers, venue managers, and event crews.
If you have any questions about hosting your own conference, feel free to leave a comment below!