Shdlr provides a painless way to create your conference schedules but there is a lot more to a conference than that…
The logistic behind the organisation of a conference is a major task and shouldn’t be left to the last moment! Planning ahead is absolutely crucial, and excellent attention to detail is key to the success of an event.
All conference attendees expect the best from an event organizer, and they usually have very little patience or indulgence for little delays and organisation glitches. Participants must be able to enjoy stress-free conferences, and it starts with a professional organisation of the registration desk.
Indeed, the registration desk, and especially front-desk people have a crucial role in the running of the event as they are usually the very first people to greet and interact with the newly-arrived participants, hence the need for an outstanding organisation.
Here is a thorough list of the key steps that must be followed to ensure that the front desk organisation goes as smoothly as possible during a conference.
First of all, let’s start with the obvious; the registration desk itself. Participants entering the conference should be able to see it immediately. Having the desk strategically placed—usually by the entrance—will ensure that conference attendees entering the conference hall won’t have to search for it. This is the ultimate pre-requisite and something you should consider as an absolute MUST. Participants are usually pressed for time and won’t appreciate wasting their time looking for the registration desk upon their arrival. It’s also a good idea to put up signs to indicate exactly where the registration desk is located. Not all conference halls are the same, and in some cases, organizers won’t be able to place the desk by the entrance or in a very strategic area, hence the need for signs and clear indications to help the participants find it.
Most conference organizers have guides/volunteers ready to help people find their way inside and around the conference hall. This is a very wise way of ensuring that people are attended to as best as possible. Organizers usually hire volunteers that are required to wear designated T-shirts or suits representing the conference organisation. This helps participants find them amongst the crowd, and volunteers in conferences are usually greatly appreciated for their professionalism and willingness to help.
One of the most important thing to do before the official opening of the conference is to make the registration desk available one afternoon or possibly even one evening before the event starts. The reason for this is simple. As explained above, participants are usually pressed for time and most certainly stressed-out and like taking a look at the venue and asking all the necessary questions before the actual opening of the conference.
Furthermore, opening the registration desk one day ahead of the conference will help reduce the crowds of stressful participants. Opening the desk prior to the day of the conference is also a test run that will not only help you collect information and questions from participants, but also give you pointers about what might be improved before the conference gets underway. Needless to say that opening early will, in most cases, ensure that the conference schedule is met and can start on time.
Conference participants usually leave the event with swag bags filled up with all marketing and advertising goodies ranging from pens to business cards or even discount vouchers. Organizers must be prepared to hand out the swags on time and by packing the bags early you can ensure that at the end of the conference, the participants won’t have to wait in line to receive their swag.
Remember that filling up promotional bags can take time and since some of them are going to be personalised, you can’t leave it to the last minute. Good conference organizers will look at the number of attendees and check out for any shortfall, should there be some so that there is enough time to sort out this possible little hurdle.
The name tags of the participants are usually printed and placed days before the start of the conference as this can be a time-consuming task, especially when you have a few hundred participants registered to attend the conference. It’s also advised to arrange the name tags alphabetically, preferably by name, surname or possibly ID, depending on the instructions given by the delegates or the participants. This, in fact, is one of the biggest time-saver especially when the crowds start arriving.
As far as payment is concerned, and particularly if participants have not yet paid their fees, you must be ready to deal with all sorts of payment methods. Not everyone will want to pay by credit card for instance. Indeed, some will pay by cash only, so having some change is always a good idea to avoid stressing situations. Also, make sure you know where the nearest bank or cash point withdrawals (ATM) is located as some participants will want to withdraw their money on the spot.
If you happen to have to the prepaid delegate list ready, make sure that these delegates are directed to a separate counter to ensure that they can be cleared faster and don’t have to queue up unnecessarily. First of all, it wouldn’t be fair on them since they made the effort of paying in advance and secondly, it will make dealing with the payment process a lot easier.
Volunteers must be able to direct participants with ease and answer all of the questions featured on the conference leaflets. Ensure that volunteers are kept updated about any possible change in the planning or the venue and that they know their way around the conference hall as participants will undoubtedly ask about everything ranging from the network access to the bathrooms, telephone booths, etc.
There are a few practical things that can go a long way in making a big difference and securing further events. Participants will enjoy finding extra city guides and schedules. Leave any such leaflet on the registration desk. You should also be in possession of any back up information concerning the participants as well as a list of all the major organizers including their mobile phones, names and full address.
Finally, computer network is crucial to a conference and potential issues with the Internet access inside the conference hall can be prevented by separating the registration desk network from the ones used by the participants. The participants and registration desk sharing a common local area network and internet connection can dramatically slow down its speed leading to delays at the registration desk and that is preventable by separating both networks. A printed backup list of participants would also come in useful in situations of a network failure and save precious time.
One of the most important things while planning a conference is Budgeting. After all, you don’t want to spend more than you are going to earn as revenue from ticket sales and sponsorships. As a part of a team that organises technical conferences in India, I have some experience that I would like to share with you. There are several tools that may help you plan the budget but, a spreadsheet with columns for the expense and income is perhaps the most simple and adequate tool for creating a financial plan to calculate the costs. The exercise starts much earlier than the event is scheduled, with getting quotations from vendors and filling out the relevant columns in the spreadsheet. Following are the heads that one should consider in financial planning of a conference
- Location/Venue – choose a venue depending on the kind of money you are expecting to raise along with the expected audience. The venue costs should not be more than 30-35% of your entire conference budget.
- Travel and Stay arrangements of key speakers/personnel of the event – How you treat your guests is important in getting good reviews from your key invitees. The boarding arrangements need not be top class, but they should be clean, easily accessible and should provide for basic necessities like hot water, coffee and breakfast.
- Conference proceedings and properties required – If you do not plan and provide for the properties like projectors and computers that are needed for the seminar, you will be running around just before the conference is about to start. In the least, you will miss out on important work scheduled for that time, and the worst –you may not get the equipment at the eleventh hour.
- Public Relations (Advertisements, handouts, posters/stickers and other allied expenses) – Advertisements are expensive. Plan for them well in advance. Posters/stickers and handouts need to be ready in advance too for them to reach your target audience.
- Meals for the attendees and speakers – The food should be fresh and filling. Remember, a starving audience is not a happy audience and irrespective of other things they will give negative reviews for your event. If you plan a special meal for invitees, budget that too.
- Entertainments (if being hired) – It is a good idea to entertain your guests at the end of the day. Plan for this expense if you have the budget.
- Coffee/Tea supply during the event – Techies need coffee or tea through out the day. Having a constant supply of hot beverages through out the day is a good idea – and it is not expensive either.
- Expenses related to creating and maintaining the event website – Your website will give you exposure in the virtual world, and it is important. Don’t cut corners on website related expenses.
- Printing (conference tickets/booklets/attendee speaker and team badges etc) – You will require these to be printed prior to the conference. The numbers for printing will depend on the number of registrations you get.
- Stage decor (flex prints, floral decorations etc) – Apart from whatever decorations you wish to have if you have sponsors, their logos need to be displayed on the stage.
- Vigilance (security, emergency arrangements, etc.) It is always a good idea to arrange for security at the venue. Budget for this.
- Hardware and Stationery (Computers, phones, printers, copier, papers etc) – These are basic necessities for any conference. Arrange for them in advance so that you don’t go running around for small things.
- Personnel and Volunteers (food, conveyance etc) – You will need volunteers to run the event smoothly and you should take care of their needs.
- Insurance costs – If you wish to have an insurance (fire, theft, or general), it would be a good idea to find out costs and provide for it.
- Bank costs (money transfer fees, online ticket sales fee) – When you sell tickets to the conference online, there are always costs involved. The credit card company takes their charges (in India it’s around 5%) and the ticket selling site will take it’s commission. Likewise, if your sponsors are making payments to you telegraphically, there would be transfer costs involved.
- Miscellaneous expenses – Account for 5-10% of the total budget as Miscellaneous / Emergency fund.
- Govt Taxes if applicable – In India, if you earn money or take sponsorships, you need to pay the government it’s due. Most sponsors would deduct this and give you the cheques, but you have to be vigilant and account for taxes (from the profit if any)
While it is good to plan your expenses, economizing on your budget by reducing costs wherever possible is equally important.
- If an event like the one you intend to organize has been done earlier then talk to the organizers of past events; they will have pointers for possible vendors.
- Getting quotes from several vendors and then zeroing on the one that gives most value for money. When the vendors know they are pitted against another they often give you their best rates.
- Look for barter sponsorships – The sponsor gets free publicity and in exchange, offer their services. It’s a win-win for both parties.
- According to www.smoothlinefences.com.au you need to limit the food choices – you need not have a seven-course meal at the conference (unless it is a food related conference) – simple, clean and tasty food comes at a reasonable price.
- Tea/Coffee can be sold by the vendor at the venue instead of being distributed free. It costs little, so the attendees don’t mind paying for it.
- Estimate the number of attendees correctly so that you neither fall short or have left over (food and conference goodies). However, be careful, falling short of food and goodies will give your conference a bad name. With online ticketing, it is easy to do the estimation.
- Ask the attendees during the registration if they would take part in the evening events, especially when the costs are affected by numbers. This will help you plan better.
- Sell some conference goodies at the venue. People often like to have extra conference memorabilia (like T-shirts, you can get them made by companies like The Clothing People
Hope these pointers help you in planning your conference budget. Please feel free to comment if you have further insights. The accompanying graph has % spending based on my experience of handling accounts for a leading conference over the years. Some conference organisers may spend their rupee differently.