10 tips: a meeting planning checklist

Here's another guest blog from Josh Marx, director of marketing with American Meetings, Inc.

Here are 10 things that will help you plan and run a successful conference:

1. Identify possible dates: When choosing the dates for a conference, have several different dates in mind. There may be times when your client would like to have their conference at a certain venue or resort, but the specific dates they have chosen may not be available. Make sure you check for similar or industry conferences so you don’t conflict. [Note from Sue: Also check for religious and secular holiday conflicts—and yes, even Father's Day counts! Some good resources include Earth Calendar, Time and Date, and Wikipedia's list of holidays by country.]

2. Create a conference budget: Putting a budget together is an extremely important part of the event planning process. The purpose of putting a budget together is to provide the event planner with a limit on expenditures. The budget should be very specific and include revenues as well as expenses.

3. Find a venue for your conference: The venue must be appropriate for your attendees and the speakers, which will be a determining factor in whether your conference is a success or not. Once you have set dates for your conference, you can begin to start to look for appropriate venues, and make sure you think out your meeting space needs well in advance BEFORE you go to contract with the venue.

4. Agenda and speakers: Speakers are one of the main reasons people attend conferences. For a conference to be successful you need to attain well-known speakers at an early stage. Speakers who are famous help gain more attention to the conference and attract more attendees. Speakers who are well known don’t just help with pulling in a big crowd, but they also help obtain better-known speakers.

5. Pre-sell/online registration: Registration for a conference is the main revenue for the event. This makes the registration and payment handling a critical part of the process. Use the registration process as an opportunity for you to collect data for marketing activities once the conference is complete.

6. Discounts: Discounts are a perfect tool to increase sales for your conference in the starting stages. One example is to offer early-bird tickets. This attracts price sensitive attendees and also gives you cash flow in the early stages.

7. Promotion: A solid event manager puts together a guest list primarily to target the marketing and promotion efforts to the intended audience. Promotion for your conference is about gathering new attendees and re-activating existing ones. This can be achieved by:

• Sending invitations to last year's attendees

• Mounting sustained electronic and direct-mail campaigns to industry/member databases

• Placing post-conference dates and ads on your Web site

• Posting your event in local event listings

• Inviting media to cover your event

8. Inventory, attendee lists, and badges: Always check in advance to see what you need for technical equipment/AV for staging/speakers. Once you have received the equipment, always make sure to test it before the event. Make sure to always supply your attendees with name badges. This will help entry management and networking at your conference.

9. Onsite registration and entry management: To avoid disruption on the morning of your conference, entry management should be extremely organized. The most efficient way of managing the entry is with an electronic registration system. This allows you to scan barcodes on printed registration confirmations.

10. After the conference: You should leave the venue in excellent condition. Make sure all rental equipment is picked up and make sure you receive a signed estimate of the bill from the venue. You should also compare your budget and the amount of money you actually spent. Don’t forget to send thank-you letters to all your speakers, sponsors and attendees.

Sue again (I know, I'm butting in all over the place on this one. Sorry, Josh!). This is a good start, but I'm sure there's more. And I'm not sure how I feel about #4. While big names can help attract attendees, if they don't mesh with what you're trying to accomplish, they may not be the best idea. What do you think? What's on your top-10 meeting planning essentials checklist?

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