When it comes to organizing a large scale accredited association event management annual conference, there’s a lot of work that goes into pulling it off successfully.
The annual conference is a laborious process that requires a lot of diligent planning. A proactive approach to preparation will allow for a less stressful, even enjoyable planning experience. Planning for any major event takes time and preparation, especially one as important as your conference. Don’t jeopardize its success by failing to plan efficiently and effectively.
The key is to make the process a manageable one. You can do this by outlining all of your to-do items and putting them into major categories, then working through each one in a systematic way. Like a marathon, planning for your annual conference takes preparation, endurance and a great support system. We are here to act as your support system and help you execute a successful annual conference. Many of you may still be at the starting line, so do a few mental jumping jacks and let’s run through what you need to know.
Budget: This is the first item you will need to finalize before any of the preparations can begin. Do you have a $10,000 budget or a $100,000 budget? How much money you have to work with will affect everything down the line, from location to food to speakers to promotional items for guests. Your accredited association event management team will ask you about your budget. Don’t start planning until you know at least a ballpark of how much money you’re working with.
Venue: You will need to choose and book a location for the annual conference. It is common to book a location a year in advance, so don’t waste time You will want to consider where your members are traveling from and what makes the most sense. If most of your members are from the U.S., maybe it makes sense to meet in the middle, somewhere like Chicago or Dallas. Also consider the time of year. Chicago in January might not be the most logical location, nor will Atlanta in the middle of August. Reserve the necessary block of rooms and get that hotel contract signed. Not only do venues rent out quickly, you also need to announce the location to your members so that they can begin making the necessary travel arrangements. Set up an open conference registration. Once the venue is booked, members can RSVP, send their payments and reserve rooms at the hotel. The sooner you can open registration the better, because it will help your members finalize favorable travel itineraries.
Floorplan: Once you have chosen the venue, think about how you will arrange the space for your conference. Think about the flow of the event. Where will the registration table be, how will people get from the registration table into the conference sessions? Where will you hold breakout sessions, etc. Will there be a designated spot for networking How many chairs and tables will you need and in what locations? Will you need couches or other furniture? Figure out what you will need and organize procuring these items through the hotel or resort staff.
Keynote and other speakers: The keynote is an integral component of your accredited association event management plan and an element that should be squared away months in advance. To find a speaker who will best enhance the experience of your members, the research, communication and contract negotiation process must begin early. Most conferences also have additional speakers, especially during multi-day conferences. Determine the topics you want the speakers to discuss and then get them booked early. You will probably also need to arrange travel itineraries for the speakers.
Sponsors: Not every conference will have sponsors, but having them can help. For one thing, sponsors help to offset the cost of a conference, which is something that budget-conscious associations always appreciate. Having sponsors also gives participating companies a great opportunity for exposure with their target market, and they’re usually grateful for the opportunity. You will want to decide early not only if you want sponsors for the conference, and if you do, how you plan to structure the sponsorships. Will sponsors have an opportunity to underwrite the event at different monetary levels and in exchange, what exposure will the association provide? Putting the sponsors name in the program, or on other marketing materials, will need to be done early in the process.
Marketing: This is a large category and can encompass everything from Save the Date postcards to members to eBlasts to the event program. But it also includes many things you may not think of, like name badge holders, signage at the event directing attendees where to go, sponsor recognition signs and more.
Food and Beverage: Food and beverages are a “must have” for your conference and something attendees will notice. You will need to consider breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as any snacks your guests may need. Many conferences also feature a food-related event, like a donut bar or an ice-cream social. Your accredited association event management team should know who is going to cater the conference and have an idea of what you plan to serve. It’s best to lock down your caterer and at least a tentative menu as soon as possible,
Audio Visual (AV): Your technology will be a critical part of the conference. You will need microphones and projectors, of course, but there are also so many options beyond this. Will you use projection mapping to feature different images on different parts of your projection wall? Will you use the hotel’s in-house audio visual services or would you prefer to bring in an outside company? Depending on how you negotiate your hotel contract, you may be able to bring in your own preferred vendor. You should bring the AV team on board as soon as possible. They will need time to help determine your needs and then execute a plan and have enough time for setup before the conference.
Offsite events: You might want to plan an excursion as a part of the conference program, something that gets participants interacting outside of educational sessions. Examples of fun, offsite activities include things like trips to the zoo, aquarium or bowling. These events can be tied to unique characteristics of your location. For example, if you host a conference in San Antonio, Texas, you might include a stroll along the River Walk, a network of pathways along the banks of San Antonio River and close to many shops and restaurants.
Promotions, aka ‘Swag:’ Don’t forget everybody’s favorite part of the conference: all of the free association swag! Start thinking of which promotional items you want to order- lanyards, pens, tote bags and the link- and make sure to look up pricing online to help manage your conference budget. Check with your accredited association event management team to see if you have access to wholesale pricing for exclusive deals on swag items.
Hype: While the annual conference requires a lot of hard work and planning, it is important not to lose sight of why you have it in the first place. It is intended to be a fun, informative and educational experience where your association members can make meaningful connections, collaborate on ideas, learn new information/technology and so much more. Leverage social media, public relations and advertising to create hype. Get your members excited!
Your association’s annual conference is manageable if you give it enough time and planning. Start jogging now, so you don’t have to sprint later!