Annual Conference Check-In: Are you Ready?

By Gabrielle Copperwheat

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.

Please don’t let the warm temperatures and the beach sand slipping through your toes fool you.

At CMA Association Management, we refer to the summer months as the beginning of the “marathon towards a successful annual conference.” 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 the six-month conference check-in:

Conference Planning pic

⇒ Choose a location. If you have yet to begin planning, booking a venue should be your first step. In fact, it is common to book a location a year in advance. If you are venue-less while reading this, please open an internet browsing tab and start looking now! 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.

⇒ Book a keynote speaker and finalize the program. The keynote is an integral component of your program 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 now. In addition to the keynote speaker, you might want to plan an excursion as a part of the conference program. Examples of fun, offsite activities like trips to the zoo, aquarium or bowling. If an offsite activity is something you want to include, then you should organize this right away.

⇒ Order food/ beverages & association swag. Food and beverages are a “must have” for your conference. You should know who is going to cater the event 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. Also, don’t forget everybody’s favorite part of the annual conference: all of the free association swag! Start thinking of which promotional items you want to order, and make sure to look up pricing online to help manage your conference budget.

⇒ Embrace member suggestions. Whether one of your committees wants to unveil a new initiative or a member offers to help at the registration table, be open to all ideas. A great way to solicit suggestions is to just ask- ask your committee chairs or send out an email or eblast to your entire membership. Members are hard-working volunteers and their enthusiasm can help you pull off a great event.

⇒ Build 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 advertisements to create hype. Get your members excited!

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 annual conference does not have to be the looming raincloud ready to ruin the vacation you so greatly deserve. Start jogging now, so you don’t have to sprint later.

Gabrielle Copperwheat is the director of operations for CMA Association Management. If you would like to leverage CMA Association Management’s experience in conference planning and execution, we would love to chat. Please contact us at 800.852.4269 or email us at


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