A Guide to Successful Conference Planning

The term conference can be used to describe any meeting of people to ‘confer’ on a certain topic. Far removed from the stereotypical ‘year-end company conference’ which is just an excuse for the whole company to pull into a posh hotel and have a weekend long party, the planning and execution of a successful and effective conference takes a lot of time, discipline and commitment.

Depending on the size of your project, successfully planning a conference includes the following:

* Setting up of a Conference Planning Committee.

* Accurate budget planning.

* Selecting an appropriate conference venue..

* Negotiating agreements and contracts with all the necessary parties.

* Sourcing speakers and presenters relevant to the purpose of the conference.

* Planning the program.

* Executing the conference plan.

Besides these factors, you also need to consider what specific purpose your conference will be heading. Conferences can be presented as either incentive events, training courses, sales conferences, seminars and/or workshops, and these various themes pose differing challenges in planning and execution.

The first step in planning your conference is assembling a planning committee and appointing a Conference Coordinator. The size of your planning committee should be relevant to the size of your conference, as an oversized committee can lead to a lack of organisation and indecisiveness. Essentially you should look for persons to serve on your committee who:

* Are qualified to serve due to their experience on substantive issues.

* Are dependable.

* Are able to accept responsibility.

* Work well with others.

* Can make decisions.

* Can abide by the decision of the majority.

The Conference Coordinator can either be appointed internally or externally, in other words, either one of the existing members of the committee, or a person who is exceptionally skilled in conference planning and is contracted from an outside agency for their services. Although it is more common to choose a person already serving on your committee, hiring an external coordinator allows the committee members to keep focused on the matters more central to their usual jobs. The work of the Conference Planning Committee is a part-time responsibility; for the coordinator, the conference can become a sole assignment!

A conference budget should be prepared through a thoughtful process involving the sponsor, planning committee and coordinator. The coordinator should be in full control of the budget, for if payments are approved by someone other than the coordinator, it will be difficult to hold him/her accountable for expenditures. A budget should not be seen as a financial document, but rather as a planning and management control document. It is a listing of all anticipated expenses, funding sources and projected revenue. Part of preparing a conference budget requires compiling a split folio. This is a division of expenses which lists the charges covered by the conference master account and individual guest charges.

The important thing when deciding on a location to hold your conference is to give yourself time. The more time you have to choose a site, the better your options will be. Matching your conference with the right type of facility is essential, for instance, if you are planning you conference with a lot of free time, the conference centre should be located close to local restaurants and attractions. On the other hand, if conferees are flying in for a one or two day stop-over, keeping it as close to, or at the airport, keeps your ground travel time to a minimum.

Over the past few years it has become more common to enter into formal contracts with hotels regarding accommodation and facilities rather than the informal agreements of the past. The process of reaching an agreement may involve a series of conversations over several days or weeks. Keep in mind that negotiations should be viewed as a collaborative effort between professionals, as both parties want to gain the maximum benefit from the deal. Everything is negotiable, providing it is done from a position of knowledge:

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