1.START WITH WHY
If you think 'start with why might ring a bell it's probably because it's the title of author, speaker and consultant Simon Sinek's most recognised book. My point here is that it's important to sit down and really think about the purpose of the conference. Ask yourself why you want to arrange the conference. Is it because you want to engage and motivate your employees or other stakeholders? Or maybe you want to inspire them to expand their thinking? Conferences with well-defined and visionary purposes tend to attract more visitors and be more successful. An example of a conference with a great purpose is Sustainable Brand's conference.
2. MAP OUT THE OBJECTIVES
After you've defined the purpose of your conference have a think about the objectives. Objectives are as opposed to goals and purposes more specific and provide quantitative benchmarks which can be used to gauge the process. Goals and purposes without objectives are pointless because you will not be able to measure and analyse your progress. When setting objectives it can be useful to use the SMART-model.
Being on a limited budget doesn't mean that the conference or strategy retreat will be less impactful and successful, you just need to think more creatively on how to optimise your tangible and intangible resources. Let the saying necessity is the mother of invention guide your efforts. Furthermore, I think it's important to think about the budget in terms of ROI and objectives.
4. SET THE AGENDA
This is one of the most important and the most challenging tasks of planning a conference. When you set the agenda there are a lot of different factors to consider. For example, you must think about overall structure of the event and level of interactivity you want to achieve between the speakers and the audience. A good first step is to again think about the purpose and objectives of the conference and let those guide the way you choose to structure the conference day/days. From my experience I can tell that the conferences and summits with a mix of formats such as lectures, keynotes, workshops and panel debates tend to be the most successful. Conference attendees tend to appreciate variation througout the day so make sure you build a schedule which encourages people to both listen and learn but also actively contribute and co-create.
5. CHOOSE THE RIGHT KEYNOTE SPEAKER
Choosing the right speaker can be a challenging task, but there are ways of making that process more seamless. First of all it's essential to think about the purpose of your conference and the objectives as mentioned before. Do you want your attendees to be inspired or motivated? Or do you perhaps want them to be provoced? Do you want them to leave with practical tips or broadened horizons and new perspectives? My number one advice for you is to be really clear on how you want the keynote speaker to contribute to the overall success of your conference. Depending on the objectives of your conference you might choose a speaker which knows your industry or are known for tailoring his or hers presentations for the client's needs.
6. INSPIRATION FROM OTHER CONFERENCES
In order to create an event which stands out from other conferences I encourage you to look for information where you least expect to find out. It's always good to study and learn from successful conferences such as the yearly TED-conference (check out my TED-talk here) , but also you will get great and innovative ideas from looking at meetups and conferences which are outside of your industry such as Burning Man, Social Good Summit and Inbound.
7. EVALUATE & ANALYSE
Evaluate and analyse the conference. Did you reach your objectives? If not, then analyse and find out what went wrong and what you can do better for the next event. Perhaps you failed to properly market your event and communicate the value that the attendees would get out of going to the conference. Look at your conference through a marketing lense and gather all the facts and numbers so that you can get an overview of the wins and where there are opportunities for improvement.
There are probably a lot more things to think about when planning a conference, nonetheless I hope you'll find of these tips helpful. As a final comment, I would encourage you to think about the event as a customer experience meaning that you ought to identify the potential friction points which might annoy attendees and thus also consider how those can be creatively removed. In other words, design your conference just as you design your customer experience - by putting yourself in his and hers shoes to empathetically and seamlessly remove friction.