Organising a successful conference is not quite as easy as it may sound. One of the things to remember before you set out to plan an event of any sort is that you can only please some of the people some of the time. Planning could be quite overwhelming, and so many ask themselves: Where do we start? What should we do first?
The very first thing anyone should look at, right at the beginning of the planning process, is what exactly they want to achieve with the conference. Consider who your event would be suited to, the branding that needs to be incorporated and the message that you would like your attendees to take home.
The look and feel of the event is also highly important as it sets the scene for the conference. A modern look and feel gives a different impression to Renaissance décor. This all tells the story of your conference, and that’s a story that your delegates will take away with them afterwards.
Once you know what you want, other elements such as themes, colours, the right kind of layout and venue are easier to identify and put in place. Knowing what you want, and what you’d like to achieve with an event, will help the staff at the venue to match your needs and support you in making the event as great as possible.
What some organisers miss in planning their event is the little details: the lighting, the table cloths and even the sweets on the table. Most people attending conferences spend around six hours in the same room and, as concentration dwindles, they get distracted and start noticing that the stitching on table cloths are fraying or that there is dust on the windowsill. It may not seem like much, but small things like this can be something that shifts someone’s opinion of your event.
Of course, the food is almost as important as the conference itself. If you’re putting sweets on the tables, it’s a better idea to go for ones that are not crunchy nor have papers that rustle as this will distract the people around you.
Timing of the service of the food and snacks needs to be well worked out and you have to think about what you’d like to serve, particularly at lunch time. A heavy lunch will make delegates tired and distracted for the afternoon sessions. The big trend for conference lunches at the moment is to make sure that there are more healthy options and special selections for people with specific dietary requirements.
Most, if not all, conferences have audio visual requirements. Slides, presentations, graphics, videos, PA systems – these are all part of the conference make up. Before you book a venue, make sure that it can accommodate what you need in terms of tech. Most facilities will have the basics and can hire in the specialized equipment on request.
Prior to your conference, any technical equipment needs to be tested to make sure that not only does the equipment function properly, but that the presenters or organisers are familiar with how they work. This helps the event to move a lot more smoothly.
When it comes to planning, set a realistic budget. Everything that goes into a conference is going to cost you some money and each item from invites to speakers, to the venue needs to be carefully considered.
Don’t be afraid to ask venues if they are able to be flexible with their pricing. Most venues are able to provide excellent service and fantastic food that will fit your budget – you just need to negotiate.
The best conferences are those that remain in the mind of the attendee for a long time after. Every element of the process is significant and is something that the delegates will take away after the event. If you start mindfully, you’ll be able to organize a mindful conference, which ultimately will be one that stays in mind of the attendees.
By Heinrich Oberholzer, Food and Beverage Manager, Michelangelo Hotel, Sandton
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