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How To Plan A Conference Using A Conference Timeline

03rd February 2021
Conference audience

How to plan a conference using a conference timeline

  Planning a large scale conference event involves lots of moving parts, patience and attentiveness. Whether the conference is academic, learning, community or commercially focused, any large-scale event will require participation of more stakeholders, vendors and team members. This essentially makes the web of communication and responsibility wider which means a higher likelihood of things going wrong if a clear unified plan isn’t set in place. It’s for this reason that a conference planning timeline is so important to the success of any large-scale conference.    Many search results on conference planning timelines will return results offering conference planning timeline templates upon which to base your planning. The problem with many of these articles is that they fail to highlight how the size of a conference impacts and shapes the planning process.   With decades of experience in the conference and event management business, our in house conference event planners have written a tried and tested conference planning guide for large events.   

What is a conference planning timeline checklist and why is it important? 

A conference planning timeline is a visual representation of the tasks and milestones that need to be completed leading up to and after the conference.    Why is this important?  
  • Tracking budget - Bigger conferences will always incur larger costs with budget going to venue hire, catering, ticketing, speakers, technical overheads and more. With so many tasks going on, it's easy to lose track. A chronological timeline means that you can map costs to every stage of the process whilst also adding invoice payment reminder deadlines.   
  • Time is a luxury - Having ample time to prepare means that you can be extra attentive and fine-tune every nuance of your conference. This has numerous positive impacts on the end result which is organised, and relevant to it’s attendees.  
  • Central structure - Large scale event planning for conferences mean a lot of people involved. By having planners, vendors and suppliers all working from the same timeline, each party can work independently without the need for micromanagement and worry. 
  • Keep track of your tasks - A timeline means that you can keep track of the tasks that fall under your responsibility. With each event team member being responsible for their own area, optimising workflow and being aware of deadlines is just that little bit easier. 
  • Visualisation saves time - Organising conferences is a big responsibility and being able to find out where you’re at is key. With a timeline, there’s no fumbling around inboxes or having to message your team from reminders. The stage of the process in that precise moment in time is available within a glance. Gantt charts are particularly useful for this.  

The Conference timeline 

12 months before the conference: Conceptualisation We At the year stage you should have the basic foundations of your conference confirmed. This is essentially the conceptualisation stage where you can 100& fine-tune everything before moving on and committing budget to bring your idea to life. At this stage it’s important to not to get ahead of yourself and make sure to really pay attention to locking the following:     
  • Conference theme - What is going to make your conference stand out in a market place full of them? Is there going to be a specific angle to the conference? Eg. the main events/speakers will be tailored around this.
  • Conference name - What will you call the conference and how does this reflect the audience that you wish to attract?
  • Guests - You should decide on the number of attendees you wish to attract
  • Date - Agreeing on a date and duration of the conference is also crucial. Things to consider are public holidays, competing events and other goings on that could hamper attendee availability.
  • Conference goals - Clarifying conference goals is the single most important aspect of the conceptualisation stage. You must decide exactly what it is you wish to achieve from the conference and how you are going to measure this. It will then allow you to allocate your budgets to focused areas. 
6 months-pre conference: Delegation and skeleton planning With the conference identity clarified and firmly locked in place, It’s time to assemble the events team that you’ll be working with to deliver the conference. During    Roles and responsibilities - This is the time to designate members of your team with specific roles and responsibilities eg. venue hire, speaker sourcing, corporate sponsorships, ticketing, catering, technology    Budgets - You will then have to allot each area of responsibility and it’s outcomes with its own budget. The amount of budget for each area of responsibility will be based upon estimations and historical data of past conferences if you have them. Before you allocate budget make sure to put aside at least 20% of the total amount for a contingency fund just in case of price fluctuations/overspends   Design a conference structure - Start to think about structure and content for the conference. This stage will naturally extend from your choice of theme for the event and will include things like speaker line ups (keynote speakers and side speakers), multiple rooms, breakout areas, workshops, demonstrations etc.    Conference venue search - At this stage it's then time to begin your conference venue search in line with your capacity requirements and preferred conference structure. The criterias to look out for when researching and viewings will always vary depending on the type of conference you are organising but some pointers can be found in our “what makes a good conference venue” article. Due to the COVID pandemic many  conference venues including University of London Venues are offering virtual video tours. This means the process is less time consuming than physical tours.   Find keynote speakers - With the structure and setting for the conference taking shape, you can then go to find keynote speakers relevant to the areas of your niche you wish to target. There are many different strategies for sourcing speakers in this Eventbrite article which includes feedback driven and database sourced    3-5 months: The finer details  When you are between 3 and 5 months from the conference live date, it’s time to start thinking about the finer details. With a venue confirmed you can turn your attention to the funner aspect of the job; the look and feel, and attendee experience. This will usually be in collaboration with the venue’s event coordinator. 
  • Think about conference catering - Will you be serving snacks, coffee and tea or opting to give your guests a catered lunch? This is a decision that would have been addressed when putting together a provisional conference structure, but here is the chance to talk about menus and options
  • Room setup - For each area of the conference venue you can start to decide on layouts, furniture and seating arrangements.
  • Audiovisual and Tech set up - Your speakers will no doubt require the use of presentation facilities, microphones and other technical aids. This is the time to tell the venue what you need and where so that it is ready on the day.
  • Conference accessibility - Making the venue accessible and making sure that the right provisions are in place is important. Although most venues have an accessibility policy, this is a great chance to check that conference facilities, entrances and areas provide step-free access. 
  • Photography - Photographing the energy of the event is an important part of marketing your conference to future attendees. Well shot photographs taken by a professional event photographer are strongly recommended. At University of London Venues we provide a high-end custom photography service through veteren photographer Tony Harris, who has 30 years’ experience in global high-end hospitality, food and interiors photography.  
At University of Venues our event team is always on hand to help with anything you may need for the conference. From catering, furniture hire, event insurance, printing, photography and audiovisual, we have strong ties with trusted partners and can deliver these services in one manageable package.    Find out more information on our in house event services here.     
  • Can you make it an eco-friendly conference? - Having an active sustainability policy is not so much an option now than it is expected. Think about the ways in which you can make your event as sustainable as possible? The university of Birmingham has published a brilliant article outlining ways for you to reduce the impact of your conference, venue and attendees. Offering a virtual or hybrid event is also a good way of retaining attendees whilst avoiding the carbon footprint associated with physical travel.   
  • Secure the last of your speakers
  • Create marketing collateral - With a venue booked, a date confirmed and a list of big thought leadership names to boot, it’s time to show the event off by creating marketing collateral. In the spirit of our previous point about sustainability, this can be mostly digital assesets such as websites, social media and other forms of online promotion. 
  • Send out e-invites -  You can then start to send out invites to your marketing lists as time draws near. Start with an early bird release to incentivise attendance and signups.
  • Order merchandise - Tickets should now be selling and attendance numbers increasing. This is the time to invest in event merch (if appropriate to the type of conference). Branded pens, tshirts, keyrings and baseball caps are just some of the types of different merch ideas you could use. These freebies are great marketing props and are fantastic at spreading awareness whilst making your attendees feel appreciated.  
1 month - Conference planning checklist By this point the conference is set, primed and ready to go. Hopefully you are on budget in which case it’s time to use your remaining four weeks to double check, confirm and rectify anything that may need tweaking.    
  • Confirm numbers - Confirm the final number of attendees perhaps a week before the conference so that any last minute variations in attendance can be sorted
  • Confirm catering - Confirm the catering with the catering team. Make sure that you still have enough provisions for the attendee list and then a little extra just in case. It’s also important to arrange for extra vegetarian options to cater for any last minute dietary changes among attendees
  • Confirm set up for the day - Go over the planned program of events with your team and trouble shoot anything that may come up. You must also do an equipment check the night before the conference to confirm that supporting tech is fit for use and ready to go. 
  • Send out a reminder email to all attendees - This will make sure everyone is focused on the event and builds up a sense of engagement and anticipation among attendees. Many ticketing systems such as Eventbrite will have built- in CRM capabilities that will allow you to do this. 
The After conference report After a successful conference you should congratulate yourself and your team. Delivering a conference event from planning stage to fruition can be fraught with complications but organisation, delegation and structure have stood you in good stead! Now its time to reflect on the success, failures as well as any learning to feed into the next conference.  
  • Team debrief - Talk to your team and garner feedback on all aspects of the conference. This could be observations about things that worked well, things that worked not so well and ideas for next time.
  • The follow up email after conference - A thank you email to attendees goes a long way and reinforces the bond between the attendee and the positive experience they’ve had. You can also add in a comments and feedback form which will help greatly with future conference marketing.
  • Drill down into conference data - Look at ticketing information, attendee lists, feedback and other metrics and try to pick out patterns. This will then feed into phase 1 of your next event!

Large conference venues with University of London Venues

University of London venues offer a selection of unique large conference venues in central London suitable for all uses. You won’t find drab interiors or sterile surroundings as our conference venues boast some of the most elegant art deco interiors in the UK.    With an in-house events and catering team ready to support you in every way, your conference will benefit from the help of truly experienced professionals. Our conference venues have also received a gold sustainability award which is testament to our commitment towards green conferences.    We are also offering very generous discounts and flexible booking options for all conference bookings made in 2021.   For more information on hosting your conference with University of London Venues, contact our team today.  
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