A convention is no small deal, you might even think of it as a corporate event on Miracle-Gro. But you already know that. You wouldn’t go into convention planning without having an idea of what it takes. You don’t want to know just the basics of how to pull this together (though they are very important), you want to know how to make it amazing. We’ll help you out with both equally critical parts of convention planning—the fundamentals and the fun in our 14-point guide.
- Establish the Why: Sure, your mind may have gone straight to the fun stuff like who you can or should invite and what kind of awesome entertainment you’ll book. That’s super important don’t get us wrong, but first, you need to slow that roll. In order to target potential attendees that will benefit the most and have a good grasp on which sponsors/entertainers, etc. will have the most impact, you need to know the why. Of course, you have a general idea (no one goes through all the trouble of hosting a convention for no particular reason), but fully formulating the purpose and listing the goals you hope to achieve with your convention will help you focus on the attendees who are most likely to come and the outside hires who are really going to help reach your audience.
- The convention planning committee: Obviously you’re amazing, but even the most amazing and organized people need some support to keep their amazingness up to par or risk stretching themselves too thin. There are many aspects to a convention, and you may have limited time to complete them all, so don’t be afraid to gather a group of top-notch planners who know how to get things done, then delegate one or two tasks to each. That way each person can concentrate on making their aspect of the event as awesome as possible.
- Create a budget: Ugh yea, we know you want to go all out to make it the best convention that ever happened to this planet, but there’s no getting around budget constraints (that’s not to say you can’t make it the best convention that ever occurred on the planet with a bit of creativity and resourcefulness). The first thing you need to know? Where is the money coming from? Are there sponsors, investors, is it part of the company marketing budget? Next, you need to know how much you have to work with and lay out a plan of how much you want to go where. Leaving that to chance is a risky game, friend, and only leads to running out of money for important things (and possible humiliation and/or failure).
- Complete the 5 W’s: You already know what and why now you and your ace team of organizers need to zone in on the:
- Who will be invited?
- When will the event be scheduled and how long/how many days will it be?
- Where the event will be held—gather a list of possible venues.
Don’t limit things to just one of two options, have a healthy list of possibilities (starting with most desirable) in case your top choices don’t work out.
- Delegate: Ahhh now that you’ve figured out who, what, when, where, and why, there are so many things to do it feels like you want to pull your hair out already. But hold up. Remember that ace convention planning committee you assembled? It’s all about the delegation, baby. They aren’t just a bunch of pretty faces with smart ideas, use their strengths and talents to the max. Have the most creative person design kick-ass, attention-grabbing invitations that no one can refuse, assign your most organized committee member to deal with venues, have your best “salesperson” pitch to potential sponsors, and so on.
- Market the hell out of your event: It’s not much of a convention if only a couple of people show up, but how can anyone show up if they don’t know or care about it? Even if you have an invitation list, people need to know what they can expect and why they should take the time out of their schedule to go. They not only need to know about the benefits of attending, but you’ll also want them to know why it won’t be a boring waste of time. If you’re not sure how to go about marketing your convention, see these 50 tips on how to get it done.
- Make a checklist of on-site logistical details: Yea, it does sound kind of tedious, but putting together a convention isn’t all fun and glamour, there are tons of details that go into making it perfect. Some things you need to be on top of:
- Layout—chairs, stage, vendors, booths, tables, check-in, etc. Be concerned with how everything flows and conscience of the navigation of the space.
- AV Equipment—Who’s setting it up, who is operating the equipment, where is coming from, where is it going in the space.
- Food & Drink: What are you providing, where is it coming from and how is it getting to the venue, where is it being set up, who is distributing it
- Needs of the vendors, speakers, etc.: Have a checklist for each
- Programs: Everyone needs an agenda schedule—they want to know what to expect and when
- Site maps for larger venues: Especially if there are vendors or trade booths—a large venue can become a confusing maze.
- Check-in: Who is manning the check-in, badges, gifts
There may be more or less depending on your particular event but take the time to put it in writing—with so many details swirling around in your brain you don’t want to risk missing anything, even if it’s seemingly unimportant.
- Vendors: Prepare yourself, this can be a high-maintenance addition to your event. It’s going to take time and resources to coordinate and manage them all, buuuuut if you can pull it together, it can also be a sweetly lucrative addition to the convention. The right vendors (maybe niche, cutting-edge, the next trend, etc.) can also be a selling point when trying to draw attendees, especially if they will have the opportunity to grab hard to get products or tech.
- Roll out the red carpet, literally: Yours may not be the first convention guests have ever attended or even attended this year. Show how much you appreciate the time and effort they took to attend by giving them a bit of VIP treatment. Free valet service, a red-carpeted walkway complete with welcoming committee, well-thought-out swag bags (nobody needs another promo pen or refrigerator magnet. No one), or other unique touches that make each guest feel just how important they are.
- Wow them with the latest or emerging tech: At an MPI World convention in Vegas, convention hosts drove home the point of just how much you can energize a static room when they had attendees walk into it through a dry fog screen that reflected imagery. Using tech and getting creative about how to project or display logos, messaging, or other images can have a memorable impact on attendees and set the stage for the event, especially if it ties into your field of business. But as with all cutting-edge tech, you need someone who really knows how to use it (no one wants a real-life slapstick comedy that features equipment operator fails).
- Throw a cocktail reception that no one will forget: *rubbing our hands with glee* Finally, we start to get to the really fun stuff. Creating the most lasting memories involves all 5 senses—you aren’t just throwing together a party, you are creating an experience for your guests. Imagery (sight), music (hearing), food and drink (taste), and fragrances (smell) should be carefully considered and planned. What about touch? Interactive elements like bubbles, touch screens, textured fabrics or décor will add literal and metaphorical dimensions that complete the experience and captivate guests.
- Plan well when it comes to expos and trade show booths: This element is pretty much par for the course when it comes to conventions and coordinating it all can be its own special full-time job. But the most important part is making sure that attendees can take advantage of this aspect of the event. Scheduling exhibition hours that don’t conflict with seminars or sessions gives expos their own specific time slots as it were, allowing attendees and vendors to give it all their attention during the allotted time. After all, if you are going to go through all the work of putting this together, you’re going to want to maximize its benefits.
- Create energy from the start: Listening to sessions all day can be tiring (ironically, all that sitting really wears you out!) and if things start off slow, you’ve lost your audience before you even began. Plan speakers and agendas that bring energy to the start of the convention, the start of the day, and the start of each session. Start the convention with something positive like highlighting accomplishments from the past year, what you plan to accomplish going forward, and how you know it can be achieved.
- Entertain your guests: Well, not you personally. We don’t care what your mom says, nobody wants to hear your off-key rendition of Thank U, Next or see you “perform magic” by pulling doves out of your sleeve. Leave it to the professionals. Your job is to find entertainers who wow (the good wow, not as in “Wow, I’m stunned that they thought they could pull off singing Ariana Grande”). Even the most energizing sessions can start to feel draggy so some lively live music or an entertainer to make your audience laugh can give everyone a break. A brass band can bring life to an event with their energetic sound and even get guests’ blood flowing again with some mid-session second line parading. Some organizers bring in celebrity impersonators, comedians, legitimate magicians, local talents, or arrange other fun activities. The important thing is to provide your guests with entertainment that will refresh their brain cells and keep them listening.
From the very beginning of the idea stage (why) and down to the event day, there is a boatload of work that goes into convention planning. Don’t go it alone—delegate and put each of your planning committee member’s talents to the best use possible. Be creative, think big and small (details), stay focused on your event goals, and make sure everyone has a great time—including you!