4 Steps for Putting Together a Successful Conference

The 2011 NFPW Conference is just around the corner. The conference organizers are hard at work putting the finishing touches on it. The NFPW board is meeting with other affiliates to identify future conference hosts.

NFPW members having fun in Chicago.

One thing that holds affiliates back from making a bid to host is the unknown – how much work is it going to take to put together a conference? Where does one even start?

As co-chairman for the 2007 conference in Richmond, I can tell you that it’s both a lot of fun and a lot of work. But with a bit of planning you, too, can put together a successful meeting or conference.  To do so, focus on 4 key areas:

1)      Location

2)      Budget

3)      Speakers

4)      Food

Location: NFPW members are looking for good value for their money. We seldom hold our meetings in big cities because the cost of hotel rooms is too expensive. We find good value in mid-size or smaller cities. If you’re seeking a location for your state affiliate meeting, why not ask your members if their employers could host the group. In Virginia, we’ve met at the Virginia State Police, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Virginia Press Association headquarters. All offered us space at no cost, which means that we can offer an affordable rate to members.

Budget: List all of your expenses and then determine how many members you expect to attend. That will determine the registration fee you need to charge. Do you have sponsors that can underwrite any expenses? At the end of the conference you want to break even – or even better, make a profit to help with your affiliate’s coffer. One way to keep costs down is to bring your own laptop and projector.

Speakers: Are you planning a theme for the conference? That will help narrow your focus as you reach out to speakers. Ask early and let speakers know what you will provide. NFPW and most affiliates do not pay honorariums because the funds simply don’t exist. However, most speakers are more than willing to speak if you are able to cover travel expenses. It’s also good to promote the speaker and her work. If she is an author, allow her to sell copies of her books. It’s also good to have a back-up speaker  — just in case. Ask the speaker early for her bio and photo to use in the program and anywhere else that the conference will be promoted.

Food: Members aren’t expecting a four-star meal, but they do want quality. When selecting options, consider the set-up of the room. Is it better to offer a buffet  so that members can get their food quickly? Or would a plated meal work better? If members are traveling a distance to get to the meeting, and it starts in the morning, be sure to offer coffee and some fruit and pastries.

To include more members in the conference planning, assign a member to each of the key areas. You’ll have more ideas and no one member will be overwhelmed.

What are your best conference planning tips?

5 thoughts on “4 Steps for Putting Together a Successful Conference

  1. Tammy Anderson says:

    I am interested in doing a conference. I’m not sure if I should do a conference or just a information gathering (I couldn’t think of anything else) to put out information on a certain subject.

    • Tammy,
      Are you involved with an organization? Does it put on conferences? If so, why not volunteer to help with one. It’s always good to have goals for conferences, too. Often the overarching goal is to share information. But, you will want to set goals for budget, attendance numbers, etc. Good luck!

  2. Hi I really found this article informative. Have you got any information about the desk work for a conference. How one should approach researching the particular subject area to determine whether it would be a profitable conference?

    Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    • I’m hopeful that others will weigh in on the topic. My experience has been to know your fixed expenses up front such as the cost of the meeting spaces, meals, AV. From there, you determine the conference fee based on the expected number of attendees and any funding that you might obtain. I’ve only worked with conferences that have been ongoing for many years. If you are venturing into new territory, start small the first year and then grow it. It’s better to over deliver than to disappoint.

  3. Great info, Cynthia. Now that Bethlehem is now amenable to such gatherings, don’t forget to include your old home town on your lists of places to hold conferences. Sands-Bethlehem hotel, convention center, casino along with the newly open Steel Stacks will quickly become well-known for being an outstanding place to host business meetings and conventions.

    Bethlehem is open for business and we have it all! Check out http://www.pasands.com and http://www.artsquest.org . Sands came here to host such events and with a new hotel and meeting center, it will be a destination. Yeah, we planned this long ago and I am very pleased with the outcome.

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