Conference Organiser

It is important to understand the difference between conferences, conventions, seminars, workshops, trade shows, expos and symposiums. When you are asked to manage an event such as this, you will need to market it correctly in order to attract the right type of attendee. For example, there is no point marketing an event as a ‘symposium’ (usually aimed at academics) when you really want to attract industry-specific attendees to inform them of the latest industry development. That is a  ‘conference’.  

Conferences are usually of two types:

  1. In-house - a conference held within an organisation with the employees as attendees and sometimes with guest speakers. These are usually held to inform attendees of new internal organisational or industry developments, new products, new ideas and so on.
  2. The second type of conference (often also referred to as a convention and a lot larger than the conference discussed above) includes a range of delegates from various organisations, companies and so on with multiple guest speakers. They often include individual sessions as well as a main event. They also usually focus on new industry developments and trends.

Seminars are educational events that inform (or convince) the attendees (usually on one subject but sometimes more than one) using lectures, discussions or ‘guest’ speakers. A typical seminar could be one on the superannuation or pension fund industry for example.   Many seminars are free and are a popular way to conduct business in some sectors. They are usually trying to sell the attendee something – either more training or a product or service.  

Symposiums are academic events attended by academics or students where key-expert speakers give lectures or presentations on a pre-determined subject.

Trade shows and expos are industry specific (e.g. telecommunications, horticulture, equine, motor industry etc.). They are often large events and most likely to be held on an annual basis with a range of exhibitors from the industry in question. There will be displays of products and/or services to educate/inform attendees on the latest trends and developments in the industry.

Workshops are small events with perhaps no more than 10 participants. They sometimes contain practical components. A good example is a first-aid workshop where participants firstly attend a lecture and demonstrations, then have the opportunity to put what they have learnt into practice using a dummy or the other participants.  

Organising a Conference

  • Planning – understand the event’s goals and target audience, and use this to determine what theme and what approach you will use.  
  • Know your budget restrictions (this dictates what you can offer and where). 
  • Choose a suitable venue. It must suit the needs of the conference. Do a thorough site inspection - think of size, access, quality, safety, catering or suitable eating areas, parking, price and any other resources it may offer. Does it match the expectations of the event?
  • Set dates and book the venue (try not to clash with other similar events held at the same time).
  • Develop the conference program – keep it well paced and interesting. Alter timeframes for individual sessions (some short some longer) also include plenty of breaks and/or a change of pace to ensure energy levels are sustained. 
  • Have ready access to water and easy access to toilet facilities
  • Promote the conference - conferences that not in-house need to be promoted well in advance of the event. Use normal marketing tools such as media releases, websites, advertisements, social media, journals, magazines etc. 
  • Send out invitations, via mail, email, social media etc., and set up a link to a ticketing system on a website. 
  • Develop the conference material – keep it concise (consider using a ‘show bag’ that is easy for attendees to carry and don’t overload it). Make sure all the material you include, such as name-tags, tickets, programs etc., are produced to the predetermined ‘theme’ for the conference (i.e. colours, quality etc.).
  • Decide what equipment you need and where you need it (e.g. a lectern? AV equipment, sound system, lighting, etc. etc.).
  • Design the layout and seating – make sure seating is comfortable and that the design suits the type of conference being held. Large conferences often use auditorium style seating, smaller types may use the classroom style or U-shaped style seating. Some may be more informal with attendees spending some time ‘roaming’ the room and others sitting.  
  • Make sure you have the right audio-visual equipment required which is set up and tested on the day.  Everything MUST work perfectly
  • Make sure screens are positioned so everyone can see them without straining.
    Contact all your guest speakers and make sure they understand their timeline and time frame
  • Book caterers – select a menu and the appropriate presentation and service. Make sure that the meal-breaks and catering service align – you don’t want meal breaks intruding into conference activities because they took longer than predicted. 
  • Conduct a run-through rehearsal before the event. Make sure that you have allocated enough time to register attendees, for them to meet and greet each other, and to get to their positions on time. Check safety procedures and safety equipment on the day.