Magazine article New Zealand Management

Organisation and Interruptions

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Organisation and Interruptions

Article excerpt

Q My company is a member of an industry federation and it is our turn to organise the federation's benial conference for around 300 to 500 people. I have drawn the short straw and am the project manager for this. I have never organised a conference before and wondered if you had some helpful hints?

A Don't underestimate the size of the job you are about to carry out. This is a big deal. You need to make sure you have enough time to plan and organise. You should really start about two years out.

First identify a key theme. This sets the scene and attracts people to come. Then work through a range of sub themes that will create an effective framework.

Once you have done this start thinking about speakers and topics. You will need some keynote speakers. These are people who are acknowledged experts in their field and are able to share information of high value for participants.

You will need to target these people early and identify their costs. Then you are ready to finalise the location of the conference, and organise the rest of the speakers and events. Organising speakers can be approached in two ways. You can shoulder tap people whom you feel would be appropriate or you can send out a list of topics to your federation members and ask for volunteers. The second approach is easier provided you can get the quality you need. The likelihood is that you will need to do both.

You also need to work out a detailed budget to keep the conference on track for at least a break-even situation. If possible hold an industry exhibition of suppliers and services in conjunction with the conference. This can turn a tidy profit with the rental of exhibition floor space and subsidise the main conference.

Do hire a professional conference organiser. It costs money but is well worth it. The organiser will manage logistics such as advertising, venue, bookings, lighting, sound, and presentation equipment and will make sure the conference runs smoothly on the day. Ensure the programme has a mix of light and shade. Have something first thing in the morning to wake people up and also after lunch to keep them engaged. It is a good idea to start each day with one of the keynote speakers and also to finish the conference with a widely respected keynote speaker. This makes sure people turn up and don't leave early.

Remember to give people chance to network as this is 50% of the benefit of attending a conference. …

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