The Lazy Person's Guide To Hosting A Successful Conference

After going to one event after the other, it’s easy to think that hosting conferences is a great business. All too often we see the same type event, with similar people, and as a social capitalist we think to ourselves: I can do this too! While hosting a conference can boost your influence, build a lot of buzz, and make a lot of money, it’s unfortunately not for the lazy person! (Yes, the title is misleading!) In this guide, I’ll highlight some of the most important things to keep in mind if you are considering hosting a conference of your own.

Watch The Budget Closely

Things change on a daily basis when you’re planning event which is why it’s extremely important to monitor your event budget and adjust as necessary as the event nears. If ticket sales don’t perform well or you don’t get enough sponsors, things can quickly get out of hand and you won’t meet your budget. That’s why it’s important to monitor the budget throughout the entire process.

If you don’t have an existing budget, you can download the sample conference budget spreadsheet that I’ve created (and have used in the past).

Build It For The Sponsors

Want to start a conference with no money in the bank? Get your sponsors first. When you create your conference idea, have specific sponsors in mind. I’ve found some events simply don’t attract sponsors well. Are the sponsors’ customers going to be at the event? If they aren’t you may not want to have them as sponsors right away, as they probably won’t sponsor your future event. However, there are no straight forward rules related to whether or not to accept a sponsorship.

Also, make sure not to overload your event with too many sponsors. If you do, you’ll end up diluting the value for all the sponsors that are involved. All to often I see events launch that provide no value for sponsors. Even the best conference organizers can mess this up. If you want to have a profitable future, I suggest that you spend more time focusing on how the sponsors will benefit from your event.

Make Sure Your Event Director Is On Point

Your event director is the single point of failure for an event. If you don’t have someone on hand to constantly make sure everything is in order, you may as well kiss your event goodbye. Yes, it’s possible to manage everything on your own, however doing so will most definitely make your life crazy! If you don’t have someone that’s detail oriented and extremely organized, your event could quickly spiral out of control.

Find Competing Conferences And Attend Them

Do you want to launch a conference in an industry that already has lots of events? That could be a good or bad thing. If you’re jumping into a saturated market, you may end up cursing yourself. Do some market research before you launch a conference. Are you at the bleeding edge of an industry? Perhaps it’s better to start small. If there are other conferences, go attend some of them and take note of the number of attendees, who the sponsors are, and ask attendees what their thoughts are about the event.

Doing market research is extremely important if you are going to host an event. It’s important for knowing how many people will show up as well as what expectations the attendees will have.

Build Promotional Partners Early On

If you are going to sell out your event, you need to build promotional partners. That means you’ll need to reach out to people with email lists, events that have attendee overlap, and blogs in the space that you’re looking to promote. Building buzz can be extremely difficult and if you don’t pick your promotional partners early on, it’s extremely easy to fall short on ticket sales projections.

Have A Backup Plans If Ticket Sales Start Falling Short

Did you create a bunch of partnerships but none of them resulted in a lot of ticket sales? Sometimes things don’t work out but the last situation you want to be in is one week before your event and nobody has registered. Consider giving out free tickets or highly discounted tickets to targeted people that you’d like to have in attendance. Facebook is a great resource for targeting these individuals.

You can target people based on the company they work for and then give them free passes to your event. Half of the attraction to an event is the companies that will be there. Spend some time ensuring that you can get those people to the event even if they aren’t paying as it will help you sell more tickets in the long run.

Achieve Excellence In At Least One Area

If you’re hosting event, something is going to wrong somewhere along the lines. The wireless won’t work, the food will taste like crap, the audio will break, the lighting will perform poorly, or the line for the bathrooms will become unbearable. Whatever goes wrong, you are just about guaranteed that something won’t work. That’s why you need to make sure that at least one component of your event is incredible.

Personally, I like to focus on food, wireless, and bathrooms. Meeting your attendees’ needs will get them to come back next time. If you don’t surpass their expectations in at least one area, there’s very little chance that they’ll return next time.

Any Other Suggestions?

This is far from a comprehensive guide to hosting conferences. After finishing up the second annual Social Ad Summit this week, I’ve realized that there is still a lot to learn. Hopefully you find some of my personal lessons to be useful. At the least, you now have a spreadsheet for launching your next conference!