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How to run a successful conference

How to run a successful conference

By Stephen Archer, Director, Spring Partnerships, (

Staging a conference or attending an exhibition is a major business decision for most companies, not least of all because it is can take up a significant amount of budget and because of the time and resources that need to be committed to  such an event.

The secret of a hosting a successful conference is to work backwards – define the end goals right from the outset. If you have medium and long terms goals for your conference it will help you determine its shape and style and vitally, make the planning less painful and much more effective.

One of the key things to work out is what you would like people to say when they leave the event and long afterwards; think about what impression you want to create amongst your audience. Do you want to change behaviours? Then look at what beliefs need to be changed first.

Another key part of the planning stage is to define clearly your messages and then prioritise them.  Think about the one impression and up to three messages you want people to take home with them about your company and the conference.

Next, make sure you have the very best person lined up to deliver that message but make sure they don’t rely too heavily on power point as it can be a major distraction.

Think about delivering your messages creatively, perhaps using video to support your messages or sign up guest speakers who are completely relevant for your audience and who compliments your objectives.

Don’t fall into the trap of choosing a speaker that your CEO might be impressed by meeting, such as latter day female newsreaders!
Make sure you brief all your speakers well in advance of the conference and they fully understand the dynamics of the audience to which they will be presenting and can tailor their speeches accordingly.

No one should be allowed to speak who hasn’t rehearsed the day before; it is essential that they are comfortable on the stage and can iron out any potential glitches before the big event and that their presentations join up with the rest. Make sure you train all the speakers to present TO delegates and not AT them.

Ensure that you warm up the audience so their expectations of the day are set and they are looking forward to the speaker line up and content . Don’t let any speaker talk for longer than 30 minutes uninterrupted unless you want your audience to drift away and never have  more than 10 speakers in a single day.

Encourage them to use humour, but warn them that jokes don’t always work as intended, so should usually be avoided.  You could also advise them to use break out sessions with their audience to encourage interaction and participation.

Lastly remember to pay attention to stage design, lighting and sound and ensure checks are made at the rehearsal stage to ensure everything works as it should. The design and lighting should be harmonized and culturally aligned to the company’s brand image and the conference mission.

It is also important to measure the effectiveness of a conference and there is no better time than at the event.  Have a survey ready to go and ask delegates for honest feedback. There is no better way to gauge the success of your event and make sure next year’s conference is even better.

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