At Off the Grid, we LOVE conferences – the people, the energy, and of course, the food. With the holiday season upon us, it’s easy to get sidetracked, but the best conference planners know that the planning has to start at least 6 months in advance. While the small details can be handled closer to your conference date, some things simply can’t wait. Whether you’re hosting your conference for the 10th year running, or launching your inaugural event, planning in advance as much as you can will ensure that you’re ready to handle the last-minute crises and situations that will inevitably arise down the road.
Book your venue
Your conference venue is unquestionably the most important thing you’ll choose in planning your event. Its location, layout, and capacity determine virtually everything else that happens at your conference. As conferences get more and more creative, attendee expectations are rising; they no longer are entertained by the ordinary, but rather expect something novel, creative, and unique. Don’t limit yourself to traditional venues – think outside the box! Developments in technology, as well as catering styles that serve food in less traditional spaces, have made many locations newly accessible as conference venues.
Identify a partner hotel
More likely than not, your conference attendees are traveling from far and wide to be at your conference, and as part of that, they’ll need places to stay. Offering a hotel discount that’s close to your venue can make a conference more attractive for attendees, especially those for whom cumulative expenses might make or break their ability to come. Find several hotels that are in the vicinity of your conference, and reach out to see what types of room blocks and discounts they’re willing to offer. The more people you can direct their way, the more negotiating power you have.
Solidify conference sponsorships
Sponsorship provides a great opportunity for companies to get their brand out in front of potential new customers, so a conference sponsorship is a win-win for you and your sponsors. Corporate budgets are set months in advance, if not years. While you still may not know if you want or definitively need corporate sponsorships, now is the time to be starting the conversation. The larger the corporation, the more it may be willing to sponsor, but the longer it will also need to get sponsorship approved. Identify sponsors that fund similar events, are associated with your conference theme, or might want to sell to your attendee audience, and get the ball rolling on outreach.
Source your speakers
While you don’t have to develop a schedule down to the minute, some aspects of a conference agenda require months of planning – most notably, speakers. The earlier you send your speaker invites, the more likely it is that your invitees will be free and interested in speaking at your conference. As your conference speaker mix will determine much of your agenda layout, the sooner you lock this in, the sooner you can start the detailed planning.
Find your food
Once you’ve settled on your venue, start thinking about the best food options to feed attendees given your venue layout and attendee volume. Food provides a great way to give an average conference that WOW factor that makes people remember it. Attendees likely are visiting from elsewhere, and trying the food of a new city is one of the more exciting elements of traveling for a conference. According to the New York Times, conferences across the country are moving away from boring, standardized food services to more unique cuisine that gives attendees a taste of local flavor. The trend of food truck service in particular has recently provided conference planners with a great channel to provide a more “authentic experience and a taste of the local culinary scene”. Consider exploring this channel as well as other creative solutions that you can use to really elevate the food experience for your attendees. Regardless of the type of service you choose, make sure you select food with a unique spin that attendees are sure to remember.