There's no doubt that planning events is a demanding job. You want the set-up and staging to look brilliant, the sessions to run on-time and for your attendees to feel engaged and inspired by what they see and learn.
AS AN ORGANISATION who knows a thing or two on this topic, we can promise you that the cornerstone of any successful event lies in the planning process - and we’re here to share our five top tips for planning a successful conference.
1. Assemble a team
Depending on the size of the event you’re organising, chances are you’re going to need some support.
The process of planning and delivering events is at its most successful and enjoyable when the client team and the venue team can take a ‘one team’ approach
Planning an event is very much like managing a large project, with a very definite deadline. It works best when you have one person leading the process, backed by an efficient and supportive team with individual responsibilities.
In our experience, the process of planning and delivering events is at its most successful and enjoyable when the client team and the venue team can take a ‘one team’ approach, with regular communication in the lead up to the event, and whilst it is running.
Events often require a big team effort, but the EICC can help you at every step of the way to make the process - and the event itself - run as smoothly as possible.
2. Be inclusive
It’s important to think about the profile of your audience, and what their needs might be, when planning out each element of your event. When considering accessibility, for example, we recommend having a detailed look into the space, layout and location of your venue and the surrounding area to ensure there is good access for all.
“There was a time when you would have struggled to see even one female surgeon in the actual scientific program. Now, diversity and inclusion are huge priorities for the society”
Think about what you can do to make getting to and around the conference easy for those who will be attending.
The British Hip Society recognised that family commitments can be a logistical hurdle to getting full representation at conferences. When the Society held their Annual Scientific Meeting at the EICC in March 2023, we organised a dedicated family room, with catering and changing facilities nearby.
“It meant any new parents could attend with their children and partners without having to worry about childcare, or spending half their time alone in a hotel room,” says Jai Mistry, Director of MiCE Organiser Ltd - who has organised the BHS annual meetings for 12 consecutive years. “It was all part of our efforts to welcome everyone and make it a more accessible event.”
“There was a time when you would have struggled to see even one female surgeon in the actual scientific program. Now, diversity and inclusion are huge priorities for the society and we had speakers and delegates from all backgrounds and all generations,” he adds.
3. Set objectives
Every organiser wants their event to have a lasting impact, so make sure you have a clear idea of what it is you want your event to achieve, what you’d like the lasting, memorable message to be, and measures you can take to ensure you reach those objectives.
When the Association of Cardiovascular Nursing & Allied Professions hosted a conference at the EICC in June 2023, one of its key objectives was raising awareness of cardiovascular health.
An ideas activation meeting in the planning stages helps to get to the creative solution that feels right for your event.
ACNAP and the EICC went beyond traditional conference boundaries by incorporating public engagement opportunities into the programme. These included heart disease screenings, a public talk, a walking history tour, a fun run and three press announcements to raise awareness of ACNAP.
It's helpful to have an activation meeting in the early planning stages to throw all of the creative ideas on to the table and talk them through until you get to the solution that feels right for your event.
4. Consider a theme
While themes aren’t a hard and fast rule for conferences, it can help you to tie things together and create a smoother planning process. Whether you go for something seasonal, topical, trending, or a theme related to the general landscape within your industry, knowing how you want the event to look and feel will help you to achieve your overall vision.
Knowing how you want the event to look and feel will help you to achieve your overall vision.
Think about the format of your event, too: will it be fully in-person or would you like to deliver a hybrid event? How many days will it last and how many sessions will you offer? Some organisers plan their conference content around the latest hot topics in their industry and then identify a list of speakers to talk on certain subjects. Once you have an outline of the key speakers and themes, it’s easier to bring all of the other elements together.
5. Develop a budget
Plan out expected costs from an early stage and explore opportunities for off-setting some of those costs. It is helpful to think about where you want to prioritise your budget (this might be for an awareness-raising initiative, certain technology requirements or securing a high profile keynote speaker).
To estimate costs, draw on data from previous events (if available), and speak to your venue about cost options and what could work for your budget. Areas for consideration include:
- Food and Beverage
- Social events including venues, catering and potentially transport
- Marketing / Conference design
- Committee expenses
Depending on the format and nature of your event, you may wish to consider off-setting costs with income opportunities such as registration fees, abstracts, exhibition and sponsorship.
If you’re thinking about hosting a conference in the heart of Edinburgh, our experienced team is on hand to talk you through the process, and work with you to ensure your event’s success.
Contact us to find out more about planning an event at the EICC.