On March 15th, 2019 I hosted my first conference, the Crypto Current Conference. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding accomplishments of my life. Having learned an immense amount of information that I wish I had known before starting, I am going to share that knowledge with you. My hope is that it makes planning your conference a little bit easier. I am going to give you a step by step process on how to host your first conference.
1) Create a game plan and timeline
What is your conference going to be about? Who will your speakers be? When and where will the conference be? What other conferences will be going on during that time? These are all questions you need to have answers to before you set off on your conference journey. Answering these questions can ultimately make or break your conference before you even begin.
For your first conference, give yourself at least six months from your proposes conference date to prepare. This may seem like an extremely long time, but trust me time flies in preparation for a conference. Make sure your first month of the six months is purely getting your game plan as thoroughly thought through as possible. Make a timeline for yourself of certain milestones you need to reach along your conference journey. It will make executing your game plan that much easier.
If you have no idea where to start for your planning, a great resource you have are your competitors. Look at conferences that are in the same or similar niche as you. Take notes on their branding, speaker list, promotional content, ticket pricing, etc., and figure out how you can reapply it for your own conference.
2) Create a budget
How much can you afford to spend to put on the conference? Are you personally putting up the money or is someone else? Are you expecting to be profitable year one? I must be completely honest with you, most conferences LOSE money year one. Your goal for year one should be to break even or get as close as possible to break even.
Ways to offset your costs will be through your revenue. Ticket sales will probably drive the bulk of your capital. You can get sponsorships as well, but getting sponsors year one is very difficult. Not to say that it is impossible, but sponsors want to know that you are going to bring an audience and that they will get a return on investment (ROI) on sponsoring your conference.
Need a sample budget? Here’s mine to help get you started.
3) Book your venue
How many people do you anticipate coming? Will you provide food for your guests? Does the venue have a stage or will you need to help build one?What are the AV (audio/video) costs? These are all important factors to consider before you book your venue. Visit your potential venue and get a tour of layout to make sure you fully understand everything the venue has to offer and so that you do not incur additional costs you did not anticipate.
As you begin your budget, understand that your biggest cost is most likely going to be your venue. You need to make sure you have enough initial money to make a security deposit to secure your venue. The rest of the conference process should not begin until you have booked your venue. I say this because if you have not booked the date and start preparing everything else, having the date change can alter the entire dynamic of your conference, pricing, and who may attend.
4) Create an initial agenda and secure your speakers
How many speakers do you want to have? Will you have panelists? What topics do you want your speakers to cover? Will you pay your speakers? Will you help pay for their travel and stay? Think through these questions before you reach out to your initial speakers.
You should create an initial agenda of the day or days of your conference and what types of topics you want to cover. With this agenda in mind, you can begin to create a list of potential speakers that could fill this spots. Securing your speakers will be an ongoing process; however, I highly recommend having at least two or three before you begin the promotional side of your conference.
5) Create your branding material
This is the #1 thing I wish I had spent more time on during the preparation phase of my conference planning. I highly recommend creating all of the material you will use for your branding. This includes branding for your website, marketing materials for your speakers to share on their social media, sponsorship decks, and day of event branding materials. Make sure this is all done initially because it will make life easier in the future. This will be a significant amount of work, but it is completely worth doing on the frontend.
To prepare some momentum for you conference, I highly recommend creating your own press release. The press release will answer the questions what is the conference, where will it be, when is it, who will be attending, why should you go? It should be concise and to the point, but should stir excitement and a desire to want to attend. You can see an example of one of my press releases that was shared on Business Blockchain HQ.
6) Create ticket sales strategy and a ticket portal
It is now time to focus more on the business side of your conference, ticket sales. Make sure you strategize on your ticket prices so that you do not undervalue nor overvalue your conference. I recommend making three initial categories: Early Bird, Regular, and Late Registration. Your early bird pricing should be about 50-75% lower than your initial regularly priced tickets and should have an expiration date to cause a sense of urgency. Having this pricing will let you get an initial read on the demand for your conference. You can and should adjust your Regular and Late Registration pricing according to how your Early Bird Tickets are selling.
A great ticket portal that you can use setup your actual tickets for purchase is Eventbrite. It is easy to setup on the backend so that you can list your different ticket prices, create discount codes, and track how your ticket sales. After you setup your banking information, when the conference is over you should receive the funds in your account in about 5 business days.
7) Announce your conference
After you have successfully completed steps 1-6, it is time to announce and promote your conference! Early you created your press release to share with some media outlets. I recommend before making your announcement to the world about your conference hat you compile a giant list of emails of media outlets. Additionally, create an email template that you can copy and paste so that you can send to each of these media outlets to share your conference.
Social media should be one of your main marketing tools. You have already created the marketing material, now schedule it out to promote your conference, ticket sales, your speakers, and your sponsors. I used buffer to schedule out all of my posts.
Additionally, make sure you spend some time looking at some of your competitor conferences to check out some of their media sponsors. You can reach out to their media sponsors to promote your event as well. Create a pitch to send to them and just cold reach out. You will be amazed on how many people will actually follow up.
8) Make final preparations for your conference
You need to be able to document that your conference actually happened and be able to show how great of an experience your attendees had. A great way to accomplish this is by hiring a a videographer. This is definitely an investment worth spending because it can be all the promotional material you need for your future conferences. Additionally, get a photographer to take high quality pictures of people having a great experience as well.
If your are able, create strategic partnerships with some companies. I was able to make one with a hotel that gave discount discount to any guest that booked using my conference’s discount code. Additionally, I was able to partner with a co-working space, LaunchPad, that allowed my attendees to use their facilities while they were in town
As a final thought, reach out to someone who has put on a conference before and review your game plan. This will help ensure that you have not forgotten anything. It is always great to get a second opinion.
9) Week before and day of preparations for your conference
Buckle up, because this might be one of the most stressful weeks of your life! Things will go wrong: speakers may cancel, branding material might not come in time, speakers will send or change their final presentations at the last minute; but, remember that everything ultimately will be ok. You’ll need a good amount of patience and will just need to stay focused on finishing at this point.
A good checklist to go over during this week:
- Confirm that all of your speakers are actually coming and have backup plans just in case they cannot
- Make sure all of your branding material is completed and ready for setup at the venue
- Have all presentations completed and merged into a master file
- If you have a food vendor, make sure everything is all set
- Do a final walkthrough of the venue
10) Host Your First conference!
The day has arrived and now it is time for you to ENJOY! I put that in bold, because the immediate thing you might want to do is stress out. Some stress is good and natural; however, do not let it consume you. I know you want everything to go perfectly and honestly it probably won’t; however, it will be great all the same. I wish I spent more time just enjoying myself at my conference as opposed to worrying about everything. Please heed this advice, find a way to enjoy yourself at your conference. Your best is always enough and it will be at your conference if you’ve put in the preparation. If you’ve followed this checklist, you will be just fine 🙂
Your first conference may pass as a hazy blur, but at the end of it you’ll be so happy that you pulled it off! When you reach this point, let me be the first to tell you congratulations!
Plan Your First Conference Today!
Need help creating a strategy for your first conference? I can help! Contact me so that we can get started on your conference today.