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How to run your first conference without losing your mind

chairs in an auditoriumLet me tell you about the first conference I ran, all the way back in 2012. It took place in Prague and ended up with 140 attendees. I had no team at the time and largely created the event, promoted, dealt with sponsors, dealt with speakers... and ran the event on the ground. Finding yourself wondering how to run a successful event right now? In this post I'll share what I learned then and along the way since.

AppsEvents (my events company) now runs 100s of successful events every year with a completely remote global team of 12 full time staff and a network of 100+ contractors.

4 Top Tips for Running an Event without Losing Your Mind

Planning and preparation is everything and if you take just one thing away from this post, let it be to over plan, over check, and over obsess about every single detail!

Start everything way earlier than you think you need to. Order everything early. Triple confirm every speaker. Have back up speakers in case one doesn't turn up. Re-confirm your registration helpers and have back ups in case some don't come. Call up to recheck the networking party venue. Call and re-call the caters. Check the wifi and have a back up plan for if it goes down.

Let me be completely honest with you - running your first event will be stressful. However, the good news is that over time you will establish systems and processes and have team members to delegate responsibility to, but for your first event you're in control of everything.

So, now that you have an overview of the work involved - let's delve a little deeper with my biggest tips for making your first event a success.

1 - Arrange too many volunteers and assistants to help during the conference

When it comes to event day, volunteers are going to help you deliver the best experience. Ask them to volunteer in return for free entry (or a drink at the end of the day)! The more people you have, the smaller the tasks they'll need to complete, but it will mean there's always somebody available to keep your attendees happy.

Three things to remember about having volunteers help run your event:

  1. Recruit too many! (this means you're always covered if people drop out)
  2. Give them a specific responsibility (as small as making sure the tea/coffee/water is always topped up or checking speakers are okay at the start of each session)
  3. Save everyones cell phone numbers so you can contact them easily (or use radios)

Who should you ask to help run your event?

For your first event get everyone you know to help: Friends, family members, people you have worked with. It's your first event and you need people there. You'll find generally people are really keen to help you and that they end up enjoying the day and the energy that a good event generates.

Work out the number of people you will need using the list below and try to get at least two extras for back up. Call them (not email) the day before to confirm the time they should be there. Generally I tell people 30 minutes earlier than the time I actually need them in case of any delays.

What responsibilities should I give my volunteers?

To make your event run as smoothly as possible, you should give your volunteers specific roles. I've outlined a few below but your exact requirements might be slightly different. Write yourself a list to make sure you've covered everything. Join our free 5 day email course on running successful events now to get an event day checklist which is an easy to use prep list covering absolutely everything (including volunteers),
  • Registration desk - This is the most important as these volunteers will be the first people your attendees meet, setting the tone for their whole experience. Have your most outgoing and helpful people here! For a 100 person event I would have 3-4 people on the registration desk.
  • Main auditorium - Have someone stationed in the main theatre to check the stage is set up, lights are on and music is playing and your slides projected on the main screen. This person can also welcome people into the first venue of the day and liaise with keynote speakers.
  • Coordinating sponsors - If you have event sponsors, make sure you have at least 1 person to meet them and show their tables, make coffee, etc. Your sponsors help subsidise your ticket price so it's important to keep them happy!
  • Checking break-out rooms are prepared - Running your first conference and have multiple rooms setup? Have at least 1 volunteer checking each room, making sure the projector/screen is setup and working with sound. They can also help your speakers settle in.
  • Dealing with caterers - Having coffee/tea/water ready in the morning when attendees arrive is one of the most important things to ensure a smooth event! Have a person liaising to make sure lunch and coffee breaks are on time and that everything is topped up.
Make sure you take your event assistants out afterwards for a thank you drink/meal and/or buy them a small gift (Amazon vouchers are great).

2 - Try to relax on the day

I know this is easier said than done. After my first event I slept about 12 hours! The real key to being able to relax at the event having the volunteers take care of their individual responsibilities so that you don't need to be running around. Simply check in with them to make sure everything's going smoothly and enjoy the day! That'll leave your brain clear to solve problems as they arise. I find it essential to go outside or to find a quiet area for 5 minutes a couple of times during the event just to decompress and clear my head. It really makes a difference.

3 - Don't drink at the conference social party

This is a tough one if you do this once you'll understand why you won't want to do it again. It's easy to get caught up in the fun atmosphere as the attendees unwind at the end of the day, but always keep in mind your role. When you wake up for the next day of your first event with a hangover it will feel like the world is going to end! I always go to the networking party to coordinate logistics, settle the tab and of course meet people, but I just have one drink then leave early to be well rested for the rest of the event.

4 - Keep the week after the conference free for follow up

Many people plan a day off or a short holiday after the event but this is a mistake! Your time off comes at least a week after the event. Why? There are a lot of crucial follow up tasks to do right after the event which will set the stage for next year's/month's event!

Your fist job is to send a feedback form right away (I now send this immediately at the end of the day of the event). This is essential to understand what attendees liked/disliked so that you can improve for next time. It's also a great way to get testimonials for your website before the next event! Subscribe to our free email course on running successful events and we'll send you our tried and tested feedback form - just one click to make a copy and it's yours!

Looking for more?

Check out our list of the best free tools you can use to help make your event a success! Have questions? We reply personally to every reply sent to our newsletter! We'd love to provide advice for making your first event a success.

Comments

  1. My tip from a while back (1986)
    Type the key msg orthogonally on the spine of the paper A4 folding (to a5) handout so people fiddling with the agenda have something to muse on.

    #yourmileagemayvary

    ReplyDelete

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