How to plan an out-of-town conference
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
The term “home turf advantage” is not limited to the realm of sports. Within event planning, there’s a very obvious home turf advantage, meaning that if you’re planning an event in your hometown or area you currently live in, chances are you’ll have an advantage to someone planning an event from out of town.
Planning an event or conference out of town can prove to be a complicated task. You’ll have no firsthand insight into the best venues, logistics will be different, and catering from your favorite hometown restaurant is out of the question. But don’t give up hope, it’s possible to plan an out-of-town event or conference, just like the one you would back home, with these must-see tips!
Be strategic about choosing your conference city
To make an out-of-town event successful, you need to start by choosing your host city wisely. It could make or break your attendee numbers. You’re not going to please everyone with this decision, but there are some actions you can take to pick a place that’s appealing to a lot of your attendees.
- Pick a few potential cities and survey your current customers and prospective attendees on which choice they prefer.
- Consider where your customers and attendees live — is there a location that’s a few hours’ drive or plane ride away?
- Look at transportation options — a location that’s a reasonable distance from an airport, is walkable, and has public transit will be easier for your attendees to get around.
- Are there tourist attractions in town? Some attendees may want to explore the city after your conference and turn the trip into a vacation.
Once you’ve considered these factors, you’ll have enough information to select a city that works best for your attendees.
Find a venue that serves your needs
The next task is to find a venue to hold your conference. You should search for a venue that has the right amenities and the right vibe. Start by thinking about what type of venue you want — 73% of event professionals surveyed hold their corporate events at a hotel, 57% choose conference centers, and 53% booked with unusual venues (this could be anything from a restaurant to an art museum space to a winery or brewery).
Keep these questions in mind:
- Is the venue easily accessible by public transportation or does it have parking nearby?
- Does the venue have audio visual equipment and staff to support it or do they recommend a local vendor?
- Can the Wi-Fi support the number of attendees you’re bringing in?
- Do you want a traditional, formal business space or something that’s more casual, relaxed, and fun?
- How do your attendees like to learn? Do they need desks or tables for laptops, or do they typically take notes with pen and paper?
- Does the venue cater, or do they work with local caterers or restaurants for food?
- Are you having a social hour, after party or networking event along with your conference and do you want to hold it on or off-site?
- Is the venue close to hotels?
- Can you bring in decor or does the venue have decor options you can rent?
You can do Internet searches to get a list of possible venues together or consider using a venue listings site, where restaurants, hotels, and unique venues create profiles that show their amenities, capacity, room options and more.
Do a site visit
The best way to get a feel for your host city and prospective venues is by traveling there and touring them yourself. Set up appointments with venues, caterers, hotels, and other vendors on your shortlist, and come prepared with questions about how each business can support your event needs.
Visiting in person also gives you experience traveling to and getting around the city and a feel for what to see and do, so you have an idea of what your attendees should expect. Include that information in your event marketing promotions to help attendees get a sense of what the city is like.
Select a date
Choosing a date for your conference depends on several factors, including venue costs (some venues have busier times of the year and higher rates), times of the year that your attendees are able to travel (think about down times for the industry), holidays, and the venue’s availability.
As you narrow down possible dates, keep in contact with your venue and check out the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau to find out if any other conferences or large events are happening at the same time, which could put you in a bind for finding hotel and flight availability if hundreds of visitors are coming to town during your conference week.
Promote early and often
Start promoting your event as soon as your date is selected and your venue and hotels are locked in and contracts are signed, even if your speakers or agenda hasn’t been finalized. Prospective attendees need to know the date, location, and travel expenses in advance so they can plan their work schedules, get permission to attend, and purchase travel early to get a better rate.
Keep promoting your conference as you add speakers, topics, and other events like networking parties or cocktail hours. Anyone who is interested but hasn’t booked yet may be convinced as the conference takes shape and more details are released.
Dive in and learn as you go
The first time planning an out-of-town conference may be stressful, but it will definitely be a learning experience. As you do more of these events, you’ll get a sense of do’s and don’ts, and develop a checklist and schedule to make the next event run smoothly.
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