Are you planning a conference? It seems like nonprofits are perpetually planning conferences. As a conference organizer, even when the conference finally ends, you breathe a sigh of relief only to realize that you have to update the conference website, send thank you notes, and put out your next ask. The problem with this is that nonprofits come in all different shapes and sizes, and sometimes staff capacity is short and time is limited.
Here are 11 tips to prioritize in your conference to do list to make your life easier:
- Advertise for Volunteers - volunteers will be useful for setup, bag stuffing, room counts, and cleanup.
- Plan for the needs of different kinds of participants - you'll need dedicated forms for general registration, scholarships, and speaker registrations, as well as different promotional material for those audiences to explain the benefits of the different options.
- Designate a conference social media lead - when you have more than one cook in the kitchen, so to speak, social media can get messy, especially for a real-time event like a major conference. Designate one person responsible for engaging across social media platforms about the conference. That way you can ensure that posts are timed well and avoid having multiple staff overwhelming people with the same response. Speaking of timing...
- Create a social media schedule - this could mean a few things: You should make sure that you have the Twitter handles of all participating speakers. You should also create a conference hashtag (something short and sweet) so that people feel camaraderie with fellow conference attendees and speakers, and will tweet about the conference. This will allow people to meet one another virtually, will provide a conference for those who were not able to attend, and will enable you to livestream your tweets on a wall at the conference.
- Pre-schedule tweets - You can use a tool like Hootsuite to pre-schedule tweets and Facebook posts before the conference. This means that you won't be frantically scrambling to tweet what session is coming up next or that it's lunchtime. Once the schedule is finalized, you can tweet what times which panel is happening and with what speakers.
- Be helpful to “future you” - Keep a working Google Doc on hand for all conference planners to provide notes and recommendations about what to improve and do differently next year. This is a great way to gather ideas that arise during the planning process and organize your lessons learned so you have them in one handy place when the planning begins for the next conference.
- Make it easy for attendees to help you improve – Keep feedback forms and surveys handy. It's great to solicit feedback from your community and key stakeholders. Leave pre-printed forms on seats, in conference packets, or have volunteers hand them out at the doors before each presentation. You’ll be glad to have this intimate feedback from past participants to incorporate into next year's conference to make it even better!
- Draft an email for your key stakeholders to personalize & send out to their lists - this email should include links to the conference & where folks can register, hotel block info if that's relevant to your conference, the designated hashtag, and highlights about speakers, panels, and social events.
- Take a tour of the conference space with your schedule in hand - once you have a finalized schedule, you should figure out where tables will be placed, which is the most logical location for registration, and what might not fit. These are not things you want to figure out the day of the conference.
- Avoid conference planning silos - make sure that more than one department or one person isn't making all of the decisions or carrying out all of the work. Conference organizing should be a collaborative effort with a few people from every department. Someone will always think of something that you don't.
- Nail down the photo plan - will you be using Instagram? Is there going to be a professional photographer? Is everyone at the conference comfortable having their photo taken? This point may lead you to create a waiver for attendees to sign during registration, or include "No Photo" stickers with conference badges for those who are uncomfortable having their photo taken.
What advice would you give to newbie conference organizers? Share your key tips and lessons learned for making sure your conference runs smoothly in the comments.
Stay tuned for a follow up post with tips from Pro Nonprofit Conference Organizers. There will be some insider tips that you won't want to miss!