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Event planning and management tips from a PCO

Organizing an upcoming convention, conference or congress? Looking for some pro tips on what to keep in mind so that attendees are happy, sponsors are happy, speakers are happy—and everyone is happy?

Event planning and management tips from a PCO | Credit:  NH Photographers Group
Credit: NH Photographers Group

We sat down with a pro who has had his share of event wounds and lived to tell the stories to get his insider’s tips to a successful event. Pierre Bolduc, Vice President of Business Development at Conferium, a renowned Québec-City-based event management company with several professional conference organizers (PCOs) as part of its team, has worked for several years planning all types of scientific and academic congresses. He gave us his top 4 tips you should consider for your next large-scale event.

Size matters

Oftentimes, novice event planners may think that large-scale events are ‘just’ small events but with more attendees and bigger budgets. That cannot be further from the truth. “When you are planning an event that is going to welcome hundreds of delegates, you must initially make sure you have the infrastructure, resources and logistics to support that many people,” Mr. Bolduc explained.

For example: what if you initially planned for 300 delegates—and all of a sudden, because of your marketing initiatives, 150 more sign up. Can your accommodation partner handle the extra influx? If not, can another nearby hotel reserve that many rooms for you? If not, can you put together affordable, hassle-free transportation to and from the venue for these new guests? 

Don’t nickel and dime your event

Event planning and management tips from a PCO

Resist the urge to slash event prices in the hope of attracting more attendees. “Obviously, you want to keep your event as affordable as possible for delegates, but don’t focus on too may discounts and promos. Rather, obsess about the value your event will bring to them: the speakers, the conference program, the satellite sessions, the off-sites,” Mr. Bolduc said. “Build and market the content, and they will come.”

Put together a program committee made up of influencers and experts in the field that have far-reaching network of contacts. Not only will they build an ahead-of-the-curve program, they’ll use their networks to attract great keynote speakers and compelling presentations.

Become your own attendee

Mr. Bolduc understands that event planners need to keep their eyes on the event’s over-arching goals and logistics. “But you need to also consider your event as though you were an attendee,” he suggested. “Forget for a moment all the stakeholders around the table, such as the event’s sponsors or presenters. Objectively ask yourself: ‘If I were an attendee at this event, would this go over well—or like a lead balloon?”

Naturally, if you are planning an event for researchers in fibre optics, you may not fully get the gist or be interested in the content matter per se. However, as the event planner, you can provide recommendations, for example to keynote speakers to make sure that their presentations are engaging, not sleep-inducing.

Think about your off-site activities. Will those researchers in cardiovascular health prefer a walking tour of your host city or a bus tour of local cheese producers (hey, you never know!). In a nutshell, talk to members of the event’s organization committee to get the pulse of your attendees.   

Never underestimate how much time you’ll need.

Event planning and management tips from a PCO

As many event planners already know, planning large-scale events can take a year or two (or even more!). “The minute the dates and location of your next conference or convention are secured, start addressing the most time-consuming tasks from the get-go,” said Mr. Bolduc.

“This includes travel and transportation logistics—from reserving accommodations to managing the bureaucracy of international visas and customs.” Indeed, if you are welcoming delegates from countries requiring a visa or exhibitors with products that may be an issue at customs, Mr. Bolduc recommends becoming very much acquainted rules of the trade. Work with local authorities and experts to ensure a quick and seamless visa process for attendees and customs process for exhibitors.

In addition, Mr. Bolduc noted that the more time you have to plan—and the faster that you can market the event—the more likely attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and speakers will secure the budgets they need to participate in it.

“Successful event planning requires gumption and grit,” Mr. Bolduc concluded. “But by always remaining two, three steps ahead, novice and expert event organizers alike can pull it off amazing feats.”

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