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The top 5 conference planning tools you can’t do without

Every PCO worth their salt will have these top 5 conference planning tools up their sleeve. 

Every profession has its own industry specific tools needed to get the job done.

A builder is nothing without a hammer, nails or saw, just as a doctor can’t get by without a stethoscope, thermometer or tongue depressor.

And of course, conference management is no different.

To plan a successful conference, you need these top five conference planning necessities. 

Your conference budget needs to account for different attendee scenarios.

1. A Conference Budget

A budget is the a key tool for planning a conference.  Outlining projected income and expenditure it’s a valuable guide for key decision making.

Budgets are easier to create with a well-documented conference history. If it’s an inaugural conference things can get a little trickier.
Regardless when creating a conference budget we recommend making the following considerations:
  • Identify your financial objectives at the start– do you want to break even or make a profit. If a profit, what is your target?
  • Create a flexible budget with comparative costings for minimum, mid and maximum numbers
  • Add in contingency cost for any unforeseen expenditures, circumstances or prices hikes
  • With income, err on the side of caution (especially with new conferences). Estimate a higher percentage of cheaper early bird ticket sales. Remember, percentage projections are adaptable when actual registration data comes in
  • And, don’t forget to account in the budget for tax in both income and expenditure
The budget is a live document and should be updated and monitored regularly. This way the committee can make evidence backed financial decisions. 

2. A Critical Path

While listed second, the critical path really is equally important as the budget. It’s an invaluable planning tool that ensures nothing gets forgotten.

The conference critical path lists every task requiring completion, who is responsible and deadlines. Key milestones are also listed such as call for submission and registration deadlines.
It’s a live document requiring continual updating with tasks to be listed as started, completed or overdue.

The critical path should be reviewed at each planning meeting.

3. Online registration and call for submission software

The call for submission and registration processes are often the first port of call for delegates. So they’re important to get right. 
Both need industry best technology you can tailor to specific conference requirements. Each need to be easy and secure to use and provide full reporting capabilities.  
The online conference registration system needs to record:
  • all relevant contact details
  • ticket purchases
  • special event bookings
  • reserve accommodation
  • note special needs, and
  • collect payments
Delegates should receive automatic confirmation of their registration along with a tax invoice.

Call for submission software
needs to support the full submission, judging and selection process
.  Once again automatic confirmations and easy to use systems are paramount.

Email marketing software should be in your conference planning toolbox.

4. A Marketing Plan

A conference manager also need to don the hat of a marketer. If you don’t promote your conference, audience attendance levels will be affected.

This is where a multi-faceted marketing strategy comes in handy. Your conference marketing plan needs to incorporate digital technology, print materials, PR and advertising.

But at least, a conference marketing plan should comprise:
  • A marketing database: a database of your target audience. This can include pas conference attendees, association members or industry groups
  • A conference website: the main information portal for your conference. It needs to be updated with all relevant content
  • Email marketing software: Email marketing is a prime conference marketing tactic. You need email marketing software able to support multiple campaigns. This includes templates for easy design, analytical tools and list segmentation capabilities

Conference apps are in high demand

A conference app is a key communication tool.

5. A Smart Phone App

While technically not a planning tool – a conference smart phone app is a great addition to a conference’s success. If the budget allows, it should be planned for. 

A key communication tool, a tailored conference app has the capacity to:
  • store important conference documents such as the conference program and delegate lists
  • connect attendees via meeting planners and invitation requests
  • promote sponsors and exhibitors via logo placements, advertisements and exhibitor floor plans
  • list speaker bio, session details and abstract with added search capabilities
  •  deliver real time evaluation and live update alerts

Any conference organiser worth their credentials, not only need these five key planning tools, but they also to know how to use them with impact.  It’s why each should be operated under proven processes and procedures.

When managed correctly, these tools will ease the full conference planning process. 

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