In my past life, I may have been an event planner.
Naturally when our district (Boyne City Public Schools, MI) thought about hosting a technology conference 2 1/2 years ago, I convinced a good colleague and friend of mine to co-direct the conference with me.
While it has been a ton of work, we have held two (what I would consider) pretty successful conferences, while having very little experience planning something on this scale until now.
There’s certainly been a learning curve.
So, here are the “TOP 5” essentials we learned while sweating over the details of our tech conference. Of course, these five would apply to hosting any kind of conference.
#1 Use a software designed to sell tickets and sign people up. We opted for EventBrite for our registration process.
It’s super-simple to set up and use. Refunds are no problem whatsoever. You can check people in to the conference using EventBrite’s super simple app: EventBrite Neon. And once your event is over, they send you a check for the tickets you sold (less their small service fee). Totally reasonable. And if you’re hosting a free event, they don’t charge you!
#2 Create a #hashtag. Ours was #boynetech.
You may want to start by searching your proposed hashtag on Twitter just to make sure that no one else is using it or has used it lately AND that you’re not so out-of-date on your acronyms that you create one that’s ‘not so appropriate.’
The hashtag helps to get people connected and fired up before your event even occurs. Then, during the day, people can tweet out what they’ve learned, links to resources, and even pictures of people connecting and presenting.
One of my favorite things to do after conferences is go back through the Twitter feed for the specific hashtag and see what I missed (because you can’t get to every single session…). Perhaps the best part of this, though, is that you are doing some advertising for your conference.
First, it’s in beautiful Boyne City. Our slogan for Friday (the day of the conference) is: Learn. Network. Connect.
For Saturday, it’s : Beach. Golf. Relax.
Our “Team Boyne” downtown businesses and Chamber members work hard to help us out however they can.
Also, we do a BBQ on the pristine shores of Lake Charlevoix the night before. It’s totally free and you get to chat with some of the people you’ll see the next day…with burgers, dogs, and some great tunes by one of our teachers who is also an awesome DJ!
Most of us don’t like approaching people asking for sponsorships. It’s awkward. But ya know what? Many business people want to see you have a successful conference, so we boost them at every opportunity in return.
We make sure to give our financial sponsors several shout-outs at our event and I’m sure they gain some potential new clients.
Plus, we’re not shy about extending a “whatever you can give us” option.
Our local bakery donates half the donuts, the Mexican restaurant gives us their amazing chips and salsa, and several local tech companies provided us some free stuff – that’s always popular.
Rebecca (the co-director) and I have an elaborate system of folders in Google Drive with documents, budgets, conference programs, and so on. It’s our life-saver.
If I meet someone while I’m out and about who seems willing to consider a sponsorship, I simply email them the sponsor application with all of the details from my phone.
Our folders in Google Drive keep everything we created previously for our conferences all in one spot and make it easy-peasy to make tweaks and also bring in new ideas for next time.
So, there are my “Top 5” conference planning tips.
And be sure to check in next Tuesday.
I’ll share the top tips I took away from the conference itself.