Conference Blueprint Part 5; Where to go and who to invite.
You may have spotted a theme with our Conference Blueprint series so far and that is that the objectives and the outcomes come before the design and therefore informs all the other key decisions.
Who should attend and where to hold the conference is no different.
However the majority of projects that we are involved in, the venue and attendee list is agreed before anything else is even thought about.
Our extensive experience of running conferences tells us that this is the wrong place to start and uninformed decisions made early on are much harder to fix further down the line.
Let’s be clear, the venue can indeed make or break a conference. At one conference many years ago, we had brilliant presenters, incredibly well-prepared content and a beautiful venue. Then the air conditioning malfunctioned and at least a quarter of the audience eventually fell asleep in the balmy late summer conditions. So, the venue is important. If everyone arrives late because they couldn’t find it, if the coffee is cold or the room baking hot then you will certainly know about it and it really will detract from even the best conference agenda.
However, there are many, many amazing venues out there and some will support your objectives and some will hinder them. This section of the process is to ensure it does the former.
In this section of the blueprint you are not naming venues. The likelihood is if you do this you will default to the usual ones, the one the CEO liked or you’ve been to before which is the safe option because you know they will do a good job. No, you are listing the key criteria. What factors does this venue need to have in order to support your overall messaging?
Examples of strong venue criteria we have seen:
- Event on women in leadership – a venue with a glass ceiling.
- Event on promoting a team culture – a sports stadium
- Event on effective storytelling – a theatre
There are hundreds of venues in the UK alone which could meet any one of these criteria but using the blueprint process will encourage you to think creatively about how your objectives and messaging will land. The alternative could lead to an event about innovation and creative thinking being held in a dark, 1980’s hotel function room. The impact you have worked so hard to achieve will have fizzled out before anyone has sat down on the first morning.
There may well be practical criteria, rough location, proximity to airports, capacity etc but once you have them documented and agreed, then it’s really important to stick to them. It’s so easy to create a list of strong and ambitious venue criteria and then completely abandon it in favour of a venue which involves longer journeys and extra overnight stays for all delegates, but it has a great day delegate rate or it’s on a preferred supplier list. If it was deemed important enough to be a criterion in the first place, then don’t abandon it at the first sign of a bargain or for convenience.
As ever, consider how the choice of venue will complement and enhance your message, not detract from it.
The blueprint will also encourage you to select attendees with the same rigour that you decided your venue. In large organisations, attendance is often based on levels of seniority and in a lot of cases that does indeed make sense, but again, don’t just default to that option.
Refer back to your objectives and ensure that the criteria help to build a list of people who will help deliver the outcomes you have set out to achieve.
If the objectives involve people in the design of a new strategy, then maybe a cross section of employees across all levels would be more appropriate.
If it’s about promoting a more gender inclusive culture, then don’t be exclusive by only inviting women.
If it’s about rolling out a new strategy or vision, then ensure that all geographies and functions are covered, even if that means inviting less senior people to ensure smaller areas are represented.
We understand that the selection of attendees can sometimes be a political football so that is another reason for carefully thinking it through and obtaining sign off prior to issuing invites.
That way any difficult messaging can be managed sensitively, rather than people assuming they will be involved and only finding out by accident they are not. And if you’re the accountable person, anticipate some challenging conversations with your LT when they insist that she must come and he shouldn’t be there.
Stick to your criteria and good luck!
And that’s it. You have your conference planned! Well, almost. Next week we will summarise the key points you need to use the conference planning blueprint as well as give you some tips and advice into how to ensure the delivery matches the expectations set out in this planning process.
Download the full Conference Planning Blueprint here…
If you want to tap into our conference planning expertise, then please do feel free to contact us here.
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