After over 20 years of being involved in conferences all over the world, we know that one of the key challenges when organising such an event is understanding the costs involved and how to ensure that you are spending money in the right areas. The cost of running a conference can vary massively and so we hope to help you understand how best to approach it for your particular purpose to ensure that you focus your spend.
Here’s a list of things to consider and the options that are likely to be open to you:
This is most likely your biggest expense. It’s also a key opportunity to set the tone and environment, so it’s worth spending time getting it right. A majority of traditional conference venues will use day delegate packages, which may or may not be suitable depending on your timings and refreshment requirements, so check the details carefully. Also, make sure you’re aware of additional ‘extras’. Often elements such as flip charts, projectors, or even car parking can be an additional cost, so make sure you’re clear on what’s included or not. Consider non-traditional conference venues. Often these are much cheaper and usually more interesting, for example: local community facilities, studios or even churches and school buildings. The facilities might not be as slick, but even with professional AV support and event management assistance, it can still work out cheaper than a traditional conference venue- plus there is the added benefit of potentially supporting a worthy cause.
The level of spend required here depends on the reason for your conference and what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes an elaborate design is necessary if you’re trying to impress or set a certain tone; sometimes this same set could be seen as excessive and a waste of money. This is especially important if your organisation is going through budget cuts or efficiency challenges – spending £25,000 on something which will be admired but thrown away after 24 hours won’t win you many friends.
In our experience, this is always worth spending money on. Getting that wrong can mean leaders are not heard and discussions are hard to follow. This will ultimately increase the chances of ‘delegate drift’, where people just give up trying to listen and instead start on the emails…or even just leave. If you are using the AV support supplied by the conference venue, make sure you understand what they do and don’t provide, what times they will be on site and who will be actually supporting you on the day. You don’t need the additional stress of turning up on the day to a wheel of cables and a box of speakers with no-one in sight to set it all up.
External event/logistics management
This will depend on your level of internal support and resource available. If you’re organising a large conference. i.e 100+ people, the administration of chasing attendees for responses, checking dietary requirements, printing name badges, co-ordinating feedback surveys, etc. all take time. If there isn’t someone internally who is super organised, extraordinarily efficient and has the initiative to get these details sorted, it would be worth employing an external expert.
Agenda design and facilitation
Again, this will depend on what you are trying to achieve and what your desired end result is. Organising this internally is obviously the cheaper option from a cash point of view, but consider the time and effort required, especially if you want to ‘do something different’. If your agenda is likely to consist mainly of speakers and presentations, it might be worth hiring a professional MC to help co-ordinate questions and keep speakers to times, but in reality this can often be done by a confident leader or manager. If you want to mix it up and get people involved then you need to weigh up the time it would take you and your internal team to think of the ideas, design the activities and materials, as well as then having the skills to run them effectively on the day. Often this is where external expertise can be more efficient, especially if used wisely.
Hotels and evening meal
Often a conference is combined with an evening meal, with or without some kind of entertainment and an overnight stay. This is another area of potentially huge cost, so make it work for you. Consider running the conference from 12pm on Day 1 to 12pm on Day 2, therefore reducing costs of peak travel (especially if in London with people travelling from around the UK). Use the evening as an extension of the conference, maximising the time you have invested in people being together. Make sure it’s still relaxed and fun, but with some relevance to the overall messages. Consider the costs of an overnight stay when selecting a venue, as often discounts can be achieved if booking large groups in advance.
After organising hundreds, if not thousands of conferences, we know how difficult, challenging and stressful they can be and how, more often than not, the effort required to organise a fantastic conference is neither understood or recognised. If you’re looking to spend your conference budget wisely then consider where you will get most value…and work around the rest.