First, I'd like to say that I'm no expert, but after co-chairing a writer's conference in New Orleans this year, there were several lessons I learned along the way. And I hope to save you the trouble of finding it out the hard way. (Items listed below are in no specific order.)
Here we go.
Tip #1 - Give yourself at least 1 year to plan. (if you are thinking, oh crap, I only have 6 months, then get out while you can. Seriously.) You "really" need at least a year.
Tip #2 - Plan around the budget you have right now. (No guessing on future funds. No guessing that you'll have approx 200 people sign up or 100 people sign up, and then you are shit up the creek when only 50 or 75.) It could happen. Plan with what funds you have now.
Tip #3 - Conference Venue: This is so important. Make sure the location is perfect for the conference. If it's your first conference, don't start out too big. Find a nice place where there won't be 5 other big events going on in the same hotel. Make sure you visit the location prior to signing a contract. Is it conference friendly? Do they have a coffee shop? Or other things included with the conference rooms? (example: food, coffee, A/V computer connections, parking, podiums, screens, set ups, people to set up, etc.) If not in the contract, you will be shocked! (you might even pass out) These extras can cost thousands. Oh, before you sign, make sure you have someone who knows how to read/understand hotel/conference venue contracts. Very, very important. And get prices from at least 5 hotels in the area.
Tip #4 - Volunteers - Grab your volunteers as soon as you can. You'll need Pre-Conference volunteers and On-site Conference volunteers. (Make sure those who volunteer for on-site can travel to the conference, make sure they can afford to travel, that they have a babysitter for kiddo's, that they have a good car to get them there, etc.) Once you have all your key volunteers set up, make sure you have a "back up" person who can handle things in case your other volunteers don't show, get sick or God knows what. (extra volunteers for just in case is a good idea)And give your volunteers time to enjoy the conference too. Don't over use them.
Tip #5 - Set up a yahoo group or something similar (forums) so attendees who sign up can chat with each other, and make friends. This is where you can set up volunteer sign up, places to visit in the area, seek roommates, meet up hot spots, etc. Plus you can make important updates/announcements in one place. :-)(when a person registers, have this yahoo group address on the registration sheet/receipt, etc. and stress that they sign up)
Tip #6 - Promote: Make sure you get a street team of promoters. If you can get at least 6-10 people to promote on Twitter/FB/etc, then do so quickly. Have a blog/website where you can update your VIP's and presenters as often as necessary. There are some free places to promote conferences as well. I think one is called www.shawguide.com ??
Tip #7 - Get with the hotel event coordinator the day before the conference and go over room layouts, etc., and match your list with theirs to make sure they have the latest update. This can drive you insane if all the rooms are wrong. (do this hours or a day in advance)
Tip #8 - Have your presenters/VIP's/Keynote lined up at least 8 months in advance. (some agents/editors book a year in advance) Make sure you get all their workshop info at least 6 months in advance so you can start promoting the class. Also, make sure you have a contract with them because if they back out it could cost you big time. (and if you already paid for the flight, etc., you'll be out hundreds of dollars.) Contracts should be executed.
These are just a few things that might make your conference easier on you. Things can change at the drop of the hat, just roll with it and take one night (or maybe a couple of hours after conference) to relax/unwind just for yourself! You will need it. Good luck and have fun!
Feel free to email me if you want more tips...
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