According to Wikipedia, conference management relates to the executive management of a conference either in-house within a company or for a client. However, literally, it involves invoking all management functions in other to achieve a set objective for the conference. According to an online research website, a conference is described as a pre-arranged meeting that involves consultation, discussions on a number of topics by delegates
In practical terms, therefore, success in managing a conference is far beyond just applying some textbook knowledge and/ or copying and pasting, rather, it is based on some variables amongst which are vast experience and versatility. The following are essential nuggets you need to know about conference management in no particular order.
The first question to ask is how is the managing of conference different from other events? This, in particular, unveils a pertinent factor which involves understanding, the world of conferences. Its nature, prerequisites, structure, objectives and so on. This information will assist you in taking some major decision; build your team, help to set targets and budgets.
Getting the right team
The right team will earn you the right name. This is a critical factor for any conference manager. You need the right team to execute the process in order to meet your objectives. The first step to building the right team is to set a clear goal and an objective. This will help you to get the right pegs for the designated roles that would be distributed amongst the team members. Getting the right person may not be as easy as it seems. However, experienced consultants will do a better job when given detailed job specifications.
Fraternize with your client/stakeholders
Once you have been chosen to manage the conference, it is time to know the mind/picture of your clients towards the event. Get key members of your team to take a brief from your clients. The chosen members should be the ones who will be able to interpret the brief and develop key concepts that will bring out the bigger picture. Meeting with your client, however, will be continuous and communication will assume whatever dimensions are best fit for both of you. You must ensure that the communicating channels must be clear enough for proper engagement so that clear messages are achieved at all times. At the same time, clear event objectives must be well outlined understood in order to initiate clear event process and programmes.
Distribute roles and responsibilities
Identifying personal skills and individual’s capacity is key to assigning roles to your team members. With this technique, no one becomes useless and you will be able to maximize individual’s capabilities towards achieving your objectives optimally. An online magazine identified three basic roles that are essential for a successful conference management. This may include the facilitator, the technician and then the professional.
(I) The facilitator: Members of this category will be responsible for the physical needs of the attendees of the conference. They will have to work with venue staff, caterers, security, janitors and all services that will ensure that all physical issues related to the conference are nipped in the bud.
(II) The technicians: The technicians will be responsible for running of negotiations, reservations, selection and setting up of a website and coordination of the budget.
(III) The professional: The professional oversee the whole project. The professional is also responsible for designing and creating concepts that will help to achieve the conference aims and objectives.
With your understanding of the skills and capacity possessed by your team members, it becomes easy to assign roles to them based on these three categories
This item cannot be overemphasized because it forms a major bridge to the conference. A well thought out communication plan must be in place to be able to connect all relevant stakeholders involved in the conference. This could range from clients, delegates, service providers, vendors attached etc. A communications model and/or channel that will be easily assessed by all should be of priority. The objectives of the conference must be communicated to all and should be broken down into clear terms in areas where it is necessary. Advert messages for various platforms must be designed with peculiarities of those platforms in mind. However, the ambiguity should be eliminated. The Conference website’s links must be included in all relevant channels. Feedback system should be an integral part of the communications model. It will assist to monitor reach as well as acceptance of the messages and FAQs.
Plan to exceed your client’s expectation
Ensure that you understand what and how your clients want you to deliver. Where it is not clearly stated, it is your responsibility to request it. Never try to assume you know when it has not been communicated to you or else your relationship could be marred as a result of not meeting up with deliverable even if you more than capable. Once this has been established, you should commence planning on how to exceed your client’s expectation. This mentality is what you should also inculcate into the entire team so they carry the same mentality. Singleness of vision is essential for your team in order to exceed your clients’ expectation.
Plan for the unexpected
By ‘the unexpected’, I mean ‘risk’. It is true we do not actually plan to make anything negative happen and we do not expect anything bad to happen during the conference, because we have made enough plans to ensure a smooth process. Well, you are wrong because you have an incomplete plan. It is actually planning for eventualities that makes your plan complete.
Risk management is actually an integral part of event management; planning how to manage any risk that may arise. It is your responsibility to alert the conference organizers on possible risk areas that concern them and the measures you have put in place or measures they have to put in place to take care of those risks.
Every conference manager must understand the importance of costing right, in other words, this particular item is capable of throwing you into a mess if not properly handled. All assumptions must be cleared. Get the real cost of each and every aspect of the conference ask the right questions to get the right answers. In actual sense, the first step is to understand the complete aspect of the conference that is cost relative in order to put proper costing to it. Negotiations should be thorough and transparent enough in order to earn you the needed goodwill in the long run. According to eventbrite.com, priority list can be prepared and divided into parts such as Critical, important and nice to have. Finally, workout your revenue favourably with reasonable limits: because a workman is worthy of his wages.
This is simply the way to get better at what you do. The job of managing a conference will never be complete without having a retrospection. Even if you did not encounter any crisis, go over your process again, especially with your key team members. Debrief to get key areas where you would have done better. The sky is big enough to accept any changes that will continue to make it blue. Don’t condone or pet a process that is capable of causing an upset. Discard it immediately or else it may be a major issue when you least expect. Send a feedback form to your client or any instrument you know is suitable for a better result. criticism is good for you. Your client must have seen something you must have let go unnoticed.
Mfon Barry is a PR professional, a social media strategist and works with DOXA DIGITAL NIG LTD.