So you wanna plan a conference?

We've just finished up the CFinNC conference and by all digital accounts, it went rather well. Most things ran on time, lunch arrived promptly and the facility at NC State College of Textile was top notch.

I've been an attendee, speaker, teacher and a sponsor before, but this was my first time from the OTHER side of the registration desk. I have a newly found appreciation for conferences and conference staff.

Since this was our first time planning a conference, we learned a lot. I've heard rumors of other groups wanting to put on a similar conference and I want to share a few things we learned along the way.

  1. It helps to have a whole bunch of committed volunteers that see the vision and will take responsibility for completing tasks.
  2. It helps to have a very generous sponsor providing facilities, manpower, AV and Video recording, which if we'd had to procure on our own would have blown our entire budget.
  3. It helps to have committed financial and contributing sponsors that help provide the budget. There will be more expenses than you may think at first.
  4. It helps to reach out to the illustrious conference diva Liz Frederick and get timely help and advice along the way.
  5. It helps to get an information organization strategy in place, so the team isn't having to dig through mountains of emails, twitters, mailing list and other channels just to get status on deliverables. Maybe use a forum or a collaboration system with ticketing or something for this. Email and Excel are not the answer!
  6. It helps to periodically test your Contact Us form. Or Bad things can happen.
  7. It helps to put out the menu and the schedule as early as possible so you can help folks know what to expect and how to arrange their travel plans.
  8. It helps to overcommunicate with speakers, sponsors and attendees. Seriously.
  9. It helps to go ahead and just make mediocre decisions earlier than wait and try to make great decisions later.
  10. It helps to understand that if you are running the conference, you will not have a single moment to socialize. You probably won't like this and neither will all your friends.
  11. It helps to understand that there will be problems and snags and must be fixed, regardless of how much planning you do. Fix them quickly and no one will know they even happened.

There is plenty more we learned also, but we'd like to hear from you. We put out a Post Conference Survey to get a 360 degree view of the conference and find ways to improve, should we do this again in the near future.

Thanks to all the volunteers, sponsors, speakers and attendees who made this event special. We thank you all for honoring us with your presence.


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10/20/09 11:56 AM # Posted By Bucky Schwarz

There is one thing you left off, which you probably couldn't rightly put on this list: This conference wouldn't have gotten anywhere without the leadership you provided. Without strong leadership, we would have been like a fish with a gimp fin, just swimming in circles trying so hard to get something done but being unable to. We had plenty of ideas, and plenty of manpower, but without your leadership and experience, things like number 9 probably wouldn't have happened, and I'm sure the conference would have suffered.

10/20/09 1:55 PM # Posted By Brian Rinaldi

I think its impressive what you all took on as a first year event (and free!). Congratulations! I have very different experiences in some cases and very similar in others. As you know, I have been trying to grow my event (which began as Flex Camp Boston and is RIA Unleashed) over the past 3 years. I have some issues you didn't (like no free venue) but also some probably advantages (New England and Boston in particular have a huge developer base to draw from and Adobe has offices right around the corner). Anyway, it would be interesting one day to compare notes.

Nice work to everyone on your team! If you do it again next year, maybe I can make it this time.

10/20/09 2:17 PM # Posted By Matt Williams

It seems you came a long way from the original idea:
My favorite line: "So figure a 1 day conference with 6 sessions and a lunch."

I feel it was a well executed conference. Definitely do it again next year. Thanks for all the hard work you and many others put into it.

10/20/09 6:08 PM # Posted By Nolan Erck

I totally with the other comments. Everything went very well. Please do the conference again next year!

10/21/09 3:45 AM # Posted By Lola LB

Congratulations! These tips are definitely useful. I'm unlikely to ever plan a conference but I know where to go now if that ever happens. Wish I could have been there. Perhaps someday . . .

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