This is the fifth post in my series on running a tech conference. In today’s post, I’ll outline a basic timeline for event logistics.
- Getting Started: Goals and Vision
- Choosing a Venue
- Budget and Sponsors
- Finding Speakers
- Event Logistics & Timeline
- Promotion of your Event
- The Day Of!
- Fun Tips & Tricks
To get organized for a conference, you probably need about four months. We’ve pulled off conferences at 10gen in some cases in 6-8 weeks, but that is an extremely tight timeline. The more time that you can give yourself to line up speakers and get the word out, the better! Just bear in mind, no matter how much planning you do, there will always be a crunch period the few weeks leading up to an event. The best that you can do is be prepared for that by clearing your schedule of other obligations and lining up volunteers to help manage the last-minute details.
T – 120 days
An event isn’t real until the venue has been booked and registration page is live. Working on a four month timeline, you want to get these basic items completed 120 days in advance of the event.
- Outline the budget
- Book venue
- Place tentative catering orders, with the expectation that details may change based on registration
- Set up website and registration (for simplest registration I recommend using Eventbrite)
- Create speaker guidelines and talk submission form; open call for speakers
- Create sponsorship package; open call for sponsors
T – 90 days
Once the basic logistics are in place, it’s time to start getting the word out.
- Send “save the date” and call for speakers / sponsors announcements to your mailing list, relevant forums and user groups, and via social media
- List on any relevant tech event calendars
- Contact any high profile speakers that you want to invite to submit talks or keynote your event
- Begin outreach to potential sponsors of the event
- Identify any promotional opportunities for your event (e.g. media sponsorships, mailing list rental, online advertisements, cross-promotional swaps with other events, etc.)
T – 75 days
With the event two and a half months away, you should start confirming the content of the conference.
- CFP closes
- Submissions reviewed and draft agenda created
- Outreach to any speakers to fill in gaps in subject matter
In addition, you should continue promotion and start executing on any promotional opportunities that you’ve identified.
T – 60 days
As we get closer to the event, it’s time to get some of the peripheral logistics sorted out
- Book any social events around the conference (e.g. reception, after-party, speaker dinner)
- Design and order any promotional items (e.g. t-shirts and stickers)
- Do the final round of sponsorship outreach
In addition to the logistical items above, you should of course continue promoting the event!
- Announce the agenda of speakers
- Start promoting the content on your website and in your email marketing
- Get the speakers and sponsors to spread the word through their networks
T – 45 days
This is a good time to work ahead, so that you limit the inevitable last-minute scrambling. In particular, you’ll want to set and communicate expectations for the speakers and sponsors on deadlines for logistical items.
- Put together staff, sponsor, and speaker information guides with all of the information that they need about the event (speaking expectations, location, etc.) – we put these on a wiki page for easy reference by the participants
- Prepare email templates for future communication (e.g. reminders about deliverables such as slides)
- Outline the schedule of shifts for the various staff members
- Send an email to registered attendees with instructions for preparing for the event, and encourage them to spread the word and invite friends
- Reach out to reporters or analysts to discuss the event and how they’d benefit from attending or reporting on the activity
T – 30 days
About a month prior to the conference is when you want to start finalizing the basic content, sponsors, and logistics so that you can focus on refining.
- Final promotional push related to early bird pricing; expect to have 65% of the tickets sold once early bird ends
- Deadline for sponsors to sign on (any later than this and they may miss the opportunity to be included in print materials)
- Remind sponsors that they must provide any materials (e.g. logo, short description) for website, email marketing, conference program, etc.
- Deadline for speakers draft talks and make any final tweaks to talk titles, abstracts, and bios for inclusion in print materials
T – 21 days
With three weeks to spare, it’s time to get as much of the print work completed as possible. This is why it’s so important to get your speakers and sponsors confirmed with 30 days to spare!
- Design any collateral (signage, agendas, conference program, swag, etc.)
- Send all design work to printer
- Design a name tag template, but do not print as you will likely have people registering up until the last week
This is also a good time to send a first round of feedback to speakers on their slides.
T – 14 days
Hopefully if you’ve been planning well, you should be well organized for the final two weeks before the event.
- Finalize staff schedule and send calendar invites for shifts
- Schedule a logistical call for all staff and volunteers to review roles and responsibilities
T – 7 days
With one week to go, your main job is communication with the various participants.
- Hold staff logistics meeting to review roles and responsibilites
- Send final speaker and sponsor logistical reminders
- Make the final push for registration
- Confirm all bookings and contracts
- Mail and freight items should be shipped to the venue, along with return shipping labels for any items that will be shipped back
T – 2 days
With two days to spare, you will mostly be putting out fires: a speaker with a last minute conflict, last-minute registrants with questions, and volunteers with questions. In addition, there are a few final items to get done before the big day:
- Final reminder to attendees with logistical information
- Track any packages to make sure that everything arrives on time
- Pack your conference survival kit, including Mac adaptors, slide clickers, scissors, tape, sharpies, and power bars
- Print name tags
I will cover all of the “day of!” logistics in part 7 of this series!
After the event
Once the event is over, there is a considerable amount of follow up work to be done.
- Send thank you emails and gifts to speakers and sponsors
- Send thank you email to attendees with a survey for feedback
- Gather and post slides and videos in central place and promote via social media, conference newsletter, etc.
This post should give you a sense of the complexity of organizing a large scale conference. In the next post in the series, we’ll talk about best practices for promoting your conference.