Conference Planning

Written by Serena Berger
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Conferences can serve many purposes--education, communication, and team building are foremost among them. In academics or research-intensive fields, conferences are an opportunity for colleagues from all over the world to come and share their findings. Even with the Internet facilitating the almost immediate sharing of knowledge, many people find that they learn most and best in the focused environment of a conference. In such a setting, it is established that you are there to learn and experts are there to guide you through their findings.

Training conferences are very common in many industries as well. Perhaps a supplier who has upgraded their software or machinery will host a conference so that employees from many fields or companies who use it can all come together to learn about the latest advances. In sales-related fields, conferences are also very popular. Experienced salespeople or consultants can come and speak about how to improve techniques, communication skills, and customer rapport. Successful salespeople can share stories, and attendees can role play and brainstorm about how to deal with difficult scenarios.

Intra-company conferences also serve several important purposes. Sometimes managers decide to take their team out of the office for a combination of activities to build group cohesion and enhance skills which will benefit their projects. The office environment can get very static, and often people become uninspired and their productivity slows down when their work situation becomes monotonous. A conference can break the pattern and get creative juices flowing for individuals or teams.

Personnel for Conference Planning

Given the importance of conferences, larger companies and organizations which host them often have a small staff (or at least an administrative or executive assistant) whose primary duty is to plan them. There are so many steps involved that it is not reasonable to expect someone to pick up the task of planning a significant conference if he or she has never done so before. The employee planning a large conference will have to work closely with management to understand their needs and goals, and will also have to have extensive communication with outside vendors, caterers, speakers, and liaisons for anyone else participating in the conference.

If you aren't running an organization large enough to warrant having a staff for conference and event planning, or if you have conferences very infrequently, you have other options to consider. Many hotels or large venues which are suitable for conference rental have staff on hand who are prepared to guide you through the process of preparing for your event. They can do everything from recommending a caterer to accepting deliveries of supplies on behalf of your company and making sure they are arranged in your conference rooms.

The only downside to using the staff at the rented hall or hotel to help you plan is that they are probably going to be encouraging you to use their venue's additional guest services as much as possible. If convenience is by far your greatest priority, you may be happy to go along with this, as it certainly is convenient. It is not, however, likely to be the most cost-effective way of doing things. Getting a luncheon catered by a hotel in which you are meeting, for example, is often twice as expensive as having it catered by a local deli or restaurant. The cost of lunches, breakfasts, coffee, and beverage service over several days will add up--you could save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars by using an alternate caterer.

Conference Planning Consultants

If you really want the benefits of an experienced, thorough, creative, and unbiased event planner, a consultant is the way to go. If you like getting things done online, there are event and conference planners who can do the job without requiring more from you than a few forms filled out online at your convenience and a brief phone call or two. They can provide you with lists of helpful tips for you to consider at every stage of the process, but they will do as much or as little as you want them to.

Whether your conferences are likely to be frequent, semi-annual, yearly, or even less often than that, you can build a relationship with a conference planner who understands your unique business needs. Trusting this person to prepare the venue, make travel arrangements, get supplies, book rooms for your employees, and plan for catering takes a huge burden off the shoulders of an employee who is not trained and experienced. The time that you will save is a great asset, and the respect you will gain from your employees or colleagues when your conference runs seamlessly, efficiently, and professionally is one of the most important aspects of all.

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