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How to Organize a Business Conference

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Organizing a business conference can be very time consuming and difficult if this is your first time. Here are some helpful hints for organizing a small business conference of less than 200 people. For a large conference, I would expect the organizers will have several years experience.


If the conference is for a specific group, like a company sales team, within a single company, then pick a date when a majority will be available to attend. Do not pick a date where many of the attendees will be on vacation or immediately before or after a holiday. If this is an international group, keep in mind the holidays of those countries.

There is another problem if the potential attendees are from different companies. It will be difficult for many to fine the time and money to attend a small conference, especially if this is a new conference and the value is not widely known. In this case, choose a date and location where many of the potential attendees will be attending some larger conference. The date should be the day before the larger conference starts. This scheduling the conference adjacent to the larger conference creates a convenient opportunity for people to extend their visit by one day to attend both conferences. Hosting a conference the day before the larger conference allows smaller companies and products to launch at your conference before the downpour of press releases and announcements that usually happen at the bigger conferences.

How many attendees?

What products and companies do we want to be represented at the conference? Start by finding the key players in each industry sector and then other players in any of the related markets. The speakers and their coworkers create a base attendee level. Then list the people that would have interest in interacting or learning about the expertise from the key players.

From these lists you can estimate the number of attendees. The total number of attendees will determine the available venues and needed rooms needed to host the group. This also can help drive the decisions on the room configurations, having several small rooms with a more intimate setting or have a single big ballroom.

Room configuration

Conferences are typically setup with either a theater or classroom seating arrangement. A theater arrangement consists of rows of chairs facing the stage. A classroom arrangement adds tables to each row, allowing attendees to place a laptop or notepad on a flat surface. I like the classroom setup a lot better, and restricted venue searches to rooms that can hold 150-200 people in this configuration with either 18" or 30" tables for laptops and notepads.

Picking the venue

With the estimated number of attendees, room configuration needed, approximate location and conference schedule, you can now get a list of the venues that match your requirements. You may need to be flexible and limit the number in attendance or the room configuration. However the date and approximate location should not change. Some other things to consider; does the venue provide any support for catering, audio, video, WiFi and transportation. If it does, this could make your job much easier.

Finding a Sponsor

In finding a sponsor or sponsors, you need some marketing. Generate a professional looking letter requesting their help in supporting the event. You may want different levels of sponsorship and each level gets more or less advertising at the conference.

Separating speakers and sponsors

Choose the best possible speakers regardless of their company's sponsorship role. You can rent an additional room to provide exhibit space for sponsors and allow attendees to interact with the products and staff talked about at the conference. Maybe you've never seen Windows Vista or a tricked out MySpace page, or you want a hands-on experience with some widget hardware. Setting up a physical space of focused interaction creates a better experience for both sponsors and attendees.

I think sponsors get a better value at a focused event, setting more focused objectives and getting their name and product in front of the appropriate community.

Venue costs

Event venues typically charge a room rental fee combined with a minimum catering expense. All prices quoted are usually a "list price" and negotiable depending on factors such as the length of the conference, number of rooms booked at the hotel, your total catering spend, and your repeat business if you host multiple conferences a year. Many venues will waive the room rental fees based on a catering minimum, so be sure to ask.


Catering fees in no way match what you might expect to pay at a sandwich shop or local restaurant, they are much higher. Also different locations can vary the price. In my experience looking at San Francisco hotel catering menus a continental breakfast consisting of coffee, orange juice, muffins might cost around $25 a person. You'll have to add a service charge (typically around 20%) and sales tax to quoted prices.


You'll need microphones, a mixer, speakers, a projector, and a projection surface for the event. Many venues partner with an outside audio-visual consultant and you can rent equipment and perhaps even hire a technician to make sure all the equipment runs smoothly during the event. Typical projectors available are either SVGA (800 × 600) or XGA (1024 × 768). More lumens means a brighter picture, which can make a big difference in a room with a lot of sunlight.


Typically WiFi is provided as an a la carte item for conference organizers. You will most likely have access to a T1, which in theory could handle synchronous 1.536 Mbit/s. I've typically seen T1 data access listed as "up to 50 users" by venue sales staff.

A hotel might host a breakfast meeting for the local investors club, a wedding, and occasionally a technology conference. The network is typically not setup to handle the thrashing of a tech conference crowd. You can boost your bandwidth through the hotel if they are setup for extra capacity, or you could drop in a fixed point microwave connection if you have line-of-sight to a fixed wireless provider.

There's nothing like crappy WiFi to ruin an otherwise good conference. A good WiFi connection allows attendees to stay connected with their office colleagues, write e-mails, post to a blog, and connect with other attendees. Usually a conference needs to have working WiFi access for all the laptop-toting attendees, but would networks at possible event venues be able to handle the load? Could I trust the sales person who assures me they can?

Fixed wireless access might help solve the issue, beaming microwaves of bandwidth. If the event venue has line-of-sight to a point of presence there may be hope.


The first steps for a successful event are securing a good date, location, venue, room setup, catering, bandwidth, and power varieties.

Capture mp3 recorders that you can plug into the mixers, video cameras, even low end ones, to record the speakers and screen capture software to capture the demos.

Conferences are a lot of work, but I hope to see more small events in the future.

By Niall Kennedy

Other Related Articles:   Spontaneous Planning   Making Introductions 

There is 1 comment
December 30, 2008 - 21:42
Subject: IiMsWGdXeFvuutsyr

W7lg70 Thanks for good post

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