The ABC of any conference

April 14, 2009

in Basics, Planning

Any conference is composed by 3 main elements that make it bad, mediocre, good, excellent or memorable. The event manager mixes the right dose of each of them during strategic planning and operations to obtain the desired conference.

Very often a compromise must be reached to comply with limitations in budget, space, time, etc and it is important that the consequences of suppressing something are carefully evaluated: eg. the registration process of the attendees might be slow due to the lack of money to hire more stewards or rent extra hardware but if the content of the conference is outstanding or networking activities are powerful, a participant will forgive such a detail for the benefits he has gained.

These are the 3 elements that make a conference:

A: Basics (taken for granted)

All those indispensable components that constitute the main structure of a conference. The components of A are taken for granted and don’t generate satisfaction on the attendee but a lack of effectiveness or quality in any of them produce dissatisfaction and complaints.


  • Registration process (length and duration of cueing, easyness of the process, etc)
  • Conference room (size, light, temperature, etc)
  • Audio / Video (quality, visibility, volume, etc)
  • Catering (quality, amount, distribution, etc)
  • Support material (workbook, congress bag, pen, etc)
  • Basic networking moments or areas (coffee breaks, etc)
  • Customer service and information (before, during and after the event)
  • Toilets (availability, hygienic conditions, etc)

B: Special effects (make the difference)

These are the ones that transform a conference into a memorable event, one worth promoting between friends/colleagues, that justifies the extra price payed, guarantee the participation next year or make forgive some of the imperfections in the basics. A wise conference planner will spend his creativity and some extra money here.


  • Innovative solutions that avoid typical conference annoyances (like receiving the event access pass on the mobile phone)
  • Advanced communications (free internet wi-fi, live online coverage, etc)
  • Special treatment (make me feel like a VIP even though I’m a regular)
  • Advanced networking (think of choosing who you’d like meet before attending the event or proximity tools that help people find each other during the conference)
  • Catering (extra quality, variety and presentation, etc)
  • Exclusiveness (think of TED conferences)
  • Recreation (live performers during idle time, etc)
  • Style (trendy details recognizable by attendees like a stylish though simple conference bag that you are willing to reuse after the event)

C: Content (no content? no party!)

Content is king! Even having the indispensable elements right and all the special effects of a Hollywood movie won’t save a conference if there is no real/useful content involved… This might not be completely true when networking is the main activity, but in that case it must be considered as part of the content.


  • It is better to have few but outstanding speakers than a whole bunch of mediocre ones
  • The contents of the event are original, a novelty or presented in an innovative way
  • You take part in the creation of contents that has the potential to have a strong impact in your environment (like a G20 international summit)

Start your planning from C, get A right and deploy some B to make your event not just good but remarkable! (according to Seth Godin, remarkable things and actions make ideas spread)

In further posts I will list and analyze the components of A, B and C in further detail. Stay tuned through the RSS feed.

Next post: