Recommended guides and tips for summit/conference planning?
March 9, 2017 8:33 AM   Subscribe

For the first time i am leading planning for a summit/conference type event. While this size event is small, I am new to this and of course want it to go as well as possible - what how-to guides, event planning document templates, articles, books etc. would you recommend? If you have tips from your own experience, they are much appreciated too!

A few further details: It will be small (~20 leaders/experts by invitation) and will be non-profit in nature and it will be tech/innovation themed. Actually it will be about helping to define the mission and goals of a planned non-profit. It will be a very international mix of people, and will take place in Shanghai as an English language event. The focus will be discussion and perhaps coming up with a shared vision or set of principles/ next step actions. It may or may not be public in nature.

Thank you very much for any help.
posted by zresearch to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
By planning do you mean content or logistics, or will you be responsible for both? I handle logistics for exactly this type of event but not in tech field.
If you want tips for logistics let me know here or via memail.
posted by 15L06 at 12:55 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]

Came in to offer similar support, although my perspective is from the corporate world. Memail if you'd like to discuss.
posted by icaicaer at 8:58 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]

The agenda will drive most of your planning, especially space requirements, which affects location.

This reads as having a retreat-like vibe, so having a relaxing, as well as enticing location sets the tone and helps with creative buy-in.

You may want to use technology to solicit input - a pre-conference survey with opportunities for questions concerns suggestions.

Leadership or a consensus should discern what is ready to be made public during or after the event. Be prepared with a technology platform that helps this engagement happen.

You may want to engage the services of a skilled facilitator to ease your participation
posted by childofTethys at 7:59 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]

I've planned and attended a few retreats/conferences.

My number one tip - minimize the amount of workshops and increase the amount of resting/schmoozing time/bonding activities so that people can talk with eachother and get to know eachother and get close. Ask around and invite some skilled facilitators to run those workshops/bonding spaces. Most of the complaints I've seen are where the schedule is too tight with activities, but there is not enough time to get to know one another.

Make the space very intentionally welcoming so that people can relax and have good conversations quickly. You can do this by making sure people are greeted well, taken care of, and that there is a positive energy.

Also, always mark very clearly on the brochure map where the bathrooms and exits are, especially for disabled and accessible spaces.
posted by yueliang at 9:20 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Seconding the 'build in time for casual conversations' thing.

My main tip (most of my event planning experience is for stuff from 100-couple of hundred people) is that something weird always comes up in the 2 weeks before the event that eats a chunk of time. It's hard to predict what this thing will be in advance, but if you plan time to deal with it into your last few weeks pre-event, you will be a lot happier. (For an event of your size, I'd say maybe 5 hours? For the events I was doing, I allowed about 10, which gave me time for 'let me redo all the room schedules' or 'let me drive all around the metro area to buy matching whiteboards' or whatever.)

The other thing to pay attention to besides accessibility is food options - people have different preferences, and unless the entire thing involves meals together, choosing a location where there's a handful of different choices is really helpful. I'd go for one less expensive and fast, one that does really well with food allergies or limited foods, and one that has a fair bit of opportunity for more private conversations, if you can. If you're catering in food, some options for people to something more portable off (either for a bit of introvert time, or for a one-on-one conversation with someone) help a lot.
posted by modernhypatia at 11:15 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for the very thoughtful and helpful tips! (and keep them coming...)
I really appreciate the offers of personal advice from 15L06 & icaicaer too!
I'm wondering about both content and logistics though I think someone else will be in charge of the logistics. When I have a better feel for how things are coming together, I may well reach out.
posted by zresearch at 7:18 AM on March 12

One big issue is the timeline.
When is this going to take place? Hopefully in 12 months or maybe more. 8-6 months is workable but not ideal. If less than 3 months start scrambling or better postpone.
Timing affects both logistics and content. The calendars of experts and opinion leaders are often booked 12 months in advance. But also the best places to have such meetings also.

If you will be responsible for both content and logisitcs, and if finances permit it, I strongly suggest you inquire into package deals with a hotel and obtain help of the local tourist board.

My experience is limited to Europe, but I think unless you are locally based in Shanghai and know the city very well, it will be much easier to leave all the arrangements like room bookings, meals, coffee breaks, airport transfers, etc to an experienced conference hotel.

When I do this abroad I contact the tourist board, and ask for their recommendation. Depending on time line and budget it is well-worth checking out the place in person - not sure if this is feasable for you but if you can budget for it do go visit places in person. Many hotels are willing to give you a free night (or just for the charge of a breakfast) if the purpose of your stay is to check out hotel rooms and their facilities for a conference. This would typically be arranged by a sales manager. Many are actually interested in hosting small, exclusive round tables or expert meetings at a high level - you do not need to be a "big" conference" to spark their interest I found.

Eg line up 4-6 hotel recommendations by the tourist board, and visit them all in 1 or max 2 days. In most cases the tourist board actually provided a staff member to take me around (at no charge) - this was in European destinations, so I would try and find out if there is a Shanghai tourist board and if they are willing to help you (for free).

If you are female, and responsible for both content and logistics, one of the main reasons to outsource all logistics is to avoid giving the impression you are the "coffee and PPT girl". Unfortunately, if you are seen to do logistics there is a bias that you cannot be smart enough to give content input (at least int he academic circles I work in).

I support a lot of female academics by arranging their expert mtgs and observed time and time again that it is so much better for them if they delegate this all to me because I don't care and like my logistics job anyway and have no academic career I wish to pursue or male colleagues to impress. You don't want the men ask you to get a taxi to the airport or amend their PPT. You can only avoid that as a woman if you delegate and split tasks completely. Memail me if you want.
posted by 15L06 at 7:52 AM on March 13

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