A convention can be an exciting event that brings together like-minded individuals to explore an important topic or participate in activities that appeal to a special interest. However, these events are no easy feat to pull off. Convention planning requires major efforts to pull together a valuable, worthwhile experience for a broad audience.
Whether you’re a nonprofit event planner, association membership manager, event director, or convention planner, this guide will help you plan the most effective, engaging convention possible for your audience members.
Convention planning is similar to the conference planning process since they are both major, typically annual events. Let’s explore the process in-depth to set your convention up for success! We’ll explore:
What is a Convention?
A convention is a gathering of individuals to discuss a certain topic or participate in activities related to a shared interest or field. Conventions are often held to bring business or industry professionals together to discuss important issues or topics in their field.
However, they are also used to celebrate special-interest themes or topics. For instance, you’ve probably heard of the popular comic book convention known as Comic-Con, which brings together fans of comic books and other related media.
Conventions typically last more than one day and often extend to a full week of activities. These events are typically in-person, but with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, many conventions have gone partially or fully virtual.
If you’ve ever attended a convention or conference, you know there are many opportunities to meet new people and make personal and professional connections. It’s a great way to connect with people that align with your specific interests in the industry.
Benefits of Hosting a Convention
There are many advantages of hosting a convention. Depending on the type of convention you decide to host, you may have the opportunity to:
- Strengthen your industry by bringing like-minded people together. A convention is a perfect environment to network, form partnerships, and exchange knowledge with peers and industry leaders. It’s the perfect opportunity to bring like-minded people from all around the world together to deepen connections.
- Offer a chance for relevant businesses to promote their offerings. Your convention will probably require the generous support of corporate partners to get off the ground. This gives businesses in your industry the chance to promote their offerings and connect with other businesses in networking opportunities. For instance, if you’re hosting a photography convention, you can invite camera, lights, and lens vendors to sponsor your event and/or host a booth to promote their products.
- Offer an opportunity to make changes within your industry or push through new policies or guidelines. Conventions bring different people from all sectors of your industry together to hear new ideas and participate in discussions. This allows you to gain insights on what can be changed or improved within your industry. It’s also an excellent way to generate new ideas for your own business or organization. Hearing what other companies or businesses do differently can inspire you and allow you to enhance your current policies and guidelines.
11 Steps to Plan a Successful Convention
Organizing a convention requires lots of planning, but it’s worth it in the end! It’s important to start planning months in advance to keep track of all moving parts.
If you’re about to start planning your convention, there are probably tons of questions on your mind, from “Which venue will best suit my needs?” to “Who should I invite?” and “Where do I start?”
To help set you on the right path, we’ve prepared a step-by-step guide on how to plan a successful convention:
- Determine your goals. What is the purpose of hosting your convention? Figure out what attendees will gain from participating in your conference. This can help you choose the different types of speakers or activities you’ll offer.
- Choose your theme. Choosing an interesting, unique theme can help you market your event and entice participants to sign up. For instance, you might give your annual technology convention an exciting new theme such as “Reaching for the Future” or “New Horizons in Tech.”
- Define your budget. How much can you spend hosting this event? Look at past event attendance data to predict how many tickets you’ll be able to sell and budget accordingly.
- Pick a venue. Have you hosted a similar convention in the past? If so, can you use the same venue? If not, search for a venue that can accommodate your audience size. Make sure the venue is in an easily accessible location, such as near a major city or airport. Also, ensure the venue has the accommodations you need, like multimedia equipment or sufficient on-site parking.
- Handle other logistics such as food, lodging, and transportation. Food is an important part of planning any event, especially if your convention is a multi-day affair. Choose a caterer or invite local restaurants or food trucks to your event. Also, if your convention will host out-of-town guests, you’ll need to recommend a hotel for them to stay at for the duration of the event. Lastly, determine whether you’ll need to offer transportation from an off-site parking lot or nearby hotel.
- Invite speakers or special guests. The special guests you invite to your event can be a major incentive for people to attend your event. For example, some people attend comic book conventions solely because they want to see their favorite actor or author in person. Determine which special guests will be most exciting or influential for attendees and reach out to ask if they would like to make an appearance at your convention.
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- Create the schedule. Determine the sequence of events for your convention. Leave enough time between events for attendees and special guests to have a break.
- Connect with sponsors. Along with ticket sales, event sponsorships are a crucial part of your convention funding. Reach out to corporations to ask if they’d like to sponsor your event. Be sure to promote the benefits they would receive in exchange for their support, such as a major marketing opportunity.
- Recruit event staff and volunteers. You’ll need some helping hands to ensure your event runs smoothly. Recruit event staff and volunteers to play important roles throughout your event. Reach out to past volunteers and event staff to see if they’re interested in participating. To entice people to sign up, offer valuable incentives such as payment or free event entry.
- Craft marketing materials and strategies. Without a strong marketing plan in place, you won’t be able to promote your event to enough people, meaning you could fall short of your attendance goals. Create a wide variety of marketing materials for all of your communication platforms, including social media, email, direct mail, your website, flyers, and press releases for local media outlets. Ensure all materials are designed with your event branding in mind.
- Test-run your equipment and finalize your agenda. Before event day, you want to make sure you’re ready to go and able to give attendees a valuable, fun experience. Test run your event equipment, finalize your schedule, and ask for confirmations from your vendors to ensure you’re completely ready for event day.
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of how to plan your conference and which key steps to take.
And after your event concludes, your work still isn’t done. Remember to follow up with everyone involved, such as your team, volunteers, speakers, and attendees. Thank everyone for their participation and efforts into making your convention a success. This leaves a positive impression, boosting the chances that your attendees, event staff, and sponsors will participate in your convention again in the future.
5 Convention Planning Best Practices
Planning a successful convention that appeals to your audience requires strategizing and proper organization.
As you follow the steps to plan a successful event, you may run into challenges or feel like you need more guidance throughout the process. Keep these tips in mind as you plan to confront any obstacles effectively:
- Start planning well in advance. Even if your convention is over a year from now, it’s never too early to plan ahead! Certain aspects of your event, such as your venue, must be determined well in advance so you can reserve the facility that you want. Plus, the sooner you start planning, the sooner you can start marketing your event and getting audience members excited to attend.
- Use event management software to stay organized. Event management solutions such as event staff management software will play a major role in keeping your convention on task and your team on the same page. These software solutions offer features such as an event planning dashboard, shift registration tools, communication tools, and an event staff database.
- Create backup plans to account for any obstacles. Make sure to always have a plan B in case something goes wrong. For instance, a speaker might have to cancel, or one of your multimedia elements might malfunction. Anticipate these challenges before they arise and have a backup plan to pivot to as necessary.
- Take a multichannel marketing approach. To promote your event to the widest audience possible, be sure to use a multichannel marketing plan. Don’t just promote your event on social media or your website— choose multiple platforms to reinforce your message.
- Ask for feedback. After your event concludes, ask for feedback from attendees, event staff and volunteers, and sponsors. Ask about what they liked and disliked about the experience, what they’d like to see at your next convention, and whether they plan to attend again in the future. This gives you insight into what you should continue doing and what you should change in order to plan an even better convention next time.
Now that you’ve learned about the several benefits of a convention, how to plan for one, and best practices for a successful convention, it’s time to put your best foot forward and start planning accordingly.
If you’ve planned a convention before, take note of what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t to give you a better idea of how to proceed. Remember to take feedback from all attendees to understand your event’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. Good luck!