5 Common Conference Planning Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

October 16, 2019 / Rick Bannerman

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Conference Planning Mistakes happen.

Even if you’ve been planning events for decades, it’s impossible to not have a few blunders slip through here and there.

What matters most is how you handle your lapse in judgment once it’s happened. This is true whether your event was a blast with room only for minor improvements or if you’ve just survived a conference disaster where your venue was canceled last minute or nobody turned up.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at how you can avoid the most common conference planning mistakes that get in the way of creating a unique event experience for your attendees.

When event planning goes wrong

You’ve finally picked out your venue and date. You’re reaching out to your prospect list and getting the ball rolling on your event.

What could go wrong? Well, a lot actually.

From security risks and technical issues to participants dropping out or getting stuck at the entrance in neverending queues, there are a lot of different issues that can come up.

Hosting a successful conference requires a lot of organization, attention, and creativity. It’s not just about multitasking and being able to work under pressure, you also need to be business savvy and smart about your decisions.

This brings us to the crux of the matter – planning is essential for a successful event.

And it’s not just about organization skills, successful planning is done with purpose and an overview of your goals as well as with available resources in mind.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means.

Conference Planning Mistakes you’re probably making

Even if your conferences have been profitable in the past and their execution nearly flawless, there’s always still room to improve. So this will be a useful read for you regardless of your track record of failed or successful events.

We’ll be covering both common slipups that all event planners have made at one point or another, as well as more nuanced aspects of an organization that can easily be improved with the right approach.

So here are 5 major conference planning mistakes:

1. Not covering all your bases

Let’s get the basics out of the way first.

There are 3 key components to successful event management: contracts, confirmations, and communication.

Although many planners will tell you not to stress over these three points, the truth is that they’re often the main triggers behind a failed event. Not having enough seats or food for all your attendees, venues canceling out of the blue or speakers not showing up are all issues you should foresee and properly plan for.

To avoid all of these issues, we recommend that you always confirm with each vendor twice, sign a legally binding agreement with them, and keep communication lines open before and during your event day to avoid any misunderstandings down the line.

2. Neglecting your backup plan

Plan B. You need it.

Don’t listen to those who say it’ll just distract you from your initial processes, they haven’t been through hundreds of event crises and witnessed the impact a failed conference can have on the host’s reputation.

Here are the main reasons why you should always have a contingency plan in place:

  • Underestimating the setup time you need
  • Misjudging the space you need
  • Unexpected situations and event changes

To deal with the above, you need to be prepared and have at least a basic blueprint of the steps you’ll need to take to de-escalate the situation.

3. Overlooking small details that cost you leads and money

Good planning entails high devotion to details.

Although it’s important to cover the basics, focusing too much on the big picture when organizing your event can backfire. If you want your conference to be memorable to your audience, then you should also pay attention to the following details:

  • Quality of engagement
  • Follow-ups after the event
  • Logistics (name badges, music licensing, liability, etc.)
  • Digital connections (charging stations, event app, Wi-Fi security)
  • Feedback (gathering insight from your sponsors, as well as surveying attendees)

If you feel like some of these might get overwhelming, you’re 100% right. After all, spending the time you don’t have on minor issues and getting lost in the details can become just as counterproductive as not being detail-oriented enough.

This is why it’s wise to use a planning tool that can help you manage all of the above. For example, a template for reviewing and comparing venues can go a long way in making sure you have all of the logistics handled properly. So can using a spreadsheet for your conference planning. If you’re interested in avoiding the most common conference planning mistakes, we’ve put together an ultimate conference planning checklist to help you keep track of changes and make the whole process easier – you can check it out here.

4. Not getting creative with your event

Spamming your Twitter with overused hashtags is not “event promotion”. Good event marketing can be hard to achieve. In order to be effective, you need to create a message that resonates with your target audience and get creative both with your marketing strategy and your on-site execution.

Don’t get me wrong, as I mentioned earlier, planning is the cornerstone of event success.

But once you’re on-site, any unexpected situation or crisis that emerges is fair game.

You need to know how to handle challenges in the moment as well, not just on paper. And even the best planning won’t be able to save your event if you can’t be flexible and resourceful in the way you deal with these issues on the spot.

This brings us to our next point.

5. Not preparing for on-site challenges

If there’s something every event planner is tired of being warned about, it’s Murphy’s Law.

I’ll spare you the pesky reminder and, instead, focus on practical solutions that you can implement when things do go wrong:

Last-minute cancels:

Venues, speakers, and participants can all cancel their attendance a few minutes before your conference is due to start.

What you can do: sign contracts with every one of your vendors, communicate timely and efficiently with your suppliers and speakers, as well as your internal team to make sure everyone is on the same page. Also, create a waiting list so you have enough attendees if some of your guests decide to cancel.

Tech malfunctions:

From ticketing to presentations, you don’t want technical difficulties interfering with your event.

How you can minimize risk: perform a full tech-check before the event, keep contacts handy if an emergency comes up, and use a reliable software for tracking tickets and payments to streamline your check-in process.

Long queues:

Keeping people waiting in line is a surefire way to get bad reviews and negative word-of-mouth about your event. These queues can form if everyone shows up at the same time, when sessions start or if there are any schedule delays.

The solution: for check-ins, you can implement online registration options, offer multiple payment methods or self-service and use check-in apps, in addition to what your staff will be doing.

For the sessions themselves, good tech can ensure a fast scan and help you keep track of where everyone is during your event. When it comes to schedule delays, push notifications are your friend. Event apps also will come in handy with helping attendees navigate the venue.

Do you want to learn more hacks that make conference planning faster, easier, and more effective? Take a look at our blog and find out how the right software and automation tools can help you make smarter decisions and get better results when organizing your events.

About the Author

Rick Bannerman

Rick Bannerman is a marketing specialist with a broad range of experience in web design, inbound marketing, and marketing analytics. As a digital marketing consultant, Rick handles marketing strategy and planning, project management, and the optimization of interactive marketing channels.

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