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Dan Jacob, co-founder of the SociaLIGHT Conference.
Dan Jacob, co-founder of the SociaLIGHT Conference.

Guest Column

Your guide to planning a great conference Add to ...

Conferences and in-person events remain one of the best ways to bring people together for business purposes. But planning them isn’t as easy as it looks, and I speak from experience, having attended or planned hundreds of events.

Here are 10 things to consider.

1. Identify an unmet need

A problem or question that can be solved or answered by your event will help create demand.

Earlier this year, my business partner Theresa Laurico and I observed there were a number of organizations in Toronto that provide resources to entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Many of them were acting independently, with very little communication or collaboration. We ended up creating an event designed to bring these groups together, in addition to the entrepreneurs and community leaders they represent.

2. Curate your event based on survey research

The need for an original and compelling idea is obvious, but it’s equally important to validate that idea with market research. An online tool such as Survey Monkey will allow you to quickly assemble a survey you can blast to your friends, colleagues and social networks to receive anonymous feedback on your event concept.

Surveys are important for two main reasons:

  • The information you collect will help to inform a number of business decisions. Keep in mind your questions should be focused, in order to isolate variables such as ticket prices, topics of interest, and potential speakers.
  • Once people have participated in your survey they are automatically invested in the success of the project. When it comes time to sell tickets, if your event reflects the interests or needs of your potential customers, sales should be a breeze.

3. Develop an identity

Event organizers often fail to give enough thought to the name or identity of their conference, and instead they focus on marketing when it’s time to sell tickets.

A clear, unique and vision-driven identity creates a more compelling story for potential speakers, partners and customers.

After providing different options in our survey and getting a lot of feedback, my partner and I settled on the name SociaLIGHT (where LIGHT is an acronym for “leaders impacting global humanity today”). Not only was it succinct and easily shareable on social networks, it was also a way to reclaim the word “socialite,” redefining it as an individual who creates value and social impact in a community –our survey indicated these characteristics resonated with our audience.

4. Find the right venue

A good venue can be a challenge for a new event planner. A starting point in Toronto is a website called Event Source, which allows planners to search for venues by type of event and required capacity.

Make a shortlist of five or six venues you can then go and visit. A site visit is essential – you need to get a feel for the space and determine whether or not it can accommodate your needs. During the site visit, there are a number of important questions to consider:

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