Getting started with your conference plan
Create a committee
Every successful conference needs an active organizing committee. Before starting the planning process, you need to recruit the right team to plan the conference. Good candidates for your committee include a combination of faculty, staff and students. If this is a recurring conference, determine if someone from a past event committee can join or consult with the team. Check if there are staff members in your department that have experience organizing events who can join the team. The committee will also need to decide if it should hire a professional event planner to assist, or if there are enough resources within the team. Fulton Schools Dean’s Office Events is available to consult with your team to help guide the committee through the process. To request assistance or a consultation, email Annette Bowers at [email protected] and copy the Special Events Manager at [email protected].
Make sure that the roles and responsibilities of each committee member are clearly defined. Assign one person on the committee as the project manager. This person will oversee the general picture and ensure everyone is on task with their assignments. Additionally, the project manager typically acts as the on-site conference manager.
Consider how decisions will be made on your committee. Is it by majority vote? Is each person responsible for the decision-making of their assigned tasks, or does the committee have a general chair that will make the final decisions? Make sure all decisions are documented in writing. If decisions will be made during conference calls or in meetings, assign someone to take notes and share them immediately with the meeting attendees. Use Google Docs or Dropbox for all documentation, ensuring everyone on the team has access to the information and so the conference plan is always up to date.
How the committee is developed depends on the skill set and time each of the committee members can devote to conference planning. Depending on the scope of the conference, you may consider assigning the following responsibilities to roles on the team: local logistics (rooms, audiovisual, setups and catering), program (proposal review and selection, speaker management), publicity (website, marketing and communications) and finance (budget and keep track of spending).
One of the first things that your committee should determine are the various deadlines for all of the planning areas as indicated below. A great way to organize your committee during conference planning is by utilizing a project management platform. There are multiple options available online, both free and paid, depending on the complexity of the platform needed to support your planning. The Dean’s Office Events team uses and recommends Asana. There are various plans available that can support your planning needs at any level. If you want guidance on how to start using this tool, feel free to reach out to Elizabeth Cross in the Dean’s Office at [email protected] with the subject line “Asana Questions”.
Establish goals and objectives for the conference so the committee can keep them in mind for the duration of the planning process. Answer the following questions in order to guide the planning process. What is the goal of the conference? Is it networking? Product launch? Education? What does the committee want to accomplish during the conference?
The committee can only start the planning process once a conference agenda has been developed. This helps determine the needs for space and hotel accommodations for the event. How many people are expected to attend in person? Is the event in-person only or will there be a livestream or recording of some or all the sessions? Will attendees/registrants be able to choose to watch livestreams or recordings rather than attend in person? What are the demographics of the conference attendees? Create a schedule of events for each day, including but not limited to:
- Keynote sessions.
- Panel discussions.
- Breakouts (how many).
- Concurrent sessions.
- Exhibit halls or trade shows.
- Opening ceremony.
- Meals, receptions, breakfast, lunch, breaks and dinner.
- Registration for attendees, volunteers, speakers and exhibitors.
- Poster sessions.
- Off-site events.
- Downtime between sessions and events for attendees to relax.
- Networking opportunities among attendees.
- Tours of university research labs or other areas.
- Spousal program.
- Career fairs.
- Closing ceremony.
Do not forget to account for time for attendees to travel between sessions, as well as planning time for attendees to freshen up following a full day before evening functions. For more information on how to create your event agenda, explore the Social Tables event agenda for guidance.
Finances and sponsors
When creating the conference budget, pull in data from a previous conference if available. Create a detailed budget based on the conference agenda that outlines all projected expenses. When it comes to the conference registration fees, start by determining if you need the fees (your revenue) to fully offset all projected expenses or just some of the expenses. For example, if your conference is projected to cost $100,000 and you are expecting 500 attendees, you would need to receive an average of $200 per registrant to offset your costs. Determine if there will be a single, all-inclusive registration fee or if it is easier to have multiple fees, pricing each agenda item individually (by pricing individually, attendees can choose which parts of the conference they want to attend).
Some ways of doing this could be to:
- have a fixed fee that admits attendees to every general session and breakout session, and add additional fees to attend the opening and closing ceremonies should they choose to partake.
- have the option of early bird registration at a lower cost so the conference can gather several registrations early.
- have separate fees to attend networking and off-site events should they choose to partake.
Offer registration options to pay by card, check or other payment options if possible, because not all registrants will have work-associated credit cards. Determine if grants will be offered to attend your event, or if you will extend lower costs to speakers or volunteers.
The conference committee needs to determine early on who has the authority to sign contracts for the conference. Check with your Business Operations Manager (BOM) for how to handle the finances for the conference before signing any contracts as there are certain regulations that must be followed if the money is funneled through the ASU Foundation or an ASU account. Keep in mind the maximum amount that can be spent on a meal per person is $40 when paying with ASU funding and you cannot pay for alcohol with ASU accounts. If the committee is spending more, you will need a sign off from the Financial Manager or Dean before the money is spent. It is almost guaranteed that your budget will change, so reserve 10% to 15% of your budget for unexpected and additional expenditures. Audiovisual and catering tend to be the highest categories of expenses, especially at hotels. Do not forget to include tax and gratuity in the budget estimates. Keep in mind, even though some venues or hotels will allow you to bring in your own audiovisual equipment, there may be an associated cost for doing so.
Update the budget as proposals come in to avoid overspending. When updating the budget, make sure to keep the original budget as is and show the actual budget in a separate column to help you compare the estimated versus actual costs.
When collecting registration fees, make sure to use Aventri, the ASU-approved event registration payment method. See more information about Aventri in the registration section below.
See the Conference budget template to start your budget estimates.
For more information on how to create your budget, explore the Social Tables Hidden Event Planning Fees article.
Sponsorship is a great way to get additional funding to support your event/conference. Sponsorship opportunities should be outlined in a packet to inform donors of the options and details of the event/conference.
Please contact and work with the engineering development officer assigned to your school below. They will assist in completing the sponsorship packet, which will need to align with the ASU Foundation guidelines. All gifts will be acknowledged through the ASU Foundation and a 5% administrative fee will be deducted on all gifts received.
Unless this is part of your planning strategy, avoid planning your conference on a holiday or during the same time another large event for your target audience is planned. To avoid this, check the holiday calendars, the ASU Events Calendar and the ASU Academic Calendar. If student participation is essential for your event, make sure the conference does not fall on spring break or during exams. If the event requires the attendance of a VIP or specific keynote speaker(s), schedule the dates according to their availability.
ASU Special Events registration
If any part of the conference takes place on any ASU campus and/or is paid through ASU funding, a committee member needs to register the event through the Office of Special Events. The information included on the registration form is shared with ASU safety collaborators to help keep your attendees safe during the conference. ASU fire and health inspectors will notify the contact person on the form if there is a need for any permits as well as help with the process to obtain a permit.