A Successful Hybrid Conference Starts With Proper Planning
Conference planners know very well that event planning is a difficult and highly detailed process. As hybrid events become more and more popular these days because of COVID-19, planning a conference is much more complicated than before. As we all know well, hybrid events require a great deal of effort for synchronizing in-person and online attendee activities. Without having a road map you can easily get lost along the way.
That's why, I would like to share with you a checklist I have established with my years of experience both in virtual and in-person events I organized. I hope you find it helpful.
(This list was prepared according to the planning timeline and the importance of the topics.)
Define your conference goals, build your team and prepare your budget
- Define your conference type (hybrid, online, in-person),• Set goals to be achieved,
- Determine the budget you need to achieve your goals,
- Clarify the committees or individuals you will be working together with,
- Decide if you will include a professional event planner in your team,• Plan your communication channels and meeting intervals with the committees and individuals,
Determine your roadmap
- Identify the tasks to be accomplished during the preparation phase and mark them on your calendar,
- Inform your team about their tasks and let them know whom to collaborate with,
- Set a deadline for each task and notify your team about the timeline,
Select the conference venue and set the event dates
- Determine the most suitable dates for your participants to travel and attend the conference comfortably,
- Evaluate possible destinations and venue options,
- Choose the destination that best fits your success criteria and goals. Consider the charm and accessibility of the destination,
- Check if the venue meets the requirements of the conference and the participants (the number and the capacities of the halls, technical infrastructure, overall capacity, quality of food and beverage services, accommodation, other facilities etc.),
Define Your Online Conference Software and Technological Infrastructure Requirements
- Specify the URL address for online access to your event registration and services,• Buy an event domain name,
- Determine the software features you need for the management of your conference,
- Test alternative software options to find out the best solution that will help you to manage physical and online attendees in harmony,
- Determine your audio and video streaming requirements,
- Determine how your system will accomplish audio, video streaming and support interactions between physical and virtual attendees including invited speakers and sponsors,
- Make sure your online streaming and interaction systems are capable of two-way data transferring,
- Integrate your event registration and management software to your event web page,
- Prepare an event app which is compatible with your event management software,
- Examine how you will manage communication and interaction requirements between physical and online participants by using your event management software,
- Check how this software handles participants, sponsors, speakers, presentations, attendee check-ins, referrals and follow ups etc.
Identify Important Dates
- Identify the starting date and the deadline for registration,
- Determine deadlines for alternative registration periods such as early bird or late & onsite,
- Determine abstract submission and evaluation deadlines and the date of the announcement of evaluation results,
Name Invited Speakers and Prepare a Draft Program
- Decide about your conference theme, framework and key topics,
- Create a draft conference program,• Identify the potential invited speakers who are most suitable for the event you plan to invite,
- Contact your invited speakers as early as possible and make agreements about their attendance,
- Plan social activities and place them in your event program,• Start sharing information about your invited speakers on your website and mention them in your announcements.
Define Attendee Registration Fees and Services
- Determine registration types and fees,
- Determine registration payment channels (online, wire transfer, check, cash, etc.)
- Determine registration discounts and promotions (period-based, group discounts, exclusive registrations, etc.)
- Identify the services included in the participation fees, specify the differences depending on the registration types,
- Define optional services and activities (workshop, gala, social activity etc.) and fees to be paid additionally.
- Examine the capabilities of your registration software regarding management of different attendee types such as participants, guests, sponsors, authors, speakers etc.,
Determine Participant Processes
- Check if the registration software meets your requirements,
- Specify the information you will receive from your attendees during registration,
- Integrate your payment collection method into the registration software,
- Update downloadable document templates and contents (approval letter, confirmation email, name badge, invoice, etc.) for the registered attendees in your registration software,
- Determine the registration, check-in and follow-up procedures of the participants both for on-site and online in your registration software. Examine these capabilities in detail.
Determine Your Abstract Submission Format and Evaluation Criteria
- Determine the titles and types of the presentations,
- Specify submission formats (text, file, ppt)
- Determine content rules for abstracts such as title, author, keywords, etc.
- Determine the style and limits (such as font, word limit, adding image, table, etc.) of the content of the abstracts,
- Determine the evaluation criteria of the abstracts (simple, blind, detailed or with specific questions)
- Determine the process for abstracts approval and placement into the program,• Explain the conference abstract publishing format,
Create Your Sponsorship File
- Identify items and services you can offer to sponsors,
- Create sponsorship packages and set your fees,
- Prepare your sponsorship agreements,
Plan Marketing Activities
- Compile your previous conference attendee and potential attendee data
- Determine the communication channels you can reach out to your participants (e-mail, social media, advertisement, telephone, mail, message etc.)
- Prepare interesting contents that might attract your potential attendees such as information about invited speakers, important dates, social activities etc.
- Collect data about potential sponsors,
- Identify organizations and groups you can collaborate with,
- Determine your announcement calendar and promotion activities,
- Prepare your communication tactics, interview, follow-up and sales analysis reports
Prepare your designs and content
- Prepare your images such as posters and banners compatible with the conference theme
- Prepare content for your event web page, social media, email announcements etc.,
- Prepare contents and announcement suitable for sharing in the social media too,
- Prepare a conference invitation letter for your website
Setup Your Online Registration and Abstract Management Software
- Setup your participant registration form, add types, fees and services included,
- Create your registration discounts and promotional coupons,
- Integrate your gateway and enter your billing information to collect online participant payments,
- Set up your submission collection form for collecting abstracts, presentations, etc. Determine the rules for titles, presentation types, author information, content, format and shapes,
- Determine abstract and presentation evaluation format, blind, easy, advanced, etc.,
- Setup the online presentation channel and enter your participant interaction rules,
- Setup conference mobile application and set the participant interaction rules,
- Participant registration confirmation, paper acceptance, proforma invoice, QR code, etc. customize your information, documents and emails,
- Test your registration and notification system,
Publish and Announce Your Conference Website
- Carefully decide where and how you will design your web page,
- Clarify how to manage your conference web page and make sure that it is easy to update,
- Some registration software services such as MeetingHand offers the service of creating and managing professional event web pages, check out the free usage opportunity,
- Place conference content (invitation letter, venue, important dates, fees, invited speakers, draft program, sponsors, etc.) into the event website,
- Integrate your online registration and abstract management system to your website. Choose a software that offers a professional and an easy to use website builder,
- Carefully place CTAs for participants for registration, abstract submission, etc.),
- Add conference images and your social media accounts on registration screens,• Update web page contents frequently,
Start marketing: Take action
- Invite your previous and new potential participants via personal emails,
- Send the conference announcement and invitation to attend to potential sponsors,
- Don't forget to include the registration CTA, web page address and social media channels in every communication message you sent,
- Ask everyone to share your web page and social media channels,• Share your discount opportunities such as early bird registration etc. frequently,
- Share your conference images and CTA links on your social media accounts,
- Do not avoid repeating your announcements, remember that every information update is a reason for a new announcement,
- Share conference developments (upcoming dates, added invited speakers, social programs, etc.) with your attendees at regular intervals,
- Request your event announcements be shared by attendees, invited speakers, committee members, sponsors and supporters. Give them the opportunity to introduce themselves and engage with others,
Prepare your invited speaker itineraries,
- Contact invited speakers and finalize their itineraries,
- Complete reservations and payments of travel tickets, accommodations, etc. that you would provide to your invited speakers according to your agreements,
- Agree on the speakers' speech title, presentation date and duration, etc.
- Continuously check the submitted papers and request correction of errors related with the submission format or style immediately,
- Create accounts of scientific committee members in the software you used for abstract management,
- Assign the submitted papers to the reviewers and follow the evaluation processes,
- Notify the authors quickly about the results of the evaluations, taking into account the registration discounts• Place the accepted submissions in the draft program according to the presentation type and make sure the presenting author has paid for his/her registration,
- Do not forget to request a copy of the presentations of your invited speakers. They will be required for the conference proceedings.
Prepare Your Tentative Conference Program
- Clearly state key activities such as conference registration check-in, opening, closing, social events, etc.
- Place your invited speakers in the program, taking into account their travel itineraries,
- Place accepted submissions in the program including abstract titles, author names, etc.
- Review the details by sharing the tentative program with the presenters and participants,
- Make a payment deadline reminder to the presenters to finalize the program.
Start Building Your Supply Agreements
- Finalize the number of participants according to the data you have collected and prepare your procurement plan,
- Determine your suppliers that will provide the services included in the registration fee to your participants,
- Conduct supplier research and price quality performance analysis,
- Make agreements with the suppliers for the specific items you plan to add to your conference bags; such as the conference bag design, a printed copy of the program and other documents, book of proceedings, a pen and a notebook, etc.
- Make agreements with the suppliers for the coffee breaks, welcome cocktail, gala and the other services you plan to include your event about the food, beverages and other services,
- Plan and supply some creative services to online attendees as well. For example, you can offer a Starbucks coffee coupon to your online participants and surprise them,
- Make agreements with technical suppliers for sound systems, video recordings and streaming or management of online presentation systems,
- Don't forget to broadcast the social activities and performances live to the online participants,• Consider your budget constraints and possible last-minute changes in your supply contracts,
Finalize Your Conference Program
- Finalize your draft program according to the number of presentations, halls and participants,
- Clarify the sessions considering the invited speakers, presentation formats, presentation times, etc.
- Place the invited speakers and their titles in the program,
- Place the submissions in the program that meet the presentation requirements,
- Publish your final conference program on your event web page and mobile event app,
- Share the program with everyone, including your participants and sponsors.
Create Your Conference Proceedings
- Prepare the conference proceedings cover letter and do not forget to include details about the conference,
- Get Conference Proceedings ISBN number,• Determine your proceedings placement plan by regarding some criteria such as program flow, topics, presentation format, or creating code for abstracts,
- Don't forget to add the basic information about the organizing agency, committees etc.,
- Add details about your conference supporting institutions and sponsors,
- Prepare table of contents and author index for the book of proceedings,
- Make Book of Proceedings accessible to your participants on your event web page and on your event app,
- Use an event management software, such as MeetingHand, producing your draft book of proceedings automatically and allowing access to proceedings through your event app.
Publish and Announce Your Conference Mobile App
- Procure your event app by taking into consideration it's easy to use management and easy to update opportunities,
- Setup your event app by adding your conference information, content and images,
- Integrate your event app with your online event registration system. Note that communication, networking and lead retrieval is important for participants,
- Note that, being able to make contactless operations such as online participant check-in, receiving payments online or tracking attendees with a QR code will be a great comfort for you,
- Share your event app link and QR code with your participants.
Begin preparations for the operation
- Clarify the number of participants,
- Clarify venue-related details, such as number of halls, seating arrangements, capacities, restrooms, coffee-break areas, registration desk and check-in area, etc.
- Determine the number of staff you will be in need of and their qualifications,
- Identify the roles of your team, prepare a list of responsibilities and specify the way you wish them to fulfill their tasks,
- Inform your coffee break suppliers about the break hours and the number of expected participants,
- Inform your suppliers about the details of your social activity plans including the numbers of attendees, your overall program, menu details, food/beverage requirements, layout etc.
- Prepare an "Easy Guide" leaflet for participants. Clearly explain your contactless operation procedures and online networking guidelines in it,
- Prepare a presentation guideline document for speakers and presenters,
- Prepare a session management document,
- Share the documents you have prepared through your web page, e-mails and event app,
- Prepare your technical infrastructure, make necessary controls and rehearsals for internet connection and speed, audio and video streaming quality, streaming management desk and online software management,
- Specify the process for onsite and online check-ins or payments of participants,
- Finalize the seating plan and check the numbers,• Prepare and allocate oral presentation screens, audio and video sharing tools and poster presentation equipment,
Show time, here we go!
- Have an on-site operations meeting with your team. Show the task details in the field,
- Have short meetings with the venue and supplier officials for close coordination,
- Check the readiness of the venue and conference halls, coffee-break areas, restrooms and other areas planned to be used,
- Check the internet connection,
- Provide direction information by placing directional signage in and around the venue,
- Set up participant registration check-in desk,
- Check the devices such as mobile phones, tablets, kiosks etc. you are planning to use for online and contactless operations,
- Check the seating arrangements of the halls,
- Check the operation of the audio-visual equipment,
- Check technical equipment synchronization with online streaming channel, lag-free two-way audio and video transmission,
- Organize sponsor and exhibitor areas,
- Check the poster presentation area, check the online access of the posters,
- Provide in-person and online engagement opportunities to sponsors with the attendees,
- Explain the engagement and networking opportunities to the participants in a presentation during the opening ceremony,
- Prepare to share detailed information such as participation amount, networking, lead retrieval, instant interactions, messaging, etc. at the closing session.