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How to Plan an Event: Get the Most Out of Your Next Conference

In an increasingly digital world, it's more important than ever to form real connections with people. 

Webinars and virtual conferences certainly have their advantages, but they aren’t the best way to foster strong relationships or drive engagement with current and potential customers. 

That’s one of the reasons you’re planning to attend a live, in-person event, right?  

Whether you’re participating as an attendee, renting booth space, or sponsoring the event, your key objective is likely the same — to meet potential customers and generate more ROI.  
 
But attending industry events can be very expensive. You don’t want to waste your time or your company’s money by showing up unprepared. 

We're here to show you how to plan for your next event to ensure you get the most out of your next conference or tradeshow. 

 Here’s how to plan your next event. 
  1. Set Clear Goals and Objectives
  2. Establish the Budget
  3. Do a Little Reconnaissance
  4. Form Your Team
  5. Create Your Agenda
  6. Update Your Social Profiles
  7. Promote Your Presence
  8. Set Yourself Apart
  9. Get Your Tech Together
  10. Measure Your Success

Event Planning - 10 Must-Do’s

1. Set Clear Goals and Objectives 

You might be taking a day or more away from your business and family to attend an event so you’ll want to ensure it’s worthwhile. 

Determining your goals and objectives ahead of time — for yourself and the stakeholders — is part of that.  

So be sure to consider the following when planning for the event.

What is the overall goal of the event? 

Your reasons for attending the event may include one or more of the following.

  • Learn new skills
  • Professional growth
  • Demand generation
  • Promote brand awareness 
  • Customer education and appreciation

What do you want to achieve?

Identify objectives that support the goal of your event. Here are some examples.

  • Convince three customers to do a case study
  • Drive 50 downloads of trial software
  • Generate 50 qualified leads for the sales team
  • Increase traffic to your website by 20% 
  • Promote social engagement and media mentions during the event

Having clear goals and objectives will help you create your event plan and strategy for interacting with current and potential customers. They also lay the groundwork for that all-important event ROI for stakeholders.

2. Establish the Budget

Of course, it’s important to create a budget in advance — with a little padding for the inevitable adjustments you’ll make along the way. 

If you’ve sponsored or exhibited at events in the past, you may have this process down pat. But if it’s your first or second event, there might be costs you haven’t considered. 

As you're planning for your event, here are all the potential line items to take into account.

  • Booth rental 
  • Food and beverage stipend for reps
  • Flight and/or transportation 
  • Hotel stays
  • Signage, decorations, swag bags 
  • Cost of any meetups, happy hours, or dinners you plan to host
  • Office supplies and shipping charges
  • Printed materials, lanyards, badges 
  • Technology and event management tools
  • Paid marketing channels
  • Additional rentals for booth “experiences,” such as charging stations, social photo booths, etc.

3. Do a Little Reconnaissance

If you learn about the event, attendees, and speakers ahead of time, you’ll be able to focus your time and energy more effectively during the event. Here’s what to do.

  • Look at the event hashtag to learn more about the schedule and get a feel for what attendees are most excited about.
  • Review the online profiles of the speakers and notable attendees. Read their content, watch their videos, listen to their podcasts, and make a mental note of their interests. 
  • Connect ahead of time with attendees and pre-book meetings for the event.

4. Form Your Team

If you’re an event sponsor or exhibitor, you may need to assemble a team to represent your brand effectively.

These are the typical roles and responsibilities you’ll want covered to be successful. 

  • Event Manager: Owns ultimate responsibility and plan for the event; manages communication within the team and with stakeholders; keeps track of the budget and ROI for the event.
  • Marketing and Comms: Executes the event promotion plan to build awareness of your presence at the event. Amplifies the event on social media before and during the event. Creates the digital and physical branded content for the event.
  • Sales: Cultivates connections with attendees before, during, and after the event
  • Creative: Designs branding for the event including signage for the booth, copywriting, video, and swag items. May also be responsible for creating mobile apps and gamification related to the event.

5. Create Your Agenda

Conferences are all about using your time wisely and getting the most out of the experience.

There will probably be loads of sessions to choose from — many more than you could attend. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the event schedule ahead of time so you can prioritize your options. 

If you expect to conduct meetings during the event, look into booking meeting rooms or review the venue layout for any areas that have been designated for this purpose. 

Considering hosting a networking event such as a happy hour, coffee break, or dinner? Whether you’d just include your prospects and customers or sponsor an event for all attendees, you’ll need to solidify those event plans as early as possible.   

6. Update Your Social Profiles

If you network before, during, and after the event (like you should!), you can expect to see an uptick in your social profile views. That’s why it’s essential to optimize and update Twitter and LinkedIn with content that will engage and resonate with your new connections.

7. Promote Your Presence  

If you’re a speaker, exhibitor, or sponsor, you should consider creating an event marketing plan to promote your attendance and attract potential prospects. While there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy, a multichannel approach will expand your reach and generate more interest.  

Leverage whichever marketing channels and tactics resonate most with your target audience. 

  • Email marketing: Reach out to the folks who already want to hear from you and let them know you’ll be at the event. Keep them informed and share content to build excitement as the event draws closer.
  • Social media marketing: Leverage your social presence and the connections you’ve built with customers and fans to get the word out about the event. 
  • Paid ads: Consider paid promotion of the event through Google’s display ads and Facebook and Instagram ads. 
  • Content marketing: Ramp up your blogging and SEO efforts to boost your authority and amplify your presence at the event. 

8. Set Yourself Apart

Whether there’s a handful or hundreds of exhibitors and sponsors, you need to make an impression and find ways to set your brand apart. The same holds true if you’re attending the event solo.

Here are some ways to be memorable. 

  • Enhanced booth experiences: Consider adding a social photo booth, charging stations, privacy pods, and premium snacks to make your booth the place to be
  • Tech-supported networking: Make it easy for attendees to connect with you and learn more about your brand.
  • Location-based sponsorships: Give passersby a little nudge to visit your booth via mobile triggers.
  • Gamification and incentives: Provide mobile game experiences to engage visitors during and after the event.
  • Branded giveaways: Purchase some branded premium items (i.e., YETI coolers and tumblers, high-end fleeces) for a drawing for people who visit your booth or meet with a sales rep.

9. Get Your Tech Together

Technology has made it a lot easier to plan and execute professional events — it creates a better experience for attendees too. 

You can also use technology to manage and evaluate all the connections you make so you can prove the value of the event. Luckily, you probably have some of those solutions in place already. 

Here’s what you should have in your toolkit.   

  • Project management tool: Keep track of tasks, workflows, timelines and communicate with your event team through a single interface.  
  • Attribution tool: Track and measure the event’s impact on conversions with a tool like Supermetrics.
  • Intent data tool: Get context on the attendees (and your booth’s visitors) to determine the likelihood they’ll purchase your solution with a tool like ZoomInfo
  • Event meeting management software: Book qualified meetings before and during the event painlessly with Chili Piper Events.

10. Measure Your Success

Remember the goals and objectives you established for attending this event in the first place? You’ll need a process to determine whether you’ve met them so you can present the all-important event ROI to stakeholders.

Here are some indicators of success. 

  • Increased interest: There are all sorts of metrics that indicate you’ve generated interest in your product or solution, such as the number of qualified meetings you pre-booked, demos performed, booth scans you collected, etc. 
  • Social Buzz: You’ll be monitoring and posting to your social handles throughout the event. Was there a huge boost in activity? More mentions by media, industry leaders, and partners? Was there an increase in traffic to your website that led to more downloads of trial software and other content? 
  • Revenue boost: Conversions are, of course, the best indicator of success. Being able to attribute revenue directly to the event will determine if it’s worth investing in next year. 

Pack Your Bags

Now that you know how to plan and get the most out of an event, it’s time to start packing. 

In the meantime, you can get a head start on driving the event ROI by booking meetings at your conference ahead of time.  

Check out Chili Events and schedule a demo.

About the Author

Amy is an experienced professional writer specializing in blog content related to digital marketing and B2B SaaS. When she isn't writing, she's exploring Colorado's mountains or amusing herself by finding new ways to embarrass her teenage daughters.

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