A step by step guide to convention planning

Convention planning is one of the most complex types of projects that an event organizer may ever have to face. The convention is a heterogeneous category of events and its typology can span from scientific conventions and business conventions all the way to comic book and gaming conventions. But as vast and different as the themes can be, the main elements that have to be set in place when planning a convention are quite the same. We’ve elaborated a step by step guide to walk you through the process so you don’t miss anything along the way.

Convention planning step 1: define the theme

All the other elements in the planning process (venue, duration, speakers, schedule etc.) will depend on the theme of your convention. If we’re talking about a scientific convention, the theme will be centered around a determined subject of research and actuality in the chosen field. If it’s a business convention, it will be focused on a certain area of business and exploring trends in the industry. A fan convention will be centered around a certain type of medium (comic books, anime, computer games).

Space and time coordinates

After having established the theme, the next step is to set the timing and pick a venue. First of all, start planning at least 1 year in advance. Scientific and business conventions are normally held during the week, because being present at the convention can be qualified as “work” both for the speakers and attendees. Also, in this case, consider planning it out of the summer holiday season. On the other hand, fandom conventions would fall under the category of entertainment. Make sure you include a weekend in the schedule. If it has to include weekdays as well, make sure it takes place in the summer, so attendees can plan an entire vacation around the convention. The Comic Con in San Diego, for example takes place in July and lasts from Wednesday to Sunday.

As far as the venue is concerned, convention and conference centers are the most obvious choice. But a large hotel, if it has the appropriate space (and large hotels normally do), would be a choice just as good. For a scientific convention, the local university is an appropriate option as well. When looking for a venue, aside from making sure it meets the space requirements, you need to assess how reachable it is by public transport and what accommodation options are available in the premises.  Visit at least three venues before making a decision.

Elaborating the convention budget

Elaborating the budget is one of the most important steps and should be done as early as possible in the process. Start building it as soon as you know the immutable costs which normally are related to the venue. This way you will know what speakers you can afford to invite, the price of the ticket for attendees, and what amount you will have to obtain from sponsorships. The key elements of a convention budget will be:

  • venue rental fees
  • audiovisual equipment
  • speaker fees, plus the cost of transport and accommodation for them
  • catering
  • marketing costs
  • staffing costs (if you’re planning a fan convention, make sure you budget security personnel costs too)
  • administrative costs

To make sure  you don’t miss even the tiniest expense, use an event budget template, like the one we created (that can be downloaded for free here).

Choosing the speakers

When choosing the speakers for a convention, consider having one or two keynote speakers that are renowned personalities in the field. These names in your convention schedule will attract attendees. And then, have a series of other speakers that you can select by sending out a call for papers. When sending out a call for papers, make sure it arrives to professionals in the field covered by the convention schedule. Use channels like email and social media (particularly LinkedIn and Facebook where you will find professional groups).

Even for a fan convention you’ll still need to have speakers. Depending on the convention theme, your speakers can be actors, animators, game developers, illustrators and even writers.

Marketing the convention

Once you have the venue, dates, schedule and speakers, you can start spreading the news about the convention so you can start getting your first attendees. Doing this as early as possible (at least 6 months in advance) is important for two reasons:

  • attendees can make convenient travel, accommodation and vacation arrangements if they know about the convention early on
  • having a significant number of early registered attendees will increase your rate of success in securing sponsorships

Build an event page on an online event management platform and make tickets available for purchase. Elaborate a price strategy that includes an early bird discount. If you choose Metooo as your event management platform, you can build the event page with the initial details, and then update it as many times as necessary. Make sure to add all speakers on the event page. On Metooo you can do this with a tool within your event page options. If during the convention there are activities (presentations, seminars etc.) that can be sold individually, consider creating the convention as a group of events and include all the individual activities as related events in the group.

To promote the convention, you have several options. For a business or scientific convention, your efforts should start from a mailing list of professionals in the field. If your event is hosted on Metooo, you can create beautiful invitations  and send them individually or to an entire mailing list at once. Do this after you imported the list from Gmail or MailChimp. LinkedIn and professional groups on Facebook will be your next choices. Remember specialized media (magazines, websites, blogs) that are focused on the topic of your convention. For a fan convention, the means of promotion will be the same but social media will have a more significant proportion.

Securing sponsorships

Securing sponsorships is an important element in the planning process for a convention. We’ve placed it after the marketing step because this way, ideally, you’ll already have some initial results in terms of ticket sales and a projection of attendance when approaching potential sponsors. Conventions are events with a very specific, highly targeted public, so this is why the best strategy is to look for sponsors in that particular industry. A medical convention, for example, will be attractive for sponsors from the pharmaceutical field. A digital marketing convention will present interest for digital agencies, and so on.

Apart from the classical benefits that you can offer to sponsors (mentioning them in the marketing materials, naming the event, enabling them to host presentations etc.), you can also think creatively. For example, you can help sponsors get precious information about the audience of the event. If you host your event on Metooo, you can include questions in the ticket order form through the survey feature. Moreover, don’t forget to display all the sponsor information on the event page. Designated fields are at your disposal for sponsors and you can fill them in with text, image, and a link to their website.

Preparing logistics

This is the stage in which you will search for and book the audiovisual equipment, as well as catering. For the audiovisual equipment, consider projectors, LCD screens, microphones and sound systems. Make sure the venue has strong wifi coverage, so you’ll be able to broadcast the event live on various social media platforms.

For catering, consider including enough coffee breaks and providing buffet lunches. If your convention takes place in a hotel, there’s high chance the hotel itself will provide the catering. Otherwise, you’ll have to hire an external catering company. Make the booking based on an estimated quantity related to the number of attendees you’re expecting. Then, closer to the date, adjust the quantity of your final order based on the number of tickets sold. Remember to include a couple of cocktail parties, they will provide networking opportunities for attendees and speakers.

If you’re organizing a fan convention, consider adding a fun dimension with street food stands. Here you can cut costs by having the food suppliers participating in the event as vendors.

Convention planning, final step: during and after the event

If all the above steps were carefully planned, the convention should run smoothly, but it doesn’t mean your mission is over. Before the start of each event day, do thorough checks of all the technical equipment and quantities for food and beverages.

Pay special attention to guest check-in as your objective will be to reduce queues at a minimum. If you hosted the event on Metooo, you can be sure check-in will be speeded considerably, because you can do it through our Event Plan app, by just scanning a QR code on the ticket. Another touch you can add is to print custom badges for each guest. Make sure you have enough staff at the entrance and throughout the venue even after check-in, to assist any latecomers or emergencies.

After the event, gather all photos, videos and testimonials from guests as you will use them to communicate results to stakeholders and to promote future editions. On Metooo, you can do this by allowing guests to post on the event wall through the storytelling feature, this way you will have everything in the same place.

These were our tips for successful convention planning, we hope you’ll use our guide when organizing your next convention and that they will help you tackle this kind of project in a more relaxed way!

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