How to organise a Conference

My second job which lasted 7 years was as a Conference Organiser. 

Organising a Conference from start to finish takes about 3-4 months. First, you have to come up with an idea. Doesn’t everything start with an idea? Once you have an idea of what you think is current and will bring in the participants (participants translates to profits), you give your idea a title. Then you go out there and speak to your target audience to see what they think of your idea and you build upon it. The target audience is the best person to talk to about your idea.

So, how do you go and see your target audience? Well, you can do so by cold calling (like an annoying telemarketer) or you can see past participants or even potential speakers. Then you ask them what topics or subjects they would like to learn in a Seminar. Well, at first you have to come up with the topic yourself (looking at a competitor’s brochure would be one good way. haha). Then you modify those topics as you see and talk to more people.

I love this part of organising a Conference. Most of the time people will say, “Ok, but I’ve only got 5 minutes” but some end up talking to you for an hour sometimes, complaining about their job grouses. Hahaha. Sometimes they just want to “ponteng kerja” (skip work) for a little while I guess. And talking to a visitor allows you to do that. Lol!. I’ve had many memorable experiences doing research for my Conferences. Some of them include…

  • being scolded or reprimanded by a CEO for being late. Oops!
  • being wolf wistled at by factory staff when visiting Factory Managers or Store Managers
  • stopping to admire the scenery at a luxury condo when visiting a Condominum manager
  • having to don plastic caps, gloves, and plastic over my shoes when visiting an electronics factory
  • being asked to buy an expensive lunch at some exclusive makan place
  • and many more

We saw people in HR, finance, accounts, people who are managing buildings and car parks, merchant bankers and lawyers and CEOs etc. It was really interesting and an eye opener to talk to so many people of so many levels in so many industries.

After, we have completed our research and come up with a final program, we start to invite the Speakers for each topic. Sometimes the speakers are repeat speakers, people we know, sometimes, they’re recommended while we are doing research, sometimes we err… look at competitor’s brochures. Hahaha. Sometimes we invite a Minister to officiate or open the Conference. Sometimes we invite sponsors (Secretaries’ Seminars usually have sponsors). We’d invite as many as possible to make it more exciting and we’d forecast a bigger number of participants so that our staff could get some extra goodies. Hahaha.

After that, we book a hotel and we start writing the copy for the brochure. Then we give our copy to the artist to design a nice looking brochure and proofread or check it many times before we send it to the printers.

We separate the functions in our office. The admin people in the office would deal with the admin part ie sending out the letters to the hotels, sending out the printed brochures and getting the tickets to the participants and handling the participants on Conference Day. It was also their job to update the database of participants. This is very important because you need participants in a business like this.

The Conference Organiser will do the running around and liase with the Speakers for their notes and remind them about the timing etc as well as liase and write out the Minister’s Speech if one is attending.  You have to coordinate with many people, the Speakers, the artists, the printers, the hotel sales staff, the Sponsors, the delegates (although this is more of the administrator’s job).

And basically thats it. Putting together the program takes about a month to complete then you sit back and wait for your participants to register (the more the merrier) and you get busy again about 3 weeks before the Conference Day, reminding your Speakers to submit their notes, the hotel to do the setup that you want them to do, confirming the numbers etc. And then you do a countdown, 3 weeks, 2 weeks, 1 week. All the time running around to make sure that everything will run smoothly on the DAY. We would sometimes organise several Conferences back to back and continue to move on to the next and the next and the next.

One funny thing was, we would sometimes be offered jobs by the Speakers who decide that they want to go into Speaking full time but didn’t have the experience of how to put together a program and getting people to attend it. Sometimes we even got job offers from competitors when we bump into them at a hotel. Haha.

After a while my job was more of managing the other organisers rather than running around. I plan out the training calander for the whole year making sure we had programs nicely spaced out. I dish out the ideas to the Conference Organisers and made sure that they handle as many programs as they can in order to be profitable. I check their copywriting for the brochure and I drop in at the Conferences if they need help, usually they don’t. Its a very fast moving job and very satisfying because you get to see results in a few months when your Conference is running.

Oh Gosh. It was nice to take a trip down memory lane. 🙂 Anyone wants to organise a Conference? You can follow my tips. Hey. Its free. I don’t charge.

In my old office I was in charge of writing out the procedures to achieve our ISO certification. Later on, I did work on a contract basis for a Speaker where I wrote out the entire procedure step by step for him including sample letters etc. Another consultant who was attached with him commented that the procedure was so detailed it looked like an entire Conference Paper or Seminar Package on its own. Later on, I heard from the staff that he had left and he stole those when he left! My own brother borrowed my original copy of my work and never returned them to me. *stomps foot* Now, I don’t have it anymore. Sob. Sob. I wrote every single darned procedure myself together with every sample letter to hotelier, artist, printer, sponsor, etc. To come up with the written procedures, I used what I knew and researched several books too but now they’re gone….. accept whatever little thats left in my head. Sob. Sob.

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6 thoughts on “How to organise a Conference

  1. Heheheh…When I cabuted…I took all my Ori stuff with me. Too much hard work to just give away!!!

    But you sound very organised. Heh heh…

    I’m a very disorganised person FYI, Just ask Mr MG. He’ll certainly vouch for that. Haha.

  2. Hullo, that’s interesting: Why are secretaries’ conferences more likely to snag sponsors compared to other sorts of conferences? Grateful bosses?

    Well, could you imagine giving out a prized hamper, vouchers for hotel stays, facials etc out at a seminar on “Export and Import Procedures, Documentation and Procedures” or “Strategies for Successful Public Listing” for example? Heheh.

  3. Nice post… i have always been curious if all these participants to the conferences can get their company to pay the conference fees. Plus what was the highest profit a conference would make that you know of. How many participants and what was the participation fee then? Maybe a conference for parenting?? now you can speak maybe? 🙂

    Well, sometimes we didn’t pay the Conference Speakers. We merely presented them with a little token of appreciation. So that leaves the hotel charges of less than RM200 for a two day conference costing RM1800 per participant. Go do your figures. Haha. But of course thats looking at it in a very simplified manner. Theres still printing charges and the cost of overheads and staff salaries etc. Regarding a parenting conference, I wouldn’t pay RM2000 to attend a two day conference on Parenting because I feel that Parenting is a very personal thing. What works for one family may not work for another. In fact, I wouldn’t pay even if its conducted by a famed Parenting Guru. Of course you can still get some practical tips but you can get tips from a book or several and they wouldn’t cost so much. So I’m not sure if we can make money from a Parenting Conference with miserly parents like me around. Hahaha.

  4. Wow… amazing.. you really wrote every single details on your work. I wonder which company is that? Is there any vacancy available? haha.. I also work as PCO!!

    Errr…. got some more details I notchet write. Hehehe.

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