How to Put Together a Speakers Conference

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The job of a meeting planner can be daunting given the number of details involved with planning and staging a speakers conference, but if you enjoy the challenge of multitasking and are known for being a master at juggling details, you'll be well prepared for the job.

Begin planning your speakers conference at least a year in advance—longer if the folks you intend to feature as guest speakers are high-profile men and women whose calendars fill years in advance. Create a master check list that details every task that must be accomplished to bring speakers to the conference and the supplies, equipment and provisions that must be obtained to stage the event.

Book a conference venue in an easy-to-reach location that’s conveniently located near airports, public transportation, hotels, restaurants and other amenities as staffers at these venues are trained to handle conference crowds 24/7. Ask your attorney to draft a standard speaking contract so you have a legally binding agreement with each speaker to show up and participate in the event.

Work on your conference agenda so speakers are scheduled purposefully. Assign the most dynamic speakers to handle the keynote and final slots so attendees are excited by the remarks of the first and inspired by the words of the last one. Apprise speakers of your time limits and impress upon them the importance of leaving time to field questions.

Order supplies, registration tables, arrange for equipment rentals, signage, badges and a credit card/cash receipt system for those who haven’t purchased advance tickets. Send a confirming schedule to conference speakers several months in advance of the date to allow participants plenty of time to make transportation plans. Verify your organization’s responsibilities, e.g., airfare reimbursements, prebooked lodgings or per-diem spending limits, and make sure speakers receive a list of social events to which they're invited as part of their visit.

Conceive a backup plan covering catastrophic possibilities: the death or injury of a speaker or a last-minute venue change. Assign volunteers to act as each speaker’s host and reserve limousine or taxi services to drive speakers around if transportation isn’t among the host’s responsibilities. Complete last-minute tasks like ordering snacks and cases of water for speakers.

Muster your stamina for the last preconference days--if audio visual aids are going to go missing, hotel room mix-ups are to occur and planes are delayed, this tends to be the time at which things get out of control. Keep your wits about you and rely upon your master checklist. Once you’ve written postconference thank-you notes to speakers, do yourself a favor and take a vacation. You've earned it.