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Update an Annual Conference Without Going Over Budget

Organizers of conferences and yearly meetings often say, “Let’s just do what we did last year.” While it is easy to not recreate the wheel every year, new and exciting elements should be added to keep those attendee registrations strong. As planners, it is effortless to use the previous year’s program specs and recreate the annual conference in a new location. Still, a stale conference will eventually stagnate, and attendance will suffer. Third-party meeting planning agencies, like Brightspot, add value not only by managing the entirety of the yearly conference but also by providing new ideas that keep attendees excited to return! Of course, the first thing a client might ask when starting this conversation is, “how much is this going to cost us?” While some of the creative suggestions may add a few line items, thinking outside the box can net you a completely overhauled conference at little additional cost.

1. Maintain an Annual Conference Budget with Breakouts

The easiest way to incorporate a new element into an event without increasing the budget is adding in specialized or invite-only sessions to the schedule. For example, a two-hour networking reception may already be included in the budget. Instead of two full hours for all attendees, split the time and budget, and make the first 30 minutes a “Young Professionals Happy Hour.” This could be especially helpful for user conferences that are needing new people to join Leadership Teams or take more interest in their association. Breakout sessions are another great way to create specialized face-to-face opportunities. Invite only breakouts, for top executives or special interest groups, provide a unique opportunity for select attendees to meet, discuss specific topics, or create new strategic initiatives.

2. Incorporate the Power of Choice Into Scheduling

While reviewing the annual conference schedule, why not update the ordinary meeting break as well? Everyone loves a good coffee break, but there are many ways to reuse this downtime. During user conferences, business is still happening, and attendees often need time to check email and take calls. Incorporate one longer break to allow attendees to get their necessary work done. Longer breaks could cut down on the number of times attendees leave a general session or breakout to take care of business. Wellness has been a hot topic in the meeting industry for the last few years. This can be incorporated into an event schedule with a ‘make your own smoothie’ bar during a break. The addition of a guided walk in the afternoon so attendees can take in some fresh air and stretch their legs is another great way to incorporate this trend. Both are inexpensive options that add a new experience for attendees to enjoy.

3. Get Creative with Food & Beverage Options

Another area that should be refreshed every year is the event food and beverage. The F&B budget line is more than likely already in place, and menus can often be changed without having to increase expenses. When looking for creative or budget-friendly options for the event, get in touch with the chef at your property. Menu options can easily be selected from the provided banquet menus, but there is never any harm in asking for something different. Most chefs on property love to talk about their creations and are usually willing to make modifications. Be upfront and honest regarding the budget amount and ask the chef what they would recommend that would fit into the overall budget. Since most events take place in different locations every year, always investigate the local cuisine and look for ways to bring the area’s local flavors into the event. If the event is taking place at the same property, ask what is new, and use creativity to incorporate changes.  

4. Explore the Space and Use it to Your Advantage

Utilization of different space layouts is another new way to refresh a yearly conference but can sometimes require more budget. Most conferences use one ballroom for a general session and different breakout rooms that can often spread across a hotel or convention center. If a large enough ballroom can be secured, it can be utilized for more than just a general session. One larger space can keep attendees together and not spread out attendees throughout the hotel. One corner can be used for the general session. Another corner can be used to create smaller fire-side chats by incorporating soft-seating or breakout meetings that can be held in another corner by adding a small stage and additional seating. Creatively using the space available in a new way is a great way to encourage networking and community.

5. Evolve the Network Lounge into a Social Center

Most large conferences and events have been incorporating networking lounges for quite a while now. Refresh that idea and brand the networking lounge as a Social Center. Social media and conferences should be working hand in hand. Gone are the days of simply generating a conference hashtag and expecting attendee engagement from it. Creating a space for attendees to interact with social media will promote that engagement. It can be as simple as a branded backdrop for attendees to post to their accounts or something more complex, such as a social vending machine. Social vending machines (like vendx) provide gifts or promotional items to attendees for every social media interaction.

6. Ask an Industry Influencer to Be Your Keynote Speaker

One of the more expensive ways to add new excitement to a conference is hiring a keynote speaker or conference host. Keynote speakers add instant buzz to an event and can increase attendance when promoted early in the registration process. If the budget doesn’t allow for the addition of a well-known speaker, asking a top influencer within the industry to speak can provide the same interest. There are many speaker bureaus to partner with when looking to hire a keynote speaker. Utilizing a speaker bureau will help match the right type of speaker to the event and help keep it within the given budget.  

Keeping an event fresh is often key in encouraging attendance and driving results. Budget is often the most important factor looked at when planning a meeting or conference. Sometimes it will not allow the addition of more than one or two creative new ideas. However, one or two new elements can be enough to set the event apart from what was done the previous year and generate excitement from attendees. Brightspot helps incorporate fresh ideas, while also ensuring the budget is managed properly every step of the way. Drop us a line to ask what we can do for your annual conference and head over to our meetings page to see what we do differently to make your event the bright spot of your organization!

Karolyn Hemmig

Author Karolyn Hemmig

Program Manager | Expertise in website creation, registration management and building lasting client relationships.

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