Hosting a business conference is an invaluable opportunity for networking and establishing brand authority in your niche.
Planning a business conference is always challenging – but especially so in 2021.
For one thing, COVID-19 is still raging, with new variants added to the mix. Restrictions abound – and it is uncertain when they will be lifted.
For another, countless events postponed in 2020 are now crowding the 2021 calendar,
To stand out, here are the most important steps to planning a successful business conference in 2021.
1. Decide on the format: In-person, outdoors, or online?
First, decide how you want to hold your conference – whether it will be a fully virtual, in-person, or a hybrid of both.
That choice largely depends on your selected date. Most projections see Q1 and Q2 still defined by pandemic restrictions. Smaller in-person events may become possible as spring advances, but it’s safest to plan for online events during this period.
By summer, infection numbers will likely drop, as people spend more time outside and get vaccinated. During this time, you can plan for outdoors events – your industry allowing – or hybrid formats, in which speakers and some attendees are present in person, and the event is streamed for a larger audience.
According to current estimates, herd immunity could be established by autumn. BioNTech’s CEO confidently expects a return to normal life next winter. This means that you can plan for in-person, indoor events with reasonable certainty by Q4.
2. Book the technical setup early
Currently, classical event tech – from audiovisual equipment for on-tour events to buffet catering – are not in high demand. They will be later in the year, though.
With countless events postponed in 2020 and the first half of 2021, Q3 and Q4 of this year will be crowded. This means you need to make bookings well in advance, and conscientiously specify details.
This goes double for a hybrid event: You will need both the virtual tech and the on-venue components, though at a smaller scale.
It is better to book months ahead and keep a cancellation option or back-up plan, rather than to scramble for equipment at the last minute.
3. Reach out to key speakers
Reaching out to speakers is not substantially different in 2021 than in other years. To find suitable candidates, you can scour your network, LinkedIn, records of past events, as well as recommendations from professional associations.
However, you have to be up-front with speakers about the modalities – and the likelihood of changes in date or format, as well as cancellations.
For in-person events later this year, reach out to speakers early. They are likely to face a flood of requests for this period.
For online events, a shortage of potential speakers is unlikely. Here, though, you have to pay extra attention to the quality of the content. Unlike at a physical presentation, it’s much easier for audience members to leave if the speaker fails to hold their attention.
Also consider backup speakers, especially for in-person or hybrid events. Beside the risk of illness, travel restrictions might come into effect last-minute, making key speakers unable to attend.
4. Lay out a marketing strategy to rise above the noise
Finally, it’s crucial to promote your conference well. There is currently a profusion of online events. Later in the year, the density of catch-up events will be stifling.
To stand out, you need to develop a thorough event marketing strategy.
This involves a clear target audience, social media and email marketing, as well as building a landing page, and running paid ads. It’s essential to provide your potential audience with in-depth information on content and speakers, as well as a clearly outlined schedule.
At the end of the day, COVID-19 makes complicates a business conference in 2021 on multiple levels. But by circumspectly choosing the right format, organizing equipment and speakers well in advance, and marketing strategically your conference can still become a roaring success.