There are a lot of details to nail down when you are organizing an event or conference. What structure do you use, how do you handle a networking event, how long should speakers be on for, and how many intervals should you include?
These are all excellent questions that deserve an answer, and while there is no single ideal way to run an event, you can use scheduling best practices to ensure your guests get what they need out of their attendance.
This article goes over the core concepts you will need to focus on when using your event schedule builder for your next conference.
What You Will Need to Schedule
You will come across many industry-specific terminologies when using an event schedule builder. Here are some of the most important terms you should be familiar with.
Event organizers may allow their sponsors to host supplementary events. You will also see them listed as advisory board meetings, focus groups, social events, or press events.
A breakout session is the “mini-me” of meetings. They usually happen in a smaller room than the main event. Attendees get the option of going to one of many breakout sessions happening simultaneously.
A conference is a meeting that delivers focused, relevant content to a highly targeted audience. They can be held over a single day or over several days. You will also see them referred to as symposiums, user conferences, or internal conferences.
The keynote address is the most important moneymaker of the event. Consider these to be the headliner that attracts the crowd. Because they are your most essential speakers, they are usually in high demand, so you need to be flexible with their schedule to ensure they can be booked.
Larger conferences can have many breakout sessions, which are usually separated into different themes called tracks. Tracks make it more straightforward for your guests to find breakout sessions that are of more relevance or interest to them.
A trade show is organized around a specific industry, such as a woodworking event, where industry professionals and suppliers interact with participants and display their goods and services.
Sessions, Activities, and Entertainment
Before you start filling out your event schedule builder, create a comprehensive list that includes everything you plan to have at the event. Doing this will help you accurately plan and organize everything that needs to happen and when.
Things to add to your list include:
- Keynote speakers
- sponsor ancillary events
- entertainment sessions
- Breakout events
While your list is getting filled out, keep in mind how long each item will require. You will eventually need to consult with your vendors and speakers as your schedule gets more detailed.
Don’t forget to include some free time between sessions. Many of your visitors will be there to network with their peers, which can’t happen if they are shuffled from one event to the next without a break. Sponsors will benefit from the foot traffic as they will get to engage with attendees who have some free time before their next meeting.
Events will fall into a specific category determined by their duration, including:
Single Day, One Track
Excellent for a focused agenda and a targeted audience
Single Day, Multiple Tracks
Good for when you have multiple themes to cover or more content than you can present in a single day.
Multiple Days, One Track
Great when you need to cover a lot of content over various agendas that you can’t fit into a single day. They are also suited to ensuring that every attendee can get to every session.
Multiple Days, Multiple Tracks
Large conferences or events with more than a single keynote speaker and lots of content covering numerous agendas. The only way to deliver so much content is to host the event over several days.
When you understand which format your event fits into, you will make more efficient use of your event schedule builder.
When you know how long your event will need to be to deliver all the content you have planned, it’s time to focus on the planning process.
One Day Event
A one-day event can be viewed as a regular working day. For example, start the event at the traditional workday starting times, which could be 8 or 9 a.m. depending on your demographic. This will seem logical and doable for your attendees.
Try to keep sessions to no longer than 90-minutes each, with breaks that coincide with traditional meal room breaks at the office.
Vary your speakers and event formats throughout each ninety-minute block, with each session lasting 30 to 45-minutes. Doing it this way should keep things fresh and interesting.
Break times should be long enough for your guests to have a bathroom break and eat a meal, and allow enough time to mingle. Consider slotting in an interactive session after the lunch break to re-engage with sluggish minds.
You use your event schedule builder to plan each day of a multi-day event much as you would a single-day event.
If you know some of your attendees will have trouble getting to see a keynote speaker on time, you can schedule your start 10 to 15 minutes before they are set to appear. This should be enough time for most stragglers to arrive without interrupting the presentation, while the earlier arrivals can mingle and enjoy a tea or coffee.
Most attendees will be experiencing information overload by the last day of the conference and will appreciate an earlier finishing time. This way, they can get back home earlier and enjoy a brief respite before returning to work the next day.
Organize Your Content
While developing your list of sessions, entertainment, catering, and activities, you will need to start creating structure.
Time chunking is blocking out chunks of time in your event schedule builder for each activity at your event. It’s a very effective strategy that can be approached a few different ways, including:
- 60-minute sessions with a 15-minute intermission
- 45-minute sessions with a 15-minute intermission
- 30-minute sessions with a 10-minute intermission
One of the most popular time chunking strategies uses the 45 / 15 ratio because it’s a neat block of 60-minutes that is relatively easy to manage. However, the time chunking method you use will depend a lot on your audience, your speakers, the types of activities, and the content you have planned.
There’s no reason you have to stick to one format for the entire event duration, as it might be beneficial to mix it up over a multi-day event.
Prioritize Your Non-Negotiables
One of your first considerations for a schedule should be your primary keynote speaker. Your main guest speaker is likely your biggest drawcard for the event. It’s these people your guests will be the most interested in seeing, so you may need to bend over backward to accommodate their schedule and ensure you can get them on stage.
Keynote speakers are busy people, so you will need to weave your itinerary around their schedules. Their window for appearing on stage is likely very small before they need to be off to their next engagement. If they have to be on a flight at 5 p.m, you need to make sure they are off your stage and on the way to the airport at 3 p.m.
Other compromises you might need to make are meal times. Keynote speakers may have strict schedules and could even stipulate a specific time for breakfast and lunch.
When dealing with the main presenter for your conference, you often don’t have much flexibility in when they can appear, so always plan to plan around them.
The next stage of your event schedule will work around your vendors’ timeline. Event suppliers help you create a more engaging and memorable event, which means they need to have a good idea of what’s happening and when.
When you work closely with your vendors, working them into your schedule won’t be as difficult as it seems. They will have an excellent idea of how long everything takes and will be more than happy to fill you in with the details.
Schedule a meeting with each of your vendors to discuss your timeline, and find out how much time they will need for the parts of the event they will be involved with.
For example, when you are hosting an event at a physical location, you should ask your caterer how long it will take to prepare and serve a three-course meal for however many guests you plan on having.
You will need an AV team for both physical and hybrid events, so you should use your event schedule builder to block in the time they need for running wires, setting up cameras, and configuring audio equipment. They may also need some time for testing to ensure everything will go smoothly.
A hybrid event will need technicians to set up streaming and recording software. It’s a highly technical process, so ensure you leave enough time for them to set up and test their equipment and do a dry run to work out the kinks.
Keep in mind that event timelines can significantly affect costs. For example, if one of your vendors needs access to the event venue a day before the event to set up, you may need to book it for an extra day, which will impact your budget.
Create a Schedule That Makes Sense for Attendees
It’s always tempting to try and cram as many activities into your event as possible, so attendees have a plethora of choices. Sometimes, having fewer events creates a higher caliber event overall.
Once you have your schedule mapped out in your event schedule builder, walk away from it for a day or two. When you next revisit the plan, it will be with fresh eyes. Areas where you could make improvements are more likely to jump out at you.
You could also share the schedule with someone else not involved with event management to get their objective, unbiased opinion.
Consider the following when blocking out your times:
- Do your guests have enough time to relax between events?
- Do attendees have enough time to travel from one event to another?
- Have you created any overlaps?
- Are there simultaneous events where attendees would like to attend both?
There are likely to be many more considerations when creating a suitable schedule for your attendees, but the important takeaway is to always keep their wants and needs in mind while using the event schedule builder.
Presenting Your Schedule
Consider how your schedule will be shared as you fill it out. Will you host it on your website, a mobile app, or will you make downloadable printouts available? How you want your attendees to access your schedule will determine how it will look across the various mediums.