How We Planned a 3-Day Conference in 3 Weeks (and Still Managed to Have Fun)

Fresh off a vacation, I reported to work the week of March 19th ready to settle in and prep for 3 major conferences in May. I had my checklists prepared, the copy for collateral written and thought I had predicted anything that could stand in my way of an amazing spring event season.

 

And then our leadership decided to hold a three-day, 100-person offsite in Memphis, Tennessee starting April 17th.

 

The vision for our Kickoff was grand: 2 and a half days of keynotes, breakouts, a facility tour, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, icebreakers, and happy hours for 100 Mimiacs to get ready for our new fiscal year. My fellow event planners may know the same cocktail of panic and excitement I tasted as I joined the daily stand-up for the first time. My eyes kept returning to my calendar, notching out no more than 17 business days available to bring this event to life.

 

I just couldn’t help wondering if we would get everything – venue, AV, catering, presentations, printed materials, giveaways, and all the other tiny details that crop up – organized in time.

 

In the end, the Kickoff not only got done, but it went off with hardly any bumps during execution. So I thought I’d share what we did to plan a 3-day conference in 3 weeks:

Conference Mimeo Sales Kickoff Planning

 

Spread the Love (and Work)

The Kickoff was only possible because it was truly a team effort. Our project team–headquartered in NYC–included a hands-on executive-team sponsor, our VP of marketing and director of training to advise on content, our office managers, and me. As the three weeks passed, we also brought on counterparts from our Memphis office to spearhead all transportation.

Conference Planning Mimeo Event

Leading up to April 17th, we had over 175 individual “to-do” items. The only way we were able to mark them all “done” was by dividing and conquering.

 

Once we got to the venue, spreading the work also made it easier to execute. While I oversaw most of the logistics, I knew the content team was overseeing the dry run, and when I was at the AV booth helping prep speakers for microphones, I knew my awesome counterparts were setting up lunch.

 

It’s amazing what Mimiacs can do when we put our collective minds to a task!

 

 

 

Schedule a Regular Meeting (and Keep To It)

Conference Schedule Regular Meeting Planning Event

Our core project team blocked out 50 minutes every morning for the 17 business days before the event, and even our Senior Vice President of Corporate Services committed to making it each day (one day, he stayed on while boarding a flight).

 

This was crucial to staying on top of those 175 “to-dos”. We follow the L-10 meeting style, so we began each meeting discussing any “issues” that had arisen, and then did a quick check of to-dos with upcoming due dates to make sure there were no obstacles to achieving them.

 

Stick to One Workflow Practice

Conference Event Stick to One Workflow Mimeo

At Mimeo, we use Trello as our workflow management system. No matter how you keep track of your progress – even if it’s just in a Word document – the important thing is that everyone on the project team uses the same system.

 

Your workflow practice is your one source of truth where anyone on the team can get an update on that to-do item, or grab the contact info for the venue, so keep it clean, keep it updated, and make sure all important information is stored there.

 

It is worth taking 10 minutes at the beginning of the project to familiarize everyone with how to use your system, and don’t be afraid to be the person that says that Trello card should stay in the to-do column for now.

 

Keep Track of the Tiniest Details

The tiny details are what make an event stand out. Of course, you need to make sure everyone shows up where they need to be and when, but if you forget to put out granola bars at 3 pm, you’ll likely hear about the lack of food rather than how great your keynote speaker is.

 

I usually keep a comprehensive packing list with every item ordered, what its packaging looks like (if I packed it), tracking number, where it is being delivered, where it needs to be delivered to, and any other notes so I can easily remind myself of those details when on-site.

 

For conferences where every minute matters, I also use a run-of-show to schedule out who needs to be where. This gets as granular as the minute when I need someone to switch out chairs on the stage or the 5-minute-warning we need to give the MC before he gets back on stage. Not only is this an essential reference during the event, walking through it with the team ahead of time also makes sure we are all on the same page, and usually prompts us to remember a tiny detail we haven’t thought about.

Conference Sales Kickoff Mimeo Planning

 

Plan for Things to Go Wrong

Conference Plan for Things to Go Wrong Mimeo EventsAny and every live event is going to have a few small hitches. As much as you can double-check you have packed everything you need, Murphy’s Law says you are going to forget to pack the scissors to open your shipped boxes.

 

I have two strategies for planning for things to go wrong:

 

  1. For at-risk situations, brainstorm a backup plan before anything goes wrong. For example, we weren’t sure what the sound quality would be in the venue, so our awesome rep at Memphis Communications Corporation worked with me to bring a variety of microphones so we could switch if the lavalier microphone was more problematic than the handheld.
  2. Find partners who can provide last-minute services. Despite double-checking my list, I forgot to order a table tent for one of our teams, which meant they would be the only team of 10 not to have a personalized label. Using Mimeo’s on-
    demand print
    , I was able to order the new table tent that night and picked it up the next morning before our 8:30 am start time.

    1. While I did have exclusive employee access to pick up from the facility, if you place a standard document by 10 pm ET, we can deliver by 8:00 am to the east coast.
    2. (Disclaimer: I relied on Mimeo as a strategic print partner even before I worked here! At my previous job, the notorious Anthony Scaramucci canceled his keynote just two business days before the conference, so I used Mimeo to overnight our conference workbooks once we found a replacement speaker.)

 

No matter what, something will go wrong. The more you have planned for it, the better you can react so that it doesn’t derail your event.

 

Planning our 3-day Kickoff in 3 weeks was exhausting, intense, and rewarding. Because we had an amazing core project team, strong communication, and strategic partners, we were able to execute an event that brought the company together and set us on an invigorating course for the new fiscal year.

 

Plus, we got to try some awesome crawfish.

Conference Mimeo Sales Kickoff Crawfish

 

Interested in joining the Mimeo team? Check out our current openings!

 

 

Katie Flanagan is Marketing and Events Specialist with Mimeo. When she’s not hosting our monthly webinars or playing Plinko at ATD, you can find her reading, writing, or eating chocolate in Queens.


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