Mr. Smith

Group Meetings

The Best Tools for Planning a Successful Conference

By Sam Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Network Events, Inc.

Planning a trade show or conference is no easy feat, but planning a successful conference is far more difficult. The weeks and months leading up to the event can demand a lot of long hours and stress and any event planner will quickly become intimately familiar with Murphy's Law. With this in mind, there are a lot of tools available that will make planning these events far less stressful. On top of that, there are apps, software, and digital tools that can actually make the event itself go much more smoothly. If you have never planned a conference before, we have compiled a list of some essential resources, best practices, and apps that will help you plan a successful trade show.

Start with a Glossary of Exhibitor Trade Show Terms

First things first, you need to become fluent in the event industry's lingo. Exhibitor trade shows and conferences can be quite complex places, and with terms floating around such as "pop-up display," "promotional partnership," and "modular exhibitor booth," it can be confusing to figure out exactly what is going on. Do both yourself and your team a favor by compiling a beginner's glossary of common terms in case any questions pop up. Understanding how to speak the language will be essential when you start dealing with potential vendors, sponsors, and exhibitors.

A Game Plan

Before you even start to think about advertising your show, you need to come up with a basic game plan. One of the simplest ways to do this is by answering the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of your upcoming event. For example, think of it this way:

Who - are you marketing to? Who do you want to attend your event?

What - is your trade show all about? What kind of guest speakers and exhibitor booths do you envision for your event?

When - is the best time to host this event? Is there anything else going on in your specific industry or city that would conflict with your preferred dates? When would be a better time to have the show?

Where - will your event be held? Where will you be marketing?

Why - are you putting this event on? Why would visitors want to attend?

Answering these basic questions will give you a better perspective when planning your show and you will be able to start planning with a clear mind and a clear goal.

An Event Planner

Based on your budget, you may need to hire a professional event planner to help organize and coordinate the event. However, if the event planning has fallen to you, then consider purchasing and downloading event planning software. In recent years, conference management software has become a must-have resource for many professional event planners. In fact, today 85% of event planners are using apps to organize and run their events.

Think of online management software as your virtual assistant. Some benefits of working with online event planning software include:

  • You are able to set due dates for when tasks are meant to be completed. This helps your entire team keep track of important deadlines.
  • The system can be designed to automatically remind speakers, exhibitors, and attendees of deadlines and other crucial information.
  • The flexibility to make changes during the event itself, such as updating floor plans in real time or substituting items in the itinerary.
  • The system will be automatically available to everyone on your team. This means that every employee can work on their tasks remotely without the need for endless and confusing email chains.
  • Advanced scheduling software eliminates the headache of planning guest speaker presentations and other events.

The exact type of event planning software you choose should depend on the type of event you are running, but trying to plan an event with paper alone just is not practical in 2017. Fortunately, there really is an app for everything, from seating chart software to event apps that create custom apps for events (and many, many more).

Online Application and Registration System

If you need to gather applications from potential exhibitors or sponsors, then this technology makes it easy to stay organized. When planning exhibitor trades shows, you will need some way for exhibitors to apply to participate in your event. You can easily set up an online questionnaire that all applicants must complete, which will make it easier to filter out serious inquiries from spam.

Remember, the best application systems will also allow attendees to make payments as well. If exhibitors need to pay to participate, this will ensure the payment process goes as smoothly and securely as possible Once everything has been submitted safely online, your clients will be accepted into the show. Doing things this way ensures nothing is forgotten or lost in the weeks leading up to the event, which is often a busy and stressful time for planners.

Technology for the Event Itself

Earlier we mentioned that there are event apps that allow event planners to create custom event apps. While that sentence may sound confusing to the digital novice, custom apps can make day-of event planning so much simpler for both planners and guests alike. These apps don't just start running the first day of the event. Much like event planning software, you can use your custom app to connect with attendees, coordinate with exhibitors, and schedule special events like guests speakers with the push of a button. In addition, you will ensure that every guest has crucial information like maps and event schedules in the palm of their hands. Of course, this does require some setup beforehand, but many event apps are made with beginners in mind.

As of 2015, 86% of exhibitor trade show organizers made apps available to attendees. When polled, these event professionals agreed that there are five major advantages of utilizing apps during their events:

  1. Boosts attendee convenience
  2. Improves attendee engagement with exhibitors and other guests
  3. Saves printing costs, making the entire event more affordable
  4. Helps the organizers gather data and measure their return on investment
  5. Enhances sponsorship opportunities.

Remember: 92% of those between 18 and 34 own a smartphone, and 99% utilize their mobile devices to access the Internet regularly. Not only will a custom event app make it easier to organize the event, but offering an app to your guests will leave a lasting impression on attendees.

A Full Appointment Book

When planning your event, it is crucial that you plan exactly what you will be doing as the organizer of the event on the day of the conference. It can be easy to get caught up in planning but forget the actual show itself -- so as a way to make sure your time is utilized properly on the big day -- look right to your appointment book. Whether you use a digital calendar system or an old fashioned paper appointment book, this little tool can be a lifesaver.

It is not uncommon for attendees, exhibitors, and guest speakers to want to make an appointment and chat, but with so many things going on, there may not be enough time. But, if you plan ahead, you will be able to talk to everyone and anyone who comes your way. Make sure to really put some time and consideration into planning your appointments in the days before and during the event. You never know what sponsorship connections, business deals, and even friendships can form from a simple 15-minute meeting.

A Plan for Following Up

Remember, as we mentioned before, a conference or trade show is not over when everyone leaves. In order to ensure your attendees have the best possible experience, consider making a plan to follow up to solidify the connections formed. This is especially important if you plan on making your event an annual affair.

Make sure to always respond in a timely manner after the event. If you swapped numbers or business cards with a particular vendor, give the other person a call within the week of the event. You can also send out a brief blurb or thanks via your mobile app, update on your website, or even send out a promotional gift of thanks to all of your exhibitors. Simply doing something small like this is a great way to have your attendees, vendors, and exhibitors feel appreciated.

Considering that you will meet so many people the day of the event, make yourself reminders to follow up. Always make sure to ask for someone's business card or contact information, and write down the time you met them. Match this up with your appointment book afterwards, and you won't forget what you talked about.

As you can see, planning a successful conference doesn't end the morning of the event, as a quality show requires thorough planning before, during, and after. If you are planning on planning an exhibitor trade show or conference in the future, make sure to invest in these tools as soon as possible.

Sam Smith is a graduate of James Madison University, where he received a BA in communications with a concentration in radio, television and film. Mr. Smith has been a sales executive in the exposition industry since 1982. He is the co-founder, President, and CEO of Network Events, a health and wellness event development, marketing, sales, and management firm. He is responsible for developing and overseeing event partnerships with television stations and professional sports teams in markets throughout the United States. Prior to co-founding Network Events, Mr. Smith was Vice President and Operating Officer for PGI Expositions. He is a dynamic presenter and is a highly rated speaker at major industry events. Mr. Smith can be contacted at 703-378-5315 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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