You’ve gone through the request for proposal process, won it (congratulations), and inherited the conference management team. It’s probably made up of the conference chair and organizing committee from the organization – or organizations — that hired you. You’re stuck with this team for better or worse, but the event day team is yours to build from the ground up. You get to recruit and train the event novices and conference pros that will make the big day a success – or not.
Building the A-Team
The event day team are the doers and the labourers of the event. They help with set up and tear down, are room monitors and manage the registration desk — the demanding, short-term assignments with big bursts of activity and plenty of stress. But you’ll be ahead of the game and cultivate trust among team members if you have systems in place to ensure smooth transitions between shifts.
Learn to lean on the organizational staff who are already invested in what you’re doing. The organizing team should be able to point you towards willing, capable and excited individuals who are already on board and can provide unique insights into event guests. And don’t overlook local universities or colleges, either. There are often students in industry-related programs who can’t afford to register for the event but would love to attend and make connections that will support their future careers (the lure of free food helps, too). It’s a budget friendly way to staff up. Identify the right schools in the area, get in touch with their communications teams and ask them to put the word out about volunteering at your conference (and make sure they mention the food).
I also rely on an arsenal of consultants that I can contract on the day-of if registration desk staff or volunteer monitors don’t show up. Once you establish these contacts and pay them fairly, they’ll come back year after year.
Clarity is key
It’s important to have specific job descriptions, detailed schedules and housekeeping rules for your team. They need to know where to park, where to keep their personal items and what to bring. Take the team on a venue tour and hold an orientation meeting, which I often combine with a mundane activity like stuffing swag bags. We always have lots of laughs and you’ll find that many students are repeat volunteers, turning the orientation event into a reunion. Make sure you reward your crew with lunch afterwards, or bring in pizza and wine.
Thoughtful planning has its rewards
Creating good experiences for both event participants and my student volunteers maintains my distinct advantage of being approached by students looking to intern with me. They seek me out because I focus entirely on the conference industry, and if they’re a good fit and the timing is right, I have them assist with a conference. They get exceptional hands-on experience and knowledge of the systems I use to execute an event that’s efficient, professional and detailed to perfection. In exchange, I get motivated unpaid staff. They might even get a paid position later on. It’s win-win.
Many hands make great work
A highly effective team includes efficiency of action, understanding and accountability. To get there, you need to facilitate a collaborative energy, a positive culture and a commitment to results. The success of the event depends on the success of your team, so you need to ensure that your crew is willing to put aside individual egos and personal agendas to make your event a rousing success.
Here’s my biggest tip, though: Make sure you and your team have fun together! Don’t lose sight of the one-of-a-kind live experience you’re creating that people are attending to enjoy, learn, conduct business and network. This is your life – you want to enjoy it! When you’re done, thank your team and get their feedback. You’ll know that you’ve done a good job when the same people come back year after year.