As you know from my last article, I am obsessed with TED Talks. I love the idea of bringing people together to share ideas and cover new ones within twenty minutes or less. I think a gathering of people with similar interests is exciting. So, this time, I want to share with you how I planned my conference and give you a few helpful tips on planning your own.
Last year, I attended another student organized conference at a nearby high school. The organizers invited many outreach professionals from local non-profits and international non-government organizations (NGOs) to share with the students how they could tackle global problems. The most captivating component was a keynote speech by a filmmaker on technology for mothers in maternity in developing nations. However, I was slightly disappointed because I didn’t hear speakers dig into the meat of these global challenges, such as human rights and poverty.
Long story short, I got in touch with the organizers of this conference to get a sense of where to start, gathered my own group of friends, and started planning my own Smart Solutions Summit for the next year. For eight months, we formed an organization and a partnership, contacted speakers and professionals, had fundraisers, and advertised–all necessary parts of planning a conference.
So how do you get started?
Making a Plan
First the basics. Ask yourself why you want to host a conference in the first place and what kind of goals you want to accomplish. Envision your conference. Get together with your planning group to write down the target audience, their ages and interests, and the target size of the conference. What do you want the participants to do? What outcomes do you wish the conference would generate? Once you’ve brainstormed and researched a little, compile the information into a project proposal. This document, at least for us, was very important when it came time to get support, sponsors, and donors. The project proposal should contain your mission or goal, the W’s (who, what, when, where, why), a timeline of planning milestones, potential speakers and people to be involved, tasks and personnel information, a schedule, a budget, and contact information.
Enacting the Plan
Next, dive right in and start working. First you want to make sure that everyone else shares the same vision as you and that everyone is committed. These two factors will eliminate much stress in the upcoming months, but problems that arise are, to differing degrees, unavoidable.
Next, have a regularly updated checklist. You want to make sure you are meeting your internally set deadlines so that the project is on track. A nice tip is to schedule your planning deadlines earlier than the actual deadline to allow for plenty of flexibility.
Finding a Venue and Raising Money
For me and probably most of you high school students, the hardest part may be getting funding and getting a venue. Our school has a terrible auditorium and reception area, and, of course, who wants to spend a weekend back at school? So, we talked to different local venues. Depending on your conference purpose, you may want to speak to local performance centers, local universities, or community centers. On funding, many of the smaller businesses will tend to be more generous and less bureaucratic with their donations. In addition, try to appear as professional as you can. Be organized so that the adults actually believe that your project can succeed. This could be your first sales pitch, so don’t be embarrassed or intimidated and just go for it!
Part of the challenge of planning for a large scale conference is your ability to juggle and manage all the different aspects of project planning. You’ll learn eventually and become well versed in publicity, management, logistics, etc. Build an organizational structure for your planning committee and delegate tasks. A strong support system of different committees and different levels or chains of commands will be key to a successful conference.
So, with that, I’ll leave you to start the next big thing! One last piece of advice: having a mentor in this process is invaluable. The internet will give you lots of guides and additional tips on conference planning, however, you will have to adapt them for high schools and student use. Talk to your teachers and local business leaders. If you look, help is always around.