Conference Programme Template
There is no such thing as the “perfect” conference programme. Every programme should reflect the slight differences in the audience; those delivering the content; the physical space in which the meeting takes place; the budget, and a good few other aspects too! However, there are a few key areas that a modern conference programme should contain. So in this spirit, I have uploaded a link to a conference programme template for a one day conference. I would suggest event planners use this as a “basis” for a conference.
Why this particular programme?
We put this programme together for Practically Perfect PA’s “Assist Conference” in February 2017. So it is a pretty recent programme. Also, the conference sold out with 125 attendees all paying on average £275. So that’s some evidence that a programme structured like this will attract a good number of attendees, all paying for the content.
Conference Programme Template
To make the most of this post I suggest you open up the conference programme as I pick out the key parts.
1. Structured networking
We started the day with some structured networking. I also think that we too often leave networking to the attendees, and offer little support. A modern conference programme should have networking at its core. Starting the day with some supported networking (for those who wish it) is a solid foundation for the day. We offered structured networking during every break in the programme.
2. A solid introductory session
I also include a session like this for various reasons, but I will cover the two most important ones. I think we too often jump into the content, expecting the delegates to be “on the same page” as us. It’s very likely that some of the audience will not be fully aware of the content for the day, the key themes or (for some) the whole point of the conference! So a summary, introductory session is useful.
It is worth noting, this is not an extended “fire alarms and exit” session; that is too traditional for a modern day conference. The second reason is a logistical one. It’s good to have a more informal session where late arriving attendees can join without missing the meat of the content. A session like this is thoroughly recommended!
3. Provide plenty of detail
As you can see from the 0935 and the 1005 session we have provided a lot of detail. Ideally every session should have an introductory paragraph followed by some bullet points. I have also occasionally added a “what attendees will take away” section, however, we didn’t go to that depth at this conference.
4. Add some meeting design
We are a full 90 mins in before we introduced a less traditional format for a session. We had Pecha-Kucha sessions before the first refreshment break. If you want to add some texturisation but your audience isn’t used to non traditional formats, don’t start out too early in the day. I think this time would be about right for most one day conferences.
5. Time to breakout
After our first refreshment break it is time to break up our attendees. Designing the breakouts is definitely an art! But in simple terms, it’s a good idea to offer your attendees choice; not just of content, but of location too. Breaking out again in the afternoon, perhaps after one or two main sessions is likely to be a good idea too.
6. Back together before lunch
I always think it’s a great idea to get everyone back together before lunchtime. This session should also be quite light and one of its key objectives should be to give attendees something to talk to each other about during lunch. For the Assist Conference we had a brilliant session from Rebecca Jones.
7. Refreshments should be time to refresh
It is important to give your attendees some time during the day to actually relax. Most programmes of course have the traditional 3 x refreshment breaks plus lunch, but I wanted to highlight the importance of the “drop in” refreshments. Most modern day programmes should have refreshments available throughout the whole day; not just at the times chosen by the organiser.
8. Slowdown towards the end of the day
If there is one point I’d like to emphasise is that by 3.30 (or around 60mins / 90mins before your conference ends) your attendees will be learning and taking in less and less. Think of them as a cup, and by this time they are ready to overflow. So the remaining sessions should be slightly different from sessions earlier in the day. You should have some texturisation in this lat section of the day in order to aid the attendees to stay sharp. This is where I would also place really good speakers! This is a very different approach from more traditional conferences which tend to speed up at the end of the day!
9. Allow the attendees to shape/ take part in some of the conference content (for more advanced conference programmes)
We offered the opportunity for attendees to share their experiences on the day. This is a small step towards having a larger element of participation by attendees. I would also suggest that a good conference programme template would include a sessions either partly or completely run by attendees.
10. Have a social option after the conference
In this example (unusually for a PA event) the conference did actually end the day at 16:30. There was a particular set of unique circumstances in February and normally the conference would have a social, option of some drinks after the event. I would certainly encourage this as it is a great way to add value to some of the attendees.
Putting programmes together is a skill!
Putting conference programmes together is a definitely a skill. It does take a lot of time and experience to be able to structure learning. However, I hope I have provided some shortcuts to anyone who wants to run a more modern, engaging and ultimately useful conference. If you would like some more support for your next conference than please do get in touch.