Conferences are a great career choice
Compared to the ‘sexy’ nature of music, festival and party event management, the role of conference producer may seem to reflect a less exciting, more corporate side of events. However, for those who are meticulous and can offer precision in practice, can excel in engagement and secure success in delivering outcomes, conference production can be a role with plenty of potential for adding excitement to corporate conferences and your event management career!
Who might you work for?
A conference producer could be hired on a freelance basis, or may be employed directly by a corporation, private company or by a public sector service, such as the NHS, local education authority or even national charities. Basically, any company or sector which needs to share information, strategies and sector-related practice developments with a set of clients, service users, professional colleagues and investors or trustees, will want to run conferences.
Conference producer salaries start at around £18k, which can quickly increase upwards of £25,000 to £35,000, depending on the sector. Individual conference producers establising a successful record in delivering engagement and outcomes can certainly expect to gain higher salaries and bonuses within the commercial sector.
So what does the role of conference producer involve?
Just like all event management roles, event day (in this case conference day) is a small part of a large process! Conferences often involve offering and sharing intellectual content, communicating information and practice in ways which engage delegates, whilst also focusing on outcomes for all of those involved: those delegates attending want to come away feeling their expectations have been exceeded, that they’ve received considerable value for their time and money – and so will those whose brand is behind the conference!
As such, being a conference producer particularly involves a high level of work behind the scenes and significantly ahead of the event itself. It might help to consider this as an overall process, which generally involves five key phases:
1) Research – this starting point includes:
- Researching the feasibility of potential conference topics;
- Relating these to objectives required by the company commissioning the event;
- Communicating with industry-relevant personnel to assess commercial viability, objectivity and cost-related potential of ideas;
- Identifying high-quality speakers to contribute to the conference – including their availability and preferred methods of delivery.
- Creating comprehensive briefs of viable proposals, detailing proposed sponsors, speakers, key issues, tools for delegate/sponsor engagement, outlines and schedules for conference days and marketing/communication strategies, to share with the company looking to hold the conference.
2) Planning – once a proposal has been accepted (allowing for a few adaptations and compromises before the brief fits everyone’s ideas and objectives) it’s then the conference manager’s role to plan the logistics of the event, including (but not limited to):
- Hiring a venue – which must suit all purposes of the proposed conference, eg: does it offer space for break-off groups and reconvening conveniently and comfortably? Are there suitable places for networking – the reason many delegates attend conferences? Are facilities sufficient for the numbers expected? Is it accessible for all delegates?
- Planning how the conference will be delivered – all speakers live and in person, or some live via digital conferencing? Will interactive tech be required to help delegates be actively involved as the content is delivered?
- Sourcing, negotiating with and booking other service providers, such as hospitality, catering and digital or technological setup and backup teams -particularly if the conference includes virtual conferencing and interactive elements.
- Planning the schedules and timelines – not just for the day but for the essentials which need to take place first, such as marketing, booking and ticketing schedules.
3) Managing – At this stage, the conference producer will be putting into action all logistics relating to every aspect of that planning! Many will be general event management tasks, such as venue, contractor and budget management, but conference production involves an extended set of responsibilities which effective, efficient conference producers must be able to manage:
- Writing the conference programme;
- Organising and/or overseeing event communication and information materials – which may include organising communications such as social media, and integrated technology;
- Booking speakers and any accommodation, equipment, and materials they require;
- Organising information systems for delegates – particularly important for international conferences, such as travel, accommodation, and local information support;
- Organising booking systems for delegates;
- Implementing marketing and sponsorship campaigns.
4) Delivering – When the day arrives, conference producers are hands-on to ensure the conference and all those logistics take place seamlessly. This means you’ll be expected to:
- Trouble-shoot and oversee in-event strategies for marketing, engagement, and evaluation with delegates;
- Ensure everything runs smoothly – including speaker timing; timing of break-out and discussion groups; hassle-free refreshment breaks; technology working efficiently for integrated booking-in systems, interactive sessions, comfortable audio and digital displays for delegates;
- Oversee other in-conference events, such as meet-and-greet, final awards, evaluation sessions.
5) Evaluation and reporting – Viability and engagement underpin conferencing success and it’s part of the content producer’s role to be able to fully evaluate the event against objectives such as client engagement, uptake in services and the meeting of any other commercial-targets, such as gaining material during the conference to use in further marketing and publicity purposes. This is likely to involve interpretation of data gained (or overseeing the delivery of this from technology service providers) and then compiling a detailed report of outcomes against initial objectives, as well as interrogating and delivering delegate feedback.
Sounds like a role for you?
Of course, such very specific responsibilities demand some very strong skills areas, so if you think Conference Production could be your event management niche, you’ll need to demonstrate:
- Ability to not only understand corporate or public service objectives but also define and translate these into live events – conference outcomes which meet the client’s objectives, attendees leaving the conference feeling the event has not just met but has over-delivered on their expectations;
- Research and writing skills – across all aspects of delivery and writing of marketing (as well as conference) materials, plus writing coherent proposals which appeal to the client as well as those speakers you’re hoping the conference will attract;
- Creative and big-picture thinking and concisely communicating big ideas in conference proposals;
- Meticulous attention to detail – not just in delivering the event itself, but in delivering the vision of the event at the beginning and the outcomes of the event at the end;
- Delivering information and expectations is vital in conference producing, so being knowledgeable about ways that this can be done is essential. This may include knowledge about latest innovations, such as digital technology to enhance both delivery and engagement – digital booking systems and interactive sessions, for example. This means not just knowing how they work, but how they can enhance each and every conference you’re producing;
- People skills – conference producing involves being empathetic and responsive to what people want: as well as liaising with venues, contractors and the company putting on the conference (including working alongside the marketing team of a company, for example) conference production also means thinking about and relating to the target audience;
- Ability to work to budget – negotiating skills are highly desirable here!
- Meeting deadlines – including multiple deadlines. Few conference producers work on just one conference or proposal at a time – at any given time you could have several projects in progress and must be able to focus on each one as needed.
And of course, you’ll need that event–career stalwart: energy – not just to keep up with the role but to inject into each conference, no matter how big or how long!
How do I get started with conference producing?
Breaking into conference production can be difficult without relevant experience. Event management training is always a good idea, whilst taking every opportunity to boost experience will also help, so take as much work experience as you can get at conferences, as well as events such as educational events, which offer cross-over skills.
Once you’ve got an event management qualification and some work experience behind you, consider applying for junior conference producer roles or internships, as a step towards producer and senior producer roles. Oh, and whatever role you start off with, always try to be the best possible event professional you can be, in order to hone your skills, widen your network and have a positive impact, as every successful conference you’re involved in will be another step forwards in this very exciting events career.