My writer's group is gearing up for our first large-scale event--a 1-day conference scheduled for April 2010. Our group has been around since 2007, and we've finally picked up enough momentum to even attempt something like this.
I've worked on enough events to have a pretty good idea of how the day should flow, but there's always those little details that slip through the cracks, no matter how organized or prepared you think you are. But I'm listing some of the key points to keep in mind when planning a major event:
Know your limits. We don't have the resources (manpower or financial) to pull off something huge, so we're starting with a 1-day event. We're hoping that what we might lack in quantity, we'll make up for in quality. Rather than hold our conference at a huge conference center or hotel, we're keeping it on the smaller side with a more intimate feel and holding it at our local arts council.
Be organized! We started holding monthly meetings to discuss the day's logistics and details. So far we have the location and most of the speakers confirmed. Luckily, our group's treasurer is super organized--I had a fairly good list of initial tasks we'd need to accomplish, and she more than picked up what I'd missed. Lists, lists, more lists and timelines are a huge factor in the success of an event. Try to predict (and plan for) any foreseeable conflict, and especially those you may not see coming! Have a plan in place to troubleshoot for any dilemma that might pop up. Delegate tasks to your volunteers and be sure to communicate with them often.
Have a catchy name. Marketing is key, especially for your first event. After our last meeting, our homework was to come up with a list of possible event names. Though I can't share my list here, the key is to draw in your target audience. Our goal is to bring in writers from all genres, so we can't be too elitist in our title, yet we want something with a "hook" that will attract people's attention. A local city called their book festival Pages and Places, using the book angle to draw crowds to their downtown, while a neighboring writer's group's conference is called The Write Stuff.
Listen to member feedback. We sent out an informal survey to our members, asking them for what sorts of topics they'd be interested in for our conference. Not surprisingly, "getting published" and "overcoming writer's block" were our top winners, so we're including breakout sessions for both topics into the day's schedule. We're also holding genre-specific sessions but allowing the speakers to determine the content--we gave them the general topic but trust them to do the rest!
Schedule dynamic, organized (yet flexible!) speakers. We asked some of the more outstanding speakers that have presented to our group over the past year to lead the breakout sessions.
Think about the takeaway and other incentives for attendees. What would appeal to you if you were a mere attendee? Freebies, writing contests, agent/editor meetings, critique groups, book fairs? It may not be logistically possible to have all of these things for your first time out, but determine what's possible and then assign the task to someone on your committee. Think about what you hope the attendees get out of the event. If this is your first time out, focus on offering one or two "extras" rather than breaking your budgets or manpower by trying to do them all. Even the most established writing conference is constantly being tweaked and developed to better serve their writers. Give yourself some credit--you're pulling off your first major event! Be proud!
What do you look for in a good writer's conference?