National conferences: not for the faint hearted

On the face of it, it looks like a great idea – let’s have a national conference to get our members together and take our association to new levels.

Many national associations think big like this and at Omania Terry we admire their energy and enthusiasm. But designing and delivering a national conference is not for the faint hearted and it’s wise to call in an expert help ensure you have a successful event.

That’s what one of our clients did. They had received funding from an Australian Government department to stage a conference for their members and knew they needed an external conference expert to make it happen, especially since there was only four months to pull it all together.

The great news is that our client had done a lot of the legwork. Not only had they secured funds, fleshed out a budget, set targets and developed a concept but they also had a theme.

It’s not a takeover

Our aim was to roll up our sleeves and work closely with the client. We didn’t want to ‘take over’ and handle all tasks. Rather, we wanted to coach along the way, and impart knowledge as we moved through our extensive planning document. This transfer of learning gave the client extra value-for-money.

The client had initially decided Sydney was the ‘go-to’ city for the conference. We recommended they host it in Canberra where their head office was located, especially since this was their first conference in 11 years. Our thinking was to streamline procedures and planning and keep stress levels down when implementing conference logistics. And it meant less money for our services since travel to and from Sydney would be eliminated. Another bonus.

Partnership approach

We worked closely with the creative team to design marketing and promotional material. We also supported the client in searching for sponsors and selling exhibition booths to many of the Indigenous organisations they are associated with. We worked with the Operations Manager to align programming with key funding deliverables and source top-notch keynote speakers who would attract delegates. We worked with them on the Awards dinner—finding a venue, organising catering, sourcing entertainment, and encouraging members to nominate colleagues for an achievement award.

There were many challenges along the way, including a huge effort to engage members, attending networking forums across the country to promote the conference and liaising with member organisations for support. These organisations have little funding and often work in remote areas where they’re hard to contact – but we succeeded.

So how did it all go?

The conference was a great success. Some 200 delegates attended, 30 exhibitors came on board and the project was delivered on time and within budget. And last, but not least, staff learned heaps from us about conference organising.

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