National conferences: not for the faint hearted

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 we admire their energy and enthusiasm. But designing and delivering a national conference is not for the faint hearted and it’s often wise to call in expert help.

That’s what one of our clients did. They had received funding from an Australian Government department to put on 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 heaps of legwork. Not only had they secured funds, had fleshed out a budget, set targets and developed a concept. 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 ourself. 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 that 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 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 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 key note speakers. 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 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 had to contact.

So how did it all go?

The conference was a smash hit.  Two hundred 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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