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Confirm the conference purpose

In this step, learn the initial aspects of the planning stage when delivering a conference, brought to you by
Learning Lounge and FutureLearn.
An aerial shot showing groups of people in business dress chatting.

Many of you will have been involved in organizing a social event such as a large birthday party or a fundraising event for a club.

You may have even been involved in the organization of a complicated event like a wedding. Think about all the things you had to do in order for the party, event, or wedding to run smoothly. You will be able to transfer these skills to conference planning.

As with most things we do, planning helps things run smoothly. Planning needs to be constantly checked and amended. Contingency plans also need to be in place to cover unexpected events. That’s why we will be covering contingencies later in the course!

Planning begins well in advance of the conference date. The planning stage may take many months or even years, depending on the size of the event.

What is a conference? defines a conference as a large gathering of individuals or members of one or several organizations to discuss matters of common interest.

They normally have a theme, a purpose, or a problem to solve.

Conferences may take many different forms

  • Conventions: the largest type of conference, which is usually a gathering of delegates from various groups.
  • Meetings: small or large.
  • Seminars: smaller groups, usually organized to discuss particular topics.
  • Virtual conferences or summits: broadcast online, allowing people to watch from a broad geographical area and usually comment in forum technology.
  • Video conferences: involve using video technology to enable communication between people who are geographically separated.

Before you can begin to plan

You need to establish the goals and objectives of the conference. You need to know the purpose of the gathering, the expected outcomes, and what style of gathering is required. The style of the conference could be formal or informal.

When establishing your objectives and purpose, keep in mind how you are going to measure your success in achieving them. It might sound premature, but designing your evaluation questions now, will help you to set measurable objectives. We discuss evaluation in Step 1.18.

If there is a convenor for the conference you should be meeting with them regularly. This could be the event manager, your boss, the head of the organization, the lead academic, the board of management, a steering committee, or a group of department heads. It could even be you!


Some examples of what a conference’s purpose could include:

  • expanding business contacts
  • marketing of products
  • networking
  • presentation of findings/research
  • professional development
  • training
  • a mix of any of these

Purpose drives other key decisions

A good place to start, if the conference has ran before, is to check previous documentation. Check the timeline and the minutes to see the discussion and the decisions that were made during the planning process for the last one.

What worked well? What didn’t? Were there suggestions made after the event was over? Continuous improvement is vitally important in any form of business undertaking.

Over to you

  • Have you been asked to organize a conference? Share with your fellow learners what the purpose is behind the event.
  • If you are not yet organizing a conference think back to the last one you attended, what was the purpose of this event?

In the next steps, we will begin to look further at what is involved in planning a conference. The steps in this course may not align with the order of your workflow. What comes first your budget or team? Timeline or identifying a target audience? They all need to be addressed towards the start.

Work through them all before making any major decisions about your conference.

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Event Management for Conferences: the Basics

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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