An event may last only a few days, but the planning process can begin years in advance. Many annual conferences begin their planning two or more years before the event date. For national conferences which move from city to city each year, the event planner and the event chair can benefit greatly by attending the prior year’s conference in the previous host city.

The Previous Host City Is Your Best Friend

Gathering the right details, talking to the right people and asking the right questions on an event or conference visit will set your event or conference in the right direction and ensure that it meets the needs of the attendees, sponsors and exhibitors. An opportunity to view the previous year’s event, before you are in the process of planning is like a gift. It’s the best way to learn about the program, the delegates, the social events, and the general atmosphere. This gives you a taste of what you need to offer and will motivate you to make it even better in your host city. This experience also allows you to provide more information to the host venue and suppliers to ensure that the needs of the event are met.

What should a local host committee and event planner look for at the prior year’s conference to aid in planning their upcoming event?

1. Know the Essential Elements You Need to Observe

Break down the program and determine what elements you need to observe.

It can be overwhelming to review a program that you have never seen before, but determine what events/components are absolutely essential to visit, view, and experience to aid in planning. Take the necessary time to research, ask questions, and review the program in full detail as you don’t want to show up unprepared. Evaluate key areas you want to see executed to fully be able to plan for the event when it comes to your host city.

Observing key logistics such as registration, shuttle schedule, signage, and venue layout is critical.

2. Familiarize Yourself with the Host City and Venues

If the event has a variety of host hotels, familiarize yourself with the surrounding area. Review the shuttle schedule and the logistics of where the drop-off/pick-ups are set up. Find out how long the shuttle takes to get to the venue. Speak to delegates and ask them if the service worked for them. Envision what the needs will be in your host city and take what worked at this event, and apply it to the planning of your event when you are the host city.

3. Evaluate the Signage and How it Meets the Needs of the Event

Once you arrive at the venue, observe what signage is on the outside of the building informing delegates and residents of the host city what event is taking place. Find registration and its proximity to the entrance of the building. Observe all directional signage. Locate the tradeshow, main plenary room, and break out rooms for their relevance to one another and ease of traffic flow.

4. Interview the Participants

Interview volunteers and delegates for their opinions on what worked and what could be improved. Volunteers are more likely to provide an unbiased opinion of details they observed first hand. Hearing their feedback will aid in ensuring the rough spots are smoothed out for your event.

Speaking to delegates is also a great benefit. Being able to speak to them during the event allows for an immediate reaction to what they are experiencing on site. Take note of their personal highlights and be sure to include these “wow” factors in your event or build on these experiences to make then even better in your host city!

5. What Works and What Doesn’t Work in the Program?

Scrutinize the program. Study if delegates have enough time to get to their sessions and relate it to the distance they would have to cover at your host venue. Visit the trade show to see the setup of the room. What else is being done in this space -meals, breaks, announcements?

6. Evaluate the Venue – Does it Meet the Needs of the Program And How Does Your Host City and Venue Compare?

Observe the venue set up for the different aspects of the program. How does the venue accommodate the number of delegates? Is there seating for the meals/breaks? What does the reception or gala space look like? What type of audiovisual components are used? Specifically how can your host city and venue do better in each of these areas next year?

7. Make Notes and Share with Your Local Host Committee

Decompress and make notes. Survey the members of the current year, local host committee and take their recommendations for the planning of the next event. Find out their challenges and successes, then work off of them.

Be sure to meet your own planning committee soon after and share what you learned, and begin planning on how to execute your event to meet the challenges that your host city presents.

With a little bit of creative thinking you will be sure to “wow” the delegates when they come to your city.