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Propose, Prepare, Present by Alistair Croll

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Chapter 2. From Idea to Stage: A Conference Timeline

All events go through the same basic stages of planning and execution. Understanding this cycle makes your submission more likely to get attention. Here’s the life of a typical conference.

Topic Selection

Long before anyone hears about a conference, the planners are investigating the subject matter to see whether it’s interesting and growing. They want to be sure there are enough people who will pay to attend and that the topics will continue to evolve so there will be new things to discuss in coming years.

If the conference has happened before, then the organizers will try to find a theme that focuses the subject matter somewhat, often around newsworthy events or major industry changes. For example, a real estate conference might choose the subprime mortgage crisis as a theme for that year’s conference. Keynote speakers, artwork, and the kinds of presentations that will be chosen are all driven by this overarching narrative.

The event organizers are in business, too. They need to balance informative content that justifies the ticket price with provocation and entertainment that keeps people coming back. Achieving this kind of “edutainment” means choosing topics and speakers who are necessarily polarizing or controversial in order to provoke debate and discussion.

Organizers need to “skate to where the puck is going to be” by guessing what hot topics will be at the core of an industry well in advance of the mainstream. How far out ...

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