James Adam co-founder, Adam Baker Event Logistics
Graham Burt director, sales strategy, Maritz
Anita Lowe chief executive, Venues Event Management
Huw Morgan managing director, Conference Connections
What are the key elements needed for a conference?
Huw Morgan Getting the mix right. That means the right mix of media and interaction, the right look and feel to the set, the right content and the right presenters.
Anita Lowe The conference has to meet the client's objectives and expectations. It has to stay within budget and deadline. The choice of venue and programme has to fit with the demographics of the audience.
James Adam Ultimately, you have to understand what the purpose and value of the conference is to the organisation that has called it. Then you need to decide what elements you have at your disposal and which ones have to be sourced externally.
Graham Burt Make it engaging, informative and participatory. The poor conferences are the ones where audiences are talked at.
What are the most challenging factors of creating a successful conference?
HM Getting on the audience's wavelength. One challenging aspect is how to communicate the relevant messages appropriately and testing how they might be received.
AL Conference management is a balancing act. You're constantly managing deadlines, budgets, logistics, suppliers and agencies. Part of the challenge is overcome by building strong relationships with the relevant venues and suppliers so that you can negotiate effectively.
GB The most challenging factor is having good content that warrants the conference in the first place. Directors of companies tend to vary greatly in their ability to present, so we need to agree which speakers are suitable.
How is the success of a conference measured?
HM It depends on the type of conference: a sales conference allows you to measure the bottom line or sales uplift before and after the event. Most importantly, a conference has to deliver on objectives stipulated and agreed by the client beforehand.
AL We are very keen on evaluating events online because you can capture a lot of data quickly. It is also important to have formal debrief meetings that involve venues and suppliers, as well as clients and delegates. Ultimately, your strongest measurement tool is repeat business and testimonials. If clients use you again, then clearly your services are having a positive effect.
JA It depends on the type of event. Press launches tend to be fairly easy because you can measure how much press the event generates. Ultimately, it's down to the stakeholders of the business to decide what aspect of a conference they want to measure and how to do it.
What was the most impressive conference you have witnessed that wasn't your own?
AL A pharmaceutical conference. The room was awash with multi-screens and multi-projectors. It began with what appeared to be a violinist on stage (it was actually a projection). Then as he played, the visual of a sunrise was projected onto all three walls. Gradually, as he continued, it emerged that the visual was the sun rising over South Africa's Table Mountain.
If you had an unlimited budget, what would you include in your dream conference?
HM Often, throwing lots of money at it just for the sake of it indicates sloppy thinking. Some of our best events have been on a limited budget using really interesting insights.
JA I would create an event where guests feel looked-after from the minute they leave their homes to the moment they return. So a chauffeur picks you up from your house and drives you to the airport where private check-in awaits. A butler unpacks for you. I would want delegates to arrive at a conference room feeling refreshed and pampered.
GB The conference itself would be heavily technology-enabled, so everyone would be equipped with a laptop and could blog in real time as the conference takes place, or interact with one another so that corporate issues could be discussed in real time.
What is the most hostile audience you have ever faced and how did you counter it?
HM We once had a corporate audience who had undergone a change of management and strategy. We could sense that there was deep unrest. It was clear that the pent-up frustration felt by delegates needed to be properly addressed. So after consulting our client, we extended the session by two hours for a frank question-and-answer session, where delegates were allowed to say what they thought to senior management.
AL There have been times when we have had to organise conferences for companies that are forced to make redundancies. This is particularly challenging when it's a blue-chip company with more than one UK office. We have had to hold events in Scotland and London simultaneously, paying attention to confidentiality and timing, ensuring there were no leaks of information or rumours that could reach other offices.
GB We've encountered demotivated audiences, where the key has been to give them confidence to speak out and trigger a conversation.
Our conferences club reveal their favourite venues and suppliers for producing the perfect event.
Catalunya Conference Centre, Barcelona;
Hotel Concorde la Fayette, Paris;
Fairmont Hotel, Monaco;
Hotel Hermitage, Monaco
Four Seasons Hotels;
Manor House Hotel at Castle Combe;
The Mayfair Hotel;
The Vineyard at Stockcross, Newbury
Hunt & Palmer
GBB Coaching & Consultancy;
Britannia Row Productions;
N3 Display Graphics;