Planning events and conferences can be very rewarding. Nothing like the thrill of happy attendees, speakers and sponsors enjoying your work! But the road towards a successful event can be exhausting and stressful, with many hours spent working on small details.
At every stage of organizing a conference, there are tools to help you out. In this post, we'll look at the best software and services to help with conference planning, and streamline your event.
Planning Stage — Preparation and Picking a Date
The planning stage is when the seed of your conference is planted. In this stage, you will usually rely on tools like Google Docs, AirTable, Notion and more to describe the initial idea, audience, venue needs, catering, etc.
Another important aspect is picking the date for your conference. Will you organize the conference on a weekday, or during the weekend? And are you sure the date doesn't coincide with a holiday?
For regional conferences, you typically know about office holidays. If you cater for an international audience, we found these two websites useful to check for holidays:
- timeanddate has a per-country overview of holidays, and whether they are national, local, or not observed. They also provide a list of upcoming dates, and the countries and regions where this date is a holiday.
- OfficeHolidays provides a handy calendar of worldwide holidays. Unfortunately it doesn't always list all countries when many of them observe a holiday on a given date. Luckily, they also have per-country calendars available.
Call for Speakers — Building an Agenda
When you want to invite external speakers to your conference, you may want to organize a Call for Speakers (CfS) or Call for Papers (CfP). Both words are used, and boil down to inviting speakers to send in the topics they can talk about. Tools exist to collect this data, and to evaluate topics that were submitted.
These are the tools we have used ourselves when organizing a conference:
- PaperCall lets event organizers easily manage their call for papers and talk submissions. Many speakers already have their talks in their PaperCall profile, and can easily submit them to conferences with an open CfP. PaperCall is free for community events, and has a professional plan with more functionality for US $ 499/event.
- Sessionize is similar to PaperCall, and the de-facto CfP tool in Europe. Most conference speakers list their talks on Sessionize, and when you open a CfP you can expect many talk submissions. Sessionize is free for community events, and has a US $499/event fee for commercial events. They have very good and friendly support, and if you organize many events per year, they are open to custom pricing.
- Pretalx is conference management software that helps with organizing your call for papers. It lets speakers submit sessions, and you as an organizer can evaluate talk topics. Pretalx has pay-as-you-go billing, based on the expected number of attendees and ticket price.
- Google Forms lets your create a form to request speaker information and talk information. It's a free tool, and quite spartan compared to the previous options in that you have to manually provide all required fields and handle evaluation. We found it to be a valuable choice, as it's less easy for speakers to submit their talks through a questionnaire — there's no "Google Forms profile". As a result, you may get fewer but more relevant talk proposals.
When you have gathered a list of talks, the time comes to evaluate which talks you want to have at your conference. Both Sessionize and Pretalx come with tools to evaluate and rank talks using a variety of approaches — including blind voting by your program committee. Both tools also have an integrated scheduling option, and an API to integrate this schedule in your event website later on.
One thing to look out for with these tools is the ability to export data. Organizing a conference is juggling many tools, and an easy export to Excel or a Comma-Separated Values (CSV) document is priceless.
Travel — Getting your Speakers There
For local conferences, speakers may get to your conference by car or with public transport. When you have international speakers, you will need to arrange flights and hotels.
We're tooting our own horn here, but there's currently only one tool that lets you manage this with ease:
- SpeakerTravel lets you invite speakers into a self-service portal to search flights. After they find their ideal travel options, you will need to approve their selection. Many options around budget, booking classes and more are available. Pricing is pay-as-you-go, but we're open to discussing your particular scenario and offer a fair price.
For hotels, it's often best to contact a hotel nearby your conference venue directly. If you need many rooms booked, they typically offer special rates and discounts.
Tip: Spell out your travel policy, and make it clear what parts of travel the conference will cover. This avoids discussion and potential nasty surprises.
Ticketing — Letting your Attendees in
The conference venue has been booked, speakers are coming, we're ready to go! Ticketing software will help to sell tickets to your attendees. Several options are available:
- Pretix is our personal favorite. They have very extensive options to set up a cloud-hosted or self-hosted ticket shop for free events and for paid events. They have a marketplace that provides many integrations, including payment gateways like Stripe. Pretix charges no fee for free events, and 2.5 % of the ticket price for paid events.
- Eventbrite provides a cloud-hosted ticket shop for your conference. They also have a search engine for events, so your conference gets some extra promotion on their platform. Their pricing is more complex, ranging from 3.5% of the ticket fee + US $1.59 per ticket, to 2% of the ticket fee + US $0.79 per ticket.
Keep in mind that a payment processing fee will be charges as well.
Another alternative you may look into is Halito!. They provide ticketing, but also an event website, e-mail campaigns, and more.
Feedback — How was the Experience?
Both during and after your event, feedback is a great instrument to improve the experience of all stakeholders in your event: attendees, speakers, sponsors, and organizers. There are some tools that can help with collecting this feedback:
- Google Forms again, lets you create questionnaires folks can respond to. A tip here is to not overdo it in the number of questions (people get bored quickly). To make sure you get enough meaningful responses, you can raffle a small prize between respondents.
- Slido lets you do live polls, quizzes and free-format Q&A and feedback, during and after the event. For small audiences, Slido can be used for free. For larger conferences, they have pricing between US $ 49 per event, up to US $ 499 per event.
Ready to go!
Every stage of organizing a conference comes with its own challenges, and usually there is a tool that can help you out.
Keep in mind that no two events look exactly the same, and your mileage with these tools will vary. To organize a great event, find the software and services that work for you!
Did we miss any tools? Let us know on Twitter!