What It Takes to Plan and Host a Conference in Only 46 Hours

In how many hours? Yes, 46 hours, according to my calculations. Sounds impossible? It can be done. As a matter of fact, it happened this week after the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) had to cancel its annual Technology Conference.

The conference was to start on Wednesday with exhibitor move-in and pre-conference workshops, but DC was still under nearly two feet of snow from the weekend’s storm and was due to get one foot more in blizzard conditions on Wednesday. Airlines were already canceling flights. Some attendees and exhibitors got to town on Tuesday before everything shut down but many were still stuck at home. Even many of those based in DC were still snowbound due to impassable roads and no Metro or train service above ground.

On Tuesday morning ASAE announced via Twitter that it would make a decision by 3:00 p.m. as to whether the conference would be canceled. That’s when the member community started working on Plan B. Later ASAE announced their decision to cancel, the right thing to do considering the conditions. Immediately after, Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer of Socialfish blogged about UnTech10, Plan B, an unconference that a team of members had quickly started organizing.

On Thursday, 75 attended UnTech10 in person and 425 attended virtually via a live stream (live webcast) of the programming. I didn’t have the time or budget to go to ASAE’s Technology Conference, but now I was able to “attend” UnTech10 for several hours on Thursday. It was an intellectually stimulating afternoon, time well spent. On Friday, although there wasn’t an on-site component, a full day of webinars was scheduled for the virtual audience.

What do you need to pull off something like this? Here’s what I learned from Maddie and Lindy’s post about organizing it.

You need word of mouth (or mouse) marketing. Most of the marketing for UnTech10 was done via Twitter. A hashtag for the conference was created (#UnTech10) so members could follow that stream of tweets to keep updated. Keep your tweets short enough so that others can retweet them. Vendors also notified clients via email.

Create a Facebook fan page. Although UnTech10 didn’t do this, I saw several references to UnTech10 in my Facebook News Feed as friends shared the original Socialfish blog post.

Create a buzz-worthy email and ask your members to forward it to those they know in the industry or profession. Give clear instructions on how to register and compelling reasons on why they will want to participate. Don’t scare them off by using only technical lingo. This is user-friendly technology, like watching TV!

Contact affiliated or friendly organizations for help in spreading the word. Provide copy and links that they can use to share the news. If you create a sense of buzz and excitement about something, it will go viral if you make it easy for others to help you.

Create a central hub for handouts, schedule, instructions on how to participate and an archive of webcast segments. Content experts were asked to submit program ideas to a wiki. The organizers created a full day of on-site programming (that was live streamed) for Thursday and a full day of webinars for Friday.

Most importantly, you need a community – good relationships with vendors who can help you pull it all together – vendors that will contribute staff to work with you and free services and/or funding for other expenses. This organizing team will take charge and make it happen. According to Maddie, each company on the UnTech10 team had an area to oversee:

You can do this. You can do this if your event is threatened by weather or other unforeseen circumstances. You can certainly do this if you have more time than the UnTech10 team had. They were able to pull it off because they had relationships based on existing trust. Trust that everyone would work together and do their best for the right reasons. The team stepped up and made something excellent out of an unfortunate situation and provided a meaningful experience for our community — an experience that many of us would not have had otherwise.  Because of the generosity and hard work of my fellow members, now I had a chance to grab several hours of education and online networking with other members. This is what a real community does. Does your association have that kind of community?

Author: deirdrereid

Deirdre is a freelance writer for companies serving the association market, who after more than 20 years in the association and restaurant industries, is enjoying the good life as a ghostblogger and content marketing writer. Away from her laptop, you can find her walking in the woods, doing yoga, going to shows, journaling, cooking, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and a glass of something tasty in hand.

7 thoughts on “What It Takes to Plan and Host a Conference in Only 46 Hours”

  1. This was a fantastic effort that built more and more buzz — what a wonderful grassroots effort. I applaud everyone involved. Makes me proud to be a part of the ASAE community.


    1. Thanks for commenting, Beth. I agree, I am proud also to be part of this community and that pride motivated me to write this post, plus I really wanted to recognize those that worked so hard to make it happen.


    1. I heard that ASAE had to be careful about their support for UnTech10 because of insurance liability issues. I don’t know the details on that. However I do know that ASAE staff were in attendance as content experts. They definitely supported it in spirit, that was my impression as well as many others.


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