Planning a Toastmasters Conference is no small commitment — and it’s no small opportunity, either! A conference is a chance to highlight our efforts as an organization and to showcase our individual growth, as well. It pushes everyone involved to discover new ways of collaborating, new ways of communicating, and new ways of presenting information and insights.

Of course, great conferences don’t happen in a vacuum. They begin with great leadership. A strong Program Quality Director sets the tone for the event long before the conference is announced — and when the tone is right, it’s something everyone can feel in the air. It’s electric. It’s exciting! It’s an energy that is worth the hard work and long hours.

To really wow your participants, you need to get to work early. As a Program Quality Director, your leadership is essential — and to do it right, you need to establish guidelines with your Conference Chair. Clear communication between the two of you will benefit everyone involved.

Throughout my years as a leader in Toastmasters, I’ve discovered there are four key planning pillars for conferences that will withstand obstacles and make your conference a knockout event. Use these pillars as a guide when you’re working with your Conference Chair.

Set Expectations Immediately.  It’s a deceptively simple question: How will you communicate and operate together? As a Program Quality Director, you’ll need to determine the framework or charter for your team for the weeks and months to come.

A few questions to get you started:

  • How frequently will we meet?
  • Will we communicate mostly by email, by conference call, Google docs, or in-person meetings?
  • Who has the ability to approve decisions, and what are they allowed to approve? What are the date(s)? Who determines the venue? The keynotes? The emcee? Who approves the theme? Who approves images?
  • What is the budget?
  • How will each sub-chair (registration, finance, education, etc.) report on their committees and their budgets?

The more specific you are with setting expectations up front the more successful your conference will be.

Get a Green Light on Your Budget. The person responsible for signing the venue contract is the District Director. And no action may be taken until the District Director has approved the budget. Be conservative on the projected number of attendees and on meal choices. When your team reaches its sales targets, your Conference Chair can add on extras like upgraded meals, conference bags, decorations and entertainment.

 Lock In Your Timeline. Keep your conference rolling toward the finish line by giving your Conference Chair time-sensitive, specific goals — and ask for the timeline within two weeks of budget approval. Your chair will want to plan for:

  • Marketing efforts
  • Public relations rollout
  • Social media updates
  • Sponsorship deadlines
  • Education session application deadlines, selections, and promotions
  • Conference program submissions
  • Sales targets and deadlines

Nail Down Your Run of Show. Have you ever wondered how producers pull off massive, complicated productions like the Oscars? They do it with a run of show: A minute-by-minute breakdown of everything that will happen during the event. A run of show is your ticket to creating an event that runs like clockwork. Ask your Conference Chair to have it finalized with you and the District Director six weeks before the event so you can head off any potential problems.

Planning is a lot of work up front, but as Program Quality Director it’s your duty to create new opportunities to learn and grow — and your conference team can do that best with the four pillars in place. Give them the space they need to do their best by creating the safety of a well-organized framework.