Planning a conference for a few thousand people is a lot like planning a wedding! And it all gets down to the "Guest List". At least at a wedding, most people will let the bride and groom know - several weeks before, if they are coming. But, in the world of Conferences, more and more people make last minute decisions - due to unknown schedules, pressures, family obligations and a need to focus on these 2 projects - and then I will see if I can get to Masie's conference in Orlando.
Being one month away - that puts an interesting pressure on The MASIE Center and Disney - in planning rooms, foods, guide printing and more. Yet, with 20+ years experience in running these types of large events, I have developed my own set of metrics for predicting the curve of attendance and last minute decisions. Here is a peak at the whiteboard in my office and I'll explain the logic and design decisions:
Now, add the additional family members that will want to come to President Clinton's speech (with tickets that we will issue upon arrival in Orlando) and we need to have a seating capacity at peak for that one keynote for 2,500.
We can handle the seating just fine. And, we ordered extra Guides printed (though with an App, we are expecting about 15% might want to go just digital). And, I have 2,200 bags all set. Plus, breakout session seating that is more than enough, even if we grew dramatically in the final few weeks.
But, BEDS are another story. We have sold all but 147 beds at the Coronado Springs hotel, including some rooms to people who have booked a hotel but not yet registered. And, we know that only about 89% of people who register will take a room from our block. And, our colleagues from Government agencies need and receive a limited special government rate. So, this morning I went and got 200+ more rooms at another Disney Hotel that is about 10 minutes away - and spent $5,000 on a continuous bus shuttle to take folks to and from their hotel and the Conference hotel.
What about cancellations? Good news is that we have a very low rate of cancellations or no-shows - mostly from people who cancel at the last minute and it almost exactly matches the number of walk-in registrations.
Hopefully, this sounds familiar. Anyone who does corporate events or seminars knows there is an aspect of "handicapping" to get the numbers, seats, rooms and food right.
Every morning, for the next months, we will have a conference call with 4 people on my staff and the Registration Manager at Disney - to watch, adjust and update our predictions. The bottom line is that using metrics from previous years is so very important, in order to design Learning 2011 for every person that wants to attend - in just 28 days.
Now, what if Uncle Mort does not want to sit at the same table as Cousin Brucey. Hmmm, never mind - I am not going there :)