A conference is a gathering of people who have common interests. It can provide training, networking opportunities and information to participants. Whether it is a meeting of victims advocates, police officers, or anyone who works in a field that could benefit from the exchange of ideas, a conference can have a powerful impact. Organizing a conference is an extensive undertaking, and it may take more than one person to pull it off. There are many details to consider: choosing a location, determining the schedule, and creating the budget.

If your organization is considering hosting a conference, the first step is to decide why your group needs it. Some reasons to hold a conference include establishing legitimacy for your work, sharing research findings and ideas, networking with others in your field, or promoting the importance of your work to the general public.

Another consideration is what type of conference you want it to be. If it’s a networking event, you might want to limit the number of speakers and focus on the quality of the interactions among participants. On the other hand, if you’re organizing a conference to train professionals in a specific skill, you might want to have several sessions led by experts in that area.

Once you’ve settled on a purpose for the conference, the next step is to create an agenda. This isn’t the same as the program that’s printed on the brochure; it determines which sessions you will attend and what you will learn from each.

Having a specific goal in mind when creating the agenda helps you to focus on the most important things. You’ll also need to choose how much time you’ll spend in each session, which can be a difficult decision based on how much the speaker is presenting or the level of detail you want to hear. Sessions that are highly tactical in nature should be a priority, but don’t be afraid to attend sessions that are less focused on your specific industry.

Attending a conference can be an expensive endeavor, especially if you’re flying in from out of town. Be sure to bring a small notebook, like a Moleskine, to write notes during the sessions and a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated. It’s also worth having a charger for your phone and tablet, as you’ll likely use them frequently.

If you’re going to be at a conference for more than a day or two, set up an out-of-office reply on your email. That way, prospects and clients will know why you won’t respond to them during the conference. When you return, you’ll be able to devote more time to following up with the contacts you made at the conference. And make sure you schedule some time to reflect on what you learned and share your insights with the rest of your team. You’ll find that it will help you get the most out of your conference experience in the long run.