Planning a National Conference: Behind the Scenes

Rita Lassiter

Rita Lassiter

Have you ever wondered what goes into planning the Healthy Teen Network Annual National Conference—or any national event for that matter? While the bulk of the planning a national conference takes place just six to eight months preceding the event, there are many “i’s” to dot and “t’s” to cross before registration opens: it is truly a year-long process. There are various elements that go into planning a successful conference.

The first step is to determine a theme and set of objectives that address the pertinent issues of the moment, are innovative, and serves the needs of your audience. In fact, depending on those you serve, perhaps a step before setting the theme/objectives may be assessing your audiences to identify their needs. Once the theme and objectives are established, the content planning team creates a program, addressing the theme and objectives, through a host of keynote and plenary sessions, to include experts in the field and will motivate attendees but seek to challenge conference attendees to be creative in providing solutions for addressing the needs of their constituents. An extensive Call for Proposals process vets out the best workshops and roundtable sessions, offering tangible skills for attendees to apply to their work with regard to programs, policy, research, and capacity-building. While the conference program provides many professionals with the opportunity to shine a light on their work through presentations, discussions, and roundtable sessions, we also devote time to recognize those individuals and organizations that have contributed so much to the field, through awards.

Now, what’s a conference without some outside fun? A conference planning team makes every attempt to make sure attendees are well informed on the “Who, What, Where, When, and Why” in their conference host city. This is where a reliable and knowledgeable host hotel staff and contact with the local convention/visitors bureau (CVB) come into play. Every attendee should be equipped with a “to do” list; sites to see, places to shop, and of course, places to savor a taste of the local cuisine.

Throughout the planning for the program and the logistics, the marketing and fund development team coordinate details to support the conference. Staff network and reach out to potential donors to secure sponsorships to support sessions and luncheons, as well as scholarships to support attendance. The marketing team plans to secure exhibitors and advertisers for the program, markets the conference program to potential attendees, and designs the various conference materials, such as the save-the-date, preliminary brochure, and program.

From programmatic and content details to marketing and sponsorship to logistics and contracts, it takes the collaboration of numerous individuals to ensure that the event will run smoothly. For many of these tasks, forming an active conference planning committee can be extremely valuable. From suggestions for potential speakers, presenters, and exhibitors to conference funding and media/local outreach, these are local team members who have their eyes and ears on the ground of the local host city from day one of planning.

Want to know how to register for an event? Where the annual event will take place? How to get from point A to point B? What is included on the schedule of events? Your event planning staff is the “go to” for all things conference related and will develop an FAQ listing for any inquiry that comes their way. Internally, it is their duty to make every process as seamless as possible for all involved. Are there hiccups along the way? Absolutely. However, any event planner will learn to learn from those hiccups and develop protocols and best practices to apply to any event/meeting moving forward. And the reward at the end? A fabulously executed conference for all to enjoy!

Healthy Teen Network’s 34th Annual National Conference celebrates “Embracing Innovation” to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health and the needs of parenting teens. Healthy Teen Network will showcase innovative strategies and research focused on adolescent sexual health, pregnant and parenting teens, and building the capacity of youth-serving organizations to sustain themselves for years to come. Helping youth make healthy, responsible decisions about how they live out their sexuality and care for their families requires examining the aspects of their lives that impact how they make those choices. The conference preliminary brochure contains all the information you need about Embracing Innovation.

This year’s conference will be hosted at the Hyatt Regency Savannah, on the riverfront in beautiful and historic downtown Savannah. Reserve your room online and receive the conference discount, but don’t delay–this room block is likely to sell out! Picked by Conde Nast Traveler as a Top 10 U.S City to Visit, Savannah offers visitors a wide variety of food, shopping, history, and sites to explore. For things to do and see while you’re in town, check out

We hope to see you in Savannah!

Rita Lassiter is the Meeting and Event Planner at Healthy Teen Network.

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