Anyone who has to organise a conference on a certain topic often asks themselves how long it should go on for. A better question to ask would be how much time can the target group spend? This is a question television producers ask themselves. You can spin out any topic into a winter-long series of documentaries or cut a soap opera down to the length of a newsflash. When you’ve decided a conference topic, you need to decide how long to draw it out.
It is important for the travel time to be in proportion to how long the conference lasts. Not many people want to travel a long distance for a short conference. That is why an international conference should last at least two days and a national conference in a large country should take one and half to two days. In large countries such as Germany, Russia, Brazil, France, or America, you can’t organise conferences of one day or less, unless the target group largely comes from the conference city itself and not from further away. A small country like the Netherlands has organised whole day conferences for a while now and the Dutch will even jump in the car or on a train for a midday meeting.
The target group must WANT to spend the time travelling and at the conference. The chance of this happening grows the more attractive the conference is – that is to say it offers more than just information transfer.
Raise the level of allure using perception and a spectacle, with interesting opportunities to meet or arrange an important meeting for the same time. But also a visit to a trade fair or to a few businesses can increase the level of allure. Finally, cultural entertainment can also help. Something like a visit to a special theatre show, a top-level museum, or a fascinating exhibition.
These are also reasons to organise a conference in a big city and not out in the back of beyond
The race to get home
Sometimes Dutch conference organisers stretch conferences out over several days as ‘there ‘s so much to say’ or ‘because exhibitors don’t want to build a stand for one day’, or ‘because your breakeven point is lower for a two-day conference’. These are all bad arguments. The busy Dutchman nearly always thinks that two days is too long and would prefer to go home in the evening. Not just for the proverbial home cooked meal, but to attend to their often busy private or social lives. And that’s what you’re competing with.
Please note: whether your conference is free or not is playing an ever decreasing role. It’s about TIME and PRIORITIES, not about the money.
What is the optimal conference length for the Netherlands then? It depends on your goal. Do you want as many as possible visitors? If so, use the shop or cafeteria formula, with parallel sessions and programme components that vary in length. Everyone can choose what they find attractive and can keep it short or long, depending on what they want. Set up a half-day main programme with top-level people and organise several sessions around it, so that sponsors and exhibitors have their needs met.
If you want as much publicity as possible for your topic, then the marketing campaign is more important than the conference itself. Keep the whole conference short and devote your energy to media attention.
It’s about PRIORITIES, not money.