Three Steps to Hosting the Biggest Industry Conference in Three Years

Lavender and business aren’t necessarily two words you see together that often, but the crop is actually very versatile. You can find lavender in your soap, shampoo, cooking supplies, and of course, flower arrangements.

Susan Harrington is the co-owner, with her husband, of Labyrinth Hill, a business in Hansville, Wash., that specializes in lavender. Over the years, she has gained so much experience cultivating the plant that she started to teach other growers about her methods.

“I’ve taught more than 400 students across the country through online courses,” she says.

In May of 2011, Susan and Jack decided that they wanted to take their efforts to the next level — by hosting the very first Northwest Regional Lavender Conference.

Susan and Jack had never hosted a conference before. The only real qualification they had was their passion for lavender.

This past November, the Harringtons successfully launched the biggest lavender conference that’s been held in more than three years. But that begs the question: How’d they pull it off?

1) Segmenting lists through a newsletter

The first thing Susan did was send an email to Labyrinth Hill’s subscribers to gauge their interest. The newsletter explained the event and also told people to sign up if they wanted more updates.

“A lot of people signed up,” Susan recalls. “So we took their names and made a new list that would get the updates about the conference. That way, we didn’t annoy the people who weren’t interested.”

Email updates like this one kept guests up-to-date with the latest conference news.

2) Streamlining registration by taking it online

As November got closer, Susan created a registration page for the conference with Constant Contact, so she wouldn’t have to keep track of all the attendees. She made sure to keep sending newsletters every week to remind people about the upcoming event. It was the first conference the Harringtons had ever hosted.

“Constant Contact really helped us pull this off,” Susan says. She explains that the online payment form for registrants helped streamline ticket sales, and the automatic registration helped her keep track of each guest’s status. That’s how she could tell, very early on, that she would need to make more preparations than she had expected — by September, almost 100 people had registered.

“We expected around 75 attendees, but almost 150 people came,” Susan says.

The registration page automatically updated guest statuses and allowed attendees to pay for tickets online.

3) Survey-ready seminars

As experts in the field of lavender-growing started agreeing to show up, Susan used an online survey to ask attendees what topics they wanted the speakers to cover.

“We also asked other questions about experience,” she explains. “For example, knowing that 30% of our attendees had 500 to 1,000 lavender plants in the ground helped speakers prepare their presentations to the audience.”

Susan used surveys to prepare speakers for guest interests.

The fragrant finale

When the big day finally arrived, things went off without a hitch. The hotel manager of Holiday Inn in Everett, Wash., where the conference was hosted, even complimented Susan and Jack on how smooth it had went.

“They said we set the bar for how to host a conference,” Susan says. “And we had never hosted anything like this before, but suddenly people were asking us to help host events for them,” Susan says. “I wasn’t as surprised by that as I was by the standing ovation they gave us at the end.”

Any conference where the hosts get that kind of recognition has clearly done everything right. The best part? Susan and Jack’s hosting days have just begun.

The lavender road trip

As excited as they were about the success of the Northwest Lavender Conference, Jack and Susan also knew that many people couldn’t make it. Well over 1,000 people RSVP’ed saying that the conference was too far. So, Susan and Jack decided to go to them. They emailed the people who weren’t able to attend and asked if they would be interested in smaller conferences in their area.

The verdict? Susan and Jack have visited Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey — all the while using the Constant Contact Toolkit    to help keep track of attendees and conferences as they travel the country, doing what they love.

Have you hosted a conference before? What did you learn from your experience? Share your thoughts with us below!  

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