How to create a conference program


When we attend conferences, it’s all too easy to overlook the work that goes into the meticulous scheduling of the operation we’re there to enjoy. But when it comes to planning our own, it can be hard to know where to start in order to achieve such seamless results.

In this article, we’re looking at some of the fundamentals you’ll need to get to grips with before getting stuck into the world of conference hosting.

Let’s get started.

How do you structure a conference?

All good conferences are structured around a few core elements:

  • Talks/presentations

  • Networking opportunities

  • Interactive sessions

  • Refreshment breaks 

When it comes to structuring yours, you’ll need to intersperse these things evenly – never underestimating the importance of implementing regular breaks, and leaving enough time for people to get from place to place.

Some conferences are more complex than others, of course. For example, some run in a kind of ‘linear’ fashion, where one key event follows another, while others have lots of things going on at once, so attendees have to pick and choose which segments they want to see.

For example, the agenda might look like this:

  • 09:00-9:30: Registration

  • 09:45–10:45: Speaker 1

  • 10:45–11:15: Refreshment break

  • 11:15–12:15: Networking session

  • 12:15–13:15: Lunch 

  • 13:15–14:30: Speaker 2

  • 14:30–15:30: Interactive seminar

  • 15:30–16:30: Speaker 3

  • 16:30–17:30: Q&A session

  • 17:30–19:00: Free time

  • 20:00–00:00: Party

Or it might look more like this:

  • 09:00-9:30: Registration

  • 09:45–10:45: Speaker 1 / speaker 2 / speaker 3

  • 10:45–11:15: Refreshment break

  • 11:15–12:15: Networking session

  • 12:15–13:15: Lunch 

  • 13:15–14:30: Speaker 4 / speaker 5

  • 14:30–15:30: Interactive seminar / Q&A 

  • 15:30–16:30: Speaker 6 / speaker 7

  • 16:30–17:30: Networking session about X theme / Q&A 

  • 17:30–19:00: Free time

  • 20:00–00:00: Party

If you’re going for the latter kind of conference, it’ll be crucial to make sure there are moments at your event when groups that have been at different segments can come together, for example at networking sessions. It may also help to offer guidance to attendees about the sessions that they might be interested in depending on their subject matter. For example, you could group events that follow different themes in your conference agenda.


How to plan a successful conference

There are some basic principles all conference planners should follow if they want to achieve success:

  • Gather actual data about what people want: conducting surveys before you start planning a conference is a great way to make sure you’re delivering content that people actually want. It’s impossible to just ‘know’ what might go down well – so gathering tangible data about people’s expectations is one way to significantly improve your chances of success.

  • Make sure your conference has a clear theme and sense of direction: naturally, there’ll be an overarching theme to your conference, like digital marketing, for example. But to achieve true success, there should be a more specific, honed sense of direction too. For example, your theme may be innovation in digital marketing, or ethical digital marketing. Thinking carefully about this will enable you to really dig deep into the narrative of your event, opening up so many more opportunities to bring rich, in-depth content to the table.

  • Never underestimate the power of communication: there are bound to be a few glitches when you’re organising a conference agenda. The key is to keep all key speakers and event stakeholders in the loop. Even if a change to the program doesn’t affect a speaker’s slot directly, they should always be kept informed just in case. Otherwise, you risk a knock-on effect taking place, which could derail things later down the line.

How to create a conference agenda

There are loads of great tools out there that make knocking up a professional conference agenda much easier than it used to be. 

You could use a website building platform like Wix, Squarespace or WordPress to create a slick site for your agenda. Check out our article on event website design inspiration to get started.

Or, you could use a tool like Canva to design a downloadable program.

There are also some great tools around that are dedicated specifically to creating conference agendas, including PHPJabbers and Sched.

A huge amount of work goes into conference programming, but now matter how large-scale the event, the core principles of good planning stay the same. If you can practice meticulous organisation, allow yourself plenty of contingency time, and keep your creative vision in sight, you’ll be well on the way to success. Good luck!