Easy Steps to “Mapping” the Perfect Conference Layout

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

There’s a very good reason so many event planners tend to become control freaks. The amount of organization necessary to keep an event running on track makes such traits more or less necessary. If you’re an event planner, there’s a good chance you obsess over just about everything from keynote content to transportation needs to budget constraints right down to your event’s layout.

That last one’s pretty important, by the way.

“Mapping” of your conference layout design has a significant impact on how attendees will experience the event – and how much they’ll enjoy it.

Now, most modern event planning software simplifies the process of working out a conference’s layout and timing, but the job isn’t done for you. You’re still going to need to figure out the specifics of your event in order to map it out – and that means you need to know exactly what you want to occur and when.

To start the mapping process, visualize your event. The first step is to determine who is attending your event and in what capacity are they attending. You have guests, speakers, vendors, caterers, interns, etc… These are your subgroups and their itineraries and needs will vary a great deal. What are the primary activities each of these subgroups will be occupied doing? Jot down every detail as you call it to mind, if it helps: you’ll be using this information in short order.

Once you feel you’ve managed to visualize these broad-brush strokes of your conference, it’s time to figure out what, specifically, you want to see happening at the event. Basically, you’re going to be breaking your event down into smaller events – “micro events,” if you will. Your list of micro events should include such things as opening and closing remarks, Q&A sessions, break out groups, meals, networking breaks, etc. Each of your subgroups – speakers, attendees, caterers, etc. have different micro events that will make up each of their itineraries.

Hint: Often several subgroups will be involved in a single micro event, but vendors may not attend a keynote speaker address. This would be a great time for catering to feed vendors and staff. 

Once you’ve got those details figured out and well in hand, your next step is to assign each and every one of these “micro events” to its own timeslot. Establish how long each activity will take, and create a timeline of micro events based on their most logical order (these are things you’ll need to discuss with speakers, caterers, and the like.) Walk in each subgroups’ shoes for the day, account for everything from food to transportation to core activities. Be sure you’re buffering for travel time from one activity to another.  People like to socialize, check email or get fresh air. Breaks may be brief, but always give everyone a bit more time than you think they’ll need. And double what you think is reasonable if a venue is particularly large!

Now you have a solid idea of who needs to be doing what and when! You’re last step is to assign the appropriate physical space required for each micro event. Use logic. If you need auditorium A for your keynote speech, auditorium A is probably not the best place for vendor kiosks. If most attendees will drive, consider setting up your registration table at the entrance nearest the garage. This will streamline the check in process and help move attendees along to their next activity. Determine what areas will be off-limits to attendees, and how the tables in chairs within your event’s conference rooms will be arranged. Start experimenting with the mapping software in whatever planning app your team is using. Mapping software will help identify congested timeslots or physical barriers affecting your plan.

NOTE: Picking your venue is a key decision. A terrific venue will have seasoned management staff to help maximize their facilities space and amenities to fit your specific use. They may be your strongest allies when “mapping” your event!

How things are laid out at a conference has a marked impact on your attendees’ overall experience.  As an event planner, it’s up to you to ensure that you don’t arrange things poorly. These simple steps will take you a long way toward success.