You'd be amazed how fast a full-grown man can turn into a tantrum-throwing child when he's told that a session he wanted to attend is full. You'd also be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't...) at how a mild-mannered speaker can become a diva when they see their audience consists of only two people. I've dealt with both types of meltdowns while managing events, and neither are enjoyable.
Despite the immaturity occasionally shown by speakers or attendees, the blame for the incidents above lays with me; in both cases I misjudged how many sessions my event needed. In the first example I didn't plan enough sessions, and people were locked out. With the second example, I booked too many, and some speakers had to deal with embarrassingly small crowds.
Planning the right number of sessions matters. It's important for attendee experience, it's important for keeping your speakers happy, and it’s important for your reputation as an event manager.
The challenge is, how do you arrive at the correct the number of sessions you need for your conference?
We’ve highlighted a few questions to ask yourself to help arrive at the number of sessions you needed.
What type of sessions do you want?
Classroom-style breakout rooms are the norm but beware of over-reliance on this type of session, as people get bored easily. It's good to have a mix of session types, including hands-on-labs and birds-of-a-feather (brainstorms) to appeal to a mix of people and learning styles, and to create variety at your event.
Each of these session types is best suited for certain range of attendees. With Birds-of-a-Feather you want 15-20 people; any more than that and you lose the necessary intimacy. Any less, and it's too small to function well. Hands-on-Labs work best with around 25-35 people. For Breakouts, you want a minimum of 50 people.
Consider offering a variety of sessions at your event, but also within each time slot. Work to give people a mix of session-types to attend for every time slot
What energy level do you want?
If a room is half full, it's going to feel dead. Conversely, if it's packed, the energy level is going to be much higher. Around 75% full is a neutral level of energy. For each session, consider what type of session type it is and room it's going to be held in.
What are your venue's capabilities?
How many rooms do you have? What are their capacities? If you only have 5 rooms, you obviously aren't going to be able to host more than 5 sessions at the same time.
What does your event look like?
How many tracks do you have? You want to make sure you’re offering sessions in each track.
How many days is your event? How long will each day be? How long will your sessions be? The answers to these questions will give you the maximum number of sessions you can hold. For example, let’s say you expect 100 attendees and 3 rooms. Let’s also say your event is two days long and your sessions are an hour and a half, so across a 9 hour day you’ll have 6 time slots. This means you can have a maximum of 36 sessions across the two days (6*3*2).
How many people do you expect at your event?
Make sure you have enough sessions to allow everybody to attend a session in every slot, if they want!
Congrats! You've got a solid handle on session planning. Now download our free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Conference Planning, and become a master of every step of the conference planning process!