What is a Convention?

Las Vegas cocktail waitresses used to have an exasperated look on their faces during the convention season. Conventions used to be the realm of shriners and midwest men, all convening for a gathering for their trade or business gathering. Today, say the word convention and chances are high people think of Comic-Con, Trekkies or gatherings of like-minded enthusiasts of a common interest. Indeed, conventions have become the "fun" gatherings where a conference conjures images of stuffy meetings, dull seminars and long in-session classes.

Conventions and Their Planning

A convention is now thought to be an annual event that brings together like-minded people to learn, go over new gear or techniques and make networking connections. A convention today can be as diverse as the aforementioned San Diego Comic-Con, one of the largest hobby and special interest conventions in the country, to the Democratic or Republic National Convention. Obviously, the tone of the political conventions will be different than the Comic-Con, but they all use the same general format.

A standard convention includes a check-in, meet and greet, booths and vendor display area (or in the case of a political gathering, an area for each of the political districts or states), presentations, key-note speaker, social activities and guest panels with question and answer sessions. For a convention manager or organizer, delegation becomes neccessary as the different areas of the convention require a manager and workers, with the manager of each area reporting to the convention manager herself. For major organizations that hold annual conventions, it is typical to begin the planning and prep work about three years out from the event. For example, the Society of American Foresters (SAF) plans out their annual convention by three years, moving its location to one of five regions of the US on a circular cycle. These regions are the northeast, southeast, southwest, Pacific and Alaska/Hawaii. Many other conventions do the same while others choose to hold the annual event in the same place each year (like the San Diego Comic-Con mentioned earlier.)

When a convention is being put together it is generally broken down into three major sections: location and lodging, content and logistics.

Location and lodging deal with the region or city the convention is to be held as well as the hard structures being booked to host the convention itself. This could be anything from a floor of rooms at a hotel to a full convention center as found in most major cities and resorts. Lodging means getting a discounted or courtesy rate for all attendees to the event.

Content is what the convention is all about. There may be rooms full of vendors, merchants showing off the latest in the event's technology, or simply a panel of guests and speakers. Content is the reason for the event and should never be compromised.

Logistics include getting the guest speakers and participants to the event, arranging the proper number of tables and chairs, arranging caterers etc. Logisitics also include arranging shuttles to get event attendees to and from other hotels or lodging areas should the convention be held at a center instead of a resort or hotel.

Conventions vs. Conferences

While the two terms are used interchangeably, conferences tend to be more esoteric and are held at any point during the year. It is common to have numerous conferences throughout a year, all relevent to the topic at hand. Conferences also tend to be more work oriented. A conference may include several classes or training sessions, lectures, round table meetings, brainstorming sessions, or lengthy meetings with potential clients. Conferences may be close to home with regional, state or even municipal areas hosting business or topic-specific meetings. [Read more about Conferences]