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STAGING AN [AROMATHERAPY] CONFERENCE
by Jeanne Rose, Kimberly Neahr and Diana Badger

Aromatherapy, the use of naturally occurring plant essential oils for healing and emotional balancing, or skin care and SoapMaking are rapidly growing fields in the United States - thanks in part to the educational and organizational expertise of many knowledgeable aromatherapy experts around the country. One of the best educational formats for sharing information about essential oils and their myriad uses is an aromatherapy Conference and Trade Show. A properly administrated Conference with a good selection of speakers and events can reach and benefit a significant number of individuals, ranging from the general public to educators, therapists, and aromatherapy businesses of all types. Following is a complete discussion of guidelines needed for staging a successful event.

Non-Profit Organizations
Send a poll to all of your members with questions regarding the Conference. Ask your members who they would like to hear, what subjects they would like and how they would like the Conference organized. Listen to your members, incorporate their ideas, and find the speakers and Trade Show vendors that they want.

Patrons & Benefactors
The first step to planning a successful Conference and Trade Show is to 'kick-start' the event by securing your donors well in advance, which means at least 12 months prior to the intended Conference date. These patrons and benefactors are important, as they are virtually the ones who finance (underwrite) the Conference. Securing this funding early is a must in order to facilitate a strong promotional effort through regular and frequent mailings and other forms of publicity. You can remind your donors that they benefit from committing so many months in advance, as they will receive publicity on every mailing and every email you generate until the Conference date.

You can expect to need four major contributing patrons donating $2,500 each to get your Conference and Trade Show started. If you are lucky you will get one major benefactor to give $5,000-$10,000 which will pay for a reception and networking party as well. As you solicit donors, make sure they know that they will get a good booth at the Trade Show in addition to all the publicity you can generate and free passes to the Conference. (Those who donate $10,000 should receive 10 or more passes, $5000 donors - 5 passes, $2500 donors - 4 passes, and $500 donors - 2 passes.) It is a good idea to throw a party of some sort for them at Conference time as well. Remind all your donors that a considerable portion of what they give can be deducted from their income tax as a donation if you are a true non-profit organization, and that the higher the amount they give, the more publicity they will receive.

Speakers
The principal draw of an aromatherapy Conference is its speakers, so work on this part of the event early - at least 9 months prior to the Conference date.. When selecting speakers, bear in mind that the field of aromatherapy is composed largely of women (for instance NAHA, the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, is composed of 80% women, and membership in The Aromatic Plant Project is 75% women), and that your group of presenters should ideally reflect a similar female-male ratio. If women are the main consumers of aromatherapy products and education, it is only just that they should represent the same representation among the speaker pool. There are many women aromatherapy experts and scientists in the olfaction field who are excellent speakers. Places to contact for ideas on speakers include Monell Chemical Senses Center, top universities such as Yale and Harvard, The Fragrance Foundation, and The Scent & Taste Center in Chicago. Some specific suggestions for presenters include Avery Gilbert and Jeanne Rose from the US, Katerina Svoboda from Scotland, Nelly Grosjean from France, and Julia Lawless from England. If you have any connections in Italy, Germany, Japan, or other countries, pursue these as well. Speakers from abroad are often highly appealing, as most people in the US don't normally have the opportunity to see them.
Once you've explored who you'd like to have as presenters at your Conference, secure your speakers by sending them an invitation to speak (See "Solicitation Letter" below) and, when they've accepted, a contract with a submission due date for their paper. In the invitation tell the prospective speakers a bit about the Conference and what they stand to gain by participating. Inform them of the 'perks' they will be offered, such as all transportation costs (including the cost of getting to and getting from each airport), accommodations, and any remuneration that may or may not be available. For a true non-profit organization, many speakers will donate their time as well as their speaker fee back to the organization as they can take this donation off their IRS. Include an application for them to fill out, asking them to briefly describe their presentation and the time required, and what sort of audio-visual (AV) or other special needs they will have. Make it clear that AV needs beyond what you are prepared to provide must be paid for by the speaker in advance, and that the Conference Committee must be informed of these early on. You make a lot of trouble for yourself if you honor requests for extra equipment 48 hours before the Conference! Leave a space on the application for general comments or questions the speaker may have as well.

In the speaker contract it is important to include a clearly stated cancellation policy, fees or not, what sort of compensation they will get, travel arrangements and all those little details that help a speaker to do their work without worry. Make sure you get a copy of their lecture at least 6 months in advance so that you can publish it in your proceedings. It is also recommended to include a complimentary copy of the article, "How to Give an Aromatherapy Lecture" printed in the Spring 1998 issue of AROMAtherapy 2037. (See Sources.) The speaker should be told to submit a copy of their speech/lecture for review, and for the Proceedings seven months prior to the event, to enable ample time for production of the Conference Proceedings.

Venue
Choose a venue in an attractive area, that is at least near a large city. The venue should be easy to get to by air and certainly easy to get to and from the airport by shuttle or car service. The venue should be near good restaurants and places of interest. Send the participants a list giving 6 or more restaurants, places of interest and directions to them.

Your venue should be an attractive space with high ceilings. There is nothing worse than being in a low-ceilinged room where odor and heat collects, especially for aromatherapists/soap makers whose senses should be highly developed! Other important considerations include room size and trade-show logistics. First, consider how many attendees you realistically expect, and make sure the space that you choose can accommodate them. You can sign up 10% more than what the room will hold because you will inevitably receive cancellations.

This is an aromatherapy Conference, so don't forget to diffuse oils at the event! It is best to use a diffuser only at the entrance so that the first scent the attendees perceive is a pleasant one. (If there is air conditioning this will pull all the diffused oils out of the air anyway, so it is a bit of a waste of precious oils to have diffusers going throughout the whole room.)

Another important touch is flowers. Make sure you arrange for either a professional or the venue staff to provide attractive arrangements in and around the Conference and Trade Show rooms.
Arrange for the venue staff to provide hot water for tea for the participants, and, ideally, have your tea bags donated. (See Conference Product Sponsors below.) A popular addition to the Conference is an aromatic plant display. This involves procuring live plants donated from a nursery, the dried herbs from the same plants donated from an herb store, and sample essential oils of each plant. Laminated poster boards displaying information about each of the plants and oils are then made from enlarged photocopies of pages of an attractive Aromatherapy book. Ask permission of the author to use their work or, better yet, invite them to your event. Set up an attractive display of the plants and oils in the main Conference room -- this will provide Conference participants with a direct experience of aromatherapy that they will appreciate and learn from. The live and dried plants can then be donated after the Conference to your volunteer corps -- this makes a highly appealing gift and incentive for them, as it's something they will be able to enjoy and share with others for years to come.

Trade Show/Exhibitors
To stage a successful Trade Show, secure your exhibitors well in advance! Trade Show exhibitors often have multiple events and will only appear if they are given 9 - 12 months notice. A two-day Trade Show is recommended, on a Sunday and Monday. As you did for the speakers, compose both an invitation (again, see "Solicitation Letter") and a contract. The invitation should state complete information including dates and location, booth cost, furnishings (if any), and the expected number of attendees. Also important is a clear policy on the number of free Conference passes included with the purchase of a booth space and the cost of purchasing additional ones. Do not offer discounts on booths. If you intend to allow booths to be shared, require written permission by the Conference committee, and add a surcharge (such as $100) for this arrangement.

The contract should include the same information, along with a clearly outlined cancellation policy. Don't forget to include a deadline date for return of the booth contract. Offer the exhibitors a chance to sign up as a Patron or Sponsor, which means that, for a higher donation they would receive publicity in addition to the booth. (Also inform them that if they donate above a certain amount, they can write it off as a tax-exempt donation. For instance, if they donate $2500 and the booth fee is $500, and they receive $500 worth of publicity, they can get a tax write-off for the remaining $1500.) It is best to require that booth space be paid in full at the time of signing the contract. And because companies sometimes do not take the time to fully read their contracts, it is wise to leave space next to each line item for the initials of the person signing.
Also include the venue's policy on storage of extra boxes, freight assistance, etc. so the exhibitors are informed of what to expect when they are setting up and tearing down. The contract should explain that no sales or exhibiting of products will be allowed unless the person has a booth or table. This is to protect the vendors who have paid money to exhibit. (This should also be stated in the program brochure.) It is advisable to ensure that a Conference worker will be walking the floor and removing persons trying to show and sell their products without a booth or table.

In planning the Trade Show, calculate the number of exhibitors you are inviting and determine the Trade Show layout. It is advisable to have a separate entrance and exit for the exhibitors so as not to disturb the other Conference participants during set-up and break down. If the general public is invited to the Trade Show your attendance will be higher than that of the Conference. Make sure the Trade Show floor space will accommodate the additional persons attending.

In calculating space requirements, determine whether the public will be invited to attend the Trade Show only, and at what time they will be allowed entry. (The public should be allowed in later in the day so that the vendors have time to deal with wholesale accounts beforehand.)

Remember that the Monday part of the Trade Show is a good time for hairdressers, manicurists, and spa personnel to attend as they often have Mondays off. Blanket such businesses as well as hotels within a 100-mile radius of the conference site with the conference invitation. Have someone deliver 100 flyers monthly to all these places. You want your Monday Trade Show to be busy!
After the show is over, send a thank you card to each of your exhibitors and include the date of the next conference.

Public Relations - Getting the Word Out
Very early in the planning stage (a year in advance) you should spend some time gathering names and contact people for all forms of media and organizations whom you wish to publicize the event. This includes local media, newspapers, TV stations, health and health-food trade magazines, aromatherapy-related magazines and journals, and spas.

Once you've acquired your list of contacts, begin sending press releases by mail, E-mail, or FAX, and continue to do so at least monthly until the Conference date. (Regular US mail is still very effective because people can actually see, touch, and hopefully post the beautiful brochure you will have produced, and will therefore be much more likely to see it more often.) Only by repetition do you obtain successful publicity. Bear in mind that most news media may not cover or acknowledge the press releases until just prior to the show, so make sure you keep sending them out right up until show time, and weekly as the event date draws closer!

Also be aware that many media people don't read all the way through a press release, so your press releases should begin with short 'hot' sentences (no excess verbiage) that contain the important information there at the top. Include all the pertinent Conference details such as the date, time, location (city and state), and a contact name and phone number. Further down in the press release you can expand on the nature of the event for those who decide to read that far! Each press release should highlight a different aspect of the event, such as one or two of the speakers, or the fact that exotic oils from distant lands (e.g. Madagascar) will be featured at the Trade Show, so as to make them new to the reader each time. And don't forget to mention your patrons and benefactors as sponsors. Most importantly, make sure your press releases are educational and exciting as well as informative. Use a plain, easily read font - not large or small, boxed or extravagant. Be elegant and tasteful.

Another aspect of your publicity should be to make an announcement to all print media contacts asking for a free listing in their calendar of events. Do it early on in the Conference planning, and continue to do so every month until the Conference date.

Last but certainly not least, find a graphic designer to design a good advertisement. Place the ad in some or all of the following magazines: Herb Companion, AROMAtherapy 2037, Aromatic News, and Massage, and other like magazines.

Brochure/Posters/Flyers
Good marketing is essential for ensuring a well-attended Conference, so it is wise to put a lot of thought and expertise into this part of the planning. Choose a font (type face) and use it on all written materials and advertisements for the event. The font should be distinctive, attractive, tasteful and easily read. Do not choose a "fun" font, or one reminiscent of the psychedelic era! For the field of aromatherapy the font should be elegant and sophisticated. Send out your first brochure 12 months in advance, even if you don't have all the information your need.

As time passes and more details are known, redo your brochure each time to include the new information and send it out as a low-cost mailing. The more detail-oriented and clearly defined the descriptions on the brochure, the less problems there will be as the Conference approaches. List the speakers and workshop instructors, the location, the cost of attending, and the dates and times. Have these details proof-read by several editors for accuracy. It is essential to include the cancellation policy for tickets.

If there is to be a Trade Show, state whether the public will be invited, how much it costs for them to attend the Trade Show only (if this is an option), and at what time they will be allowed entry. (The public should be allowed in later in the day so that the vendors have time to deal with wholesale accounts beforehand.)
Offer an "early bird" super saver discount, e.g., save $100 if registered seven months prior to the event. Include the option to simultaneously sign up at a discount for membership in the sponsoring organization (if there is one). Note that super saver tickets are not transferable or refundable. The following should be stated on the brochure and on all other printed materials pertaining to the Conference: "Payment deadline for super saver sign-up is . . . (state date) and tickets will be mailed . . . (state an approximate date)." Also include "Please remember that everyone, regardless of age (if this is the case), must have a ticket for admittance." If there are exceptions to this policy, state them clearly.

In this midst of all these details, don't forget to make your flyer engaging and exciting. This can be done both through both dynamic graphic design and well-written copy. Make sure you have both of these features on your side. A good flyer is a very important too and can be brought up to date and changed monthly.
After you've got your flyer printed up, send it to everyone on your general mailing list (the largest list you have accessible), and do so two more times, at three month intervals starting 9 months before the event. Getting the word out early is very important in these times when each weekend is often likely to have several competing events that tempt people in different directions. You want to make sure that yours is the event they choose!

Workshop Instructors
In addition to procuring speakers and exhibitors, you will need to secure your aromatherapy workshop instructors. As with the first two groups, once you have determined whom you want to ask, send out your invitation and prepare your contract. Ideally, some or most of your instructors would be booth exhibitors.
Workshops can be in the evenings or on Trade Show Day. They should be 90 minutes in length. You can charge $30 for the workshop, which is shared 50/50 with the sponsoring organization. That is, workshop leaders are paid 50% of the proceeds while the sponsor organization keeps 50% - [they did all the promotion and renting of the space, etc.]

Require prospective instructors to submit a class syllabus, a proposed class fee, and to prepare all handouts prior to the class. It's a good idea to advise your instructors that the more thorough their handouts the happier their students will be. (They should understand that handouts are their responsibility and are included in the price of the class, and that they cannot charge extra for them.) State whether or not transportation and accommodations will be provided for them, and that instructors will be chosen on a first come/first served basis and on subject matter. List the workshop times and ask them if there are any scheduling restrictions they may have. Make sure a clear cancellation policy is included. Instructors should also be required to sign a release that they will allow their class to be audio-taped.

In preparing the workshop schedule, do not run more than 3 workshops concurrently, so that participants don't have to choose from too many. A total of six workshops is a good amount. (If you host more than this, scheduling becomes more complicated.) Have only a one-track system of speakers but 1-3 tracks for workshops.

Conference Product Sponsors
Once the speakers, venue, booth exhibitors, and workshop instructors have been secured (at least 6 months in advance), start soliciting companies to be product sponsors for the Conference. Any company that produces something aromatherapy- or herb-related is fair game for product give-aways, such as essential oil samples, car diffusers, cosmetic products, aromatherapy jewelry, etc. Herbal teas for the Conference participants are also a good donation to secure. If the Conference's sponsoring organization is a non-profit, make sure you let product sponsors know their donations are tax deductible. Also let them know they will be given lots of publicity on your promotional materials and the Conference program. Make sure your volunteers get lots of these samples for their efforts.

Contact Education Units (CEU's or Contact Hours )
To enhance the appeal of your Conference, secure educational contact hours with a variety of organizations. This needs to be done well in advance as in some states the bureaucratic procedure takes a number of months. Organizations to apply to include the State Registered Nurses and State Registered Massage Therapists associations of your area and throughout the United States.

Volunteers
To help you accomplish all the many aspects of your Conference preparation, gather a strong base of volunteers and utilize them as much as possible. Send a letter to all prospective helpers inviting them to assist with the Conference & Trade Show. Offer them free admittance to the show in exchange for 30 hours of work prior to the show, or for working at the show itself. Let them know how extremely important they are to the success of the show, and how much you appreciate them volunteering their time. Make sure they get lots of free goodies, such as aromatherapy products donated by sponsors and the live plants on display mentioned above. Supply them with drinks and lunch each day of the event, and don't forget to send them a thank you note after it's all over. Also have a group photo taken of the entire volunteer crew.

Book Sales, T-Shirts
Order books beginning 90 - 180 days in advance of the show. Bear in mind that some books are extremely difficult to obtain, and for these titles, order even further ahead. Make sure you order the books written by your presenters, and rare books that are not usually available in book stores. Don't bother to order books that your attendees probably already have.

Have some of your volunteer staff be in charge of the book sales table at the show. Arrange to have a credit card machine and cash register at the book table, and make sure the venue staff knows about this so that there will be the right electrical and phone outlets handy, etc. Make sure the cash register is programmed properly for the appropriate sales tax. Have the staff set up and organize the table well before the doors open for the first participants -- be aware that there will likely be a huge rush for books at the start as people will come thirsty for knowledge and good books are premium!

As an extra money-maker and souvenir item, have T-shirts printed up with an attractive image and description of the event. Sell them at the Book Table, and also have staff members wear them every day at the event. (Staff shirts should say "Volunteer" on the back, but shirts for sale should not.)

Participant Solicitation Letter
Instead of having to compose many different invitations for the various groups you seek to attract to your Conference (Sponsors, Speakers, Vendors, Instructors, Advertisers, and Volunteers), you can simply write one letter, addressed to "Do you love AROMA?", and send it to your general mailing list. Describe all aspects of the Conference and Trade Show and why it will be such a great event- mention the location, the theme, the opportunities for networking and learning, and how many attendees you expect - and of course mention that it's an excellent opportunity for aromatherapy business promotion of all types.

Then list separate paragraphs for each of the participant groups you are seeking to involve. For Sponsors and for Speakers, mention all the benefits they will receive for participating (include application forms for each group with the letter). Also include an Exhibitors application form and a map of the venue if you have one. If you are seeking advertisers other than the Sponsors, mention where the ads will be printed (e.g. in the Conference program) and enclose a rate sheet and ad submission deadline.

Miscellaneous
o Consider hiring a professional photographer to document the event. Give him/her good guidelines as to key people and events you want photographed or have someone with them to get those key people photographed..
o A dinner or cocktail reception the first night of the Conference is a fun networking opportunity. As it is obviously a significant expense, charge extra for this and require that participants sign up for it at the time they send in their Conference registration fees.
o As Conference Chair or Coordinator, you will probably be doing some or most of the speaker introductions -- if not, arrange for someone else to do so. Because you'll have a lot on your mind (!) don't forget to do something for yourself that feels good just prior to the event, such as a facial, manicure, or massage. Make yourself available to talk to people, smile and enjoy the job that you have done!
This is the most important information you will need to stage a successful Conference. See Part II in the next issue of this magazine for more helpful information on other aspects of Conference production such as security, participant name tags, staff badges, volunteer coordination, venue and Trade Show layout, Trade Show prizes, and more.

Institute of Aromatic Studies, 219 Carl St, San Francisco, CA 94117 o
Jeanne Rose 1996, 1998 o All Rights Reserved

No part of this article may be used
without prior permission from The Aromatic Plant Project.
Author's Copyright and Jeanne Rose, info@aromaticplantproject.com



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