Conference attendees at tables watching slide presentation showing maps depicting in primary colors economic and environmental health impacts based on race

The Inflation Reduction Act Conference Playbook

The Inflation Reduction Act Conference Playbook

By Ryan Buckley, Member, Organizing Committee
Contra Costa County and the Inflation Reduction Act conference

On May 18, 2023, environmental organizers in Contra Costa County held an all-day conference at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill to educate local leaders about the potential funding opportunities provided by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2021. 

Several months of weekly meetings culminated in an event attended by 130 community leaders from almost every city in the county. We had mayors, city managers, councilmembers, labor leaders, economic and workforce development staff, college faculty and administrators, and environmental advocates in attendance. The energy was great, and the outcome speaks for itself: an equally diverse group of 30 attendees meets regularly to keep the momentum going two months later. 

We wrote this handbook to share how this event came to fruition so others can duplicate it in their communities. We have organized it by lessons learned. Each section is a lesson, and in the context of what we learned, we make suggestions to help you lead a successful event.

Form a dedicated committee and start early

It will take six months of weekly meetings to do this right. Good work takes time.

The idiosyncrasies for an event about the Inflation Reduct Act, and the reason it takes so long to organize, is that the speakers and the audience are very specific. This is not your typical “open to the public” style conference. We don’t think it should be advertised as such. The public is welcome, but to maximize your impact, every seat counts. You want to put people in those seats who can make a local impact while maintaining a diversity of stakeholder groups.

For example, we wanted to make sure these groups were represented:

  • Labor
  • Educators
  • Elected officials (mayors and councilmembers) from all the cities and our county
  • City managers
  • Economic development: city, county, state, and private
  • Environmental groups
  • Community development NGOs
  • Technology startups

With an audience like this, you need to focus on your agenda and getting the right people to show up. This takes time. We didn’t get representation from every city, but we did reach out to all of them. If we ran this conference again, it would probably be easier to get them all. Precedence will help us going forward.

We had five members on our organizing committee. It was the right number for us.

Be strategic about your venue

Choosing the right venue is critical! The wrong venue will spoil your event. Here are a few tips:

  • Find some date + venue combinations
  • Avoid Mondays and Fridays
  • The venue should be centrally located and near parking or public transit
  • The venue layout should be flexible and easily fit 100 people seated
  • The venue should have on-site audio/video, food service, and bathrooms

Also, use the venue selection as an opportunity to find a “host” organization who might as well also let you use their logo. This is an early win to add legitimacy to your conference which will be helpful in future requests.

We held our conference at Diablo Valley College (DVC), a large local community college with a good, non-partisan reputation. It’s a pillar of the local community, and our goals were closely aligned with those of the workforce development department at the college. Since one of our organizers taught at DVC and organized a conference there previously, this was an obvious venue choice. It checked every box listed above. It also added the benefit of putting everyone in a learning mindset.

Other options include:

  • Cafeteria or large flex space at an office building
  • City hall or similar government building meeting room
  • A local Chamber of Commerce office
  • Labor group building and meeting space
  • Public community event space (e.g. wedding venues operated by local government)

Find a few options available on a range of dates your team prefers.

Spend a lot of time thinking about your agenda

The VIPs you invite will care about the agenda. It needs to be relevant and actionable for them. Attending your conference should be a time saver, not a time sink. In other words, to some degree, you should be doing their job for them. They will also care about who is in the audience and how many people will attend. Your sponsors will want to know this, too. 

For both VIPs and sponsors, it helped to share how much effort was going into inviting the right stakeholders, especially those with influence (a.k.a. other VIPs). Explaining that the audience would be active stakeholders rather than passive attendees helped us get better speakers.

In our case, it also helped to have one visionary on the committee who led the agenda strategy. This person should have a deep understanding of the topic and the political landscape in your community. They should have a good network and already have connections to some of the critical speakers.

Absent this role on the committee, you can get by with the following structure:

  • Overview of the IRA
  • Drilldown on local IRA opportunities
  • Announcements and discussion
  • Lunch
  • Breakout topics
  • Close

We found that interaction was greatly appreciated and easy for us to facilitate. The breakout groups allowed us to delegate some of the organizing to experts who we simply asked to attend and lead a discussion. 

Together, you’ll need to brainstorm a thoughtful agenda that speaks to the unique needs of your community. You might speak with local officials to get their ideas if you’re uncertain about what exactly the needs are. From the agenda, it should become apparent which anchor speakers might commit early and lend legitimacy to your conference.

The other speaker names should come into view soon after the anchor speaker is considered or selected. Then comes the easy part – reaching out to see if they’ll speak! We did it the old-fashioned way: we should up at meetings. We also sent emails and made phone calls until we got a response.

Figure out a reasonable budget so you can set your ticket prices

In retrospect, we didn’t charge enough. We set tickets at $25, but it turned out not to be high enough, even though we sold about 130 tickets.

Here’s our simple budget. You can see that our expenses were $600 higher than our budget. This happened because we didn’t get a quote from the catering department at DVC. It was the end of the academic year, and we were lucky to have their help! In retrospect, we should have insisted they provide a cost, and we would have priced the conference accordingly. 

Ticket Sales $2,337.50Printing $1,209.45
Sponsor A$250.00Honorarium$200.00
Sponsor B$600.00Staff Support$500.00
Sponsor C$1,000.00

The printing cost is high but it was really important. We got a lot of great feedback about the wall posters. You can see what we printed in the resource links at the end of the post. We also paid one person $500 to help with conference logistics. We also had six volunteers to provide more support during the day, especially directing people to the right building on the DVC campus that morning.

Here we’ll also describe the three groups of organizations we coalesced as we went through the organizing process. They are sponsors, hosts, and partners. 

  • Sponsors gave us money in exchange for publicity and acknowledgment. See the Sponsorship Letter in our resources section. 
  • Hosts helped us organize or donated in-kind. The organizations represented by the organizing committee were the first hosts. Diablo Valley College and the community college district were also hosts. 
  • Partners helped with publicity. They agreed to promote the conference in their newsletters and on their websites. 

Sponsors, hosts, and partners will dramatically reduce your conference expenses. For example, we did not have to pay for a venue because DVC was a host. That’s a huge savings!

Give yourself more time than you think you need

Colorful timeline spreadsheet so steps to organizing an IRA Conference
Timeline chart created by Sarah Daniels
(Click on image to open downloadable PDF file)

Don’t commit to a date that you can’t make. Nobody wins if your conference organizing is rushed and things fall through. Your audience and speakers need you to be 100% confident in the outcome. They’ll feel it if you’re stressed out, and the whole thing can spiral downhill. Don’t let that happen; give yourself plenty of time. 

Here’s what a six-month timeline might look like:

Six months before

  • Set the committee
  • Identify venue options
  • Identify a range of dates
  • Settle on a couple of viable venue + date options

Five months before

  • Choose the general focus of the conference
  • Agree upon the audience based on this focus
  • Identify anchor speakers based on the focus and audience
  • See if anchor speakers are available on any of the viable venue dates
  • Brainstorm some sponsors, hosts, and partners (more on this distinction below)
  • Lock in the anchor speaker(s) and the venue on the date

Four months before

  • Begin producing basic conference marketing material
    • A catchy conference name
    • A descriptive and short Tagline
    • A memorable logo
  • Write and distribute the sponsorship letter to potential sponsors
  • Solicit partners to help promote the conference
  • Solicit reputable hosts to give the conference more clout
  • Continue to refine the agenda; it doesn’t yet need to be perfect

Three months before

  • Set up the Eventbrite page and allow tickets to be purchased for $35/ea
    • Purchase an easy to remember domain and redirect it to the public Eventbrite page
    • Don’t charge speakers, sponsors, partners, or hosts
    • Offer discounts or waive fees for certain stakeholders
  • Lock in sponsors and get their checks
  • Look into catering options:
    • Pastry and coffee in the morning
    • Lemonade and/or ice tea available all day
    • Bag lunch or buffet with a light dessert
  • Pencil out a budget to make sure costs are covered 
  • Continue to refine the agenda

Two months before

  • Begin an email and phone outreach campaign to cities
  • Ask partners to put a conference blurb with the website link into newsletters 
  • Finalize the agenda structure and continue to fill in minor speaking roles
  • Reach out to local Congresspersons about attending or submitting videos
  • Begin writing the MC script

One month before

  • Get final speakers in place
  • Finalize the agenda
  • Really push the outreach to the targeted attendees: call them by phone and show up at their meetings

One week before

  • Send print materials to the printer
  • Send final headcount to the caterer
  • Make centerpieces for tables
  • Ask speakers to submit their slides
  • Prepare the slide deck

One day before

  • Print out nametags
  • Prepare the room layout
  • Test the A/V in the room; charge the microphones if battery-powered
  • Make centerpieces 
  • Finalize slide deck

Morning of

  • Put signs out directing people where to go
  • Volunteers outside directing attendees to the conference
  • Prepare a registration table with name tags and swag

1 week later

  • Survey attendees to get feedback

Yes, it’s a lot of work, and guess what – we’re leaving stuff out! To help you, we include a few public links to our materials. Use them as you like.

Summary of what went well and what we’d improve

If I’m being perfectly honest, we did a bang-up job. The whole thing was great. I want to state that upfront! 

Like any worthwhile endeavor, though, there’s room for improvement. I’ll list a few items here. 

What went well

  • We got people to show up
  • The organizing team stayed organized and got along well
  • We had a lot of hands-on support at the conference
  • We had everything done the night before
  • It started and ended on time
  • The attendees are hungry for more
  • No A/V problems
  • We made sure everyone could find the venue
  • The agenda was a good mix of listening and interaction

What we can improve

  • We didn’t make enough revenue
  • We didn’t get every city to attend
  • We didn’t get a great recording of the event

We wanted to keep this blog post short. You have a conference to organize, after all 😀

Good luck!

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