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Conference Cost Estimator: Large-Scale Event Expenses You Need to Know to Budget Right

Estimating the cost of your conference is a bit like walking a tightrope—a fantastic feat when done well, but one false step can cost you dearly. Understanding the cost of critical elements at different price points lets you build a budget that’s on target and aligned with your event goals. A firm grasp of price ranges also helps you balance quality and affordability, and make smarter choices when sourcing venues and vendors, and pricing your event tickets

So, we’ve pulled together a handy conference cost estimator for you! Read on for cost estimates of all the big and small costs that add up to an amazing event. 

Conference cost estimates for 10 big-ticket event expenses 

Pricing your expenses for an event is tricky because fees vary from service to service and vendor to vendor. The important thing is to compile a list of deal-breaking expenses first. Everything you need to make your event successful starts with these big-ticket items.  

1. The venue

Estimated cost: + $950 to $1,250 per hour for the event space 

Of all the expenses for an event, the venue is one of your most important budget items. It’s also one of the most varied when it comes to the price range. Keep in mind the factors that play into the price of your venue.

Location. This plays an outsized role in the cost. When searching through a list of reputable venues, you’ll find higher prices in areas such as Chicago, San Diego, and Washington DC. Moving your event to an area such as Charlotte, Oklahoma City, or even Portland can lower your costs. 

Type of venue. There’s a significant difference in venue pricing between the Four Seasons and a Ramada Inn. 

Size. The number and size of event rooms you require will change your budget. More rooms and more space equals more money. 

Inclusions. If the venue includes full catering and wait staff, you’ll pay more for the venue but eliminate the need to hire an outside caterer. If your venue simply includes conference rooms and meeting spaces, your cost will be lower, but you’ll need to budget for F&B.   

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2. A conference event app 

Estimated cost (for conference pricing): + $1,500  

A custom event planning app allows you to share content with attendees to get them excited about the event, but it also lets you share your brand and forge deeper connections throughout the conference. An event app can also help encourage people to register—especially those who are on the fence. Other benefits of using an app for your event include:

  • Instant feedback about a session or the overall event experience. 
  • Notifications about last-minute changes, such as speakers, locations, and times. 
  • Project your content on a screen in real-time. 
  • Provide post-event surveys and live polling.  

3. Food and beverage 

Estimated cost: + $125 to $200 per person, per day for three meals and two snacks

If your venue pricing includes meals, snacks, and coffee, you might not have separate F&B costs. But if F&B is your responsibility charge, you’ll have to determine how many people you’re feeding, and how much you are going to feed them. Your budget depends on knowing if you’ll have waffle and omelet stations ready for attendees at 7 a.m., or if you’ll let guests fend for themselves before starting morning sessions at 9 a.m. with coffee and pastries available.  

If you plan an all-day event, cut costs by booking a food truck for lunch and letting guests cover their own meal, or schedule a two-hour break for dinner so everyone can grab a bite before regrouping for evening events.  

One area where you can’t—and shouldn’t—skimp is coffee, tea, and water service throughout the event. Plan an average of $64 per gallon for coffee, depending on the type you serve and the condiments you provide.

4. Speakers and presenters 

Estimated cost: + $4,500 to $8,500 for a professional speaker with solid experience 

The price of a keynote speaker or a presenter at your event can vary. Booking a well-known individual with extensive experience in a subject, such as a renowned published author, will cost between $10,000 and $25,000. Looking to book a famous celebrity? Expect to pay between $50,000 and $100,000. 

To cut costs, however, look for a keynote speaker who is just starting out and wants to boost their exposure. Or, find a subject-matter expert within your company with a lot of experience and wisdom who is willing to share their story and advice in exchange for the speaking experience.   

5. Additional staff

Estimated cost: + $12 to  $40 per hour based on the position

Consider all of the folks behind-the-scenes who help run the show at an event: security guards, people to handle registration intake, greeters, additional wait staff, and more. These are expenses you may or may not incur at your event, but deciding if you need them in advance lets you plan your budget. 

Wait staff generally charge $25 per hour, greeters and helpers around $12, and security guards earn $40 an hour for their protective services. 

6. Travel expenses and hotel accommodations

Estimated cost: +$700 per person for a three-day event  (see breakdown below)

Travel expenses for additional staff, VIPs, keynote speakers, and presenters are a big part of your event budget, yet these expenses are easy to overlook and underestimate. Consider items and their average pricing:

  • Airline tickets. Pricing can vary widely based on location, time of flight, airline, and season. That said, low-cost tickets can cost $200 and higher-priced tickets can take $500 or much more out of your budget.
  • Hotel accommodations. Estimate between $125 and $225 per person, per night. For luxury business travel, room rates can skyrocket beyond this.
  • Meals outside of the event. Approximately $30 per person for dinner.

You might get lucky with airline tickets and hotels if everyone working or presenting at your event is local, but you should still budget for their meals and transportation to off-site events. 

7. A/V equipment and staff

Estimated cost: + $1,100 to $1,400 for equipment, + $350 to $450 per day for A/V staffer  

Your venue might provide A/V equipment like LCD projectors, screens, monitors, and DVD players, which will lower your equipment budget, but you still need to hire professional A/V staff to run the show. 

If you need to hire an event photographer, plan on an additional $150 to $250 per hour. The average cost of a videographer is $750 to $1,000 for the event.

8. Paid advertising

Estimated cost: + $5,000

Your advertising budget depends on your marketing plan. The conference cost estimator here factors in paid search through Google Ads or hiring a third party PR agency. Facebook ads are a viable option with advertising rates based on cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM). You might also design an event website to help maximize your registrations.

There are several little-to-no-cost options for advertising your event, including promotion on your business website, setting up a Facebook Event page, and using social media to get people excited. With that in mind, your estimated cost can fall well below the price listed above.

9. Printing branded elements (signage, banners, and programs)

Estimated cost: + $90 to $170 per item 

Large vinyl banners, podium signs, programs, directional maps—all of these items increase your brand awareness, help with organization, and make your conference look and feel professional. 

And don’t forget the name badges. Customized event badges range from $1.50 to $2.00 per badge, depending on finish, graphics, and vendor. 

10. Rentals including tables, chairs, and linens

Estimated cost: + $2,100 a day 

If your venue provides this service, it’s one less thing to include when planning your event costs. If not, it’s a cost you must incur to ensure an organized event. Use your event planning software to create seating charts and floor plans that keep everything flowing smoothly.

Guide: How to Create an Event Planning Checklist

Conference cost estimates for extra expenses to make your event memorable 

1. Gifts and SWAG

Estimated cost: + $2 to $8 per item 

Conference swag bags and other fun takeaway gifts really make an impression. Include inexpensive promotional and usable items, such as branded pens, mini padfolios, tote bags, USB flash drives, fidget spinners, or custom power banks.

2. Unique experiences

Estimated cost: + $0 to $800 per experience 

Provide a unique experience or two during the event that gives everyone a break from all things business. After all, breaks are essential for networking and recharging the brain during the workday. 

  • Rent a karaoke machine for afternoon breaks. +$250 per day
  • Set up a photo booth at the event wrap-up party. +$125 to $200 per hour
  • Bring in a magician or stand-up comedian to entertain during the afternoon slump. +$200 to $450 per hour 
  • Provide board games and cards for breaks and lunches. + $0 to $100 (if you have to purchase a few games yourself)

3. Entertainment

Estimated cost: $650 to $1,700 per event 

Whether it’s background music or a string quartet playing classical pieces through the lunch hour, music elevates events

4. Decorations 

Estimated cost: +$200 to $1,000

Balloons, flower arrangements, centerpieces, and even red carpets add visual appeal, transforming a so-so space into a vibrant gathering spot. If you prefer to leave the decor to a pro, the average cost of hiring an event decorator runs between $830 to $1,110.

5. Off-site events

Estimated cost: +$40 per person to $2,000 per event 

Off-site events are great for team building and getting to know others outside the workplace. Some events can be held during conference hours or after the day’s end.  

  • Set up a private screening at a local movie theater. +$40 per person. Most theater chains have deals that include concessions and ticket pricing for a reasonable rate. 
  • Rent out a bowling alley. + $1,000 to $2,000 based on peak times. 
  • Set up a wine tasting event at a local vineyard or beer tasting at a craft brewery. + $15 to $25 per person.

Remember: prices on all of these items can run higher, or lower, depending on a wide range of factors. When planning your expenses for an event, though, it’s better to plan above the average than below to keep from going over budget for complete organization.

Now put this conference cost estimator for event expenses to use!

Now that you have a firm grasp on the expenses, dive into the top secrets of planning a large scale event with minimal stress. Or, discover how event planning software  can help you keep your contacts, vendors, and layouts organized. 

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