The PCO’s role in the Conference Market Place … (Often thought of as ‘The Back-Stage boys’)

Conference venue Magaliesburg

NSGCD Conference (Photo credit: Earthworm)

Sometimes it would appear that the PCO (Professional Conference Organiser) is regarded as merely a booking agent and it seems appropriate to shift this perception as the PCO is, in effect, quite possibly a corporate secretary’s Genie in the Bottle!

This industry has grown enormously over the past 25 odd years and it is understandable as the PCO is a dedicated individual who incorporates all his or her clients’ requirements and handles all the ancillary services affording the corporate secretary or P.A., the CEO or whoever the client contact may be peace of mind, time to focus on other important issues and the content of their forthcoming event. There is little the client needs to do themselves as far as planning the event is concerned with the exception of the final decisions on various issues such as guests who will share rooms, who the VIP’s are, agendas etc. and of course, affording them the time needed to attend to the content of the event, select their speakers and so much more.

Audio Visual :

All PCO’s are in contact with everyone, everywhere and have learned what is required for the size of the event they are managing or coordinating. This enables them to give the best advice to the client, according to the venue the client has selected, according to acoustics in the venue, according to space and seating arrangements. Your PCO will take you to view a variety of venues in the area you are considering, bearing in mind what your budget is, or if this is not possible will make these arrangements on your behalf to visit the conference venues at your convenience. The PCO will obtain as many quotes as they can from hotels and conference centres

nationally for conference facilities, catering, accommodation, day trips away, bus tours etc. They will further call for quotes from the numerous outsourced suppliers whom they also know and work with on a daily basis. This would include team building ideas, finding the nearest Golf Course, and what would best work at the venue of choice; it would include transport to and from the venue and/or airport; it would include planning a Gala dinner to include entertainment, special themes, seating plans, décor, to assist with menu decisions and to recommend how to manage the bar arrangements for the event. The list is endless.

The Conference:

An essential ingredient in the success of the event is the ‘bones’ of the conference or event. A PCO will gather all the paper work from either the client or from the various trainers or facilitators giving lectures or reading papers at the conference, whether electronically or printed and will ensure that these are given to the Audio Visual company ahead of time for their planning and ‘loading’ onto their system. Where necessary, there will be one or two or more technicians on site throughout the event to ensure the smooth running of this vital aspect. These highly qualified people are sound engineers, visual engineers and diligently organised and focussed people who have studied your facilitators’ papers thoroughly before the event. They simply cannot drop the ball! The PCO knows who the most trustworthy and reliable outsourced companies are.

Registration and Pre-Registration:

A PCO will handle all pre-registration from delegates wishing to participate at the conference, having designed a registration form which is e-mailed to all possible attendees some time before the event; collection of their payment for accommodation and/or conference if a central account is not responsible for payment of the day costs. This dedicated person or people will then be at the venue to register delegates on the arrival day, having already, prior to the event, ordered and had couriered, per the clients’ spec, conference bags, pre-printed with company logo, packed these with the necessary materials being handed out on registration day. They will hand out pre-made lanyards and name badges upon registration and ensure that pre-payment has been made.


A very important issue is diet: A PCO will always require this information from the delegates upon their pre-registration or from his or her client ahead of time. This would include requests for halaal, kosha, vegetarian, vegan, diabetic meals and note allergic conditions etc. and the venue would be pre-advised of all these finer details well ahead of time so that these delegates enjoy the type of cuisine they specifically call for. The same would apply to delegates with disabilities, where special accommodation is required; bar requirements, assistance with wine choices, etc.

Ten days or so, prior to an event, the PCO will send out a Function Sheet to the client with all the details he or she has gathered throughout the planning period and the sometimes daily contact with the client, leading up to the commencement of the event, for the client to check as it is essential to the success of the event to ensure that there is no room for error. On this, will already be a rooming list which he or she will have got from the client thereby allowing the check in process at the venue to run smoothly and quickly without unnecessary delays.

Room Drops and gifts are often called for and the PCO will attend to all this on the clients’ behalf if necessary, will wrap them and ensure that they are placed in hotel rooms ahead of time or at any other appropriate place or time the client desires. Frequently, gifts or trophies are given out at an Awards Ceremony which might form part of the event. The PCO will attend to all of this.


Should your event also incorporate an expo during the run of the conference, the PCO will procure the best prices for Shell Schemes for the expo. They will then send the room plan with the numbered Shell Schemes to the client organising the event on behalf of his or her company to allow them to place exhibitors in the booths that are best suited to their products.

Translation Facilities:

The PCO is also connected to translators, in any language and will arrange all the translation requirements on behalf of the client. This is vital as well as many international events are taking place more and more frequently in South Africa now.

It should be remembered too that throughout the planning period of a conference or event, the PCO is also constantly in contact with the hotel or conference centre, and all out sourced suppliers, updating them on any changes; updating them on dietary requirements, rooming changes, agendas for meals and teas, technical requirements, entertainment and absolutely everything and anything that will take place during the conference. It is essential that the hotel or conference centre and the outsourced suppliers  are well-informed about absolutely everything about the event and it is up to the PCO to ensure that he or she obtains this information as soon as possible after the booking has been confirmed.  It can take months, or weeks and daily contact as the event approaches. It depends on the size and content of the event. This dedicated person will be your support.

Trust is very important. A client will discover early on if they have selected a PCO he or she will be compatible with. Once this has been established, allow the PCO to get on with what they know best while liaising with you, the client as often as is required. Strong relationships are built up around the event and trust is the key . . . vital to the success of the event too is to record every tiny detail in writing between yourself and your PCO and for the PCO, between the PCO and the venue!

Note ‘Attention To Detail’ !

And if space prevailed . . . there is still so much untouched information to discuss . . .  Each event develops its own dynamic, its own life and there is always something new to learn.

In a nutshell, a reputable PCO is, nowadays a necessity. This person or these people are here to serve. Service is what their business is about. They live it, they love it and for them, there is also a great sense of achievement when the whole plan comes together beyond expectation! This is what we might call a Win-Win scenario. Secretaries and P.A’s, CEO’s, Financial Managers, H.R. Managers (the list goes on) … simply haven’t got the time to attend to all the nuts and bolts of an event themselves in their 24 hour days, amongst a trillion other demands on their time.

Conference venues Magaliesburg

Hekpoort View

Hekpoort View (Photo credit: Martin_Heigan)

The village of Magaliesburg, lies just below the Southern Range of the Magaliesburg Mountains. The roads and rivers take similar paths, breaking through the steep ridges of the mountains, only to traverse much of the land along the valleys on either side of the two mountain ridges.

The reality of Magaliesburg disaffirms its languid village ambience. Of the many places to visit in the region, there is also a variety of accommodation establishments, peaceful, result-achieving conference venues in abundance and a host of interesting activities available. Whatever your interest, you will find something to delight you as you travel the area and experience the environment.

History of Mankind

The Magaliesberg probably has the most intriguing and longest session of history, as man would have experienced, than anywhere else on earth. This since the discovery of the remains of the earliest species of primitive man known today, in and around the Sterkfontein Caves, 20 minutes drive from Magaliesburg.

The tribes of the descendants of the earliest proto-hominids had free reign in this peaceful valley, they fished in the clear, sparkling streams, and hunted the vast herds of animals that roamed the area, with primitive tools made from stone and later forged from iron. While human life was frequently threatened by the odd wild animal, or early death from injury or disease, man lived in total harmony with nature, which flourished in abundance in the greater Magaliesburg region over the past two million years of mans’ development.

Then, in the mid 1800’s, the great tribes of the north swept through the valley, bringing grief and upheaval to this once idyllic haven. In time, the Tribes moved on, and peace returned, but not for long, as war broke out again, when Mzilikazi’s impis attacked, capturing the women and enslaving the men and young, to be incorporated into their army of warriors.

In the late 1800’s, the “white” tribes from the south arrived, also seeking their piece of this paradise and with guns a blazing, they drove back the local tribes and hunted the game avidly, causing their numbers to dwindle rapidly.

Then in1899, war was declared between the two “White Tribes”, the British and the Boer republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State. Within a year, blood and human lives were lost between these two warring parties, in the Magaliesberg valleys, at Kommando Nek and Nooitgedacht.

In 1902, peace reigned once again in this garden of Eden and humans recaptured the paradise we now know, living peaceful and co-existent with nature, farming the land and together living in a democracy.

Today, Magaliesburg, steeped in interesting history has grown into an area abundant with tourist attractions, with a number and variety of conference venues, and a most sought after conference destination, so very convenient to delegates travelling from Johannesburg, Pretoria, Rustenburg with many team building activities available throughout the area. This is a paradise where every descendent of the earliest species of mankind, is welcome to come back “home”.

Organising a Conference – Part 2

Delegates at the conference Some of the delega...

Delegates at the conference Some of the delegates at the first Geograph Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In this 2nd week’s article we will cover location and dates when sourcing a conference venue.  Location and dates go hand in hand as most of the points to note depend on each other.

Part 1 of this series can be found here

Should readers want info or articles published on specific areas, please feel free to contact the writer and these will be considered.


Week 2

Location and dates

Some points to note when considering the location and the dates of your conference are: –

a)      How will delegates be commuting to the conference venue?  If delegates will be driving, take into consideration driving time to avoid delegates arriving late.  The programme or agenda should take this into account and be drafted accordingly.

b)      If the host of the conference will be transporting delegates to and from the conference venue, call for quotes from transport companies or in-house transfers to budget accordingly to get delegates to and from the venue timeously.

c)       If delegates will be arriving and departing by air, take into account the frequency of flights on airlines to and from the destination.  Some conference venues in South Africa have limited flights which may be more expensive than other destinations.  They may also not run on, say for instance a Sunday, which will result in delegates staying an extra night or arriving a day early.   Take this into account when setting your dates to ensure that you have a decent turnout at your conference.

d)      Check what other conferences are taking place at the same venue or at the same destination as yours.  Often delegates need to book their own accommodation and if many conferences are taking place simultaneously at the same destination (i.e. Sandton), hotel rooms may be in short supply and priced slightly higher than normal.  Also commuting to the conference centre may be difficult if the conference overlaps with others at the same time in the same destination or venue.

e)      It is always advisable to view the venue before confirming a reservation.  Most hotels or conference venues in South Africa will gladly invite you on a site inspection to view their facilities and experience their service first hand.  You should take up this offer in order to see, first-hand, what the food, the facilities and the service is like to ensure that your delegates will be comfortable and that the venue will work for your conference.

f)       Take into account the time of year your conference will take place and the climate at that time, in that region, and advise delegates accordingly.  You may be planning a lot of outdoor activities and it won’t help if it is the rainy season.  Or you may be planning to do some white water rafting and it won’t help if it is cold.

g)      Take into account school holidays.  The venue may be a popular holiday destination and you may find that it is noisy and very busy with holiday makers.  Rates may be higher too.

h)      Some venues, in some areas, insist that you book for the whole weekend as they are primarily a leisure establishment.  Try and change location or ensure that you are not setting dates over a weekend if this will cause a problem.

i)        At the end of the day it is common sense, but I hope that this article will have given you at least one point to consider that you had not considered when setting dates and location for your conference.

In next week’s article we will cover catering for your delegates.  In the meantime please feel free to comment and ask questions which may not have been covered in this article.