Determine the meeting or event purpose (board meeting, wedding, etc.). Consider the size of the group, gender mix, ages of attendees, and any special needs.
Determine meeting dates. Avoid dates that coincide with other company or industry events or holidays. Are the dates and/or days of the week firm or flexible? Plan the meeting or event in advance to secure the most desirable space.
Create an outline for each session or activity, including expected attendance, seating arrangements, required setup times, starting and ending times, and audiovisual and production needs.
List food and beverage requirements for each occasion, including meals, receptions and breaks.
Consider air and ground transportation needs. Plan entertainment and recreation needs, group activities and/or team-building exercises.
Prepare a timeline for producing invitations, event promotion, registration and production of meeting materials.
Designate an administrative person to create name badges and coordinate written material. Budget for all sponsor expenses and calculate expenses for meeting participants.
Schedule speaker(s), if required.
Determine which expenses will be assumed by the meeting or event sponsor and by the attendees. Create a balance sheet listing expenses for all functional areas of your meeting or event, such as staff time, marketing expenses, air and ground transportation, accommodations, food and beverage, entertainment and recreation, taxes and gratuities, service charges, audiovisual equipment and production costs.
Build in a contingency fund for unanticipated, last-minute expenses.
Don't forget expenses for licenses (music, written materials) and insurance (liquor and general liability, business cancellation and interruption).
Check budgets from similar meetings or events to gauge costs.
Make sure funds are allocated to pay all suppliers. Establish a holding account for accrued program expenses.
Consult with your company's accounting office or financial officer on formatting the budget so it's compatible with internal accounting systems.
Secure the signature of a financial officer or other person with fiscal responsibility in your company, for any expenditures above what you have budgeted.
Determine if there are any goals or needs that might make a particular destination more preferable. Choose a convenient location based on where your guests are traveling from, their travel time and cost to reach a destination, and a site near air and/or ground transportation.
Adhere to your organization's travel program and current arrangements with preferred hotels and airlines. Be aware of seasonal hotel occupancy rates, room taxes and recent changes in supply or demand that will affect your expenses. Schedule around big conventions or festivals that could limit hotel room supply and services during your meeting or event dates.
Check flight schedules/frequency to your destination - most participants prefer direct, nonstop flights. Consider factors such as weather, security, political/social climate and labor considerations that may affect participation and/or costs of the event.
Determine the type of hotel that will best suit your meeting or event needs (an airport hotel, convention and meeting hotel, resort, conference center or all-suite hotel).
Determine the type and number of guest rooms needed (singles, doubles, suites, specially equipped business rooms or rooms accessible for people with special needs.)
Determine the number and size of meeting rooms needed; use past programs as a benchmark. Choose a hotel with facilities that meet your needs, such as sleeping and meeting rooms, restaurants, sightseeing and recreation options.
Keep in mind the comfort of your attendees. Consider hotel services that will enhance the stay of special guests or VIPs. Submitting Meeting or Event Specifications or a Request for Proposal (RFP)
After the preliminary research is complete, create a Request for Proposal (RFP). This allows a property to see, in writing, the information about your group. Preparing the specifications is a valuable process because it requires you to think about all the needs of the group. Be sure to document all site requirements, including:
Preferred dates and optional dates (if available)
Number and types of guest rooms
Number, size and usage of meeting rooms and the times they are needed
Range of acceptable rates
Dates and types of meal functions and breaks
Exhibits and any other special events or activities
Any related information such as complimentary requirements
Inspecting the Site
No facility will look the same in person as it will on paper, nor will you be able to get a sense of service without going to the site. If your budget or time does not allow you to visit the site, the following options are available to you:
Check with other people, including other planners, to see which properties they've used and which ones they would recommend.
Use the Internet to view sites, and/or contact the local convention and visitors' bureau for materials, including facility descriptions, city maps, transportation information, etc.
Evaluate the cost and time savings for a small group to eat in a private section of the restaurant, as opposed to having a catered meal.
Write out the due dates for guarantees. Typically, guarantees are due 48 to 72 business hours prior to the event.
Specify the "overset" in the contract. An overset is the number of people beyond the guaranteed number for which the facility will set tables and places. This amount varies from 0 to 5% or more; the industry average is 3%.
You will usually be billed for the guaranteed number or the number served, whichever is greater. Find out what service charges and/or gratuities will be added to the price of the meal and taxed, to avoid any surprises.
Don't compromise on quality. However, if your budget is restrictive, consider reducing the number of food functions you are planning for your meeting or event. Consider flowers, decorations and entertainment. Your hotel can provide ideas for floral arrangements, table and room decor and quality entertainment.
At events offering food and beverage service, allow enough time for guests to eat leisurely, network or socialize with colleagues or friends and family, and enjoy all presentations or ceremonies, if there are any involved.
Generally allow 30 to 40 minutes for breakfast, 45 to 60 minutes for lunch, and 20 minutes per course for dinner. For refreshment breaks, allow a minimum of 15 minutes for up to 100 people, 30 minutes for up to 1,000 people and 30 to 45 minutes for groups larger than 1,000.
Plan on two cups of coffee or tea per person for a morning break and one cup of coffee/tea or one soda per person during an afternoon break.
Consider a luncheon buffet for small group working sessions. Buffets offer variety and faster service.
Consider requesting one server for each table, for more formal meals and/or VIP tables. Most facilities allow one server for every two tables, for standard, three- or four-course meals. Check with the facility to determine if there will be additional labor charges for the extra servers.
Always plan to serve a variety of foods during cocktail receptions. The food should be healthy, appetizing and visually appealing. Provide one bartender for every 75-100 people.
Offer nonalcoholic beverages in addition to beer, wine and premium liquor. Consider donating leftover food to homeless shelters or distribution organizations for the needy.
Conference and Hollow Square: Appropriate for interactive discussions and note-taking sessions for fewer than 25 people. Many hotels have elegant boardrooms for 10 to 20 people, equipped with full audiovisual capabilities, a writing board, cork board and a flip chart.
E-shape, U-shape and T-shape: Appropriate for groups of fewer than 40 people. These are best for interaction with a leader seated at the head of the setup. Audiovisual equipment is usually set up at the open end of the seating.
Ovals and rounds: Generally used for meals and sessions involving small group discussions. A five-foot-round table seats eight people comfortably. A six-foot-round table seats 10 people comfortably.
Theater: Appropriate for large sessions and short lectures that do not require extensive note taking. This is a convenient setup to use before breaking into discussion or role-playing groups because chairs can be moved.
Schoolroom or Classroom: The most desirable setup for medium to large-size lectures. This configuration requires a relatively large room. Tables provide attendees with space for spreading out materials and taking notes.
Be aware of factors that can directly affect the quality and cost of an AV presentation: ceiling height, walls, floors, obstructions, windows, lighting, mirrors, doors, air conditioning, and fire exits. Ask the AV company's representative to walk through the space with you. This person will be able to explain how to best use the meeting or event space.
Communicate with speakers/presenters to confirm AV needs. Plan for a minimum of a 35mm projector, an overhead projector, screen and flip chart(s) for smaller breakouts. More often, presenters are using computer LCD projectors and high-intensity overheads. Determine the availability and cost of this equipment.
Be aware that all rooms are not equipped with sound systems, nor do all sessions need sound. Determine which rooms need sound and which can be used with the systems in place. Try to negotiate a flat rate or a percentage off the daily rate when renting a system.
Consider that screen height generally should be the distance from the screen to the back wall divided by eight; chairs should be no closer to the screen than 1.5 times the screen's height; ceilings should be at least 10 feet high. Rely on your AV technician for assistance.
Schedule negotiations early, ideally six months or more in advance.
Prioritize what's truly important for your group's success before you enter into the negotiations. Ask about the facility's peak, off-peak and shoulder seasons, and the days of the week on which it would prefer to book business. If your meeting dates are flexible, you may be able to shift to a time slot providing greater leverage. Be aware that hotels typically give one complimentary room night for every 50 rooms occupied.
Consider upgrades and/or special amenities and services as important as negotiating dollar savings. For example, upgrading VIPs/special guests to Executive Level rooms or suites at the group rate might be more important than obtaining a greater percentage off the room rate.
Enhancing Your Meeting's Value
Meet during a time period when the hotel’s business is slow, such as holiday weeks. Schedule a meeting within a gap in the hotel’s schedule. For instance between two other meetings, or when there has been a cancellation or less-than-expected attendance from another group.
Alter your arrivals and departures to occur on days of the week when occupancy rates are typically lower (Thursday, Friday, and Sunday).
Choose a hotel that's reopening after renovations or an acquisition by new owners. Try selecting a hotel that’s new to the market; they often offer special rates to encourage business. (Note: Make sure your contract covers all contingencies, such as incomplete renovations or properties that don't open as scheduled.)
If you’re booking space for a business meeting, have your corporate travel manager, company internal purchasing or legal department, or outside legal counsel review all contracts for your meeting or event. Even if you do not sign a contract, you raise your level of liability simply by being involved.
Ask to see a facility's standard contract, noting deposit, payment, attrition, and termination and cancellation policies. Negotiate a final agreement that incorporates their standard language, your company's and the negotiated agreement. Make sure you have a binding contract. To be enforceable, a contract must specify definite terms, be accepted by both sides and be signed by people with authority to enter into the agreement.
Check into any additional costs that may occur due to attrition or shortfall in revenue. Attrition, sometimes referred to as "slippage," can be applied to sleeping rooms and to food and beverage events. A conference facility, having protected space for your meeting, may be due financial remuneration if your group does not perform as expected.
Look for termination clauses, often referred to as "Acts of God" clauses that apply when a meeting is stopped because of forces beyond the control of the group or the facility. Generally, there are no penalties assessed to either party in these circumstances. Send your rooming list well in advance, at least seven to 30 days prior to arrival. Inform guests of the hotel's location and amenities.
Send your meeting specifications to the hotel two to four weeks before a meeting. List every meeting requirement, day by day, hour by hour.
Don't forget to reserve space for your meeting office, press room, speaker-ready room. Remember to make preparation for all food and beverage activities and events held off-site. Include billing instructions and lists of VIPs to whom complimentary rooms should be allocated.
Check the Event Orders (EOs) and Banquet Event Orders (BEOs) from the hotel. Check against your specifications and advise the hotel promptly of any changes or of your approval.
Hold a pre-convention meeting 24 to 48 hours in advance of the meeting to review event expectations, procedures and to provide an opportunity to meet staff contacts who will help you with any problems. Never assume that a request has been taken care of - always double check. Work with the hotel to resolve any last-minute changes.
Things to do daily:
First thing each morning, secure a printout of all rooms in house and a report of any "no-shows" or cancellations. Early in the day, and again in the afternoon, meet with your hotel contact to review any changes in the program and/or meal counts. Each afternoon, set aside time to meet with accounting to review the bills from the day before and verify that your charges are correct.
Hold a post-convention meeting with the same people who attended the pre-convention meeting. Evaluate what worked and what did not; review the bills and solicit feedback immediately from the facility. Ask your attendees to provide feedback about the program content and format, meeting facility, speakers, meal functions and other special activities.
Administer evaluations immediately after the meeting while opinions are still fresh and your staff can be present to collect the information. Otherwise, mail surveys or evaluations from the meeting so they are on participants' desks when they return to work.
Solicit feedback from the meeting sponsor. Determine whether the meeting goals were met. Evaluate the financial implications of the meeting. Identify next steps. Consider a more formal measurement tool to measure a meeting's return on investment. The following are some ways to approach this:
Consider unique goals of individual meetings.
Test attendees before and after training sessions to document how much and what was learned.
Share Return on Investment (ROI) information with senior
management and meeting sponsors.
Write a meeting report and file it away and provide a copy to senior management.
File contracts for future meetings.
Write thank-you letters to staff, speakers, hotel staff and other vendors.
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