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By Debbie Locklear
Reports indicate that organizations invest billions of dollars on meetings and meeting-related activities but very little on training to help spend that money wisely. Hence, hundreds of thousands of meetings are organized each year by people who do not have enough spare time to study new ideas and techniques that will make their meetings more cost efficient and effective.
A meeting is a business tool, and to be effective, it must offer concise, lively, accurate, organized information in an atmosphere that’s conducive to the meeting’s objective. Many organizations have a difficult time accepting the fact that their meetings are not as productive as they might think, despite their huge investment.
Individuals who devote only part time to planning can certainly handle the responsibilities-when given the proper training. Unfortunately, there is a lack of training in the meeting-planning industry, preventing many meetings from reaching the level of professionalism and effectiveness that is inherently possible.
The heart of the matter is that the difficulties and problems of planning and managing meetings are almost universally underestimated. Meeting planning is a profession that requires certain skills and past experience.
There is an art and science involved in developing and operating a successful meeting. A professional planning consultant is a synthesizer of information, creating result-oriented meetings based on a clear understanding of meeting dynamics and the systematic planning process.
The top priority of a professional meeting planner is to avoid the traditional approaches to meeting planning that are often wasteful, erratic and produce ineffective results. A planner’s role is to provide expert assistance in every phase of meeting planning, making sure that even the smallest details haven’t been overlooked.
Some of the benefits to hiring a professional meeting planner could include:
- Negotiating skills used in obtaining exceptional services and facilities at fair prices
- Valuable time saved, allowing freedom to concentrate on other important aspects of the meeting
- Ability to produce more creative events
- Unlimited sources for meeting-related information
- Looking after the clients’ best interests.
Consideration should be given to determining how much time should be spent on actually planning a meeting. Those organizations that have done this view meetings as an investment in dollars as well as an individual’s time. In order to maximize their investment of time and money, many of these companies have developed a department specifically for meeting planning.
As more independent planners open their doors, a word of caution: Thoroughly investigate the companies that are under consideration.
To do this, review the following checklist:
- Check several references.
- Find out the type projects they have arranged.
- What organizations do they belong to?
- Do they attend continuing education meeting in the planning industry?
- Find out if meeting planning is a fulltime career or a part-time venture.
Based on this information, an evaluation of a company’s ability to produce successful meetings will be easy to make.
Hiring a professional meeting planner will allow an organization to draw from years of experience to access their needs realistically and fine-tune a meeting to best suit financial and programming objectives.
Remember one fact, however: A meeting is only as good as the attention paid to the smallest detail.
By Debbie Locklear
Selecting a site for a meeting or event is the most important, challenging and misunderstood phase in meeting planning. Since the space reserved and the flow of the meeting can enhance the program’s objectives and interactions among people, site selection is important.
The challenging aspect of selecting a site is that many pieces of the project may be unknown. It becomes necessary to anticipate and visualize a variety of different structures. Many people misunderstand the site selection process because they see it as a glorious opportunity to be wined and dined. In actuality, the process is a time-consuming, serious and often physically and mentally exhausting process.
Inspections require thoughtful advanced preparation, thorough research, an eye for detail and when visiting sites in one day, an exceptional memory. The follow-up is critical in order to document the verbal commitments made by eager sales people. This step is vital because once a contract is signed, any promises not recorded may be lost.
In order to conduct a successful inspection, it is necessary to know your group’s strong and weak points, the objective and purpose, the budget and attendee needs and preferences. In addition, the number of guest rooms, date patterns and daily agendas are a vital need prior to the inspection. The set-up needs for each session help to secure the proper meeting space, taking into consideration ceiling heights, freight entrances, etc. A facility will also want to know guest room pick-up, rates, meal counts, master account charges and credit records.
Your job will be to find out the facilities’ high, low and average rates, their occupancy levels at various times of the year and week. Inquire about the internal stability of the staff to provide an indication of the facility management.
When the actual tour of the property begins, look at the following areas on the way to and in the guest rooms:
Ask to see the worst room. Make note in your follow-up letter to avoid booking any of your guests in those rooms if necessary. Call the operator and see how long it takes to answer the phone.
By Debbie Locklear
The key to pulling off a successful meeting hinges on a number of elements. However, the primary item for success is advanced meeting planning.
Projects that have been organized with short lead-time will typically reflect some of the same characteristics. The most notable one, due to the meeting planner racing around in all directions, develops an ineffectual performance and potentially can alter the effectiveness and profitability of a meeting.
To maximize your organization’s investment in a meeting, advance preparation is a necessity for producing the results desired.
Meeting planners, when given the time to do a thorough and accurate job, should clearly define the purpose and objective of the meeting. This first step permits the planner to develop a meeting that will generate positive responses from the attendees.
Through advanced meeting planning, more time is available to investigate a variety of options, such as locations, special activities, theme development, meeting format and production. The meeting planner won’t have to settle for something merely because it’s their only remaining option.
Negotiating for the best services and facilities at fair prices is possible when there’s as much time as possible available. Whenever the options are limited due to availability, negotiations will generally not be too favorable for the planner.
The goal of any professional meeting planner is to create original events to compliment the meeting’s objective. With plenty of advanced planning, a planner has the opportunity to be creative. Nothing quite inspires a meeting planner like the ability and freedom to produce a meeting that is so unique in design that it stimulates enthusiasm in the participants.
Promotional plans can be useless without the proper amount of lead-time. If the goal is to generate attendance at the meeting, time is required to promote it properly. The promotional plan should include a pre-attendee analysis (ask attendees what it will take to get them to the meeting), a date saver (a method to announce the date of the meeting), a teaser (a mailer that generates interest) and the registration brochure.
While developing a meeting requires time, it is worth the investment. There is a universal law that applies to meeting planning as well as other situations: You get in return what you put in.
Professional meeting planners suggest the following minimum time schedule for planning exceptional meetings:
One-day meeting – promotion needed – 8 months
One-day meeting – in-house attendance – 6 months
Two-day meeting – promotion needed – 10 months
Two-day meeting – with activities – 12 months
Three-day meeting and up with activities – 18 months
In short, maximize your meeting planning efforts by planning in advance. You will save money, but also produce a higher quality meeting, generate attendance and avoid the tension created when the planning process is accelerated.