Category Archives: Tips for Meeting Planners

Planners Helping Planners: Your Questions Answered

Welcome to a new series on the blog where your meeting planning questions and dilemmas are answered by experts – other meeting planners! Comment below with your own questions. 

Q: What should I include in an emergency kit?

A: To always be prepared, create an event kit to bring on site. 

Items to include: batteries, flashlight, markers, tape measure, cell phone charger, assorted cables, assorted charging cords, extension cords, flash drives, post it notes, stapler, tape, shipping labels, box cutters, and a basic first aid kit

Submitted by: Kim Marenus, Director of Events, City Chic Events

Meeting Planner Summer Camp

Learn and play with a purpose at the Reston Herndon Meeting Planners (RHMP) summer camp 2017!

The camp takes place on July 27th in Leesburg, VA and will have lots of fun, professional development training, and the opportunity to learn about managing interactive traditional and non-traditional meetings.

The event is free to planners!

To register and additional details, visit http://www.rhplanners.info/

Maximize ROI from your RFPs

Meeting planners who have been told “those dates are unavailable” are often surprised to learn that some suppliers may instead simply not be interested in their business.  Suppliers are focused on maximizing revenue within their available timeframes, and if your meeting does not fit the bill, you may be on the receiving end of that dreaded phrase.

If you’re looking to receive competitive proposals from suppliers (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), it all starts with the RFP. Investing a little more time to market your meeting to suppliers is all it takes.

The following guidelines will help make your meeting more desirable to suppliers and help you maximize the return.

Pre-Qualify the Hotel

Narrow your search to a short list. If the hotel is right for your group, the group is likely right for the hotel. Narrow your search to the type of hotel that suits your meeting and can accommodate your space needs.

Avoid Duplication

While suppliers will not take your meeting seriously if the odds of booking your meeting are 30:1, the reaction tends to be similar if they receive your RFP from multiple sources. Be respectful of the suppliers’ time (and your own) and send your RFP to each supplier once.

Friendly Competition

Encourage hotels to compete for your business by letting them know who’s on the short list. No one likes to ‘lose’ the business to their biggest competitor across the street!

History

Present the facts to make your meeting appealing. Include information like the total spend, including previous rates x room nights + F&B and the room pick-up over the last 5 years. Name drop other hotels within a comp-set.

Attendee Profiles

Regardless of what you contract with a hotel, your attendees also have spending habits that may be of interest to the hotel. Will your attendees be doubling up in the rooms or ordering suites?

What are the spending habits of your attendees? Are they on expense accounts taking clients to dinner, or will they frequent the cocktail lounge?

Want more RFP tips? Contact the ConventionPlanit.com RFP Hotline 866-922-8988 for personalized assistance.

Six Trends in Experiential Learning

The National Conference Center – one of the nation’s largest conference centers and the largest on the East Coast – with its partner The Browne Center, has observed Six Trends in Experiential Learning for 2017.

Experiential learning presents a highly unique growth opportunity for participants, and a tool that planners can use to achieve a specific outcome.  Differentiated from the more traditional teambuilding, experiential learning uses a blended approach to learning, integrating activities, exercises, adventure elements, quiet time and ongoing post-event coaching to create powerful programs of leadership development, strategic planning, mentoring and coaching, communication, feedback & observation and enhancement of behavior styles.

Six Trends Observed in Experiential Learning:

  1. Barrier Free Learning … Take away the white classroom tables. Barrier free learning is hands-on training in a lab-like setting verses the traditional meeting room or classroom. For example, The National has created an entire workroom and lab for simulation or scenario training for a top major client to deliver new skills, taking away the barrier of the ‘white table’ with attendees learning in a lab or open space area.
  1. Learning By Choice … Mixing classroom training with outdoor activities. The Challenge Course at The National has high and low rope elements, and increasingly facilitators are using a Challenge-By-Choice approach. Learning Programs are designed to meet the variety of goals unique to each client, whether conferees make use of the elements of the high or low course, or none at all. There is a role for everyone in the training, even if individuals choose not to physically participate.
  2. Learning By Shared Experiences … Creating ‘shared experiences’, such as a building project, where everyone is involved collectively – from C-level executives to assistant managers – taking each participant out of their comfort zone and into a creative problem-solving task to construct the future.
  3. Learning By Silence … Groups are increasingly exploring the power of silence in a high-speed, technically dependent world. Facilitators are allowing more time for conferees’ solo quests, reflection, meditation time, and movements like yoga that can provide powerful reconnection with the natural world, and the true inner self, opening new channels of connection and learning.
  1. Learning By Doing… Learners participate in carefully chosen experiences that are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis. It engages the learners to be in direct experience, to be doing something that connects to an area they hope to improve or develop. The learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  1. Learning Through Application … Historically, debriefing was a structured process facilitated by a skilled professional throughout the process and at the conclusion of a program. This still occurs, but today a post-program debriefing application assists participants over time with how learning translates back at the office. There are a number of strategies that can be arranged to help facilitate this continued learning process. These include, self-directed debrief meetings, professional coaching sessions by phone or in person, or follow up, mini sessions at the one, two or three month intervals. These sessions can be highly productive and fun, assisting the participants in real time learning application issues. They can be on the participants’ work site or scheduled as an offsite.

The National Conference Center installed a state-of-the-art challenge course last year to provide additional training and learning opportunities for their clients. The National Challenge Course consists of five low elements plus many portable options, which are weight bearing problem solving activities that can accommodate 15 or more people at any one time. Also six high elements can be done with two or more solo, or with many other climbers simultaneously. All high elements are dynamic relays where participants hold the rope for one another.

For more information on the Six Trends in Experiential Learning for 2017, contact Denise Benoit at 703-919-1589.  For information on meetings at The National Conference Center, call Sales at 800-640-2684.

About The National Conference Center

Located in Northern Virginia 12 miles from Dulles International Airport and 35 miles from Washington, D.C., The National Conference Center is one of the largest and most comprehensive conference centers in the nation. With 917 guest rooms and over 265,000 square feet of meeting and group function space, including the West Belmont Place catering complex with its 16,552 square foot ballroom, The National has become the nation’s headquarters for productive meetings and West Belmont Place the hub for Loudoun County and surrounding area social functions.

West Belmont Place was named 2013 Best Venue by the International Special Events Society. The National Conference Center is also on the GSA schedule. The National is owned by NCC PS Enterprises LLC, a venture between PCCP, LLC and Stoneleigh Capital, LLC., which retained LaKota Hotels & Resorts to oversee all aspects of the day-to-day operations. For information call 800-640-2684 or visit www.conferencecenter.com and www.westbelmontplace.com.

Planners Helping Planners: Your Questions Answered

Welcome to a new series on the blog where your meeting planning questions and dilemmas are answered by experts – other meeting planners! Comment below with your own questions. 

Q: What should I know about name badges?

A: The back of the name tag should be the same info as the front.

Why? Because most of the time, when you wear the badge, it somehow faces backwards, and all you see is a blank badge. Printing the same info on back and front avoids this problem!

Submitted by: Abe Korn, Meeting Planner, with Worldwide Meeting & Event Services

Planners Helping Planners: Your Questions Answered

Welcome to a new series on the blog where your meeting planning questions and dilemmas are answered by experts – other meeting planners! Comment below with your own questions. 

Q: How can I make a sales award presentation more interesting?

A: Send a 10-question form to the sales reps being honored and ask them to provide 3-5 fun facts about themselves. Pick the most interesting and fun facts and share those as they come to stage.

You can put their sales data on the screen but don’t have to read it. It really gets the audience engaged as they find something they have in common with the award recipients.

Submitted by: Kathleen Zwart, CMP, Corporate Meetings and Events Manager with Florida Blue

What is RFP Organization?

An interview with ConventionPlanit.com Co-Founder David Markham on the creation of RFP Organization

david  markham

What is RFP OrganizationSM and what should meeting planners know about it?

RFP OrganizationSM is a sourcing tool planners use to send their RFP to pre-qualified suppliers and obtain online responses within 24 hours. Traditional sourcing takes several days. Planners must research suppliers, send their RFP and wait for generic proposals to glean specific criteria for comparison shopping. This is exactly what RFP OrganizationSM does, and it’s so simple to use!

Step 1 – Planners send their original RFP.

Step 2 – A courtesy call from our team establishes their preferences and criteria for comparison.

Step 3 – Within 24 hours, all comparative responses are posted on an organized chart.

How is RFP OrganizationSM different from other sourcing tools?

Saving time is important to meeting planners. There’s no training or retyping of the RFP to use RFP OrganizationSM. When it comes to digital options, RFP templates are burdensome. Planners prefer to use their own RFP, and suppliers appreciate the RFP details that enable them to better understand the needs of the group.

There’s a cost factor, too. RFP OrganizationSM  is offered as a free amenity to meeting and event planners, so there are no hidden fees or mark-ups to be concerned about.

How did RFP OrganizationSM evolve?

Everything on ConventionPlanit.com is planner driven. Our Advisory Council and industry feedback is what guided us. Given our national sales experience, we offered a similar service when we started ConventionPlanit.com called RFP Valet®, for personalized RFP sourcing. With the development of time saving, digital applications, we married the two. It’s hi-touch meets hi-tech!

Who uses RFP OrganizationSM?

It’s primarily used by meeting planners who conduct their own RFP sourcing and negotiate contracts. Many independent planners who may be commissionable use it because they prefer a commission-free tool. Executive Directors, meeting staff and non-traditional planners use it too because it’s so easy.

What RFP services does your team offer?

We offer meeting planners free consultation to help prepare their RFP and pre-qualify suppliers, which may include their NSO representatives. We merge their laundry list of criteria and concessions into our comparison platform. We send the RFP to selected suppliers who submit online quotes in minutes to the comparison chart. The planner is provided with log-in credentials to view their response chart which are easy to export to others involved in the decision making process.

Learn more about RFP OrganizationSM.

Planners Helping Planners: Your Questions Answered

Welcome to a new series on the blog where your meeting planning questions and dilemmas are answered by experts – other meeting planners! Comment below with your own questions. 

Q: How can I improve my vendor relationships?

A: It’s never too late to start forming good relationships with the facilities where you conduct business. 

For example if you are on a tight budget and are holding your meeting at a facility that is potentially oversold on housing, you have a great chance of negotiating an arrangement that is beneficial to both you and the hotel.

Contact your sales person or CSM and tell them you’ve heard they may be having some housing challenges and you’d like to offer them some help. If you are holding upgrade rooms, tell them you’d be willing to exchange your upgraded rooms for standard rooms in exchange a meeting comp. Suggest something you know the hotel will not cost them out of pocket (i.e., in-house technology, waiver of nonunion labor/delivery charges, comp room rental). Most of the time the hotel will be more than happy to negotiate because they will be able to happily accommodate both (or all) of their clients.

Submitted by: Tina Buehler, CMP Conference Planning Manager, with Q Center

Connecting Conference Goals to Conference Results

By Erik Schonher

You’ve probably set some ambitious goals for your 2017 conference(s).

They probably include quantitative goals such as attracting more attendees, generating more revenue, increasing the number of exhibitors, and selling more products in your on-site bookstore.

You may also have other more qualitative goals such as providing quality programming, adding new programming or tracks, and making registration operate more smoothly,

Like most things in life, what gets measured typically gets done, and this is certainly true for your meetings. So what are you doing to track results and gather data and insights that will help you improve your meetings for the future?

During the planning phase, you need to feel confident that the content of the conference is of interest to your prospect base and develop your promotion list. The use of data-analytics and data-modeling, in conjunction with more traditional forms of qualitative and quantitative research, will help you with these tasks. These tools help you aggregate data to develop the best content for your conference, create compelling messaging, and identify those traits that best represent prospective attendees which can be used to target prospects from internal and external list sources.

Once at the show, focus groups are a good choice to collect qualitative data if you want an in-depth sense of what some attendees are thinking regarding a few specific topics. The ideal focus group consists of 8-12 people. Aim for a mix that represents the geographic and tenure of your organization. Good questions to include are:

  • How did you make your decision to attend?
  • What other annual meetings do you attend and why?
  • What would make you choose our meeting over another?

An alternative to focus groups are attendee intercepts, where someone from your association randomly selects attendees on the floor of the conference to interview with a short list of questions. Be sure to develop a short and easy script for the interviewer. This is also a great way to develop fresh testimonials for marketing materials.

To answer questions concerning member responses to programs, on-site product purchases, and other criteria that can provide insight for future meeting elements and their related marketing strategies, you can use two techniques: surveys (online, paper, phone) and database analysis.

A survey, when constructed properly, offers you the ability to collect the hard data on an extensive or complex range of issues and provide a measure of confidence that the decisions you make based upon this data are good ones. These will typically be delivered by email, although today social media opens the door to data collection on a multitude of levels. As with any methodology, be sure to get responses from a group that most represents your overall market.

Finally, database analysis allows you to look at what people actually did. Who attended? Where did they come from? What sessions did they attend? Did conference attendee purchase more products from us than non-attendees? If so, from where: the show floor or the website?

Analyzing your data to make comparisons allows you to know who your most productive targets are. Given the amount of data you have and how many years it covers, through cluster analysis, regression analysis and other research techniques, you may be able to uncover the hidden trends and “linkages” from year to year that will help make your next conference even better.

Erik Schonher is Vice President of Marketing General Incorporated and is also the Corporate Engagement Officer for EurekaFacts, a research company providing market research, marketing analytics, social research and human factors located in Rockville, MD. He can be reached at (240) 403-4800.

Creative Conference Gift Ideas

Ever joked about “gifts that keep on giving?” Sometimes you don’t want certain gifts to keep on giving, but in the case of members attending your conference, you do want the gifts you give them to mean something and leave them with fond memories of your event.

So what’s appropriate? What’s unusual and memorable? And what won’t break the bank?

Industry professionals who use ConventionPlanit.com posted some of their own gift ideas in the Stellar Tips section of the ConventionPlanit.com website. Here’s what some of them had to say:

What Can You Buy for a Buck?

Not much, you say? Maybe not, but add up some dollar-priced items and you may soon have something worthwhile. Denice Cajigas, Executive Assistant with the Crop Insurance Research Bureau, has learned how to work this angle.

“Purchasing gift baskets for your meeting guests can be quite expensive, not to mention the baskets just never seem to have the variety/quantity or theme you may want for your meeting, or fall within your budget,” she says. “At our meeting I shopped at one of the local dollar stores and purchased the following items to make 65 gift baskets for our Southwestern Theme meeting: China dinner plates with a festive southwestern design; large cans of Arizona Iced Tea (2 for each basket); large bags of Dorito chips; large jars of salsa; bags of assorted mini-chocolate candy bars; and colored party plastic wrap and ribbon. I loaded them in my vehicle, returned to the hotel, and assembled the gift baskets for our guests in my room. Avoiding the $3/$5/$10 delivery room charges that a hotel/resort charges, I borrowed the bellman’s baggage cart and delivered the baskets to our registration table where the guests could receive them. Total cost of 65 ‘awesome’ guest gift baskets: $196.75. The baskets were definitely a hit, and the China southwestern platter could easily be wrapped up to fit into your suitcase to take home with you!”

“Regifting” in a Silent Auction

Did you think that Denice Cajigas (who offered the tip above) had only one idea? Hardly! Here’s her tip on getting some free gifts to then auction off in a Silent Auction:

“A good tip for meetings/events that are planning a silent or live auction as part of their activities is to solicit area vendors in the area (provide vendors with your organization’s mission/purpose and event info). You can request a complimentary gift certificate/tickets/coupon from their establishment (i.e., hotel/spa amenities, restaurants, mall stores, theatres, museums, excursions). You’d be surprised the vendors that will oblige!”

Reward Your Hospitality Partners

The hotel staff at your meeting site work hard to help your meeting succeed. So why not reward them with a few trinkets from your hometown?

“No matter where we travel, in the United States or outside the United States, we try to bring small gifts of thanks from Chicago or Illinois for the bellman, wait staff, the administrative staff and even our sales manager,” says Susan J. Rosen President of In the Event, based in Palatine, IL. “Nothing says ‘thank you’ more than something from your own home town! No matter how small the token – a key chain, a t-shirt or a coffee mug – it has always been appreciated!”

Submit a Card, Get a Gift

“All of us in this business want feedback on our events especially so we can calculate the ROI,” explains Vicki Corson, Senior Events Planner with EDS. “At my company we work very hard to get our subject matter experts as speakers on conference agendas and we want to know what the audience thinks of them. One very successful tactic I use is to distribute comment cards to the attendees at they enter the room (or place them on the chairs). The card includes the speaker name, topic, time, etc. and 3-4 evaluation questions about the speaker. Then I ask for attendee information; the kind of information you would collect from a business card or scanned badge.

“Stated on the card is ‘Turn in this completed card for a free gift.’ I also add that if any required fields are left blank they’re not eligible for the free gift. The gifts are usually a business item such as flash drive, journal/pen combo, etc. My return rate on the card is around 95 percent. I’ve accomplished two goals: feedback on the speaker and contact names for our sales folks. I’ve tried a few variations. Instead of handing out the gifts as they leave the room, sometimes I’ll ask them to return the card to our exhibit booth so that our sales folks can speak with attendees directly. Or I’ve entered the cards into a drawing for a higher-priced gift such as an iPod, iPhone, GPS, etc. The most successful is the immediate gratification – turn in the card, get the gift. Make sure you look at the cards and don’t be shy about asking people to complete all the required fields.”

Scavenging for Gifts

Just like asking attendees to fill out a feedback card, they might be willing to do a little searching to get their gift.

Al Rickard, CAE, President of Association Vision, offers this idea: “Have a quick scavenger hunt during meeting breaks that prompts people to walk around a certain area looking for hidden gifts – some of the gifts might be in other people’s pockets, so it encourages conversations to ask if they have them. Put attendees in teams of three or four to enhance the networking.”

Turn Gifts Into Lower Room Rental Rates

“Improve your ROI by negotiating deeper discounts on room rates,” suggests Paulette Miklas with M&T Bank. “If the Sales Manager is willing to give you a few special concessions (VIP gift baskets, comp dinners, etc.), instead request a further discount on room rental rates from the price you’ve already negotiated. Depending on your room block size, you may receive an even greater cost savings (versus the VIP gift basket). Plus you hopefully helped yourself in establishing a good rate for the next time your group returns.”