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 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.”

Receptions as Fundraisers, Family Events, and More

networking By Al Rickard

Networking is an essential part of every major meeting, and arranging a comfortable venue with the right atmosphere, food and drink, and the ability to foster meaningful connections is important. Adding a theme can make them memorable, some can serve as effective fundraisers, and many can even help foster a family atmosphere at conferences where attendees bring their kids. At the same time, controlling costs is also critical.

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

Fundraising Leverage

“ASAE has created a powerful fundraising reception with its popular ASAE Foundation Classic event that attracts a sizeable number of annual meeting attendees each year, who pay extra to attend,” says Al Rickard, CAE, of Association Vision. “It even has a VIP pre-reception event for an even higher fee. They bring in big-name entertainment and make it memorable experience, providing a strong event that fills a key night at the meeting, brands the Foundation, and raises significant funds for it.”

Rickard adds, “Receptions are also ideal venues for silent auctions, as PCMA and other associations have done successfully. They add an interesting dimension, spark friendly competition in bidding on popular items, and raise money for worthy causes.”

Family Affairs

Many major conferences have become “family events” as attendees bring their kids and turned the trip into a vacation.

“Since our convention has become a family vacation, we created a teen hospitality suite and program,” says Kristin Lewis with the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers. “The first night – during the welcome reception – we have a teen activity such as bocce games, croquet or wii bowling so the kids get to know each other, and then each teen gets a key to the teen hospitality suite where they go to load up on snacks and sodas, play video games, watch movies and hang out (the suite is attached to a staff member’s room so they can check on them). It keeps the teens entertained and connected and they want to come back every year to see their friends again – bringing their parents along.”

Watching the Bottom Line

Karin Soyster with the American Bakers Association has this advice: “If you have attendees who travel with children for meetings, consider having a pizza party for kids during the opening reception. Have an age restriction (over 6) and consider charging a nominal fee ($10). Many resorts and hotels have kids programs anyway. Parents can drop off their kids when they go to the reception, and kids have something to do.”

“For welcome receptions and tradeshows, I arrange to have some food passed by the servers (the most expensive stuff!), rather than leaving it all out,” says Marion Fuller, CMP, with the Canadian Medical Association. “The food can then be distributed as attendees arrive and also enables attendees to move around exhibits, talk to each other and network without diving immediately for the food tables. The server can also explain what they are serving.”

Debbie DeJacques with the Grocery Manufacturers Association adds, “If you’re having a reception, pass/butler the more expensive items (you’ll be able to make them last longer and save money) and don’t set plates on the display table – use only napkins (this will ensure your attendees get to sample all the offerings but won’t walk away from the display station with a mound of food). Also stick with beer and wine at the bar.”

Mark Gable with the Federal Business Council also has this cost-saving advice: “When planning a reception menu, do not order hors’ d oeuvres by the piece because they are eaten rapidly, and can quickly become very costly. Order items that are carved (turkey, ham, etc) and chef stations (pasta, Mexican, etc.), because people won’t fill their plates as full, making the food last longer. Sheet cakes are also a good dessert for the same reason.”

Promoting Upcoming Destinations

Many associations like to close out their conferences by promoting the next one and a reception can be a great way to do that.

“Hold a destination luncheon or reception during your current conference,” advises Angela Orlando with the American Society of Home Inspectors. “Drum up support from next year’s host city by bringing in a destination specific band, decor, food, etc. A sign or banner may work, but why stop there? You’ve got a captive audience…give them the whole experience!

New Question and Answer Series

Meeting planners have a wealth of knowledge, and are happy to share it! If  you have a burning question, comment below, and one of your peers will offer some advice!

Question: How can I improve my vendor relationships?

Answer: 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.

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

Tips to Manage Risk and Liability When Liquor Is Served

This is a reprint of some of our favorite tips to share during the holiday season. Enjoy and stay safe!

Lawyers will tell you whether you’re giving alcohol away or selling it at an event, anyone who has control over the facility or the event is typically liable if an intoxicated person causes bodily injury or property damage as a result of the liquor served at that event.

The good news is, provided the meeting planner isn’t pouring the drinks, they normally would not be at much risk of being held personally liable. When an employee is acting in the scope of their employment, liability usually rests with the employer, not the individual.

That good news, however, does not typically extend to independent meeting planners or third-party meeting planners who are independent contractors and not employees. In these instances, the meeting planner could be held liable along with the company, depending on the circumstances.

“The only way to eliminate liquor liability is to eliminate alcohol from your event,” says Marilyn Hauck, founder and president of The Complete Conference and a 20-year veteran in the meetings industry who plans, markets, and manages meetings and events of all sizes. “A non-alcohol event is often not an option, so the next best way to reduce your liability is to create an environment that discourages overdrinking.”

Hauck suggests these steps to take to keep your attendees from overindulging and to reduce liquor liability:

Give written instructions to bartenders not to serve persons who are either underage or noticeably intoxicated.

Establish a monitoring system to ensure that minors and intoxicated persons are not served alcohol.

• Designate someone from the planning team to refrain from drinking during the function to monitor the bartenders.

Avoid self-service bars and kegs of beer.

• Control the length of the cocktail reception and don’t announce last call.

• Always provide food and non-alcoholic beverages where alcohol is served.

Arrange transportation – or a place to stay – in advance.

Buy liquor liability insurance if your organization is the server or seller.

• Make sure the group has a standard operating procedure for handling attendees who have had too much to drink.

Since its inception in 1979, the mission of The Complete Conference, Inc., has been to develop and implement high quality cost-effective meetings with professionalism, integrity, customer satisfaction and dependability. The company can be reached at 916-922-7032 or info@completeconference.com.

What are some of your steadfast rules for such events? Maybe we will add your tips to the list!

Meeting Planning Lessons from The Book of Mormon

What meeting planning lessons can we glean from the popular Tony-award-winning Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon?

Plenty, as it turns out.

At a learning lab at the ASAE 2016 Annual Meeting entitled, “What the Musical The Book of Mormon Taught Me About Association Management,“ seven association professionals used The Book of Mormon as a metaphor to offer association management lessons about leadership, membership recruitment, branding, social media, humor, diversity, and yes, meeting planning.

The session was created and moderated by Sheri Singer, president of Singer Communications, and drew about 500 attendees.

Tom Quash, CAE, Vice President, Marketing, Communications & Publications at the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), encouraged session attendees to script an inspirational story at their conferences, much as the one of the lead characters in The Book of Mormon did as he worked to convert skeptical villagers in Uganda to the Mormon faith.

“At AWHONN, we celebrate the daily work of our nurses and underscore Connection — a core belief that we know our members value,” Quash explained. “We weave the connection messaging into social media, marketing, and speeches throughout the convention. You know the old adage about the elevator pitch: you must simply state your story and build your script around it.”

Cast of Characters

Next, consider your cast of characters.

“Who is responsible for telling your story at your convention?,” Quash asked. “The CEO? The Chair? Both? You can also have dual roles but they should be positioned purposefully and intentionally.”

He cautioned executives to not try to make a storyteller funny if that doesn’t mesh with their mission or style, and instead leverage the talents of each individual to create a great cast.

“Who can speak with authority when necessary?” he asked. “Who can add levity? Which speakers will best support the story? Does your cast represent a fair balance of your membership or constituents? How many industry partners should be represented? Have you considered diversity, in all its forms?”

Quash noted that at the end of a great play, it’s the cast that receives the hearty applause and the standing ovations.

“For example, think about your general session,” Quash suggested. “When that is over, you want your attendees to be touched or re-energized by what they have heard.”

Creating the Stage

“Does the décor on your main stage reflect your brand and your story?,” Quash asked. “Don’t overlook the opportunity to leverage staging, music and lighting to help create a theatrical experience. If you can, consider using what Broadway plays use all the time the ‘Wow’ factor. Think about the chandelier crashing in Phantom of the Opera–that’s a wow factor.

“You may not have a Broadway budget, but you can still make it theatrical. One year, we had a rock-and-roll pit band during the General Session instead of piped-in music. Another year, our Board Chair took the stage from the audience, rather than backstage, followed by dozens of student members to tell that year’s story of our commitment to the next generation,” Quash explained.

According to Quash, like it or not, your association is competing for attention with free and open access to online content, web-based communities, apps, streaming, Netflix, and even Pokemon Go.

“Your story and your stage cannot come across as stale or disconnected with the expectations or even demands of your members,” Quash said. “Your venue, the city, your networking events, your tradeshow, and more are all ‘stages’ for you to support the experience.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Quash is an advocate of dress rehearsals to make sure “the show” flows without a hitch.

“Rehearsals help determine if the timing is right,” he explained. “Are all the cues in place? Where will your VIPs sit? Are your presenters comfortable with their delivery?”

Quash says it’s also important to consider “what if?” scenarios and have a plan to act accordingly.

“What if a speaker doesn’t show up? What’s the plan to communicate this? What if the fire marshal is onsite and shuts down a room due to overcrowding? What if there’s a weather event that threatens the safety of your attendees?” he asked.

While Quash notes that you can’t plan for every conceivable scenario, you can be prepared for at least some unexpected developments.

Selling Your Show

You can’t start too early when it comes to selling your next conference, Quash declared.

“The selling starts at least a year in advance, at your current convention,” he believes. “While attendees are in the midst of a great experience, you want them to get excited for the following year. Talk up next year, as ASAE routinely does.”

Quash says at AWHONN they test story messages to determine what is resonating with their key audiences. They also explore new marketing platforms.

“Direct mail, email and advertising may be effective, but have you leveraged content marketing?” Quash queries. “Do you have a digital marketing strategy? Can you use your chapter or sections to act as champions? Are there bloggers that can help support the conference promotion? Don’t underestimate their reach and impact.”

Be sure that you provide your members, leaders and other stakeholders with the right tools to help you sell the show, Quash suggested.

“With a compelling story, great cast, inviting staging, detailed rehearsals and smart selling, you’ll create your very ownBook of Mormon – a theatrical, memorable experience for your members,” said Quash.

Al Rickard, CAE, is President of Association Vision, a Washington, DC-area communications company, and serves as Director of Communications for ConventionPlanit.com.