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.”

Berlin Claims the Top Spot

For the first time, Berlin has claimed the top spot in the current ranking of the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). International organisations from around the world are increasingly choosing to meet in the German capital. They appreciate the modern hotel landscape, the numerous special venues, and also the city’s unique role as a magnet for science, culture, and innovation.

The new Meeting Guide Berlin provides all event planners with an indispensable tool. Accessible at www.meetingguide.berlin/en, the online tool with around 300 entries makes it possible to find the right hotel, venue, incentive, and service partner – such as PCOs, DMCs, catering and technology companies, suppliers, or mobility partners – for your event in the city of Berlin. The Meeting Guide Berlin includes newly opened hotels like the Riu Plaza near the famous Kurfürstendamm, the 4-star Hotel Titanic Chaussee Berlin as well as modern conference centres like the CityCube Berlin and Estrel Berlin, Germany’s biggest hotel.

The visitBerlin Berlin Convention Office is your first contact in the city. Established in 2001, the BCO offers comprehensive support for the organization of conventions, meetings, corporate events, and incentives in Berlin. Benefit from an experienced team, free-of-charge agency and reservation services for hotel allocations as well as a vast network of national and international contacts.

Learn more about Berlin.

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!

PCMA Convening Leaders – Helping Planners Unite People

Please enjoy the following post from our Latin America Sales Rep, Sandra Reed:

As I concluded the PCMA Convening Leaders in Austin, Texas in January, I realized how important our industry is for local communities. Events unite people of different countries, languages and cultures and meeting planners connect the hotels, convention centers, airlines, taxis, buses, restaurateurs, bars and many other suppliers…Planners unite people!

Meetings industry participants at the Convening Leaders Conference were welcomed by an icon from Austin (Matthew McConaughey), ate brussel sprouts for lunch, and attended seminars presented by professors of the University of Texas in Austin. We learned of new trends in the industry and shared ideas with colleagues or potential clients while snacking on chocolate covered bacon!  A quaint hospitality suite offered local brewed beers, while we mingled with colleagues from other states and countries. This was not only enjoyable but educational, as I brought back new ideas.

Local, regional, global …it is all happening at the same time. It is not only one destination promoting itself but it is the entire meetings industry from many parts of the world coming together.

Meeting planners or meeting organizers are business strategists, as they not only promote meetings, but entire communities.  Planners must sell their business planning talent as a strategist, uniting communities by selling opportunities and marketing strategies that will increase everyone’s experiences and knowledge.

Thank you Austin for hosting the meetings industry and giving us a piece of Texas to take back home.  I am sure many of us left with new ideas on how to better serve our communities.

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

Welcome Newest Members

ConventionPlanit.com has been busy adding new venues to our portfolio.

Consider these newest members of ConventionPlanit.com for your next meeting:

Fairmont Dallas – Dallas, TX
Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa – Bonita Springs, FL
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa – Maui, HI
Hyatt Centric Key West Resort & Spa – Key West, FL
Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel – Pittsburgh, PA
Bahia Resort Hotel – San Diego, CA
Deauville Beach Resort – Miami Beach, FL
American College of Chest Physicians – Glenview, IL
Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino – Palm Beach, Aruba
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa – Kalaheo, HI
Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate – Orlando, FL

View more newest members.

Don’t forget, when you use ConventionPlanit.com, you can still send your RFP to your NSO reps!

Federal Travel Restrictions Loosened

President Obama has released a memorandum lifting many of the restrictions in place surrounding federal employee attendance at conferences and events.

Since 2012, the process and conditions required for federal employees to gain approval to attend conferences prevented many from attending and properly doing their jobs. The reduction of 25 percent equated to a savings of $30 million.

While regulations will still be in place, the focus will be on federally sponsored or hosted events. Government agencies will now be held to accountability standards, which include publishing information on their public websites about conference attendance with an overall cost greater than $100,000. They must also include the  date and location of the conference, the number of staffers attending, total expenditures, and an explanation of how the event advanced the mission of the agency.

Agencies will now be able to pre-approve attendance at reoccurring events, allowing for the cost savings bonus of early registration discounts and advance travel arrangements. If a conference will cost more than $500,000 for an agency to attend, an agency official must document in writing why the event is the most cost-effective way to achieve the organization’s purpose.

The memorandum says government officials must continue to root out wasteful spending, but it hints at a lesson learned by agencies while they were subjected to such tight controls on conferences. “These changes incorporate the lessons learned over the past several years and recognize the resulting actions that agencies have taken during that time,” the memorandum says, though it also acknowledges that it has impeded the ability of employees to do their jobs to some extent. “These changes also respond to challenges agencies faced as a result of OMB Memorandum M-12-12, including reduced opportunities to perform useful agency functions, present scientific findings and innovations, train, recruit, and retain employees, or share best practices,” the document says.

What’s In and Out for 2017 Meetings

By Al Rickard, CAE

It’s a new year, and the meetings industry is looking ahead to what will make their events compelling in 2017.

Carrie Abernathy, CMP, CEM, CSEP, Director of Education & Events at Practice Greenhealth, predicts more “attendee engagement through technology. There will be a bigger focus on attendee ROI by connecting them to their peers and coaches/mentors and speakers at events. There will be a shift toward using technology to connect people, such as the launch of ‘Brain Dates’ at PCMA’s Convening Leaders. Attendees need to demonstrate immediate ROI when attending conferences and so planners are working to meet those needs.”

“One thing that will always be ‘in’ in the meetings industry is networking and the opportunity to learn from people in a live setting,” says Suzanne Berry, MBA, CAE, Senior Strategic Advisor to the CEO at the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. “You can’t duplicate that type of learning online and capture the insights and nuances of new ideas that you get at an in-person meeting.”

Suzanne and her husband, Peter, spent many years running an association management company and have run hundreds of meetings and seen the results they produce.

Peter Berry offers this thought on what’s “out” for meetings in 2017: “Loud music. People come to meetings to connect and talk to each other, so give them an opportunity to do that. Have the reception and dinner in a relatively quiet space and save the loud music for later at night for people who want to dance.”

Kristin Clarke, CAE, Executive Director of the American Physical Therapy Association Section on Women’s Health, notes, “Sustainability continues to be important operationally not only because of cost but even more so from the standpoint of organizational values and alignment with member expectations. With more than 75 percent of communities engaged in recycling, attendees notice if they can’t find an easy recycling bin or if you serve coffee to thousands using Styrofoam cups.”

What else can you expect to be “In” and “Out” in the meetings and travel industry? Here’s a snapshot:

In Out
Jeans and Casual Dress Neckties
Facebook Live Expensive Videos
Theater in the Round Lecterns and Podiums
Retargeting Ads Mass Marketing
Connection Receptions Sit-Down Dinners
GMO-Free Produce Processed Food
TSA Pre-Check Shoeless Airport Security Check
Calendar Appointment Requests Formal Invitations
Alexa Siri
Phone Alarm Alarm Clock
Real News Fake News

What would you add to the list? Leave a comment and let us know!

Al Rickard, CAE, is President of Association Vision, a Washington, DC-area communications company;arickard@assocvision.com.

The IMEX A to Z of 2017: 5 trends to watch as the year unfolds

2016 was no slouch of a year for the meetings industry nor, indeed, for the world at large. Dramatic forces were at play and many of us shared a sense that, even if we wanted to grasp the pace or nature of change taking place, we barely had the time or the head space to do so. 2016 was pivotal – and it felt like it.

Looking ahead to 2017, IMEX has identified five trends which, starting at A and ending at Z, are anything but simple or linear in the impact they’ll have on the meetings and events industry. In fact, we already predict that by 2018 ‘clarity’ will be the watchword of the moment.

AI & VR

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) used to be the future. Then, over the last two years, the first VR headsets started to appear at IMEX (Frankfurt and America), with destinations and venues as the ‘early adopters’. By the end of 2016, both technologies had made the final transition from fringe to freely available. The future had arrived.

Grip, the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) event networking solution won the #IMEXpitch at IMEX America in Las Vegas. Elsewhere, at IBM’s World of Watson conference, AI was the ‘driver’ of a 3D-printed, driverless minibus that toured the show floor, giving passengers restaurant recommendations.

In the world of virtual reality, WorldViz, a behind-the-scenes VR company that’s been working on large-scale, enterprise solutions, launched its new platform for business communication. The project, codenamed “Skofield”, allows remote users to make cross-platform presentations in VR.

Both AI and VR offer exciting new frontiers for suppliers in the meetings and events industry. Expect AI, and especially VR (not forgetting Augmented Reality), to capture both the imagination and the headlines in 2017.

Tech-connecting

One of the challenges of being at a large business event is the lingering sense that there are potential (and great) new contacts all around. But do we all identify, locate and then meet those new contacts? The rise of social media but, more importantly, of networking technologies and apps is fast changing our ability to satisfy that need. This urge to find and connect with ‘the right kind’ of each other at live events is what IMEX calls ‘finding your tribe.’

This trend is about both targeting and personalisation. Witness Loopd, winners of the 2015 IMEXpitch and (once again) Grip, the 2016 IMEXpitch winners. Equally, Zenvoy, partnered with IMEX to provide a pre, during and post-show ‘match-making’ service for buyers/attendees to meet or work with each other; a natural add-on to the show’s core appointment system, which enables buyers to meet with exhibitors.

Witness too the rise of snapchat and private messaging. Many of the big conversations at shows, conferences and other events are now happening online – and in private. Where social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram bring the immediate show experience – and audience feedback – to life in a dynamic way (especially with the advent of Facebook Live), Snapchat and private messaging services allow sub-groups and ‘tribes’ to find each other, talk and make plans in private.

As many of these tech-connecting services race to become the favourite, go-to brand of the moment, expect to see some triumph and scale up to great acclaim, while others simply don’t – or can’t – keep pace.

Disruption

‘Are PCOs and hotels prepared to manage the increasing disruption and challenges in accommodation services for international meetings?’ was the title of a hot-topic discussion at ICCA’s recent Conference in Kuching, Malaysia.

‘Increasing disruption’ aptly sums up the prevalence of disruptive forces not only in the meetings and events industry but also all around us. The ICCA discussion focussed on the impact of booking portals and event scammers with fake websites but Airbnb has similar potential to disrupt the traditional meetings space market.

‘Disruption’ could easily lay claim to being THE word of 2016.  Dr Kaihan Krippendorff’s PCMA Business School session at IMEX in Frankfurt – ‘The Outthinker Playbook – Devising Disruptive Strategies’ drew a large and eager audience, as did Jay Samit’s presentation ‘Disrupt You!’ at IMEX America 2016.

‘Disruption’ also describes the impact of unexpected political results in 2016 – namely Brexit and the U.S. Presidential election. Even though the fallout has so far been short-term, most organisations (in all industries worldwide) are on alert for the long-term consequences. Harking back to a favoured phrase from five or six years ago, 2017 heralds a sense that ‘disruption’ is set to be the ‘new normal’.

Unsubscribing
Last year at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference, Professor Sir Cary Cooper said a compulsion to deal with messages caused UK employees to become less productive than many of their international counterparts.

“For people to be working at night, weekends and holiday on emails is not good for the health of our country,” he told the BBC. “We need to ban emails [sent and received] within the same building,” he said, advocating instead for face-to-face meetings and phone calls.

Independent research by Atos Origin highlighted that the average employee spends 40% of their working week dealing with internal emails which add no value to the business.

Add to that newsletters, social media notifications and e-shots and it’s clear to see why many people are eager to seize back their time.  In effect, this trend is a flight towards more authentic and meaningful productivity.

Expect unsubscribes and opt-outs to rise as individuals reclaim their inboxes, their sanity and their time.

In turn, the purposeful creation and appreciation of ‘no-thing’ time (using planning approaches such as White Space) will win more and more fans in 2017.

Zs

Workplace demographic shifts really gathered pace in 2016, with Generation Z now heading over the horizon.  By the end of this decade Zs will account for around 20 per cent of the work force.

Born in the late 1990s onwards, Zs were the first to grow up with the Internet and portable technology at their fingertips, virtually from birth! According to various research reports, compared with those born in the 15 or so years before them – Generation Y, the Millennials – they are distinctly different (hence their disparaging, alternative label, ‘Generation Snowflake’…because every little snowflake is unique).

From a communications and meetings perspective, Zs are tech-intuitive, tech-based multi-taskers and good at online collaboration but tend to have weaker face-to-face and social skills, are liable to be distracted easily and have a short attention span.

According to the 2015 Way to Work survey by Adecco Staffing USA, as employees Zs want financial stability (a result of living through recession and the burden of student debt), a dream job, entrepreneurial opportunities, a flexible work-life balance, regular face-to-face mentoring and plenty of feedback from the boss. In pursuit of this they’re likely to job-hop in their early years.

As an event or meetings audience Zs are set to place strong, new demands on planners, venues and brands. Whether they prove to be high value or just high maintenance, 2017 should reveal all.

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!