Tag Archives: meeting experiences

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.

Share Your Experience

Do you have something to say? blah blah blah

ConventionPlanit is now accepting articles for publication in the e-Alert, a biweekly e-newsletter for meeting planners.

Suggested topics may include what’s trending, challenges or success stories. We’re open to new ideas!

This is the perfect opportunity to promote your personal brand or share your wealth of experience with other planners.

ConventionPlanit was designed by meeting planners for meeting planners – so let your industry peers hear from you!

Comment below with a topic you would like to contribute and we’ll be in touch!


What Can a General Service Contractor Do for You?

TradeshowsPutting together an exhibition or tradeshow that appears to run seamlessly to attendees is actually the result of maximum effort on the part of many behind the scenes groups. Convention service contractors are this invisible presence.

They are in the business of servicing the needs of event organizers and can provide everything from exhibition management, signage, and booth building, to drayage, shipping, and the latest technology systems, plus much, much more. ConventionPlanit.com is now offering a more robust listing of convention service providers.

With expert knowledge in event and exhibit planning, General Service Contractors (GSC) provide the logistical support to make an event happen, down to the smallest detail. GSCs will help to vet vendors and will often provide recommendations for vendors directly to their clients. Their focus is on everything that makes an event great, especially bringing buyers and sellers together.

General Service Contractors are now going beyond the value proposition of just providing logistics, labor, and decorations for an event. Large event GSCs know that it takes more than just pretty decorations to make a successful event. They know that asking the right questions on the RFP will help them to solve challenges that their clients face. This can be as simple as reworking a floor layout to make a space more useable to knowing what technologies will be most appropriate for their client’s needs.

Bringing the latest technology to the shows improves the overall experience and perception of the show. “There’s an App” for most shows today and GSCs know how to incorporate the right technology to make each event successful. This will also help to build the attendee base.

Convention service contractors are evolving and changing to meet new demands in the marketplace, particularly related to new technology being used in connection with exhibitions. It would be impossible for each company, organization, or association to purchase the latest advances in technology each year, so convention service providers are key to being able to bring the future to their shows.

Getting the physical set up of the show right is just one aspect of the overall event. Managing the people side of the event is equally important. In addition, many events are a combination of both a tradeshow/exhibition and a conference and require extensive coordination of an educational program.  Meeting management companies play an important role in this regard. These companies help clients with site selection, online and on-site registration, speaker coordination, and housing.

General service contractors and meeting management companies can manage most of the details, but there are always the ones that slip by and have to be dealt with personally. Being away from all of the conveniences of the home office can make managing those last minute office tasks difficult. Many hotels have well appointed business centers to help. Premier hotels and convention centers around the U.S. now also have FedEx Office centers that can offer critical business services, including shipping needs. This is always a welcome service for receiving forgotten items or those that may be needed during the course of the show.

Convention service contractors help to make the process of organizing an event highly organized and coordinated.  Their expertise allows for the maximization of resources, while keeping client expectations and budgets in mind. They ensure that their clients are able to focus on their core competencies and don’t sweat the details.  Attendees reap the benefits of these behind the scenes workers and are presented with an outstanding experience, which in turn, helps clients reap maximum profits.

To contact a GSC, visit ConventionPlanit.com.

Meet Kasey McNeil, Advisory Council Member

This is the latest in a continuing series highlighting members of the ConventionPlanit.com Advisory Council, comprised of meeting professionals and others in the meetings industry who help shape ConventionPlanit.com to meet the needs of the industry.

Kasey McNeilKasy McNeil
Exhibits Manager
American Academy of Physician Assistants

Advisory Council Member Kasey McNeil is starting 2014 off in a new role with the American Academy of Physicians Assistants as the Exhibits Manager. She brings her over 17 years in meeting planning to this new role. Congratulations and best of luck, Kasey!

Apparently the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s loss is a gain for the meeting planning industry.

That’s because Kasey R. McNeil says that if she wasn’t a meeting planner, she would “want to be in the world of crime scene investigation or be an FBI behavioral agent.”

She notes that meeting planning can “become like a huge jigsaw puzzle,” and no doubt her ability to manage this complex process is being put to good use as a meeting planner, a profession she has enjoyed for more than 17 years.

At the American Academy of Physician Assistants, she oversees the management of exhibits for their annual conference and other events. AAPA is the only national organization representing physician assistants in all medical and surgical specialties and students.

Prior to joining AAPA, McNeil worked with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), where she managed exhibits for the annual citywide convention as well as the association’s smaller conferences. IAFC represents the leadership of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide.

McNeil has also served as the Exhibit Operations and Events Manager at the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA)/Digestive Disease Week (DDW), where she managed exhibits for the annual citywide convention, including security, expo floor and vendors, general contractors, and 250-450 ancillary meetings and industry supported seminars during each conference. Prior to working in conference planning, McNeil worked in hotel management for eight years as a banquet manager and catering sales manager at hotels such as the Hilton, Embassy Suites and Doubletree.

Her favorite feature of ConventionPlanit.com is RFP OrganizationSM She particularly enjoys the platform’s ability to organize quotes for service providers without having to re-key any information. “I would highly recommend this free service to meeting planners and tradeshow managers,” she says.

View more members of the ConventionPlanit.com Advisory Council.

The Philippines Welcomes Meeting and Exhibition Business – Manila Untouched by Typhoon Haiyan

Please enjoy the following guest post from our friend Liz Jackson, President of Jackson Consulting, Inc, with some uplifting news form The Philippines.

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Hayain hit islands in the south of the Philippines,  the 1st annual Association Executive Summit was held at the Philippine International Convention Center in Manila on November 19.  The capital was spared all damage from the storm and over 150 Filipinos attended the two-day educational conference and the launch of the new Philippine Council for the Advancement of Association Executives (PCAAE).

Filipino residents continually approached international visitors with warm thanks for the global response aiding the storm’s survivors and “business as usual” was the message everyone conveyed about the meeting and exhibition business in the Philippines.

The country is composed of over 7,000 islands and tourism, including MICE, is a major employer.  Assuring the world that the Philippines’ typhoon damage was restricted to a small part of the country is a major effort of the Philippine business community.  The Philippine Tourism Promotions Board’s press release quoted, “The (Filipino) government, through the Department of Tourism, said the outpouring of (MICE) support shows that travel and tourism have transformed the globe into one community, ready to stand by each other not only in times of festivities, but in times of challenges.”

Susan Sarfati, High Performance Strategies, and Liz Jackson, Jackson Consulting Inc., were speakers and facilitators during the AES conference’s two days and report to ConventionPlanit that the convention center delivered a flawless meeting and the meeting scene in hotels and throughout the city was alive and vibrant.

“The country is working to repair the typhoon damage while business interests in the country continue everywhere.  Everyone expresses appreciation for global help in caring for the survivors and for continuing to do business with the Philippines.  I am looking forward to my next visit!”

Want to see a brief 5-minute video of the Association Executive Summit?   Check it out, see how well the event was managed and join the world in the Philippines! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qrz8vSwR4I

Thank you to Liz for writing this post for us and reporting firsthand. Comments or questions? Please post below!

Meeting Venues Re-Imagined

As a meeting organizer, would you ever think of staging your event in a storage container or present your attendees with a lounge chair so they could stretch out flat in order to watch a screen mounted on the ceiling? If not, you need to dust off your imagination and be aware that creating innovative spaces will be an important component of meeting planning moving forward.

At a panel discussion during the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado’s Annual Conference, attendees were treated to ways you can work with venues to re-design meeting space to ensure innovation, collaboration and participation. Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, Gary Schirmacher of Experient talked with moderator, Glenn Thayer about how space matters to meeting attendees.

When they enter an area, they feel and internalize what that environment tells them about how to react and respond. Consider the difference between the standard theater style set-up designed for efficient transfer of information from the stage (which doesn’t necessarily guarantee learning) versus a creative space with beanbag couches grouped to encourage informal engagement by participants.

Studies showing that kids work better in teams have resulted in a typical classroom format being composed of groupings of small tables with 4 chairs each to foster participation. When you consider that today’s younger audiences have the same attention span as children due to the influence of technology on their communication skills, perhaps this concept of “edutainment” is the right path to follow!

How are spaces changing? Here are some examples of new design elements:

  • “Brainwave Lounging” instead of upright seating
  • Beanbag chairs
  • Furniture on wheels
  • See-thru walls
  • Entire conference on mobile apps
  • “Tiered” spaces -large spaces mingled with small

As competition to draw attendees to your conference increases, planners will need to look towards a different designing of attitudes and behaviors to create deep and meaningful collaborations to attract this audience. To assist in this endeavor, reach out to your colleagues as follows:

  • Budgets: work with Sponsors to direct their funds from just providing logos to helping you to design experiences to move attendees towards being active participants. They will be seen to be on the “cutting edge” for a better ROI.
  • Venues: communicate with hotel and special event venue managers to explore how they are envisioning and re-designing traditional spaces – i.e. using conventional venue furniture to design new room sets to foster learning and one-on-one connection.

Space matters. It’s no longer just a room but a valuable tool to help you stage a successful event. Storage containers may not be the ideal alternative but it does get you thinking!

How to Keep Food & Beverage from Taking a Bite Out of Your Budget

Savvy meeting planners are always looking for ways to keep costs down without compromising quality for attendees. Food and beverage always consumes a large part of any meeting’s budget, but there are ways to help take a “bite” out of this expense.

Meeting planners from across the nation shared their favorite tricks of the trade when it comes to saving on food and beverage costs by posting them on the popular ConventionPlanit.com Stellar Tips list.


*        Serve pitchers of water with and without slices of lemon. Attendees love the twist of lemon and it cuts down on wasted, half-drunk bottles of water and attendees grabbing two or three bottles “for the road” which can add up to big costs. Plus it is more environmentally friendly. (Linda Testa, A O North America)

*        Use self-serve soda stations instead of cans. This saves on waste and also keeps attendees for taking extra cans with them. (Susan Neff, APICS)

*        When serving wine, ask if there is any dead stock, that is, discontinued varieties. They are usually sold at a discount to help clear out inventory. This works especially well when the wine bottles are at the table. No one will know that          different varieties are being served. (Diane Aquino-Medina, Nestle Professional)

*        Ask to be with the beverage manager when the bar count is done. Inform your hotel convention manager in advance that you would like to do this. Being       present keeps the manager honest, especially when having to measure out tenths of bottles (how liquor is measured) and can add up to big savings.


*        If your budget is really tight, consider giving out snack vouchers instead of setting      up a break table. Attendees get a certain amount of money ($3-5) for the snack shop in the hotel. You pay only for the vouchers that are redeemed. (Kathy Craig, Ecumenical Stewardship Center)

*        Don’t be afraid to get creative with banquet menus. Work with the hotel staff to combine items from various menus (lunch, dinner, special events) to create the meals you want. (Carol David, Axcelis Technologies)

·         If you are on a budget and need to plan a full day of meals, provide the total amount you have to spend to the chef or catering manager and request that they customize menus based on the specific requirements for each event. This allows the chef to be creative with dishes and to utilized local products, which should be less expensive.

*        Keep breakfast budgets in check by asking the catering director to cut pastries (danish, muffins, bagels) in half. They go farther and many people want only half. (Laura Johnson, Market*Access)

*        At a reception, pass/butler more expensive items. They will last longer and it will save money. Another trick is to use only napkins (not plates) on the table. This will keep people from loading up a plate.

*        Instead of serving dessert at lunch, save it to serve at the coffee break. This will provide a yummy treat and keep calorie-conscious attendees from indulging in two sweets during the day. This is a good tip if there isn’t enough money in the food and beverage budget for food at the coffee break.


 *          Make sure the banquet or catering manager has the final meeting agenda to ensure   that breaks and meals are in sync with that agenda. (Lori Schwarze, RTI International)

*        Plan ahead with hotel staffing to make sure that bars and restaurants are     adequately staffed to handle attendees during free time, especially if those times     don’t coordinate with normal meal/bar times.

*        Prepare for all special dietary needs. Some people are shy or overly considerate to voice their preferences. Offer lo-carb, vegetarian, gluten free, etc., fare to please all. (Susan Neff, APICS)

Lucky enough to have surplus funds in the F&B budget?

*        Have a continuous all-day refreshment break outside of breakout rooms. This will save attendees from having to search for staff if they need something outside    a scheduled break time and will keep them from going hungry. (Nancy Williams,         Plan Ahead Events)

*        Use the money to combine food with a team-building event such as putting together food boxes for charity, having a wine-making event, or having teams create their own ice cream flavors.

These helpful hints can help to maximize or trim a F&B budget, allowing you to enjoy your just desserts!

Want to make some money? Visit the ConventionPlanit.com Stellar Tip Contest and submit your best tips. If your tip receives the most votes from fellow meeting professionals next month, you will win a $100 American Express Reward Card!

PCMA Convening Leaders 2013 Kicks Off

One of the highlights of the annual Convening Leaders Conference is the Hospitality Helping Hands service project. This year was no different as a captive group of new and returning participants rolled up their sleeves and pitched in where they were needed yesterday. Their choices were the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida Inc. and the Clean the World Foundation Inc.

About 50 PCMA volunteers served breakfast, cleaned toys, playground equipment, and the kitchen, painted offices, and worked on arts and crafts with children for the Coalition for the Homeless. Another 100 PCMA volunteers cleaned and scraped used bars of soap for repackaging and assembling into hygiene kits for Clean the World.

The Orlando 2013 Host Committee recommended the two projects, said Vicky Betzig, CMP, PCMA’s director of meetings and events. The Coalition for the Homeless works to return residents to self-sufficiency through counseling, job training, and educational programs. Clean the World is a hospitality-industry-based organization that recycles guest-room hygiene items from hotels and redistributes them for humanitarian purposes.

Stay tuned for more from PCMA tomorrow on the blog!

ASAE Annual Wraps Up

As a veteran of too-many-to-count ASAE Opening and Closing General Sessions, your CP.com blogger was impressed by the brilliant campaign of informative videos demonstrating how Associations affect everyone, everywhere.

In June, a production team hit the road to capture the scope of this impact by traveling for 18 days, to 27 states and over 6,300 miles.  The big picture was to show association executives that what they accomplish is recognized all across the country.

The group producing the videos spent most of its time in Middle America where a lot of the most interesting stories originated.  People there want to be in charge of their business but don’t have the time to do the lobbying that the associations provide on their behalf.

Everyone they met thought highly of the work that associations do and it was very enlightening for both the executives and their business partners in the audience to hear directly from people all across the U.S. talk about what their association means to them.

This was a concept that will hopefully be repeated at future annual conferences!

ConventionPlanit.com Advisory Council Tackle the Tough Issues

Eight members of the ConventionPlanit.com Meeting Planner Advisory Council met recently at The Donovan House in Washington, DC to discuss current issues facing the meetings industry and how online search directories such as ConventionPlanit.com can help address them.

ConventionPlanit Advisory Council at the Donovan House

ConventionPlanit.com Staff and Advisory Council Members at the November Meeting

Some of the issues included:

  • Demonstrating the Value of Meeting History – Providing a hotel with historical data from previous meetings is essential in negotiating room blocks, rates, and food and beverage costs.  “Everybody complains about not having the history of hotel room pickups and meeting attendance, but nobody does anything about it,” one planner said.  “Just once I want a hotel to come to me with this information – I always have to hunt it down myself.”  Other planners shared similar experiences, and their common wish is for hotels to be more proactive about providing this information.  As electronic information-sharing in common formats becomes more common, this should improve in the future.
  • Unauthorized Third-Party Housing Companies Selling Non-Refundable Rooms – This is a lightning-rod issue for many planners, who often see their room blocks erode and subsequent attrition fees assessed as association members book rooms outside the block. These unauthorized companies often launch aggressive marketing campaigns to association members, making it sound like they are the official housing provider.  Attendees that book the rooms find they are non-refundable and sometimes cannot reach the companies by phone.  Meeting planners agreed that strong communications to prospective attendees warning them of these tactics is necessary, plus legal action against these companies if appropriate.
  • “Resort Fees” – Resort fees that typically cover Internet access, spa use, and other amenities are increasingly common.  The problem is that government employees cannot usually be reimbursed for these fees when they attend a meeting, and planners noted that the fees are often non-negotiable.  Their wish is for hotels to better understand the effects of these fees and be more willing to negotiate them if needed.
  • E-Blasted RFPs – Some companies e-blast RFPs out to numerous properties with little regard for qualifying them in advance.  This wastes the time of hotel salespeople as they respond to RFPs that don’t match what their properties offer.  It leads to complacency that can cause them to not respond to viable RFPs that could bring them business.  ConventionPlanit.com pre-qualifies properties to ensure that only those that are a strong potential match receive the RFPs, dramatically increasing the success rate for hotel proposals.
  • Hotel Proposals Lacking Necessary Information – When planners send out RFPs, they need all the information requested in order to do an apples-to-apples comparison of prospective properties.  The planners agreed that hotels are not doing themselves any favors by not providing complete information – it forces them to follow up and spend extra time getting information that should have been provided in the first place.  When RFPs are submitted through ConventionPlanit.com, incoming proposals are checked to make sure they are complete to save planners the hassle of chasing down information.

“This discussion was extremely valuable for both the planners and our staff,” said ConventionPlanit.com Principal and Co-Founder Katherine Markham, CHME.  “We found that much of what we are already doing helps to address many of these concerns, and it helps spark ideas for new solutions we can launch in the future.”

We are always looking for fresh faces to contribute to our council!  If you are an avid user of ConventionPlanit.com and would like information about joining the Meeting Planner Advisory Council, please contact Katherine Markham, CHME at katherinem@conventionplanit.com.

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