Tag Archives: meeting ideas

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!

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.

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!

 

Innovation + Silicon Valley = San Jose

San Jose is an emerging destination with an influx of urban development strengthening the city’s walkable downtown core and has earned a reputation as a happy, cool and smart city. Team San Jose is one of ConventionPlanit’s newest members, and we couldn’t wait to tell you a little more about what the city has to offer meeting planners.

San Jose

In 2014 The Today Show dubbed San Jose as the smartest city in America, Forbes listed us as one of America’s coolest cities in 2014 and National Geographic recently ranked San Jose as one of the top 10 happiest cities in the world. The city is home to over 6,600 technology companies and has become a global epicenter of innovation, harvesting thousands of innovative technology companies including Adobe, eBay, Cisco, Netflix and TiVo.

As a result, the Capital of Silicon Valley continues to produce world-class technology and Team San Jose’s recent partnership with the City of San Jose to launch Wickedly Fast Free Wi-Fi in the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. The Wi-Fi service compliments the city’s free Wi-Fi at Mineta San Jose International Airport and throughout downtown.

Attendees will experience a range of post-convention activities in Downtown San Jose with over 200 dining and lively nightlife options, contemporary museums, edgy galleries, and vibrant performing arts and entertainment – all within walking distance from the Convention Center.

Other must-sees in San Jose include the weird and wacky Winchester Mystery House, interactive TechShop and the geeky Tech Museum of Innovation.

San Jose is also a sports savvy destination with Avaya Stadium (home of the MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes), SAP Center (home to the NHL’s San Jose Sharks) and nearby Levi’s Stadium (home of the San Francisco 49ers and future events such as WWE WrestleMania 31 and Super Bowl 50).

Have you attended or organized a meeting in San Jose? Comment below and share your experiences!

Get Organized

checklistA successful conference needs a highly organized meeting planner running the show. Make sure your event is up to par and ensure no detail is overlooked by making an event binder. This will be your lifeline onsite at the event. Below we share some of our must-have items to include in your binder. Be sure to let us know what you would add!

 

  • Schedules
    • Personal Schedule: day-by-day works best for larger conferences
    • Meeting Schedule: be sure to include room numbers
    • Staff Schedule: include who is working check in, registration, etc. and the shift time
  • Venue Information
    • Event Contract
    • Venue Contact List
    • Rooming List: ask for an up to date list on arrival day
    • Room Set Ups: highlight any changes from the version the hotel received
    • Food & Beverage Order Forms
    • Hotel Floorplan
    • AV Requests
  • Exhibits
    • Exhibiting Company Lists: alphabetical & by booth number
    • Exhibitor Contracts: include copies of check or credit card numbers
    • Set-Up Instructions: include all drapery colors and any other set-up details sent to the venue
  • Signage: a list of all signs and placement locations
  • Speaker Information: contact information and arrival times
  • Additional Details
    • Last minute action list
    • Security schedule
    • Insurance certificate

    What additional information do you include in your binder? Send a tweet to @conventionplani with the hashtag #cpeventbinder and let us know!

     

    Information compiled with the help of the National Council of Teachers of English

Meetings Tech Expo Hits NYC

Meetings Tech Expo

ConventionPlanit attends many tradeshows throughout the year, and the Meetings Technology Expo this October was a must on the list.

MTE is the first and still the longest-running conference and expo focused on meeting & event technology, and will take place October 28 in New York City.

In its 10th year, MTE will feature CMP and CAE accredited sessions, over 50 tech demos, and play host to dozens of 1-on-1 meetings between tech vendors and tech-buyers. Receive the hands-on education you need to make an informed decision when selecting new technologies for your meetings and events.

As part of your registration you’ll have the opportunity to sign up for 1-on-1 meetings with any MTE exhibitors. The pre-arranged appointments are made to fit within your schedule and help get the most out of your time while at the show.

Plus, learn from your peers what tech solutions have worked for them and share your own tech experiences at the Networking Breakfast & General Session, Networking Luncheon & Tech Round Table Discussions, and Post-show Networking Reception.

Register to attend the Meetings Technology Expo. We hope to see you there!

The Meeting Planner Inside Scoop: 2013 Takeaways and 2014 Predictions

meeting planner inside scoopWe recently sat down with seasoned meeting planner Darlene Lyons, President of EzEvents and CP.com Advisory Board member.

We got the meeting planner inside scoop on what lessons she learned from the 2013 meeting season, and what we can  look forward to for 2014.

2013 Takeaways – A Rebounding Economy Offers Pros and Cons

  • Larger Budgets: Lyons found many of her clients in 2013 had larger than expected budgets to put towards their meetings. This is certainly a signal of a strengthening economy!
  • Rise in Demand Limits Meeting Space & Guest Room Availability: Lyons said this happened quickly, and was an unpleasant surprise for her clients, who expected high availability and lower rates. 
  • Increased Lead Times: a direct result of the increase in demand has been longer lead times. Sales staff are inundated with more RFPs to respond to, and planners are experiencing longer wait times. Lyons says that ConventionPlanit.com makes it easy to get an organized search for properties done, as well help to get a response. “Venues respond quicker to ConventionPlanit.com,” she says.
  • More Research: another side effect of the demand, planners are finding it more difficult to secure their first choice destinations. Lyons recommends researching a meeting a minimum of two years out. “We’re having difficulty finding space in high demand destinations such as Las Vegas, but even the top twenty-five spots, like Dallas, are rebounding as well,” says Lyons.
  • WiFi Becomes a Requirement: No longer an option, WiFi is now demanded as a necessity. In face, Lyons said that Wifi was probably her biggest frustration and challenge for 2013. So much that she worked with an audiovisual specialist “to standardize the exact amount of megabits/sec needed per person based on how many devices they were likely to have and for what purposes they would use them,” she says. This way, she could bid out the right amount needed for that meeting so that no one was stuck with a frozen device. You can find out more about how to determine WiFi needs at her website, www.ezevents.net
  • Emerging Technologies: Digital signage, audience polling systems and smart phone apps all grew in popularity last year. Other changes she saw in 2013 included meetings with fewer speakers who talked at their audience and more round table discussions, and the need to reuse or maximize space.

2014 – Positive Expansions

What does 2014 hold for the meeting profession? Lyons is very positive for this year. She expects business to double, if not triple. “Companies are more optimistic, and many are projecting moderate growth. This is allowing them to free up larger budgets for meetings,” says Lyons.

“People still want peer to peer training. They want to network and learn.” She sees a trend for more collaborative type meetings with more audience participation. “Networking breakouts, and Ted-like short talks with a small number of people for a shorter period of time are becoming very popular.”

A final word of advice from Lyons for those who may be starting their careers in the meetings industry, especially those who will be working as independent planners like herself: “Have a solid business plan, have a good contract, find a niche market to work in, and have a good, targeted marketing plan,” she says.

Darlene Lyons is the founder and President of EzEvents, Inc. and has over 25 years of experience in the meeting industry. She has been responsible for the planning and execution of over 5,000 events on the North American continent. She has worked with many of the worlds’ leading speakers and entertainers, and thrives on the excitement of the event industry.

What did you take away from 2013? What do you think 2014 has in store? Comment below to join the discussion!

2014 Meeting Trends

2014 meeting trendsThe 2014 American Express Global Meetings & Events Forecast has some noteworthy prediction for meeting planning in the coming year.

The forecast surveys meeting professionals and hoteliers in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Central/South America in areas of meeting attendance, number of meetings, and meeting spending.

North America expects to see slight growth in the number of meetings, the number of attendees per meeting and the increase for regional meetings. Lead times for planning are expected to decrease. Europe expects to see a flat trend in the number of meetings, but a decrease in number attendees and overall spending. Regional meetings are expected to increase here as well.

Asia-Pacific is anticipating a down year in all areas, except regional meetings where a four percent increase is expected. Central/South America expects a flat trend in the number of meetings with a slight increase in number of attendees and regional demand and a decrease in overall spending and lead times.

Looking to 2014, meeting planners surveyed for the 2014 American Express Meetings & Events Forecast revealed a number of key trends and identified expectations across all regions:

  • Increasing Engagement through Social Media and Mobile Apps – According to research from Google’s Our Mobile Planet, since 2012, smartphone penetration has increased by 10 percentage points in most major regions and the daily use of social networking sites via those smartphones is also on the rise. In 2014, according to the 2014 American Express Meetings & Events Global Forecast, the use of social media within meetings is expected to slightly increase across all regions, as the use of mobile apps and social media is expected to transition from attendees’ personal to professional lives. Meeting planners indicated an increased interest in using mobile apps and expressed a desire to learn how to best utilize apps for their individual meetings. With the technology to develop meeting specific apps becoming ‘mainstream’, companies are in the process of choosing the appropriate tools and providers for their meeting apps. Overall, meeting planners are facing increased pressures to use social media and mobile apps before, during and after meetings as a way to communicate with and connect attendees to one another in order to maximize time spent at meetings and create opportunities for increased engagement and efficiency.
  • Budget Controls Continue Local and Regional Meeting Trend – As budget challenges likely increase, localized meeting demand was reported as a key trend by planners for 2014. Meeting planners revealed that companies are expecting to keep meetings closer to home by looking to hold more meetings within their region and/or their own facilities. Compliance, cost, and travel time are all noted as top drivers of this trend, as companies likely continue to seek alternative ways to control costs and reduce time away from the office.
  • Meeting Approvals Becoming More Challenging – The approval process for meetings is expected to become increasingly complex and more rigorous across all regions as a result of expected delayed approvals and a likely shift toward more revenue-focused, external meetings. Senior level executives must often approve meeting programs above a certain budget or attendance number threshold, further delaying the approval process.
  • Group Fares – Incorporating group fares into a strategic meetings program is another way meeting planners are looking to optimize costs in 2014. Group hotel and air rates for meetings and events are expected to experience slight increases compared to rates from 2013. As meeting organizers become more aware of the cost advantages and flexibilities associated with these fares, group rates will likely become more critical in the meeting planning process.
  • Non-Traditional Properties – Meeting planners surveyed for the 2013 American Express Meetings & Events Forecast revealed they were considering more non-traditional properties as locations for meetings such as outdoor venues, universities and aquariums. The 2014 survey results predicted similar trends with Europe and Asia leading the charge with a 2.5 percent increase in the use of alternative properties. In North America, the use of non-traditional facilities is expected to increase as a result of a stronger desire for locations that are considered ‘hip and trendy’ for more promotional events.

What would you add to this list? Comment below to share your ideas. We will be sharing the best comments in a future issue of the e-Alert newsletter!

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.

Beverages

*        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.

Food

*        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.

Miscellaneous

 *          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!