Hilton Washington Takes Meetings to New Heights

Outfitted with state-of-the-art technology and exceptional learning surroundings, HiltonWashington’s new Heights Executive Meeting Center opened its doors in April as part the hotel’s $140 million landmark restoration.

With a focus on facilitating conferences and training sessions, the Center provides a distraction-free learning environment in a dedicated area of the hotel, located away from convention space and high-traffic guest areas. It is comprised of nine rooms, with features that are unmatched in Washington, D.C., including a large outdoor courtyard with impressive skyline views of Washington and a central refreshment area with continuous food and beverage service – all available to planners with affordable per-person, per-day inclusive package pricing.

“Rather than react to planners’ needs, our goal was to create a center that anticipates and exceeds their expectations,” said Hilton Washington General Manager Steve Cowan. “Heights Executive Meeting Center is the answer for those planners in search of a venue that offers a collaborative approach to meetings that are easy to plan and customize.”

Strategically created for both planners and their conference attendees in mind, the meeting rooms have wide range of features that extend beyond the traditional hotel setting. In place of banquet chairs and tables with linens, conferees will find a setting conducive to all-day learning, including hard-top tables with easy laptop connections, wireless Internet access, ergonomic chairs, tackable walls, mounted boards, recessed electronic projection screen, blackout shades, individual meeting room climate controls and large floor-to-ceiling windows that provide garden views.

The new meeting center is part of Hilton Washington’s landmark $140 million restoration project, and was completed in June 2010.

The Heights Executive Meeting Center was named to honor the hotel’s location within the historic Washington Heights area of the city and is a reference to its “Temple Heights” location, a name given to the surrounding blocks of the neighborhood in 1930, when plans were brought forward to build a Masonic Temple on the parcel of land where the Hilton sits today. Original plans for the Templeultimately failed, but the neighborhood within the greater Washington Heights area is still called “Temple Heights” today. The Heights name is also a nod to the hotel’s location atop one of the highest elevations in the city, and its expansive skyline views that can be enjoyed from the meeting center corridor, refreshment break area and outdoor networking courtyard.

Learn more about the Hilton Washington.

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What Makes a Successful Webinar?

The do’s and don’ts of hosting a successful webinar, that will generate repeat attendees:

Establish a Twitter hash tag prior to webinar and include hash tag with dial/login instructions. While attendees may converse via the virtual meeting chat platform, if your audience is accustomed to Twitter, this is most likely where they will opt to connect. Be sure to have an organizer monitor comments for feedback, questions and technical assistance.

Strong preparation should not be overlooked. By the time attendees sign into the platform, technical glitches are worked out and introductions are made, the time for information sharing is short but vital. Practice your speech to ensure you have enough time to present the information. Thorough presentation slides can assist with this.

Traditional face-to-face presentation best practices still apply. You’re not off the hook just because attendees cannot see your face. Content must be engaging and informative just as much, if not more so than if in person.

-Since presentation slides are the sole visual for the webinar, these mustpresent the information in a clear, concise manner. Remember, presentation slides can be posted as a resource after the event. Attendees will appreciate thorough and entertaining slides that are consistent with the flow of the presentation.

-Familiarize yourself with the webinar software. Utilize the attendee mute button while the presenter is speaking. There’s nothing worse than an attendee placing a call on hold and disrupting the presentation with hold music, or hearing typing or phones ringing in the background!

Leave adequate time for questions. Whether you choose to answer questions along the way or at the end of a presentation, it’s vital for a successful webinar to include the audience’s comments and questions.

IMEX America: An Interview with Chairman Ray Bloom

IMEX AmericaOver the past several years, IMEX has become the world’s largest hosted-buyer meetings industry trade show, attracting over 8,900 attendees each year to its annual event in Frankfurt Germany, to be held this year from May 25-27, 2010. ConventionPlanit.com has been active for several years in bringing hosted buyers to this show.

The really exciting news this year is the upcoming launch of IMEX America, which will be held in Las Vegas,Nevada at the Sands Expo Convention Center at the Venetian/Palazzo October 11-13, 2011.

Ray Bloom, the Chairman of IMEX, is the driving force behind this new venture, which he expects will rival the success of the longstanding Frankfurt show. ConventionPlanit.com asked Bloom to talk about IMEX America in this exclusive interview.

Ray Bloom

Ray Bloom, the Chairman of IMEX, is the driving force behind IMEX America.

What inspired you to launch IMEX America?

As the industry well knows and understands, we have a strong track record of launching and developing successful trade fairs with widespread industry support. The idea for IMEX America developed over the past couple of years. It was clear there was pent-up demand in the market, and that American exhibitors and suppliers were keener than ever to develop stronger trade links with buyers from other parts of the world; as well as international suppliers wanting to access the U.S. outbound market.

The IMEX brand benefits from excellent goodwill across the world and there was a strong business case to launch in 2011. We know that the U.S. market fully supports and wants such a show – one with a strong and proven business pedigree.

Other than the new location, in what ways will IMEX America be different from IMEX Frankfurt?

There will be slight differences but, in essence, we have an “IMEX model” that is proven, successful, and enduring. For that reason, IMEX America will follow exactly the same mold, allowing for some cultural and business preferences.

For example, the IMEX model is to leverage multiple, high-level partnerships and to pursue an uncompromising focus on business with our hosted buyer program at the core of the show. Additional elements such as our comprehensive seminar and education program – and what we call our New Vision initiatives – provide added value, but IMEX is always, always about maximizing business opportunities between buyers and exhibitors.

We are forecasting 2,000 hosted buyers, making this the largest ever hosted buyer program to be seen at a U.S. trade show and unique in the market. Of these, 80 percent will come from North America, with the balance attending from around the world. Qualification for places on the program will follow the strict guidelines that have been used to build the authority and credibility of IMEX in Frankfurt. The program will bring top-quality association, corporate, and agency buyers from every corner of the meetings and events industry onto the show floor to do business with exhibitors. We work with all the big names already familiar to the U.S. meetings and events industry to ensure their strong and visible presence at the show. In addition, the IMEX model has proven that these hosted buyers will spend longer periods of time on the show floor meeting exhibitors compared to non-hosted trade show attendees.

How do you envision the profile of exhibitors changing by holding IMEX in America? For example, do you envision a greater number of U.S.-based exhibitors?

We definitely expect to see more U.S.-based exhibitors at IMEX America who want to reach an international market as well as raise their profile among topU.S. buyers. We will guarantee that buyers who come to IMEX America from outside the United States will have a special interest in U.S. suppliers and will also spend three full days on the show floor meeting exhibitors. In addition, both the U.S.-hosted buyers, as well as other U.S.-based trade show attendees, will be placing business domestically.

Our confidence in delivering exceptional levels of new business to all our exhibitors in Las Vegas is based on a sound pedigree and a proven formula. For example, IMEX views every single exhibitor as a business partner, not simply a company that takes a booth at our show. The support we offer exhibitors in terms of tailored and detailed pre-show marketing guidance, online buyer appointments, the virtual exhibition, online diary management, online training, and our “Contact the Buyers” facility is genuinely unique, and extends all year round. What’s more, it is all included in the exhibit fee. In short, our aim is to help all our exhibitors achieve an unfair advantage over their competition.

You are planning to work with both the American Society of Association Executives & The Center for Association Leadership (ASAE & The Center) and Meeting Professionals International (MPI) to offer education programs in connection with the show. How will these programs be different and how will they complement each other?

MPI, ASAE & The Center, the Society of Incentive and Travel Executives, and the Professional Convention Management Association are just some of the most important organizations we will work with in the United States to develop educational platforms. They know and understand our unique model and are highly committed to it. Already we have over 40 educational events and forums planned around IMEX America.

ASAE & The Center will organize dedicated association-led education on the day before the show as a part of the IMEX America Association Day program. MPI, as part of our strategic partnership, will no longer hold its MeetDifferent Conference, nor its tradeshow at the World Education Conference, but will put the collective buying power of MPI members behind IMEX America. As part of this, MPI will also deliver dedicated high-level education for corporate buyers on the day before the show, as well as on each morning of the show.

Partnerships like these create very exciting possibilities for IMEX America and ensure a strong foundation for mutual cooperation, education, and marketing in the future.

One thing is clear: It is the “IMEX way” that educational events must not take buyers away from the show floor during business hours. We are uncompromising about this, so you will find that all our education programs will take place on either side of the show’s opening days or at the start or end of each day so as not to interfere with business. As in Frankfurt, we will have an Education Pavilion called the LearningCurve Zone offering short workshops and seminars at the center of the show floor, but these sessions will be short drop-ins.

What is the greatest value that buyers will take away from IMEX America?

More business! In practice that means more appointments with more motivated exhibitors and all business conducted in the fastest and most efficient way possible. We appreciate that hosted buyers and other trade show attendess generally have to justify time out of the office for meeting suppliers face-to-face. However, we also know that despite all the attractions and advantages of the internet, doing business at a live event is more valuable than ever – especially in a communications and experience-based industry such as the international meetings and events market.

In addition, the enormous range of educational activities means that at the same time buyers can learn, develop professionally, and discover new trends and innovations.

What will success look like for IMEX America?

We have a clear vision of what success will look like for our exhibitors, trade show attendees, and buyers and we have a clear plan for bringing that vision to life.

In brief, it will be a trade show floor brimming with exhibitors, the loud buzz of conversation and business being done and fast feedback that both buyers and exhibitors have exceeded their business expectations. We always delight in stories, and there have been many, where exhibitors tell us they have signed as much business in the first few hours as they expected to sign over the full three days. That will definitely be a key measure of success.

How do you think the Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club will do this year? (Ray Bloom is a dedicated fan who attends nearly every game of this soccer team based in his hometown.)

If only I knew…

Maximize Audio Visual Rentals & Limit Cost

Technology has become an event staple – making your audio visual more important than ever.  Here are a few tips to maximize the rentals at the lowest cost:

1.    Negotiating Cost: remember to shop around.  Outside contractors can offer better rates than the in-house AV company, so be sure to obtain several quotes.  In some cases, this can be used as leverage to negotiate a deeper discount with the in-house contractor.

2.    Last Minute Equipment Requests: keep several contractor names handy, in case last minute equipment requests arise.  Your in-house provider may not have a large backstock, whereas outside contractors typically bring extra equipment with them.

3.    Limiting AV Tech Time: Hourly rates for technicians can add up, especially during full conference days.  Consider negotiating an hour of setup assistance at the beginning of each day for any rooms being used.

4.    Battle Static Electricity: In winter months, static can be a persistent problem with electronics.  It can be painful, too!  Bring a static cling remover and dryer sheets to your conference.  Spray the carpeting around the registration area as well as around in conference rooms around wires and electronics with the static cling remover, and use the dryer sheets to wipe down computer screens and projectors.  This will also cut down on dust.

Some of these tips were submitted to the ConventionPlanit.com Stellar Tip Contest.  For a chance to win a monthly prize, submit your own tip, or visit the archive for tips and advice on a variety of topics.

Save Time and Money on Food and Beverage

Meeting planners know better than anyone else how to cut food and beverage costs.

Here are some tips from the inside – advice shared by fellow meeting planners in the  “Stellar Tips” section of ConventionPlanit.com:

1.  Customize Menus

It’s no secret that food and beverage can be expensive.  Customizing menus can allow for greater variety, fresher ingredients, and cut costs.  Provide a total dollar amount to the chef or catering manager and request custom menus (keeping specific requirements in mind).

The chef is given flexibility to use seasonal or local specials, or piggyback other events being held that day, take advantage of specials offered by food suppliers – all while offering smaller and healthier portions and staying within budget.

2.  Alter the Food Presentation

Pass or butler more expensive items at a reception to make them last longer and save money.  Using napkins instead of plates, or asking the caterer to slice bakery items in half (bagels, muffins, croissants) allow for portion control.

3.  Eliminate Individual Beverages

Replace cans of soda with a self-service fountain soda station situated near the break area, and use water pitchers or coolers instead of bottles.   Attendees won’t be tempted to ‘take one for the road’.  These options are more cost effective (one planner saved $1000 by switching to water coolers!) and are good for the environment, too.

4.  Monitor a Beverage Manager

While doing the BEO, mention you would like to be present when the beverage manager tallies the bars and empties before they are finalized. (Liquor is counted by tenths of a bottle and then billed accordingly).

One count discrepancy resulting in a measurement change can equate to as many as 10-12 drinks!  This keeps the beverage manager on his toes and can result in hundreds of dollars in savings.

5.  Use a Voucher Program

Instead of preparing a traditional break time, ask the hotel to provide vouchers for the lobby snack shop.  Attendees are given vouchers, each worth $3, for example.  Each item in the snack shop is worth one voucher.  The vouchers are then counted and charged to the master account – which can be significantly less costly than a large break time.

Green Meetings: Getting Started

Incorporating environmentally-friendly components into meetings is no longer trendy or cutting edge, it has become necessary.  Here are a few guidelines to help get started thinking green:

1. Choosing a Green Location

Make a difference from every aspect of your conference by choosing a green city. Conduct research when selecting your location.  Look for cities with high percentages of renewable energy, green building guidelines, and a commitment to city-wide green programs (such as park construction).

Green-friendly destinations are eager to work with you to meet your green requirements and implement your ideas at the convention center. For the 2010 PCMA Annual Conference, Vice President of Meetings & Events Kelly Peacy said she worked closely with the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau to infuse green elements into all areas of the conference, including area, including the destination, accommodations, food and beverage, communications, and operations.

2. Implementation: Make a Difference

Support local organically grown food as much as possible and consider donating leftover food to a local food bank or

composting other unused food.

Providing green hotels for conference housing is important.  Look for LEED Certified properties,

and ask about special green efforts the hotel is involved with, such as donating leftover soap to a recycling effort to provide people in developing nations with soap.

3. Words of Encouragement:

“You don’t just go out and suddenly become a green organization,” Peacy said. “You have to build on it. You need to decide how high green ranks on your list of organizational strategic objectives. We asked that question and determined that it was very important, so we put significant resources toward it. At PCMA it is half of one person’s job. Every year we build new objectives. If PCMA can be recognized as an industry leader to educate our members about green that would be a success.”

Don’t stop with these ideas; strive to innovate for green efforts in all areas of your meeting!

Creative Meeting Ideas

Redefining value has become more important than ever before. What worked last year or the year before may be out the window, especially with a rapidly changing economic landscape and competitors scrambling for market position.

Here are some creative marketing ideas to help build meeting attendance:

Go Viral – Forget the swine flu! We’re talking about viral exposure in the social media. Come up with unusual – even outrageous – ideas for your meeting that will start tongues wagging and tweeters tweeting. Get your executive director to volunteer to sing a song onstage at the Opening General Session if the meeting attendance sets a record (be sure to post a video of him/her singing a few lyrics on YouTube as a sneak preview). Then have your Board members, convention planning committee members, and other leaders start tweeting about this and posting links to the YouTube video and your meeting website.

Talent Search – Everyone has talent, right? (OK, maybe some people are more talented than others.) Have a “Talent and Great Ideas Show” at your next meeting. Use your e-newsletter, online convention promotions, and the social media to recruit members to participate. Each person needs to demonstrate their talent for a minute or so (do a card trick, play a musical instrument, sing, dance, juggle, do an impersonation, etc.) and then deliver one industry-related great idea that attendees can take home and use in their business. Record a couple short videos with willing members to show how it works and post these on YouTube as examples. The show will add fun and value to your next meeting, and create powerful social media marketing leading up to the meeting to promote attendance.

Jeopardy – Think of an important topic in your industry and imagine how that might play out in a Jeopardy-style game. (Remember, answers must be phrased in the form of a question!) Creativity is the bottom line, of course – think about how the game can be built into into a PowerPoint presentation, for example.

What are you waiting for? Step out of your comfort zone, toss ideas around with colleagues, and think about the wow factor!

A World of Golf and Excellent Meeting Options

The Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village recently underwent an extensive renovation.

The World Golf Hall of Fame, located at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Florida, and the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village, are becoming an increasingly popular meeting destination.

To learn more about it, we interviewed Scott Selvaggi, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village.

St. Augustine is a major golf destination with the World Golf Village and the World Gold Hall of Fame. How has this changed the city and what is it doing to enhance it as a meeting destination?

World Golf Village and the World Golf Hall of Fame give St. Johns County another enhancement for leisure travelers and groups. In addition to the World Golf Village, St. Johns County also offers travelers the Historic District in downtown St. Augustine, a variety of beaches, and beautiful Ponte Vedra. World Golf Village offer visitors an opportunity to enjoy the PGA Tour Academy, the PGA Tour Stop (Florida’s Largest Golf Store), and various activities for golfers and non-golfers. The World Golf Village offers exceptional lodging including the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village.

Tell us about the $10 million property-wide renovation that the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village completed last year.

This project captured the “Best Renovation of the Year Award” for a franchised property at the recent 2008 Marriott International National Association (MINA) conference. Located next to the impressive World Golf Hall of Fame, The Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village remodeled all 301 guest rooms and suites, dramatically changed the lobby atrium and entry area, remodeled all guest room corridors, expanded and enhanced its fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment, remodeled its billiard room, enhanced its meeting space with new carpet, and renovated its business center. In addition, the resort also remodeled its restaurant and bar, which opened in April 2008 as a new restaurant and bar called 500 South, An American Grill.

What type and size of meetings are best for your property?

We cater to all groups and sizes. In addition to meetings and conferences, we also cater to weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, anniversary and birthday parties. We can cater up to a 1,500 person sit-down dinner and one group may occupy all 301 guest rooms. We have 14 meeting rooms and our St. Augustine Ballroom is very large at 26,880 square feet. It is the largest hotel/convention center combination between Orlando and Atlanta.

What type of golf experiences are near your resort and how can they enhance meetings?

Featuring a wealth of recreational offerings that appeal to golfers and non-golfers alike, the resort enables you to play golf on two of the country’s finest golf courses (King & Bear, and Slammer & Squire), experience the renowned PGA TOUR Golf Academy, and explore the wonders of America’s oldest city, St. Augustine. On-site offerings at The Renaissance Resort include a professional golf simulator, a sauna, pool, and hot tub. Guests also are an easy walk to The World Golf Hall of Fame’s 18-hole putting course, the 132-yard Island Challenge Hole, an IMAX® Theater, and the Walk of Champions. Onsite meetings may take advantage of team-building activities through tournament play on one of our golf courses. Additional team-building activities may be organized at our 18-hole putting course or the 132-yard Island Challenge Hole.

What other attractions does your resort and the surrounding area offer that most people don’t think of when they are considering your property for a meeting?

One will find that beautiful historic St. Augustine offers everything from upscale boutiques and historic antiques to fine art and Florida kitsch. If you have a passion for the old-fashioned – including blown glass and handmade chocolates – St. Augustine is the spot for you. In addition to perusing clothes, shoes, household goods, and unique gifts from around the world in St. Augustine, there are more than 160 outlet stores within minutes of the resort. You’ll find upwards of 85 stores at the Premium Outlets and 75+ stores at the nearby Prime Outlet Center, both within five miles of The Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village. Likewise, World Golf Village has the 30,000 square foot PGA TOUR Stop – the world’s largest golf merchandise store – perfect for gifts, equipment and apparel for the avid golfer. You’ll find more than 60 of the world’s top manufacturers of equipment and apparel featured in interactive “concept shops” and themed areas throughout the store.

Your hotel is part of the John Q. Hammons Hotels group. What is the defining feature of this group and how is it positioning itself in the meetings market?

Since developing his first hotel in 1958, John Q. Hammons has carried out his vision of creating a hotel experience that exceeds every expectation. Over the past 50 years, he has become a true innovator within the hospitality industry, from his ambitious style of property development to setting the standard for excellence in property management. Today, John Q. Hammons Hotels Management, LLC, maintains Hammons’ long tradition of quality with a renewed passion. We’re building upon his legacy of success and focusing on the future of the company – developing new properties that are sure to excel while continuing to outperform our competitors at the properties we manage. John Q. Hammons Hotels are consistently awarded the highest honors in guest satisfaction and overall excellence. Our new atrium-style developments continue to lead the industry in both meeting space and guest experience. With extraordinary associates and an experienced management team, we remain the nation’s premier independent builder, developer, owner and manager of upscale, full-service hotels.