Professional Meeting Planners: Successful Meeting Planning


Getting to the “Heart” of your Meetings and Conferences;

 From a Professional Meeting/Event Manager
By Todd Schwartz, CMP 

- Are some people considering your meetings all “fluff” and no “substance?”

- Do you feel you are having meetings just “to have meetings”?

- Are you finding your budgets slim, non-existent, and efforts wasted when executing an event?

- Can’t seem to capitalize upon, and learn anything from, your past meetings and conferences?

Be it a monthly, quarterly, or annual meeting, conference, board meeting, event or convention – in a world where corporate expenses are increasingly scrutinized – it all boils down to your Return on Investment (ROI).

Even if you are fortunate enough to have a budget when planning your program; without knowing the goals and objectives you intend to achieve, you will have wasted your efforts, money, and the valuable time of your company and work colleagues. The one sure way to get attention and add fuel for thought when a company is planning and executing a program is to ask . . . Why are we getting together?

How do you maximize your ROI?

· First, take a poll from prospective attendees prior to establishing the venue and program and ask: What are your expectations? Also review the crucial feedback at the close of your last program if you should have it available.

· Via email or “snail” mail, address a short one-page document to the attendees that outlines the main points of the program, including an overall perspective and goals of the program. Even if the intent of the program is for socialization and comradery, make this clear.

· Once the goals are established, move into executing and planning your program by researching venues that match your needs and criteria. After selecting a property or venue, make sure you understand what is being asked of you from your company and the hotel when working with a hotel or venue.

· Remember, ROI does not only involve dollars. A key element of ROI is making sure there is enough time for networking, and if applicable, allowing your guests the opportunity to see the area at large. Research shows that companies are finding more and more that if there isn’t an element of mixing and mingling, attendees get frustrated and loose interest.

· If you don’t have the time, or the resources to plan an event or meeting, hire an expert meeting planner. When planning a program with any budget, hiring an experienced meeting/event manager can prevent headaches, and more importantly, unexpected costs. Look for years of experience, credibility and programs executed. A “Wedding Planner” is drastically different from an “Event/Meeting Planner,” so make sure to ask questions when outsourcing this function. They are versed in the industry and have probably planned the same types of conferences and meetings you desire so you won’t be reinventing the wheel.

· ROI can’t always be measured immediately. But, a key to achieving this goal is always to record a history after each meeting, including an evaluation from the attendees. If there’s not enough time to do so at the event, take advantage of today’s ever-changing technology: meeting planners are taking advantage of Palm Pilot and Blackberry technology to collect immediate feedback while guests are leaving the property or waiting for their flights. Develop a pattern of feedback and utilize your findings to your advantage.

Ways to Save:

Companies are no longer having meetings just to have them. They are piggy-backing on their existing programs to get more “bang for their buck” – saving money on airfare, hotels and food and beverage. Some other cost-saving techniques include:

· Knowing your budget (if you are lucky enough to have one) and what you can and can not do. And, be flexible; optional dates can allow your hotel or facility to serve you better.

· Although some shutter at the thought, it is sometimes common place for corporations to ask their staff to double-up in sleeping rooms in an effort to reduce spending if travel is involved.

· Ask your facility catering manager what companies are holding their events on the same days or nights and maybe capitalize on existing menus. Make sure your competition hasn’t already planned an event on your day or you may lose your attendees to the ballroom next door!

Words to the Wise:

· Treat your hotel staff and contacts as you would people in your own workplace – with respect and courtesy. Remember; they are partnering with you to give you the best service to your guests. They can be a tremendous resource for mitigating “damages” you will miss with the demands on you during the event.

· Roadside construction and other obstacles might prohibit your guests from getting to the location where your meeting is being held. Make sure to ask the property about this as well as inquiring about citywide events that might inconvenience your guests.

No matter if you’re a Fortune 500 company, professional firm, association, non-profit, or hotelier; when planning a function, you want a “win-win” formula for you and your attendees. The “win” is providing a cost-effective program with value-added information, coupled with the “win” of your attendee’s desire to come back for next year’s program. You want them to walk away feeling that they have gained information and are refreshed and recharged with the tools to help them succeed in, and out of, your workplace.

Todd Schwartz is a certified meeting planner (CMP) and president and founder of
The Professional Planner Group, a full-service, meeting, event, and incentive management company. PPG possesses over 30 years of collective experience in the industry, and partners with hoteliers and vendors across the world for companies seeking to plan and execute a meeting or event. To contact Mr. Schwartz please contact GCG Event Partners at 781-279-9887.

For reprint permission please contact Lori Gershaw at GCG Event Partners, 781-279-9887 ext 200.

Copyright © 2005 Gershaw Conference Group, Inc.