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Game plan: When your meeting staff can't make it to the meeting

SWS staff 2017

After 11 months of planning for a conference hosted in Puerto Rico this week, I'm taking it all in from my office in Wisconsin and hoping that the staff handling logistics onsite has been equipped with all the details and knowledge behind each day’s events. My random text at 2 a.m. to a colleague would say otherwise, but I’m also 29 weeks pregnant and keep hearing about pregnancy-induced brain fog, let’s blame that.

Early in the planning process, with the ongoing concern of Zika in Puerto Rico, staff members were free to decide whether or not they felt comfortable attending the conference. This gave us plenty of time to ensure there were replacement staff onsite and that everyone felt prepared for their roles.

Undoubtedly, the staff representing our client onsite are doing an amazing job (see photo). Here are a few tips to help if you find your team in a similar situation:

Develop a game plan. With all of our client meetings, we prepare a Staff Roles sheet which outlines core events and responsibilities. Develop this plan early and think about who can fill in for any staff unable to attend onsite. Nail down those who will be involved in order to keep them in the loop as planning proceeds.

Brief staff from the start. Meet regularly throughout the planning process to keep staff up-to-date. Our team schedules weekly check-ins to get everyone up to speed and discuss any concerns. This will also help avoid a “brain dump” right before the meeting (although this won't necessarily prevent one…see below).

Create a staff operations manual. Equip staff with a comprehensive guide that can be easily accessed onsite. Include all meeting contracts, banquet event orders, floorplans and other important documents. Add in contact information for vendors, board members and staff. List your sponsors, exhibitors and VIPs. Use this as your main resource for event information.

Communicate with outside vendors. Once you’ve decided who will handle responsibilities onsite, reach out to vendors and introduce them. Include staff on important communications as planning wraps up and arrange a time for vendors to meet with staff once they arrive at the meeting destination.

Schedule a pre-conference briefing . . . or brain dump. Run through the meeting from day one to the conclusion to make sure all staff are aware of the schedule and their role at the meeting. This is the time to answer any last-minute questions and get the team excited for a successful meeting!

Be in regular contact with onsite staff. Maintain contact by email or phone and make yourself available as a backup if needed. There will be questions and unexpected stresses, so offer to help back at the office. You may also get a few calls from vendors that are used to contacting you. Help direct them to the right person onsite.

With the conference wrapping up today, I am eager for staff to return and hear all about the conference and its successes as well as improvements for next year. We only get a second to breathe before 2018 planning begins!

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Enhance your attendee experience with an offsite event

MIlw museum

A great way to mix up your meeting and energize attendees is to plan an offsite event. By taking a break from the everyday meeting space, you can recharge your attendees with a fun, relaxed atmosphere to network and learn from peers.

Immersing your group in local attractions can take your attendee experience to the next level and give them a chance to enjoy the destination, which most attendees don’t plan for outside the meeting. And as the demand for face-to-face meetings continue to grow, the expectation for experiences to make valuable connections will become the norm.

So how do we find those one-of-a-kind venues for a memorable event?

Partner with your meeting destination’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Instead of the go-to Google search, ask your CVB for venue and activity recommendations. With groups in and out of their destination, CVBs can offer possibilities that other groups have experienced and found successful.

Ask a local planning committee participant or valued member. A resident of the destination can offer worthwhile insight into a venue from the perspective of an attendee. If you’re fortunate, they may have attended an event at a possible location and can give you a sense of the atmosphere and service.

Heading offsite can bust your budget but be up front and work with the venue to maximize your dollars. Think of creative ways to reduce equipment rentals and audio visual fees and watch out for hidden expenses. If you have a good partnership with the CVB, offer exposure incentives or sponsorship benefits to offset costs. I’ve found that most venues will work within your means and want events to be successful.

A great example of an offsite event and partnering with a destination is the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives Awards Celebration that was part of the 2016 Innovation Summit. We took attendees offsite to the Milwaukee Public Museum for a brief awards presentation and strolling reception. To maximize our budget, we chose to skip presentation slides to reduce audio visual costs and had inexpensive pop up banners made of each award winner to display during the awards ceremony. The banners not only served as decoration for the event but also nice gifts for the award winners. After the quick ceremony, attendees were transported back to a fall evening in Milwaukee at the turn of the 19th century as they enjoyed hor d'oeuvres and cocktails through the Streets of Old Milwaukee. We couldn’t have pulled off the event without the support from Visit Milwaukee as well as our partnership with the museum.

What offsite events have been successful for you? What have you done to enhance your attendee experience? With a few creative twists and fun elements, you can generate a meeting that will keep attendees coming back year after year.

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It’s called meeting “planning” for a reason. Use post-meeting time to prep for next year.

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Spring is a busy season for meetings and events in the AMPED office with one association’s annual meeting ending and another just a few weeks or even days later. For some meeting planners, the much-anticipated summer months allow a minute (only a minute) to breathe before the planning process starts all over again for the next year’s meeting.

During this time, what can we do as planners to start off on the right foot and plan an even better meeting the following year? Here are a few tips to get you started:

Take a look at your post-event survey to find out what your attendees loved and didn’t love so much. What do your attendees really want? Are there areas that should stay the same? Are there changes that should be made right away? Many of these factors could impact your meeting budget or may need a vote from leadership, so it’s a good idea to run through the survey responses as soon as you get a chance.

Update your planning timeline right after the meeting ends to keep details fresh and plan more time than you think you need on big items. Things often come up but accounting for these incidentals can help relieve tight turnarounds and stressful deadlines. If you have a team working on the meeting, make sure to assign roles and walk through the timeline together. Also, check other meeting timelines in your office to make sure major deadlines aren’t hitting at the same time.

Plan your marketing strategy while you are planning meeting details. Note important dates in your timeline and plan communications around these. If you want to notify your attendees about important launches (registration, abstract management system, mobile app, etc.) or upcoming deadlines, work this into your timeline.

Go back to your meeting contracts and review. Look at your hotel room block compared to your most recent pick up report. If it's written in the contract, you may have room to renegotiate your block. Go through your concessions and make sure to incorporate into your planning timeline so you don’t miss out on the added benefits.

Reach out to vendors early. If you haven’t seen your meeting venue for a while, schedule a pre-planning meeting to refresh your memory on the space as well as to meet the staff that you will be working with over the next several months. If your budget doesn’t allow for a site visit, ask your venue to give you a virtual tour to see the space and meet the team along the way.

If you work with a committee to plan aspects of your meeting, schedule a committee call as soon as possible to begin tackling items that need their input and feedback. This also may help alleviate email trails that fill up your inbox.

How about you? Do you have any tips for starting off on the right foot?

 

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Packing hacks for meeting planners

packing

Spring is full of travel for several members of the AMPED team. With client meetings across the country and site visits to future locations, our bags are packed frequently, and we’ve gathered some great travel tips along the way.

At our last client meeting, I received important advice for staff working onsite at a meeting: Eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty and use the restroom before you have to go. It is easy to feel run down when you are constantly on the go but keeping this mind can help you stay energized and prepared for a long day.

And when it comes to packing, remember a few of these hacks:

  • To maximize space in your luggage, roll your clothes instead of folding them.
  • When packing clothes that wrinkle easily, lay the clothing flat inside a dry-cleaning bag, and then fold as normal. The plastic will prevent creases from setting in.
  • Pack a dryer sheet to help keep your clothes smelling fresh.
  • Space is premium in your suitcase so fill your shoes with socks or other small items.
  • Keep the dirty soles of your shoes away from your clothes by sticking them inside a shower cap.
  • Attach a binder clip over the blades of your razor to keep them protected.
  • Keep smaller jewelry in a pill container to keep them from moving around and organized.
  • Keep all your gadget cables in a sunglass case to keep them neat and tidy or use the case for necklaces and bracelets.
  • Pack a reusable, compact tote bag or plastic bag to stuff your dirty clothes into and keep away from clean clothes.

Other travel tips for your flight and hotel:

  • Leaving your car at the airport? Take a photo of your car’s location to help you find it when you return.
  • Pack an empty bottle and fill it up with water once you’re through security. It’s important to drink plenty of water before and during your flight.
  • Pack earplugs for your flight and hotel in case your neighbors are noisy.
  • To help stay germ-free, use disinfectant wipes to clean the airplane tray table, seat belt buckles and overhead air vents at your seat.
  • Use disinfectant wipes to clean your hotel room- especially spots like the remote control, alarm clock, sink and toilet. Or, for those of us who are extreme (like me), wrap the remote control in the ice bucket liner.
  • Pack a flashlight and check your hotel bed for bedbugs.
  • Bring flip flops or slippers to avoid picking up dirt on your feet from your hotel room floor.

With a little bit of planning, you can take the stress out of traveling and be prepared to enjoy your next trip. For even more packing hacks, check out this article and read Brittany’s blog post form last summer for healthy travel tips.

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Nailing it: Understanding association culture and history starting day one

hey girl

Next week marks three months since I began working at AMPED, but it feels like I should be celebrating six months. That is NOT a bad thing. Fortunately, with guidance from seasoned AMPED staff, I was able to jump right in!

On my first day at AMPED, Owner Lynda Patterson handed me two postcards: one for a local Madison event and another for IMEX America (a worldwide exhibition for meetings and events) in Las Vegas. I was excited to learn that I would represent AMPED at both events, but then swiftly panicked realizing I had so much to learn! Both provided opportunities to network with meeting industry professionals — local and national — and I had my work cut out for me to become knowledgeable of our company and diverse clients.

I made a point to learn the history of our client’s annual meetings as well as future goals to prepare for one-on-one appointments with exhibitors at IMEX. After 22 appointments and presentations in just two (long) days, I returned home more confident in my job and excited for potential meeting destinations and partnerships for our clients. Additionally, after repeating the “About AMPED” speech 22 times, I can say that I successfully have it down!

Just two weeks after I started, one of our clients held their annual summit. A few weeks later, we brought a client board to Madison for a retreat. And this week we host a leadership training program for yet another client. I quickly learned that there is always something going on at AMPED. It can be overwhelming, but these face-to-face opportunities allow us to get to know our clients better. I may not be fully involved in the details of these meetings but being present allows me to soak up information and help me understand how to work with each client to be successful.

One of the reasons I was drawn to AMPED was the importance of company culture — a professional environment that is fun, flexible and rewarding. Within days, I felt that to be true. Each Monday morning, AMPED staff comes together for a meeting to discuss the week’s top priorities allowing us to get a glimpse into each other’s busy schedules as well as offer up help and suggestions. It is a great way to start the week and prepare for big projects and deadlines and know that your colleagues have your back if needed. On Wednesday mornings, you will see the AMPED team walking together to a local coffee shop for “$2 Latte Wednesdays,” giving us the chance to get out from behind our desks and get to know each other on a personal level. And being new to Madison, I’ve started a new tradition called “Food Truck Fridays” so I can experience all the delicious options found on the Capitol Square. These touch points throughout the week help me get to know my colleagues, both professionally and personally, while also getting a sense of the overall work we are doing as a company.

Sure, there are days when I am reminded that I have lots to learn and wishing that I could be in the shoes of seasoned AMPED staff, but I am grateful for the experiences, both good and not perfect, that help me become a better meeting planner and colleague. Don’t be afraid to jump right in, professionally and socially. It makes those pesky Monday mornings much easier to deal with when you enjoy your work and those who work beside you.

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