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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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You’ve contracted with the perfect venue for your next big gig. Let’s be honest, in this hot market, that contract was signed years ago. Now it’s next up on your calendar and it is time to get serious. With countless details to organize, a running list of questions to ask, decisions that are best made in person and a myriad of fresh ideas that can only be brought to life by seeing a space live – do yourself a favor and setup an in-person pre-planning meeting with the various key players that will be instrumental in the success of your program. After many productive site visits, here are my top tips to maximize this face-to-face time and promise a smooth planning process when you return to the office.

  1. Budget for pre-planning meetings. Make this an automatic line item in your meeting budget!
  2. Pick a date when all parties are available and focused. Give your Convention Services Manager (CSM) plenty of advance notice to ensure the dates you are considering for your pre-planning trip also work well for your key contacts. After all, what good does it do if your CSM has another group in house and isn’t able to be attentive to your needs?
  3. Communication is key. Paint the overall picture for your CSM. Describe your meeting goals and objectives. Discuss the profile of your attendees. Are they a social group or are they all business? What are the takeaways they expect by participating in your program?
  4. Have a set agenda of things you would like to review and share it with those you plan to meet with well in advance. Allow your meeting partners to prepare ahead of time so that everyone is fully equipped to tackle the big stuff!
  5. Create a grid of contracted space — or as I like to do, color code the venue floor-plans and identify the functions that will take place in each meeting space. Whatever your method, develop a system that will allow you to make informed decisions about room assignments, because odds are that your meeting has evolved since you contracted the venue several years back.
  6. Share your meeting specifications well in advance. This includes audiovisual, food and beverage, a program outline, etc. The more your partners know prior to your arrival, the less time you'll spend explaining the meeting basics. For instance, review the banquet menus prior to your site and share your top selections with your CSM. If you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for and want to consider a custom menu, your CSM can engage the chef and the three of you can select the best meal options for your group during the pre-planning meeting.
  7. Checkout a current onsite event. If there are any events taking place at your venue during your trip, set aside some time to scope them out. Seeing how others use the space can go a long way in helping you visualize things like your registration setup, signage plan and more.
  8. Put yourself in the attendee shoes. Use the same transportation system that your guests will as they travel to and from the airport. If your event involves offsite activities or tours, sample those same happenings during your pre-planning meeting to guarantee that it fits your attendee’s expectations.
  9. Review all types of sleeping rooms, not just your upgraded rooms. Of course it’s important to inspect the VIP suites, but these spaces only reflect the experience of a small percentage of your attendees.
  10. Take notes of action items. What do you need to do and what follow-up items do your planning partners have?
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chef impression

The success of your meeting may rely on a carefully planned and well executed site inspection. Having been on the hotel side of things and now as a planner, I see the site inspection as a unique face-to-face opportunity to kick off a lasting relationship between the planner and sales team.

A few of our AMPED staff recently went to San Diego to check out a hotel for a large client event in 2018. Based on the particular needs of this medical conference, the property was selected because it was in a great location, was symbiotic with our client’s goals and attendee personalities and had the appropriate space and guest rooms to comfortably accommodate all the various space requirements. However, what really clinched this property for our conference was our sales manager. From our first conversation, Jennifer was very easy to establish a rapport with and took the time upfront to fully discuss the meeting goals, objectives and purpose, and the demographics and meeting behaviors of our attendees. In summary, she nailed our site inspection experience! Early dissemination of conference information allowed the property to demonstrate on-site how they could best meet our needs and appeal to our attendees. This customized experience instilled confidence with us that she was truly our partner in the complete execution of our event and not just a sales rep trying to close business.

While onsite, what are some factors to be considered and can be influential when conducting a site inspection?

1. First Impressions: ….Go a long way so make sure the hotel properly represents your own expectations and branding of the conference to successfully execute them. Sometimes, it will not matter how well the meeting itself goes, if the hotel has an inadequate feel or attendees are not experiencing good customer service, that will be their lasting impression. We arrived at this hotel the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The lobby was abuzz with all kinds of activity and we knew the staff had to be exhausted. All staff we encountered were extremely pleasant and genuinely ready to assist, despite coming off a very hectic week.

A few things to consider observing upon arrival at the hotel:

  • How you are greeted by the front desk and bell staff?
  • Is this area well-staffed and there are plenty of employees greeting guests and carefully driving cars through the valet area?
  • Are their uniforms updated, clean, and fitted?
  • Are they pleasant and friendly

2. Hotel Management: In my past hotel days, we were trained on the “meet and greet” technique. Well-trained sales managers should be ready and prepared to meet you upon your arrival at the hotel. Nothing goes further than feeling that your arrival was anticipated and planned for. When our team arrived on this particular visit, hotel staff were enthusiastically waiting to welcome us to San Diego and the hotel. Our room keys were provided to us so we could proceed directly to our upgraded, expansive suites in which we each had a customized in-room welcome amenity. This little, but effective, touch reassured us that the hotel was eager to earn our business.

3. Presentation: Has the sales manager prepared in advance to show you exactly where your meeting and banquets will take place, as well as the variety of guest rooms and suites you need for your guests? So often hotel sales managers don’t take the time to go through your agenda prior to the visit and you end up seeing meeting spaces you’d never need and room categories you don’t want. Our sales manager, Jennifer, did her homework prior to our arrival through the many conversations. She also took the time to research our client to completely understand the dynamics of our conference. Our tour started with a relaxing lunch that set expectations for how the rest of the day would go. We were able to discuss in greater detail things that make our conference successful, get an understanding of the overall “lay of the land” before we began the tour, and also get to know their team a little better.

4. Hotel Quality: How recently was the hotel renovated? If there have not been recent renovations, be sure to ask about future renovation plans. Are the guestrooms, suites, meeting rooms and public areas updated? Are the bathrooms clean? How fast are the elevators and are they clean? This area in particular, is where the hotel has complete control to ensure the property is properly being taken care of. When it comes to cleanliness and working order, there are no excuses. While onsite, I built in some time to wander the hotel on my own to experience the hotel as our attendees would and to really pay attention to these details. Remember, the hotel will be part of your branding for this event and you should be assured the hotel meets your standards.

5. Food Quality: Food trends have come a long way from the clichéd “rubber chicken,” making planning meal functions a more engaging experience. In an effort to meet the changing needs of conference clients, hotels are transitioning from traditional banquet service to more, specialized opportunities like healthy, local fare and customized menu options. To see if the hotel is true to its word on these trends, visit the various restaurants onsite and note their differences in cuisine/gourmet experiences and price points. Order room service to evaluate delivery time and quality of food. If time allows, arrange a chef tasting to create menus and experience what your attendees will experience and also to ensure various dietary needs will be met.

A successful and productive site inspection, such as we experienced in San Diego, is fundamental in establishing confidence during the planning and execution process of your event. Considering our experience, our team at AMPED is looking forward to working with our new hotel partner for the upcoming conference in 2018!


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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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For some organizations, name badge ribbons are a necessary tool for networking at meetings – an immediate way to recognize new members, sponsors or those with particular professional interests. They have their place, for sure. But they can get out of hand . . .

badge ribbons

And what about the logistics of distributing the ribbons?

  • Do you go through the tedious process of cross-referencing multiple spreadsheets?
  • Do association staff peel and stick them on each badge?
  • Are they stuffed in the back of the badge so that attendees can stick them on themselves?
  • Or are they laid out in piles at registration for self-selection?

One solution to never-ending ribbons is to print designations right on the badge. One of AMPED’s clients does this, identifying member type, board member, speaker, or sponsor in different-colored banners at the top of the badge. This works most of the time. Although there are always special circumstances, like when a board member is also a speaker or a speaker is also a sponsor. We deal.

This same client has never used ribbons. But a few years ago, they started requesting that staff stick gold stars to badges to identify first-time attendees – yep, the same ones your kindergarten teacher gave out for good behavior. Problem was, very few attendees knew exactly what that gold star represented. Additional requests came in to identify certified members, or those who used the insurance plan, or still others who were part of peer groups.

In search of a creative way to satisfy all the requests without resorting to ribbons and without the time-suck of having to apply stickers before-hand, AMPED staff devised a make-your-own badge solution.

badge stickers III  

We designed the badge so that the bottom 1” of the card was left open. Then we produced a half-dozen separate 1” square logos and had them printed on roles of stickers. Next, we set up badge stations on tables near the meeting registration area and directed registrants to step over and complete their badges. We built traffic by putting big bowls of M&Ms and Swedish Fish on the same tables.

The badge stations were a hit! Attendees enjoyed self-designating themselves and the whole process saved time and money. No ribbons. No labor.

Do you have a creative badge idea? We’re always looking for suggestions that save time and money at the meeting registration area. Let’s hear from you!

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