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Is your association seeing the impacts of the seller’s market when it comes to finding a hotel partner to host your next event? Don’t expect this trend to fade in 2016. Hotel demand in many destinations around North America has surpassed supply. Although the 2016 Global Travel Price Outlook indicates that hotel construction is booming in the United States with nearly 100,000 new rooms added in 2015, the report also suggests that hotel demand continues to grow at up to quadruple the rate of supply.

If supply and demand concerns aren’t enough to get you fired up, how about this? According to the 2016 Meetings and Events Forecast from Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) Meetings & Events, room rates will grow by 4.3%.

How can you tackle the issues of supply and demand plus increasing nightly room rates head on? Plan ahead. Contract lead time continues to shrink and often hotels in high-demand markets will no longer hold space when responding to RFPs. Increased lead time can increase you negotiating power.

Channel your inner Francis Bacon who once said knowledge is power. Be fluent in the value your meeting brings to the venue and be prepared to readily talk stats such as pick-up history, food and beverage spend, required square footage of meeting space and so on.

Keep your eye on the numbers. Food and beverage costs will continue to be a significant driver of per-attendee costs. The 2016 Global Travel Price Outlook also predicts a 4.5% increase per attendee, per day! The pressures of keeping up with the latest trends and rising ingredient prices are major contributing factors. In fact, the National Restaurant Association says that wholesale food prices have surged nearly 25% during the past five years!

All of this said, the most important piece of advice is to negotiate with care, as attrition and cancellation clauses are becoming more and more strict. Good luck!

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fishbowl conference

Unconferences have become a popular way to encourage engagement and learning at conferences, seminars, and workshops. In fact, entire meetings have adopted the unconference structure. "Un" refers to the opposite of the typical nature of a meeting, where an expert speaker addresses a number of attendees. The main premise of an un-conference, un-session or un-meeting is flipped. In other words, the education, topic, engagement and overall experience are the responsibility of the participants. The assumption is the most knowledgeable person at a meeting might not be the one at the podium; rather he/she might be in the audience.

I have participated in and moderated in a few of these. There is no one way to perform an unconference session. The purpose of is to foster ideas, conversation and most importantly engagement between attendees.

With help from fellow AMPED staff members Brittany Olson and Jeanne Rosen, I wrote an Unconference Facilitators’ Guide. This guide offers best practices and a loose structure, not rigorous rules. Facilitators should have latitude to conduct their session to their style. The point is peer-to-peer conversation.

Here are a few helpful hints:
• Typically each unconference session has a facilitator or moderator.
• An unconference is a participant-driven meeting where the agenda is created on the spot by attendees at the beginning of the meeting to allow for flexibility of topics and discussion-based sessions.
• Unconferences are intended to be highly collaborative and offer a vibrant atmosphere where questions are welcomed and sharing is encouraged.
• Meaningful and useful interaction between attendees is the sole purpose of an unconference.
• The culture is designed to be encouraging, participatory, and not passive.
• Teaching and learning aren’t fixed roles; a teacher at one moment may be a learner the next.
• The experience and expertise of the participants is harnessed, rather than relying on the contributions of a few outside experts.
• Participants have more input into and control over their learning and takeaways from an unconference session.

Four easy rules for unconference sessions
• Rule one: Whoever shows up are the right people.
• Rule two: Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
• Rule three: Whenever it starts is the right time.
• The fourth and final rule is: It’s over when it’s over.

Getting started
At the beginning of the unconference session, do a crowd sourcing of topics. Typically several colors of Post-its and sharpies are made available.

Each participant writes as many notes as they want and sticks them on the wall. Alternatively the facilitator can write these on a flip chart, but this is a bit of a bottleneck to creativity. After 5-10 minutes the facilitator brings the group together and asks for assistance in categorizing these sub-topics. Be creative and free-flowing here. Anybody can move/assign/offer input as to where they go. Use the wall of Post-its or a flipchart on an easel to help categorize them.

Discussion formats
There are many formats of unconference style sessions. To keep things simple, I’ll focus on two Rotating Tables or Fishbowl. The facilitator has the option to choose either style or modify it to his/her preference.

Several chairs (4-7, can vary) are placed in a circle. This is the fishbowl. Other chairs are placed in concentric circles around the fishbowl. This is the audience. Selected participants or volunteers fill all but one chair in an open fishbowl, and all chairs in a closed fishbowl.

The facilitator begins by introducing the first subtopic or category and the participants start discussing. The outer circles (audience) listen and remain quiet. The facilitator can also interject a new topic when one has run its course. Topics can be ones that were crowd sourced at the beginning of the unconference session.

In the open fishbowl format, any member of the audience at any time, can get up and sit in the empty chair, joining the discussion. One of the existing participants of the fishbowl leaves the fishbowl and frees up a chair. The conversation continues with participants entering and leaving the fishbowl. Depending on how large the audience is, many audience members spend some time in the fishbowl and take part in the discussion. When time runs out, the fishbowl is closed and the facilitator summarizes the discussion. Other observers could also interject their takeaways.

In the closed fishbowl format, the first participants speak for a predetermined time. At a specified time, they leave the fishbowl and a new group from the outer circle sits at the fishbowl chairs. The discussion continues. When the time is up, the facilitator closes the fishbowl and summarizes the discussion, inviting others to make any closing remarks and observations.

Watch this video on how a fishbowl discussion works.


  • One chair should always remain empty (open fishbowl)
  • When in the inner circle
    - Actively listen and participate
    - No monopolizing conversation
  • Always be respectful
  • Support your opinion or argument with an example or data
  • Outer circle should remain quiet and listen
    - Enter inner circle when ready to contribute
  • Say something that moves the conversation along.
    - Reference what others say and use their names
    - “I agree with you, ____, and here’s why; I also think that…”
    - “I heard what you said___, but I disagree…”
  • The facilitator should keep the conversation on-topic
  • Redirect and bring focus to the topic


In this format, several small round tables that seat three to six people are placed in a room large enough so that the tables are not too close to one another.

Each table has a subtopic/category assigned to it. A stack of Post-its is laid at each table.

At predetermined times, the Facilitator announces that it is time to stand up and move to another table. It’s preferred that the tables seat a different group at each interval. In other words, the members of one table should not uniformly rotate to the same tables.

In another version, one volunteer remains at the table as a moderator and introduces the topic to start the conversation. He/she could also interject thoughts from the previous group to get things started.


  • When participating at a table:
    - Actively listen and participate
    - No monopolizing conversation
  • Always be respectful
  • Support your opinion or argument with an example or data
  • There typically isn’t an audience as it would be difficult to follow the conversations.
  • Say something that moves the conversation along.
    - Reference what others say and use their names
    - “I agree with you, ____, and here’s why; I also think that…”
    - “I heard what you said___, but I disagree…”
  • The facilitator should keep the conversation on-topic. He/she should float from table to table and listen in briefly.
  • Redirect and bring focus to the topic if necessary


The important rule to realize is there are no rules, as you may have discerned from the “Four Easy Rules…” section above. Have fun with this and make your approach to your unconference session your own. The goal is to foster understanding between two attendees and the so called audience. These people may not have spoken or shared ideas otherwise.

 This article would not have been written without these valuable sources:

Four Unconference Rules : Diane GageLofgren, Public Relations Society of America

Fishbowl Description : Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer Summit

Helpful Hints: Brittany Marsala Olson, Control Systems Integrators Association, CSIA 2016 Executive Conference Program

How to run a great fishbowl discussion : Rachel Marrion

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partner up

Nearly every event requires a partnership with a third party vendor: registration system, tradeshow management, show decorator – you name it! Finding a vendor that jives well with your team and views your success as their success is vital. They truly are an extension of your team. Here are a few tips to guide the selection process.

1. Ask local experts or colleagues within your own professional network for recommendations. For example, if you plan to partner with a destination management company (DMC) to coordinate local tours or offsite activities during your event, ask your convention services manager (CSM) at your contracted hotel for their preferred DMC partners. Convention and visitors bureaus are also a fantastic resource.

2. Develop a comprehensive RFP to share with multiple potential vendors. Include historical meeting information and clearly define your expectations for the upcoming event. A detailed RFP will translate to a thorough proposal response, saving you time and energy in the long run by eliminating the leg work of going back to ask for clarification or collect more information.

3. Ask for references and specifically request contacts that had needs similar to yours. We have found email to be the most efficient method for reference checks, although a phone conversation would work just as well. Develop a handful of standard questions to ask each reference. Asking the same questions to each reference will make it easy to compare apples to apples. Consider questions like: Were you satisfied overall? Did you experience any challenges? What would you have changed, if anything? Was the vendor’s staff friendly and professional? Would you work with the vendor again?

4. Interview the top candidates via conference call, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc. Take the time to get to know the people you could be working closely with. It’s important to understand their approach and communication style.

5. Consider the long term possibilities when making your selection. Is there potential for this partnership to continue year after year? Perhaps this is an opportunity to “test the waters” and, if all goes as planned, you may feel comfortable skipping the RFP process the next time around and going directly to the selected vendor – possibly even arranging a multi-year agreement. We are great advocates of developing strong professional relationships and have worked with the same vendors in multiple instances including abstract management providers, mobile app suppliers and AV contractors. As the saying goes, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Viles with Conference ExchangeGreetings from 38,000 feet! I am currently traveling home from Providence, Rhode Island where I attended a day-long educational conference hosted by Conference Exchange, the vendor some of our clients use for abstract, registration and speaker management. Annually, Conference Exchange holds a user’s group meeting with educational sessions on how to use the product, previews of features that are new or in development and scheduled one-on-one time with support staff.

As a new user of their product, I still have quite a bit to learn about its capabilities. Knowing more about what the product can and cannot do will help me better understand how to develop our client’s systems to suit their needs. In addition, learning more about what is coming down the pipeline was both exciting for what it holds for our clients and reassuring that the Conference exchange team is growing and expanding to meet the needs of their clients.

While the educational portion of the meeting was helpful, the most beneficial part was meeting with the support staff who work hard on our systems. When I arrived in Providence, the Conference Exchange team hosted attendees at a local restaurant and I was seated alongside my corresponding support staff. We talked a little about our projects and the company, and a lot about each other. This opening “getting-to-know you” event was great for both new and seasoned “users,” and gave me the opportunity to develop a rapport with my support staff that I believe will make my communication with them in the future more effective and meaningful.

Regardless of the vendors you choose for your clients or yourself, if you have an opportunity to meet your contacts in person, I highly recommend it.

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Many of us have packing for business travel down to a science. We know how long it will take to organize our luggage with all of our essentials and never forget our must-have gadgets like phone chargers and the like. What about enhancing your packing strategy to include items that will keep you feeling in tip top shape while on the go?

I recently wrapped up an eleven day trip with two back-to-back client events on opposite coasts and, while both meetings were successful, I came home feeling a bit sluggish after eating out for every meal. Here are a few tricks that I will definitely be more conscientious of when preparing for my next trip!

Snack smart
Skip the muffin or donut at the airport bakery and pack snacks for your flights and layovers. Bring protein and nutrient-packed dry food that won't easily leak or get smooshed in your bag. Veggies, granola bars, trail mix, or my latest obsession – healthy peanut butter balls – packed in a small durable tupperware, of course, so as not to get smashed!

BYOB: bring your own bottle
Water bottle that is! Whether you pack a reusable water bottle or grab a water bottle during your travels, staying hydrated is key to looking and feeling healthy. Craving bubbles? Drink sparkling water during meetings instead of soda to save calories.

Order small plates
Avoid the temptation to overindulge and select simple appetizers and entrees that offer lean protein and fresh ingredients. Split larger portioned entrees with a colleague or request a half order.

See the sights while staying active
Often, we meeting planners are so focused on the coordination of the event that we don’t get to see the local sights for ourselves. Grab a co-worker and go for a morning walk before the festivities begin. Just be sure to pack your tennis shoes!

Celebrate in moderation
A toast is absolutely in order for a job well done. Watch out for alcoholic beverages with extra sugar such as margaritas and other fruity cocktails. Go for drinks with club soda or on the rocks, or opt for a glass of wine. Cheers!

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