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preplanning

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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boston 1

Record-breaking registration numbers is every meeting planner’s dream. But what if attendance grows so much that the contracted meeting venue is no longer the ideal location? Put on your thinking cap because it’s time for a creative backup plan that will appear flawless to the participants.

AMPED recently encountered this very situation when hosting the world’s largest single gathering of multiple sclerosis physicians, clinical researchers and scientists in Boston. The convention center contract was signed years ago, prior to our full-service management, at which time a realistic growth goal was 6,500 attendees. This attendance projection made for the perfect match between the venue and the program. However, when we saw a huge surge in registration numbers just weeks before the kickoff of the live event, it was time to think outside the box.

The convention center auditorium could not accommodate our nearly 9,000 registrants. Thankfully, technology made an overflow plan possible. We were able to stream video of the keynote presentation from the auditorium to the largest ballroom in the convention center. In the event we needed another overflow room, we were prepared to stream into a second ballroom.

We had originally planned to have all food and beverage in the exhibit hall to drive traffic to our valued exhibitors and supporters. Unfortunately, the packed exhibit hall could not handle the 38 percent increase in attendance, so we had to rethink our menus as well as the food and beverage placement. It would be impossible for all attendees to go through a buffet line one by one; the length of time for decision making and serving would create unacceptably long lines. Boxed lunches were the best solution fulfilling our need for a “grab and go” scenario.

The sheer volume of people meant we also needed to reconsider the staffing plan. Having additional team members on hand to direct traffic to either an overflow meeting room or the nearest food station was key.

Make no mistake, finding the best solution for your attendees is not a one-person task. You’re going to need your entire team behind you to make this successful. Bring in your logistics professionals, audiovisual crew and catering team, in addition to your program experts who truly understand the heart of the event.

Although stressful at times, I am so proud to have been a part of a passionate team that was fully committed to producing an outstanding event. The compliments and positive feedback continue to pour in. Congrats to all!

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food money

Looking for ways to stretch your meeting food and beverage budget while exceeding your attendee expectations? Give these ideas a try!

The simpler, the better.
Often, hotel and convention center break packages are very “heavy,” not to mention pricey. Consider lighter options from the a la carte menu. For example, we’ve had great success with offering a variety of protein bars and fresh fruit for morning breaks. Simple, yet filling, and it won’t put your attendees to sleep!

Less is more.
If fancy break packages are your thing, consider guaranteeing less than your actual headcount. Often, extravagant breaks have a variety of options with large servings and attendees rarely sample everything. Don’t waste the food or your money.

Hold the dessert.
For smaller gatherings, request the dessert included in your lunch menu be brought out during your traditional afternoon break time.

All-day packages equal big savings.
A number of venues offer half or all day break packages, meaning one flat fee per person for all meal and break function(s). Meeting planners know how quickly the cost of bottled soda or water adds up, so if the package includes beverages for your program you’ll really save the green!

Schedule extended lunch hours.
This allows time for attendees to explore the host city and try the native cuisine while buying their own meal at a local restaurant. Or work with your destination’s CVB to arrange meal vouchers at area eateries. Say your budget allows you to spend $10 per person. You’d be hard pressed to find a venue that can accommodate such a budget, especially after taxes and service charges. However, a $10 coupon for guests to use at the restaurant of their choice means you stay within your budget your guests save money.

Drink responsibly.
Offering a cash bar rather than hosted bar is an easy way to save your dollars. If that doesn’t work for your event or client, consider drink tickets. Give each attendee a limited number of drink tickets and switch to a cash bar once the tickets are gone. Of course, give your VIPs a few extra tickets!

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