Planning a meeting, conference or company event can often be full of starts and stops and not always moving in the same direction. The focus, size or even location of the event can change, and the meeting planner may not have insight into the overall goals of the client or group for whom the training or conference is being planned. Yet, nailing down as many of these details as far in advance as possible can be the key to a successful meeting.
Both experienced professional meeting planners and those tasked with planning a meeting for the first time can run into unexpected hiccups when planning events. IACC member venue managers have seen it all. They have shared some of the most common mistakes they see meeting planners make when selecting a venue, negotiating the terms and preparing for the event. Learn what they have to say and get their advice for how to avoid these common problems.
1. Not planning ahead for last minute changes
7 out of 15 of the IACC members we asked about meeting planner mistakes said last minute changes were the biggest issue. It’s not possible to plan for every possible contingency, but failing to consider all the details as far in advance as possible, and not communicating these to your venue, can lead to unexpected surprises (or costs).
How to avoid it:
Plan your agenda well ahead and consider your need for logistics such as storage or shipping, speaker or facilitator arrival and setup. Check in with the venue several days before to confirm numbers, budget, agenda, plans and special needs, and inform the venue of any changes in your plans.
“We present our clients with several documents, such as event guidelines, contracts and event planning timelines, to help keep them on-track with the planning process and what they can expect when hosting an event with us,” said Theresa Fera, Director of Sales and Marketing at Chase Center on the Riverfront in the Greater Philadelphia area, USA.
Ask your venue for recommendations about the best way to build in flexibility and allow for last-minute needs. “We understand that things happen,” said Nancy Lindemer, Director of Sales and Marketing for Destination Hotels (Rizzo Center) in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, USA, “but respect the terms of your contract and communicate early with the venue. Work with the venue as a partner for a solution that works for both the event and the venue.”
2. Selecting the wrong type of venue.
Some events or groups by their nature need a very flexible structure. Meetings with high levels of networking or social interactions require conducive areas and quiet spaces where people can connect. But if your venue doesn’t offer flexible rooms that allow guests to break out into groups or have sideline discussions, your event won’t be a success. If attendees don’t have access to a white board or table to draw up a plan, your creative session may fall flat.
How to avoid it:
If communication, networking and social needs are important, choose a venue that has the right type of spaces. Don’t focus all your energy on the main meeting rooms; look at public spaces as well. If your meeting format must accommodate last-minute changes or additions, select a venue with flexible rooms, retractable walls and furniture arrangements that can be easily moved around.
“We have several rooms with soundproof air walls so we can simply divide for breakouts without additional cost,” said Jennifer Hamilton, Director of Sales & Marketing at Summit Chicago, USA. “Putting multiple discussion groups in a room or using public space for shorter small group conversations can also reduce costs or help keep session on schedule.”
3. Not asking the right questions.
Another common mistake venues reported that meeting planners make is not asking the right questions, or assuming things are included that are not. For instance, not finding out the dimensions of the rooms, ceiling height, the maximum seating (or standing) capacity, number and placement of electrical outlets, Wi-Fi bandwidth or costs, or what’s included in the delegate package price. Assuming staff will be available to help with your event welcome desk or check-in, or that continental breakfast includes eggs, may be a mistake.
“We’ve had clients assume they will have exclusive use of the venue, when, in fact, we have different clients on site that day,” said Delphine Boisard, Sales & Marketing Director for the UK and USA markets at Châteauform'.
How to avoid it:
Be sure you understand the details of the contract, particularly any minimums, cancellation fees or extras. Discuss the anticipated billing amount during the planning process, and if you’re concerned about costs, put it in the contract that you must sign-off on any additional expenses your team requests. Find out what the extra cost for each person will be if you end up with more guests than expected.
If the venue offers a package price, you can expect to receive a complete breakdown of what is included in the fee, such as food and beverage (non-alcoholic typically), snacks, room setups, breakdowns and cleanups, AV support (if included), guest accommodations, linens, etc. Otherwise, be sure to factor in costs for these elements, as well as for extras like business services or stationery charges. In some locations, taxes and service charges may be extra, and if you don’t meet the contracted minimum, a surcharge may apply. Package pricing is often the best value and bundling services together may help your budget stretch further.
Here are more ideas on the right questions to ask when selecting a venue.
4. Not keeping the venue in the loop.
Sometimes delegates cancel or additional speakers or sessions are added to the meeting. The coordinator may need to leave early, you may have a change in speakers, or need additional rooms at the last minute. Even changes that you might not think affect the venue, could have an impact on your meeting.
Maugie Lyons Director of Marketing and Sales for the Lensbury in the UK told us: “A conference planner once bagged a famous keynote speaker at the last moment for their event and did not inform the venue. The speaker was mobbed by delegates, guests and press. All that was required was a communication with the conference team and alternative arrangements and access could have been planned and the event would have run to time and plan.”
How to avoid it:
The biggest way meeting planners can ensure better experiences with venues? Communication. Keeping your venue informed about cancellations or changes in the meeting format (two breakouts instead of one), schedule (lunch is moved up) or room layout (a podium is now needed) can help prevent problems.
Bottom line is...."We don't know what we don't know,” said Fera. “So communication is paramount from the meeting planner to their venue liaison. We are not mind readers nor can we guarantee we have the resources at our fingertips to work through last minute challenges, as much as that is what we try to do every time. And those issues and challenges often come up. Meeting planners shouldn't assume they can fix everything at the last minute when they get on site. “
5. Not informing your team.
It’s common that the person booking the meeting venue or arranging the event won’t be in attendance at the meeting or isn’t part of the group hosting it.
“Many times the planner is working on behalf of someone else and does not have all of the event details,” said Magan Akatu, of Notre Dame Conference Center, USA. “It is hard to book space and program times if everything is still to be decided.”
This can cause problems when the planner doesn’t have answers to important questions, or the on-site team makes requests that weren’t part of your contract.
How to avoid it:
When approaching a venue about space, or making comparisons between what is offered, make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and the general format of your event. Work together with the venue to make your ideas happen.
Make sure your entire team is on the same page and understands the plan. They should know what was booked, what’s agreed in the contract and be able to inform your guests accurately.
“Be sure to get the key stakeholders to agree on the format in advance so they don’t make last minute changes such as adding a buffet lunch or adding a separate room for meals if that’s not in your budget,” said Lyons.
6. Not being realistic about space usage.
Being creative is laudable, but not being realistic or not heeding your venue operator’s advice about how to use the space available is a mistake. Trying to put a stage in a spot that doesn’t work because of ceiling height, access or other reasons like fire codes isn’t in anyone’s best interest.
If the space is meant to hold a max of 50 people, “squeezing in” 10 more chairs isn’t realistic.
How to avoid it:
Listen to your venue operator and work together to discuss ideas that make the most of the space available and will allow you to have a safe and successful event. Make sure you have a realistic understanding of how much space is needed to fit things such as audio visual equipment, staging, lighting, buffets, silent auction displays, live music or bands, or vendor tables.
If your numbers grow or your format changes (such as a panel discussion instead of one speaker on stage) it may affect your space needs. A buffet will take more room than a served meal or passed hors d'oeuvres. “One way to cut down costs is to re-use the general session room for a breakout,” added Fera. “Also, being more flexible with room set-ups and rethinking how you will manage your set-up day and vendor arrival times.”
Gina Keynon, Sales and Marketing Specialist & Conference Planning Manager at Northern Illinois University, USA, suggests you ask yourself: “Will this space accommodate your client’s needs and how they will use that space? Consider your attendee’s needs for overnight accommodation, transportation and downtime. Will this location attract attendees?”
Asking the right questions, keeping lines of communication open and being prepared are essential for a successful event. If you have questions or need help with logistics, reach out to your venue coordinator for advice and suggestions. They are there to help you have a successful event.
For events that require flexibility in space usage or attendee movement, or that are networking focused and need quiet spaces for impromptu discussions, working with venues designed for flexible meeting spaces can make the difference between an ok event and one with wow factor.
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