How to Plan a Meeting
by: Bob Tomko
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Have you ever been charged with planning an event or meeting for your organization even though it is not part of your primary job responsibility? With a tight economy and limited resources, somehow the catch-all phrase “and other assigned projects” in your job description makes you a perfect candidate to take on this task! There are certainly third party site selection services that can assist you at no charge with this kind of project if you choose, but sometimes you may prefer to do it yourself.
Hopefully, the following 20 steps will help you as you take on this endeavor. First and foremost, however, one thing you should keep in mind is that the key to a successful meeting is in the pre planning.
- Create Meeting Goals and Objectives – This is one of the most important topics to discuss and agree upon with the meeting requestor. This is where the main communication message or messages expected to be retained by the attendees needs to be crystallized.
- Develop Program Agenda – Based on the amount of content required to deliver the meeting message, you will need to determine who will be the meeting presenters, how much time will they need, and how will they present the material.
- Create Meeting Theme – Message retention for any meeting is more effective if you can create a theme around the content. Just like teaching a course in a particular subject, it is much easier to absorb, and more interesting for the audience, if everything ties into the theme.
- Identify Attendees – It is important to invite the right people to attend a meeting. The content must be relevant, useful, and essential for the attendees to know. Inviting the wrong attendees will dramatically reduce your meeting success.
- Assemble Meeting Requirements – Based on the goals and objectives, the meeting content, the desired theme, the number and profile of the attendees, you will need to itemize your meeting requirements. Will you need a centrally located downtown hotel facility or a resort? How many guest rooms will you need? How much meeting space will you need? What is your program agenda?
- Decide on Geographic Meeting Site – Due to ever rising travel costs, many organizations like to choose centrally located destinations. Others choose destinations that will help draw attendees. Much of the success of your meeting will be a balance of cost versus destination draw.
- Establish a Meeting Budget – Not pre-establishing a budget for your meeting will make your site selection decision more difficult. Once again, based on the goals and objectives of the meeting, sufficient funding needs to be allocated. Even in meeting planning, the adage of “you get what you pay for” still applies. An effective budget balances cost with the value of selecting the right environment for the meeting.
- Build Meeting RFP with Required Facility Concessions – Today, hotel sales is really about responding to RFP’s (request for proposals). If your RFP lacks sufficient detail or makes it difficult for a hotel to respond, you will spend a lot of time chasing down the data you need to decide on a site. You will need to have an organized RFP that highlights the revenue you plan to spend to make your meeting seem attractive for a hotel to bid on.
- Distribute RFP to Potential Facilities – Finding the right facilities and the right contacts in these facilities for your meeting can be a challenge. The many market segments hotel chains are trying to capture can be confusing. You will need to decide what level of service, accommodations, and amenities you are looking for, and these need to match your goals and objectives and what your attendees will expect. You will need to send your RFP to at least six properties, in each city being considered, and hope for at least two or three proposals that have your preferred dates and space available.
- Receive Facility Proposals – Based on how easy your RFP is for the hotel to respond to, as well as the business demand over the time period of your list of potential hotels, proposals will either come in immediately, or require you to call hotels to remind them to respond with a proposal. Sales people will respond to the largest and easiest proposals first since their job success is based on how many room nights they book on a monthly basis.
- Field Phone and Email Follow-up from Facility Sales People – Once you send out your RFP, hotel sales people are trained to immediately try to engage you in a dialog to sway you into selecting their facility. If you do not have a firm decision date, you can expect at least weekly calls and emails from the hotel sales people trying to win your business. This can be a tremendous time eater.
- Compile Data from Facility Options – After you have received proposals from your list of potential hotel meeting sites, it is time to pour through the data and assemble it in an objective comparison chart that shows costs, amenities, proposal concessions, location advantages, and other pros and cons of particular hotel facilities. This is the primary way to objectively select a hotel facility that is in the best interest of your organization. It is not always just about the guest room rate. Other items in the proposal may be of more value to ensure the success of your meeting.
- Conduct Cost Analysis from each Facility Option – Although the final decision on where to hold a meeting should be based on overall value, an important factor will always be cost compared to budget. By comparing the total cost of the meeting per attendee, and breaking down what makes up that cost, you are able to find specific items that you may be able to negotiate with your preferred or short list of potential sites.
- Participate in Site Inspections of Top Two or Three Facilities – It is highly recommended that before you select a property, you conduct a site inspection. Hotels are notorious for presenting spectacular marketing photos highlighting the strengths of their facilities, but the only way to understand what your attendees will really experience is to do so yourself or have a trusted objective associate experience it for you. Most hotels will allow you to stay overnight and experience their product for free as long as you allow them to give you a tour of their facility.
- Request Contracts from Top Two or Three Facility Options – It is always in your best interest to ask for drafts of contracts or group reservation agreements with your top 2 or 3 facilities. You will always find items in the agreement that the hotel wants you to sign that was not discussed in the proposal. This is where things like guest room attrition and minimum food and beverage spend are discovered and is a very important part of the site selection process.
- Review Contracts and compare to Industry Best Practices – If you or your organization have booked meetings with other hotels, it is extremely valuable to compare the contract drafts you are considering to industry best practices. You will be able to determine what is reasonable or unreasonable based on what the marketplace has asked for in their standard contracts.
- Engage in Facility Negotiations – Now that you are down to your final negotiations, and the facilities on your short-list know that they are still at the table, it is time to ask for your final concessions. Everything from complimentary rooms, upgrades to suites, ground transportation, amenities, audiovisual discounts, etc. are fair game.
- Review Final Contract – You must now conduct a final contract review to make sure all the items you have discussed with your first choice facility. Hotels typically use standard templated, legally approved documents for their contracts, and many times forget to put your negotiated concessions and terms in these documents.
- Make Final Decision on Facility, Sign Contract, and send to Facility – Once you are satisfied that everything is in order on your contract, it is time to sign and send to the facility. Keep in mind that hotel sales people are rated on their performance based on room nights booked on a monthly basis and your negotiation leverage is most favorable if you deliver a signed contract by the decision date, since it will typically coincide with the sales person’s booking pace deadline.
- Obtain Countersigned Contract from Facility – Finally, one of the most overlooked elements of the site selection process is to get a countersigned contract from the chosen facility. Too often hotel sales people are satisfied that they received their signed contract from you and consider their job done and fail to follow through by delivering a countersigned contract back to you on a timely basis.
As you can see, the site selection process is long and laborious yet essential to your success. Third party site selection services perform these duties at no charge on a daily basis and are experts at guiding you to the best facility for your meeting, at the best price, fast. Since these 20 steps are conducted by third party site selection services on your behalf at no cost to your organization, they are certainly something to consider.