When it comes to events, what distinguishes a so-so experience from a memorable one? Whether you're planning a convention for thousands or a board meeting for 12, this practical advice from the experts can help make your event the best ever.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Extensive pre-meeting research is essential, all agree. Ask yourself these key questions: What are the meeting's objectives? Are the attendees gathering to learn something (as in a product launch or sales training session), for team building, or just to have a good time (such as an incentive-building event)? Who are the attendees? Are they inside or outside people? How do they relate to one another?
"Understanding the expectations of the sponsor is even more important than knowing the objectives," stresses Victor Bao, president of Miami-based Valorem Meetings & Incentives, a division of Valorem Travel Group, which coordinated production of the hit television show Survivor Amazon. "Do they like laid-back programs or do they expect the delegates to take home a 'wow!' feeling, with memories of three days of flashy presentations? You need to know this."
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
"Consider the attendees' demographic profile, age range, and activity preferences to select a destination and program," advises Laurie Sharp, certified meeting planner (CMP) and president of San Franciscoľ based Sharp Events.
"Hispanic executives tend to enjoy traveling with their families, so meeting destinations should be family friendly," suggests Karen Garcia, CMP and managing director of multicultural initiative for Meeting Professionals International (MPI). Ms. Garcia also recommends crafting the opening-night event of Hispanic gatherings to include the delegates' family members.
"The key to successful Hispanic corporate conferences is maintaining and enhancing relationships," says Mr. Bao. "It's important to plan lots of time together so attendees can get to know each other better."
For the annual meeting of a major Hispanic-owned multinational corporation, Mr. Bao devised a session aimed at both strengthening the company and building relationships. Attendees were divided into "teams" of four or five executives from different areas of the company and charged with devising solutions to company problems. "As the teams talked and thought, relationships were formed," says Mr. Bao.
LEARN FROM HISTORY
Sharing information from past meetings is a frequently overlooked strategy that can result in better service, lower costs, and fewer problems, says Ms. Garcia.
A "meetings history" log should have pertinent information on past gatherings, including locations, number of sleeping rooms reserved/used, and expenses such as ground transportation, food and beverages, entertainment, and audio/visual equipment. "Knowledge of your meeting history enables the venues and suppliers to better understand your requirements, be better prepared, and, occasionally, avert catastrophes," says Ms. Garcia.
She cites the example of an organization that booked an in-city hotel after holding three annual conferences at resorts. After reviewing the company's records, the hotel asked why a city hotel had been chosen. The planners were dumbfounded. They thought the downtown hotel was a resort!
Calculating the value of your past meetings and sharing the information with prospective venues can be an important negotiating tool, adds Margaret Gonzalez, president of the International Association of Hispanic Meeting Professionals. "When you add up the costs of the rooms, food and beverages, entertainment, ground transportation, and delegates' cost of arrival, the economic impact can be impressive. Even medium-size gatherings, with 1,000 people, can bring a destination more than $1 million."
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