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The Business of Small Meetings

By on August 28, 2013

Research has shown that fewer and fewer meetings are of the large scale that once dominated the meeting market, and that small meetings of 10 to 50 participants is becoming the norm in our industry.  Whether this is due to budget constraints, productivity levels or simply the effectiveness of smaller meetings in which participants are more clearly focused on the subject at hand and actively involved, these types of events are here to stay and we, as planners, need to ensure that we understand the basic needs and requirements necessary to ensure success in all areas.

One of the major misconceptions in planning small programs is that it is somehow less time consuming and complicated than its larger cousin.  In reality, as any planner will attest to, they are just as involved and detail oriented to organize, and often entail their own set of issues to contend with.  You are still dealing with all of the same elements, be it on a smaller scale, so the planning is equivalent.

Type of Program

Identifying the type and length of program is the first step in determining how to proceed.  Whether it is a continuing medical education symposium, product launch, incentive program, training, sales or management meeting, each event will dictate the requirements for most of your other decisions, including destination, hotel or other venue, available activities and dining options.  Having a clear understanding of the objectives of the event will assist you in determining what to research, and save you an essential amount of time avoiding the wrong locales. Take the time to meet with the stakeholders of your event, to ensure you are aware of what needs to be achieved.

Choosing a locale

Selecting the right destination is paramount to a successful event.  For an incentive program or off site meeting, a smaller number of participants allows for the luxury of considering options more suitable to smaller groups.  Destinations such as Vermont or Victoria, B.C. can offer great options for meetings, while the alternatives for incentives can include culinary and cultural opportunities that would preclude sizeable programs. It is also important to investigate the flight options since it is much easier to bring a group of 25 to a small Caribbean island than a group of 500.  Instead of going for the tried and true, broaden your horizons – literally – by checking out regions that offer a little something extra. For an incentive program, research the options of smaller sailing yachts versus large scale cruise ships, or historic inns versus huge hotels. You will be providing a memory and experience that will not be forgotten.

For meeting within the confines of your own city, look beyond the usual and consider options that will entice your participants to attend.  Be a tourist in your own town, and see what you can discover.  Use your local tourist office, if necessary, to find out what is new and recently opened.

Proximity to airports, head offices, restaurants and activities are all important.  Consider what your “non-negotiables” are prior to researching your locations. 

Venue Selection

The intimate nature of small meetings allows for creativity to soar and the selection of unique venues to be explored. One of the biggest complaints I hear from hotels is that they are often asked for venues within the hotel for day or evening meetings, without the requirement of guest rooms.  It is completely understandable that a hotel will not want to guarantee venue space without rooms until the last minute. In most cases, this is not a viable option for planners.  We need to think outside the box, and consider sites that are feasible and different. Restaurants, museums, theatres, lofts, science centres, art galleries and even airport hangers are just a few of the choices available.  Audio visual and décor companies can help to create an outstanding ambiance in a seemingly incongruous space.

Boutique hotels are wonderful for the smaller meeting that lasts several days and requires many of the same elements as a larger event.  The privatized feeling of taking over much of a property can feel very grand yet cozy, and can impart a true feeling of camaraderie among your participants.

Negotiation of Rates

As with any meeting, the negotiation of rates for a hotel or venue is paramount to staying within your budget.  One of the key strategies when trying to strike an appropriate deal with a supplier is to provide them with a sense of your overall business opportunities now and in the future.  For example, is this a meeting that gets repeated quarterly or yearly? is there a reasonable expectation that you could return, or that other departments within your company could use the property as well?  This is a good example of where your, (or your clients)  SMMP (Strategic Meeting Management Policy) could come into play.

It is also logical to expect that a larger hotel with hundreds of guestrooms could conceivably offer better rates further in advance than a smaller one.  However, be aware that meeting space and guestroom space are intricately connected – if you request only 20 guestrooms a night, but require 5 breakout rooms per day, you will pay significantly higher rates for your meeting space. 

Timeline and Checklists

For whatever reason, smaller meetings also translate into shorter timelines.  Although we would all love the opportunity to have 6 months to prepare for a program, the reality is we are lucky if we have 8 weeks, and therefore, it is more important than ever to have a plan that includes an actual timeline.  Involving your suppliers in this timeline is crucial, and very much appreciated by everyone as it allows all to be “on the same page”.  Surprises are great, but not when you’re a planner!

Checklists are your best ally in ensuring a successful program.  Large or small, they help you manage your overall program within a defined timeline.  This is particularly important when you have a short lead time.  It is easy to miss fundamentals when there are only so many hours in the day to complete everything.

 

Among many others, below are some key elements to include in your checklist:

RFP

– Determine the scope and purpose of meeting

– Determine peak attendance

– Determine the profile and location of attendees in order to research transportation options, rates and availability

– Determine types of locations that are appropriate for your meeting

– Determine activities or special events as required

– Determine budget

– Choose suppliers to whom you will send your RFP, including hotels, AV companies, third party planners, transportation, outside venues and catering, if necessary.

Site Selection

– Receive and review quotes from suppliers

– Identify those suppliers with whom you will be negotiating

– Conduct site inspections as required

– Obtain contract terms to review and compare

Contract

– Review sleeping room, meeting space and food and beverage clauses.

– Confirm and negotiate all rates, including cancellation, attrition and penalty charges.

– Obtain disclosures regarding any on site construction work which may affect your event while on site

– Ensure that you understand and negotiate cut-off dates and any other release dates in the contract.

Operations

–  Develop budget including all elements, i.e. gratuities, taxes

– Select and finalize all food and beverage menus, both on and off site, including special dietary requests

– Manage air and ground transportation, if required

– Verify meeting room set ups, audio visual requirements, special event venues

– Develop a working agenda (incredibly important for all those involved in working both on site and for suppliers as well).

 

Continue to add daily to your checklist and be sure to include on site and post mortem requirements.

Small meetings can be as stressful and detailed as any other sizeable program, but with the right framework and organization, you will have incredible peace of mind in knowing that it will be memorable to both your participants and yourself.

 

With over 20 years experience, Audrey Esar is a Solutions Consultant specializing in incentive, meeting and event management, customer service, training and coaching as well as site selection.  To learn more about how Audrey can help you, she can be contacted via e-mail at AudreyEsar@videotron.ca or connect with her on Linkedin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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