Meeting and Event Planning For Dummies book cover

Meeting and Event Planning For Dummies

By: Susan Friedmann Published: 07-25-2003

Expert advice on how to stage the perfect event every time

"A terrific resource of information for anyone in the event-planning business." --James Spellos, CMP, President, Meeting U.

Meeting & Event Planning For Dummies is a practical step-by-step guide to the strategies and techniques event-planning professionals use to bring people together. This comprehensive resource covers all the angles from the little details to the big picture to make sure your business meetings and special events come off without a hitch!

Praise for Meeting & Event Planning For Dummies

"Packed with valuable information in an easy-to-use format. [It] covers all the basics for the meeting planning novice." --Diane Silberstein, President, Diane Silberstein & Associates

"A great resource book every event professional should have.... Checklist heaven! We all love our checklists, and this book is full of them!" --Cathy Breden, CAE, CMP

Articles From Meeting and Event Planning For Dummies

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Meeting and Event Planning For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-28-2022

Planning business meetings and events requires multitasking skills and ingenuity. To succeed, you need to know the basics of meeting or event planning and how to plan effectively. Then, you must hone your skills so that you can negotiate for the best venues, vendors, and speakers for your attendees. And, if you can do all this and keep costs down — and you can! — you'll be a hit with your boss and your clients.

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Exploring Special Presentation Situations

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

As you organize various business meetings and events, you're likely to come across many different presentation situations. Each requires a unique approach and attention to detail. Here are some of the more common scenarios. Team presentations Flip to almost any popular television morning show, and you likely find that it features an assemblage of co-hosts working as a team. Television networks and producers have caught on to the fact that different personalities and styles complement each other and provide the audience with more perspective, variety, and entertainment than a single host ever could. You can use this knowledge to your advantage by including a team presentation in your next event. A team presentation is a highly coordinated effort given by two or more individuals trying to convey a common message. A team presentation is more complex than a solo presentation and requires extra planning to work successfully. Knowing when to team up Quite often, no one person has a complete understanding of all the details of a complex project or subject. Turning to a team presentation enables individual team members to speak about information they are familiar and comfortable with, rather than forcing one person to present information he has to struggle to learn and then speak about authoritatively. Team presentations also give your audience a better overview of your organization by introducing them to more than just one presenter, and they make long presentations more interesting. For these reasons, team presentations are particularly appropriate for project proposals, progress reports, and training seminars. Here are four tips for successful team presentations: Select one team member to take charge and to coordinate all necessary details. Plan the presentation carefully so that each team member fully understands what's expected of him. Make sure that all team members direct their part of the presentation to the overall theme or message being conveyed. Take time for a dry run through the material for timing and content. Understanding the planner's role in team presentations Your job is to find out what each presenter needs in the way of support material and audiovisual equipment, and to establish where each member wants to sit when she isn't presenting. Make sure the speakers have plenty of water and their own drinking glasses. It wouldn't be a bad idea to remind team members to pay attention to other presenters who are speaking and not be seen fidgeting, yawning, or playing with their notes. Most importantly, make sure the participants know the procedures and assignments and adhere to a tightly planned time schedule. International presentations Many people, including top-ranking officials, have committed their fair share of cultural blunders mainly because they failed to do their homework. Don't make their mistakes! The following points are essential to ensure smooth programming when you have an international audience: Analyze your audience and know their level of English-language proficiency. Select presenters who are sensitive to cultural differences and who understand what it takes to present before a multicultural group. Supply presenters with as much information as possible about the audience. Instruct your presenters to adjust their presentation so that it's acceptable and understandable for the international contingent. They need to strive for simplicity and clarity. Remind presenters to avoid symbols and colors that are culture-specific, jokes and sporting analogies, idioms, jargon, and buzzwords. Encourage presenters to use more charts and graphs to illustrate information rather than text, and to use global examples, rather than just ones from the United States. Distribute handouts and support materials to the audience because nonnative speakers generally have greater reading than listening comprehension skills in another language. Consider adding subtitles to visuals. Allow extra time for extensive two-way communication, especially when using interpreters. Use open discussion sessions cautiously because people from some other cultures are not especially open to stating their personal views publicly. Avoid turning down the lights because many nonnative speakers rely heavily on physical cues for understanding. Presentations read from a script Speeches read directly from a script can often seem unnatural and flat, usually because the speaker fails to listen to his own voice as he reads, and he eliminates all natural pauses and inflection. As a result, audience members may wonder why they didn't just read a copy of the speech themselves. Encourage the presenter to practice reading the speech out loud before the actual presentation so that he can make any necessary adjustments to the tone, pitch, phrasing, and pauses. In addition, as he becomes more familiar with the speech, suggest that he work in a few physical gestures so that he's not seen as a statue behind the lectern. Convince him to talk to the audience rather than to read to them. Limit the speaker to 30 minutes maximum, or 20 if he is likely to lull the audience into a soporific state. Q & A sessions Most audiences like to be an active part of a presentation and contribute through their questions, which can result in a mutually beneficial interchange of ideas, information, opinions, plans, and concerns. The following rules help create an environment where participants can feel safe asking questions: For large audiences, consider having standing microphones in the aisles for participants wanting to ask questions or make comments to the presenter(s). Help presenters plan for anticipated questions, especially if they are addressing a controversial topic. Pass out 3 x 5 cards for the Q & A session. Some people prefer writing a question rather than approaching the microphone. It also allows the question to be anonymous. Arrange for questions to be submitted prior to the session to avoid the possibility of no one asking a question. Instruct presenters to listen to the entire question before responding. If they begin to formulate an answer while the question is still being asked, they may miss the point the questioner is trying to make. Make sure that questions are repeated before they are responded to, especially for overseas visitors who may have difficulty expressing themselves in English. Encourage presenters to avoid arguable issues, especially as they relate to the organization or a political situation. They should agree to disagree rather than be sarcastic or belligerent with the questioner. Suggest that presenters keep their responses brief and relevant. Long-winded answers are boring! Tell presenters to treat each question seriously, however goofy the inquiry may sound. They should also deal with a convoluted question by asking the questioner to repeat it more succinctly. Have presenters defer questions that require lengthy answers. They may offer to talk to participants individually after the session. Avoid ending the session with someone's question. Have the presenter recap key points to wrap things up.

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Avoiding Common Meeting Mistakes

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Successfully organizing meetings is an under-appreciated business skill. With the umpteen details meeting and event planners need to handle, mistakes are bound to be made, and sometimes heads will roll as a result. To make certain that yours isn't one of them, here are some common meeting blunders to rise above. Forgetting to check dates Before finalizing any dates for your meetings or events, check that they don't overlap with any religious, public, state, or federal holidays. Also, consider avoiding an overlap with any major sporting events, especially if you're looking to attract a predominately male audience. At the beginning of the calendar year, generate a checklist of all the upcoming holidays and events so that you don't let one slip by you. It's so easy to do! Booking a site before making a visit Often when you're organizing an event at a destination many miles from home, there's not enough time or money in the budget to make a site visit. Big mistake! Why take the risk that everything won't be fine on the day of the event or rely on someone else's judgment? This is particularly critical for larger meetings and events. In addition, checking out the scene beforehand allows you the opportunity to meet and build a rapport with the staff you'll be working very closely with on the day of the event. Failing to market your event It's really quite simple: In order to get people to attend your event, you need to let them know about it in plenty of time. It's all about marketing and communication, which is part and parcel of your planning and organizing process. The longer you wait to inform potential attendees, the stronger the chance that they'll have made alternative plans for your meeting dates. Communicate your message in plenty of time so that your event is their number one priority. Signing contracts that lack specifics One meeting planner had her day in court when she cancelled a meeting because the hotel she booked had not made, in her opinion, sufficient progress on its planned renovation. The hotel argued differently and, in fact, won the case. The written contract had specified that "substantial progress" would be made prior to the meeting date. Being such a subjective phrase, it was open to different interpretations. Make sure that your contracts are ironclad with undisputable details. Avoid phrases like "to be negotiated" or "to be determined at a later date." Failing to plan Fail to plan, and you're laying yourself open for disaster. Far too many pieces of the puzzle need to be put together for you to just wing it or pay lip service to a plan. Vow to be as thorough and meticulous as possible. Check and recheck details. Discuss your event with people not involved in the business to get outsider opinions. Create checklists and checklists of checklists. Cover all your bases. The more thorough you are, the less chance of failure and more probability of success. Neglecting to check references Having a gut feeling about someone is great, but always check to make sure he's as good as he says he is. Yes, it will take some extra time to check references, but it's well worth the effort. Why take the chance of spoiling your important event with a supplier who lets you down at the last minute or supplies you with second-rate equipment or poor-quality service? A key question to ask the reference is, "Would you use this supplier again for your next function?" You know what to do if the answer is negative! Leaving important details to the last minute Putting your meeting together takes time, and the more you have, the better the chances of making fewer mistakes. The more rushed and panicked you are, the more likely you are to forget some of the essential (and sometimes most obvious) things. Use your checklists religiously, and handle details in the early planning stages. Leaving the basics to the last minute will undoubtedly cost more money, as you'll probably incur rush charges, and it will definitely add unnecessary stress to your life! Letting someone else do the planning So you want to take the easy way out, and you find yourself a professional planner to handle all the details. Can you afford to just sit back in the hope that this wonderful person performs magic? Just because you hire some assistance doesn't mean you're out of the picture. On the contrary, you now take on the role of steward, which makes you responsible for directing all the operations. Let others do the running around on your behalf, but always have a visible presence in the background making sure that everything runs smoothly. Neglecting contingencies Another aspect of your planning process involves developing contingency plans. Unfortunately, the chances are pretty high that something you planned for won't necessarily go as arranged. So what's your backup? If you don't have one, all your original plans could be destroyed in an instant, and you'll be scrambling to put a second strategy into operation. Have a Plan B ready "in the wings" just in case you need it. Trying to save money With tight budgets and a boss breathing down your neck and expecting you to do more with less, the temptation to make vendor decisions based solely on price is strong. Yes, you'll always find someone who's prepared to under-price services just to get the business. But how good and reliable are they? Cheap prices and good quality usually don't correlate. So the next time you're tempted to make a buying decision based entirely on price, think again!

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Creating the Right Environment for a Business Meeting

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Planning a business meeting involves more than just chairs and microphones. You'll want to create the right ambiance for your meeting, from the seating to the heating. Most of these items are ones that attendees don't notice unless something goes wrong. You know you've done your job well if you hear no mention of any of them. Transportation If your meeting is held outside your company's walls, consider various transportation options, including letting participants use their own vehicles, relying on local transit, and hiring a shuttle bus. Whichever option you choose, let the participants know the exact details. Send them a map with precise written directions and information about parking availability and costs. You might even arrange to have parking fees waived. If you plan to meet at an urban location, notify the participants about any potential traffic difficulties, such as construction or rush-hour bottleneck areas. If they need to use local buses or trains, give them the exact information about where to get off and how to find the meeting location from the bus stop or train station. Hiring a shuttle bus overcomes all these inconveniences, but, of course, it's your most expensive option. Your main objective is to have people arrive in the right frame of mind. If they run into surprises along the way because of poor planning, their attitudes may need some serious adjustment. Seating Most of us are creatures of habit and, given the choice, generally like to sit in the same place at every meeting. Consequently, people get very irritated if someone decides to sit in their seat. They also find that sitting next to a friend, friendly colleague, or someone of influence is comforting, whereas they often sit as far away as possible from someone they consider unpleasant. Seating arrangements can psychologically influence your overall meeting effectiveness. Someone who wants to exert influence needs direct eye contact with the person she wants to influence, so sitting opposite that person is considered the most strategically powerful position. People who want someone to take notice of them sit to the right of or opposite that person. Another power position for achieving notice is the seat to the right of the leader; as people look at this person, they also look at you, thus creating a subliminal link between the two of you. For problem-solving, you want to encourage a high level of interaction and participation, so a round-table setup works best. In this arrangement, all seats are considered neutral, thus avoiding any head of the table. This setup promotes a participatory, open-discussion environment. A U-shaped table arrangement works best for training. It allows presenters to see everyone clearly and have participants easily accessible. Presenters can choose to stay in or out of the U, depending on how comfortable and close they want to be with the participants. For decision-making, select a rectangular table arrangement with the leader at the head of the table. Definitely seat participants strategically and avoid seating conflicting personalities next to or even across from one another. Sprinkle them throughout the group. For the best discussions, seat people with opposing viewpoints opposite each other. Also consider a hierarchical seating arrangement, which positions attendees in order of descending authority, starting with the meeting chairperson who's seated at the head of the table. Heating and cooling Trying to control the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system is one of every meeting and event planner's biggest nightmares. In many modern facilities, the heating and air conditioning system is often difficult to regulate on a room-by-room basis. So finding a temperature that everyone likes is almost impossible. The result is that you end up with either Saharan or Arctic conditions. If the room temperature is warm when no one is in it, then it's only going to get warmer with extra bodies. It's best to opt for a cooler environment at the beginning of the meeting. In addition, people are less likely to fall asleep when they're feeling slightly cool. Have plenty of warm drinks available to increase the comfort level. Room noise and other distractions Eliminating all room noises and distractions is probably impossible. Still, by getting rid of as many as possible, you can help create the best meeting environment. Check your meeting room for outside traffic noises, extraneous ventilation sounds, or distractions from the audiovisual equipment or sound system. Doing so is particularly important at an off-site facility that's a new venue for you. Also make sure that the room is away from kitchen noise or other presentations that are being conducted at the same time as your meeting. Fire alarms don't usually give you the honor of a dress rehearsal. Whether or not the alarm is for real, you have to take it seriously. Before your meeting, make everyone aware of the available exits in case of an emergency. When choosing your venue, be cognizant of the room decor. Hotel meeting rooms often have themes and are decorated accordingly. Mirrors and large murals or pictures create a distraction not only for presenters but also for the participants. Wherever possible, face chairs away from the diversion. Want to prevent the sound of those slamming doors every time someone goes to the restroom during a meeting? Apply duct tape over the catch to deaden the sound. Lighting If the light is too bright, it strains people's eyes. If the room is too dark, the participants' eyes slowly shut. Whenever possible, use natural light. However, be on the lookout for outside distractions, and face chairs with their backs to the windows. You need artificial lighting when using audiovisual equipment. Make sure that the light doesn't wash out the screen. If you can, either position the screen away from direct lighting or eliminate lights that are directly above the screen. When meeting off-site, ask the meeting facility to remove or unscrew troublesome bulbs. Doing this is easy if the lights are halogen spotlights, but fluorescent lighting is generally harder to adjust. Essential details The small stuff often can have the most impact on a meeting. Here are a few things that may give your meeting that little something special: Providing name cards: For meetings where participants don't all know each other, provide name cards. Taking minutes: Find out whether someone is responsible for taking minutes or whether this may be something you can do. Use a tape recorder to help ensure that the minutes are accurate. Adding spice: Games, brainstorming exercises, and activities that foster interactive participation help make things more exciting. Uncluttering the space: Working meetings can easily become cluttered with leftover food or soft drink cans. Periodically arrange a cleanup session. Removing the clutter often helps to unclutter people's minds and stimulate some extra creativity. Evaluating the success: As part of your preparation, compile a short meeting evaluation form so that you avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. Try to improve each subsequent meeting based on participants' feedback. Suggested questions to ask include the following: • Did the meeting relate to our goals? • Did we follow the agenda? • Did we stay on schedule? • What should be done differently the next time to ensure a quality meeting? • What conflicts or disagreements were or weren't resolved? • What was the quality of decisions made? • How well did we utilize participants' expertise? • What happened that was unexpected? Also consider critiquing the meeting from your standpoint. Examine what you would do differently the next time around.

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Working with a Catering Manager

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Before you can organize a function with food for a big meeting or event, you need to meet with the catering manager (CM) at the facility you've rented or your outside caterer or party planner if you hold your event at a venue without in-house facilities. Be prepared to build a good working relationship with this person. Share as many of your event details as appropriate — goals and objectives, programming, timing, number of guests (approximate if you're not sure of exact numbers, alternative venue arrangements, any specific menu requests, your participants' likes and dislikes, and so on. If you don't already have historical information from past events, definitely start compiling a dossier for future reference. This document should include information on previous dealings with your food function catering; use it as a reference guide for all future communications. Why reinvent the wheel? Set an appointment with the CM, letting her know beforehand what you expect to discuss so she, too, is prepared. If you want to see a meeting room or refreshment area or discuss sample menu ideas, let her know. Inform her if you're interested in meeting with the chef, head waiter/captain, or any other staff members. You maximize time when everyone's prepared. Make sure that you come to your first meeting prepared and knowing your budget and limitations. Like any good salesperson, a skillful CM wants to sell you as much as possible. Don't waste her time exploring wonderfully creative ideas when your purse strings don't stretch that far. Avoid disclosing your budget too early in the discussions. Give the CM ballpark figures to work with rather than specific amounts. If you reveal a specific amount, then that's what the CM will quote you. If you just give a budgetary range, then you could get a quote for less. However, don't waste time looking at caviar if you only have a hamburger budget. Use your first meeting to constructively discuss any prior food function problems or concerns, especially if you've used the facility for previous events. In addition: Discuss options for participants with special dietary needs, such as low-fat, low-salt, vegan, vegetarian, and kosher. Request that no peanuts or peanut oil be used, as peanuts are the cause of many allergic reactions. Inform the CM of other specifics, such as what meals are needed on which days, whether your various meals necessitate separate rooms, whether you want plated or buffet-style food service, where you want to have the refreshment breaks (in or out of the meeting room), and what extras you may need for a mealtime speaker/entertainer (a raised platform and/or lectern). The more the CM understands the essence of your event, the more she can help you plan. Remember, it's in her best interest to help you achieve a successful event. She wants repeat business, and she wants you to give great word-of-mouth recommendations to your meeting and event planner colleagues. Discuss complete meeting package (CMP) prices. Many facilities offer an all-inclusive package to help the meeting planner save money and budget for the event. A typical package may include the room rental, basic refreshment breaks, and minimally priced meals. Know exactly what is and isn't included in the CMP price. You want to avoid any hidden surprises. For example, are soft drinks included in your refreshment breaks or is that an extra? What audiovisual equipment is provided? A great question to ask is, "What specifically is included in that price?" Verify if tax and gratuity are included. Establish the extras that you'll be paying, such as tax and service charge/gratuity. Also find out if the service charge/gratuity is taxed. Ask about any conflicting events being held at the same time as your event, and find out if the hotel will be renovating at the same time as your event. Don't underestimate the value of your business. Persuade the CM to give you what you want, but know your limits. You may win the battle, but doing so in an overly thoughtless or aggressive manner could jeopardize a relationship. And remember, you need the CM's support and cooperation for your event. In addition, you'll want to put on your food critic hat and get into the nitty-gritty of the menu and presentation. Realize the significant role the food and beverage arrangement can make to the success of your event. You want everyone to have a memorable experience. Together with the CM, plan well-balanced, nutritional menus that offer variety and are visually appealing. Remember that people eat with their eyes, and cover the following points: Consider doing a food tasting beforehand, and, if you serve wine, definitely sample the CM's recommendations for both red and white wines. Always remember for whom you are catering — it's not yourself! Match the wine to the menu. If you feel intimidated at the prospect of choosing a wine, ask for help. The CM or chef will gladly come to your aid. Avoid choosing a standard set menu and then asking for it at a lower price. This won't make you popular. Instead, ask the CM to develop a similar menu at a reduced cost. It's best to give the chef an inclusive, per person budget and ask him to create a menu, as you're more likely to get better food and more creative options. Ask to see a sample refreshment break station setup. Look for creativity and design. Do they use disposable or real crockery? Is there a selection of herbal as well as regular teas? Is soymilk available as a dairy alternative? Find out if the chef has any specialties and look into local/regional/national dishes that would be appropriate for your group. Using seasonal locally produced foods can often equal a cost savings. Find out if the foods served are purchased fresh, or whether they are canned or frozen. Also inquire if they have an in-house bakery. When doing a taste test, remember that what you're sampling now may not be in season at the time of your event. Review this with the chef. Ask about the portion sizes of each meal. Discuss whether the luncheon dessert could be served at the afternoon refreshment break or whether the dinner dessert could be served in another location on the premises.

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How to Find Great Speakers for Your Meeting or Event

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The most memorable aspect of the meeting or event you plan (aside from the food) is likely to be the program. Hiring the right speaker(s) to address participants is crucial. Following are the basics to keep in mind: Know the program objectives. Understand audience needs. Ask for references. View a demo video. Don’t assume that all celebrities know how to deliver an effective speech. Be wary of grandiose claims. Provide speakers with good information so they give you what you want.

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Basic Responsibilities of Meeting and Event Planning

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

What does the job of planning a business meeting or event entail? Entire books are dedicated to answering that question, but the following list includes the fundamentals a planner must expect to coordinate: Site selection Hotel accommodations Travel arrangements Food Speakers and entertainment Audiovisual equipment Recreational activities Decorations Printing Gifts and awards Personnel

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How to Plan Effective Business Meetings and Events

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Organization and preparation are key when planning a business meeting or event. You have to cover all the basics from reviewing the content of the meeting to accommodating the attendees. Use the tips in the following list for successful meeting and event planning: Make sure meeting objectives are clear and concise. Determine whether it's necessary to meet at all, or whether you can accomplish your objectives in another way. Choose the right meeting location — one with the right number, size, and shape of meeting rooms. Make sure that you know and understand all the services provided by the facility, as well as its cancellation policies. Invite only the people who need to attend. Gather exact contact information for everyone involved in the event. Stick to the set meeting agenda. Evaluate the meeting or event after it's over.

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How to Find Vendors for Business Meetings or Events

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Your success as a business meeting or event planner depends upon your ability to hire the right people to help you shine. No one can pull off even a small gathering without a host of helpers. How to find good aides is the question that the tips in this list help answer: Keep an eye out for good vendors when you attend parties and business events. Ask trusted friends and industry colleagues for recommendations. Ask contacts at your meeting location for a list of approved vendors. Contact a professional association affiliated with the industry in which you need to find a vendor. Search the Internet, and keep in mind that you need to check references for the companies you find. Scan trade/industry publications for potential resources. Quiz the local Convention and Visitors Bureau in your destination city. Consider using a Destination Management Company, which could save you time, money, and aggravation by assisting with part or all of your planning.

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Venues to Choose when Planning a Meeting or Event

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Choosing the right site for a business event is critical — it's the framework for your whole effort. When seeking a venue for a meeting or event, you have several options. Depending on the number of people attending and the type of event, you can go the traditional conference center route or try a road — or a cruise ship — less traveled. The following list contains places to consider when selecting a site: Hotels Conference centers Convention centers Resorts Retreat centers Cruise ships Unique environments, such as museums, stately homes, sporting venues, and theaters. When in doubt about the choices available in a specific location, ask the local Convention and Visitors Bureau in your destination city for advice.

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