"Help! I'm Responsible for Planning Our Meeting!"

Article Index

1. Gathering information for the event

Be sure to ask these questions:

A. Why: What is the mission and purpose of your meeting? What is the end result you would like to see?

B. When: What are the dates? Are they flexible or set? Is the event indoors or outdoors? Will weather be a factor? What is the length?

C. Who: Who is the target audience? Youth? Adults? Couples? Who can reach that target audience? Speaker? Musical guest?

D. How: How is the event to be paid for? What is the established budget for this event? Is this budget (per person) inclusive or exclusive of food? How much has been spent in the past? What will the event and hotel reservation procedure be?

E. Where: Is airport accessibility a consideration? Do you need access to a wide variety of restaurants for your group? Are other types of transportation required?

F. Program criteria: How much space is needed for platform/stage? How much seating? Are there breakout sessions? How many rooms are needed for workshops at the same time? How long is the program? Who will develop the program? Should free time be planned?

Once you've answered the basic, essential questions, you're ready for the next step.

2. Develop a Group Résumé (Meeting Specifications) or Request for Proposal (RFP)

**Use the information you gathered in step No. 1 or produce a professional-looking document that can be used by sites as a basis for a bid. You wouldn't think to submit a half-sheet of jotted notes or give information over the phone to obtain a job--the same principle applies here. A succinct and professional résumé will pay rich dividends in the long run. The more complete and credible your RFP or résumé, the better it will be reviewed.

**Make sure that all the essentials are covered: room-block size, day/dates, history of past events, flexibility and multiple dates, billing information, food and beverage needs, audio/visual needs, meeting-room requirements, amenities and parking.

Then it's on to the next step: determining and picking a site.

3. Site selection

By considering all your options and conducting thorough research, you will make the decision that is best for your group.

A. Know your destinations ('Where do I hold my meeting?'):

**Don't compete with your destination. For example, if your meeting is all business with no free time, don't hold it at a resort...you'll torture your constituents.

**Take advantage of the city's CVB (Convention Visitors Bureau) support. They have expertise in desirable destinations, tours, entertainment, marketing, local talent and working with city officials.

**Consider using destination attractions: theme parks, river walks, etc., perhaps for parties, meals and/or events.

**Look to book off-season, if possible. Keep an open mind and look for alternatives. Cheaper rates and more availability are possible.

B. Know your facilities ('What is the best type of facility for my meeting?'):

**Traditional settings include: (1) hotels, where your meeting space may be provided complimentary if you book enough sleeping rooms; (2) convention centers, where you usually pay for meeting space unless you have a citywide event; and (3) arenas and stadiums, which are obviously for large events.

**Nontraditional settings (which may not have as good of an infrastructure) include college campuses, retreat centers, campgrounds and churches.

C. Know your resources ('Who can help me with this?'):

I. Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CVB). Simply log on to a search engine such as www.google.com and type in a city name and "CVB").

These organizations have one purpose: to encourage groups to hold meetings in their locations. They can assist you with meeting preparations and will encourage your group to visit the local historical, cultural and recreational opportunities. They are usually supported by a combination of hotel-room taxes, government funding and membership dues.

CVBs are especially helpful in coordinating and promoting the use of and common interests of travel/tourism-related businesses, such as convention centers, hotels, motels, restaurants, tourist attractions and local transportation companies. Services offered include the following:

**Meeting facility availability provides information on the availability of hotels, convention centers and other meeting facilities.

**Transportation network has shuttle service and airline information for your use.

**Destination information offers information on local restaurants, activities, and assists with tours and event planning.

**Housing services provide housing reservations for meeting attendees. (Not all CVBs offer this service. Call the destination city's CVB for more information.)

**Destination government/community relations is a local resource regarding legislative, regulatory and municipal issues that may affect your meeting.

**CVBs can set up and arrange site inspections.

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