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Effective Meeting Execution

Cut Costs, Not Quality: 5 Tips for Spending Less at Your Next Association Meeting
By Trish Keppler, Sr. Meeting Manager

Start with a Good Hotel Contract

  • Minimize your risk by knowing your group's history before locking in a room block minimum. Your contracted block should reflect your actual pick-up from the most recent meeting, while taking into consideration the fluctuation that can result from an East Coast vs. West Coast pattern and the location of the meeting. Be more conservative with your block if the host hotel is in a city center and less conservative if you are in a secluded resort location with few overflow options.
  • Contract for a guest room commitment of 80% cumulative pick-up of your block (20% allowable attrition).
  • Contract the food and beverage minimum for an amount lower than you actually think you will spend. Negotiate a minimum that is inclusive of tax and service.
  • Negotiate money saving, value-added concessions including discounted staff and speaker rooms, no meeting room rental, suite upgrades, complimentary airport transportation for staff and VIPs, among many others. Be realistic in what you can expect to negotiate. Groups with larger room blocks have more leverage than smaller room blocks.

Go Electronic

  • Do PDF. Don't print. Market conference brochures in PDF files that are posted to the organization's website and distributed via blast emails. Electronic brochures also are nice because the information in them stays current. If there is a change to the program or with a speaker, that information can be captured in the electronic brochure so anyone who downloads the materials has all the right information.
  • Post handouts online via a password protected page of the group's website. Have attendees download handouts and print what they want.
  • Conduct speaker evaluations electronically. Electronic evaluations not only save printing and paper, but if you enlist a service like Survey Monkey, the results are instantly summarized, saving hours of manual tabulation.

Secretly Scale Back on Food and Beverage

  • Go with a buffet meal instead of plated. Buffet meals allow flexibility in the meal guarantees. Hotels always have more food than you need on a buffet which allows you to guarantee under your expected attendance.
  • Skip the bottled water and opt for water stations instead. Bottled water is easily $5 or more a bottle once tax and service is included - water stations are free. Be sure to ask for glasses at your water stations instead of plastic cups to reduce waste.
  • Opt for glass coffee mugs at your coffee stations and tell the hotel that you do not want "to go" cups. Not only are "to go" cups bad for the environment - they are bigger than the glass mugs so attendees drink more coffee with each cup they have.
  • Work with the facility's Convention Services Manager or Chef to create menu options that fit into your budget. Don't be afraid to name your price and ask the hotel to create a menu that fits within that limit. Other helpful tips for stretching food and beverage dollars can be found in an article from the Professional Convention Management Association.

AV for Amateurs Ė Itís not Just for Techies

  • Ask Conference Committee or Board members to lend their LCD projectors and laptop computers to the conference. Some members may have easy and free access to projectors from their places of employment. The Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care saves thousands of dollars at their Annual Conference by borrowing projectors and laptops for all their breakout sessions from Board members. The meeting manager partners with the AV technicians to make sure the equipment is secured and returned to its rightful owners at the end of the conference.
  • Contain AV costs by offering a standard AV set for every room (for example, a screen, microphone, LCD projector). Let speakers know what this standard set is and encourage them to work within it. Additional equipment can be secured by request only and by a certain deadline date.
  • Assign concurrent session meeting rooms not only by the size of the audience, but also according to AV needs so the equipment is already in the room and you arenít paying for it more than once.

Implement Tiered Registration Fees

  • Early, Advanced, and Onsite (or Late) registration fees help the planner lock in solid guarantees and reduce the guessing game for over or under ordering.
  • Offer an incentive for those who register early. Raffle complimentary rooms for those who have registered by the early date. These rooms can be part of the negotiated comps in your contract so that the incentive doesnít cost the association a dime.
  • Make the advance registration deadline and the cut-off date for hotel reservations the same. If someone honestly plans to attend your meeting, travel arrangements will be squared away by this deadline, allowing the meeting manager to have solid projections for head counts when submitting the banquet event orders and ordering meeting collateral.
  • An onslaught of onsite registrations can dramatically change meal guarantees or room sets. A higher onsite fee will offset these extra last minute costs and inconveniences and will encourage your members to plan ahead.