Planning Events: Back to Basics

We’re the worst aren’t we? Planners who attend events in which we were or weren’t involved in the planning and execution. Yet, it may be because we know the best practices that we are more critical of what should be done or what is written in industry manuals as best practices.

We expect the best! After some recent experiences, and seeing some photos online of a large industry event, reminders of the basics seem in order.

Know your audience. That includes age, gender, gender identity, abilities, disabilities, allergies (food and environmental) and once known, plan to meet those needs. A venue that allows smoking in an area where it pours into the event or is prevalent in restaurants surrounding a smoking area like a casino is not healthy for those with lots of different health issues; a scented venue causes problems for those with chemical sensitives (covered under the ADA).

A venue with lots of steps makes it difficult for some (many in some cases) and certainly makes it more difficult for those who use mobility devices. Consider whether the entertainment and programmatic choices are appropriate for the kind of event you’re planning. If it’s a networking event, consider if people can hear and talk above the sound.

Develop and employ objectives for the overall event and for individual components. If one of the objectives is to showcase best practices in meetings then … do so! Set the rooms in something different than straight schoolroom or theatre rows. Use screens that are appropriate sizes so that all people can see any visuals used.

If peer-to-peer learning and social networking are objectives (and they should be, studies show, for all events, social, fraternal and educational) determine what space and conditions will most contribute to those objectives. Ensure appropriate seating for the demographics, space allocation.

Provide information about how to find others in the group, adequate and appropriate (including “handicap spaces”) parking, are other examples of meeting objectives.

Communicate—from RFP to post-con—with the venue and vendors ensuring they know what you want, can meet those needs, and that any surprises aren't because of thorough communications. That is, take nothing for granted! Just because you used "one of their properties" (or a vendor) in a different destination or even of the same brand or the same property at a different time, doesn't mean it will be the same again.

Put in writing, even before the contract, all the expectations you have and they have and provide your objectives so partnering can start from the beginning.

Plan food and beverage to match times, demographics, abilities, and needs. There’s nothing worse than an event that begins at 7 p.m. which is dinner time for many and to learn there will only be “dry snacks.”* If that’s the case, let people know ahead of time and provide a list of restaurants near the meeting venue for those who may not be familiar with the area.

Survey the needs of participants to know their food allergies or other dietary needs: vegan, vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, gluten-sensitive, etc. (I'm a fan of Patti Shock and her writing including "A Meeting Planner's Guide to Catered Events").

Practice sustainability! At a recent industry function, a colleague and I were surprised (OK, stunned!) to see water bottles v. water stations. Handouts are not the nemesis of green! As long as they are printed on post-consumer products using sustainable ink and fonts.

Giving gifts? If gift wrap is needed, use post-consumer wrapping paper and avoid over-packaging with lots of tissue. Food waste is a major issue in the U.S. If you want to overset, it’s OK as long as you know that the venue is going to reuse or donate what food they can. Or serve plated meals, asking participants ahead of time to indicate their preferences.

Two great resources for sustainability are MeetGreen and GMIC.

Program for maximum involvement and attention. Small screens for large audiences, long programs that go on and on, bad visuals, untested sound, ill-timed programs or those that are not timed as promised, unexpected guests at the mic/lectern (aka “podium” for those who insist!), lack of audience involvement, inactivity/sedentary audience for long periods, and more that you can list all lead to “fanny fatigue” which leads to brain fatigue and napping.

Not all programs have to be interactive; they do need to engage. If you've followed me here or in social media, you know I tout Jeff Hurt's blog, and Paul Radde's book, "Seating Matters", and Adrian Segar's work which, like mine, involves deliberate meetings and events.

Be safe! I wrote extensively here about AEDs and was surprised, at a recent industry meeting, to learn that the venue had AEDs, but not in the meeting space. One was required to go to the heart/back of the house to a house phone—no house phones in the meeting rooms—to contact security to bring the AEDs.

Select destinations and sites with safety first in mind: nearest hospital or emergency facility, AEDs on property, CPR-trained personnel on staff 24/7, and procedures to handle food allergies and other emergencies. Announce, at the start of every event, the location of the emergency exits and the procedures. Yes, you can do this at social events too: doing one’s “flight attendant routine” always gets a laugh and attention so people know what to do if they have to evacuate.

And about *dry snacks: they encourage beverage, often alcohol, consumption. Over-drinking can lead to many disasters: drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and other dangerous behavior. Talk with the bartenders, even if it’s a cash bar or ticketed, to find out their practices and policies about stopping over-consumption of alcohol.

Yes, there’s much more to planning an event than most people consider. And there’s much more to selecting destinations (that have airports that are accessible for people with disabilities), sites, caterers, AV and production companies, and planning programs, and contracting.

This is a snippet that occurred to me after a few events that puzzled me. You can listen to lots of webinars here for free and read more blogs here.

Like all my blogs and additional content, the views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Posted by Joan L. Eisenstodt

Follow Joan on Twitter: @joaneisenstodt

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