Do this, don’t do that: Things to Chop or Splurge On In Your Conference Budget

While the economy continues to recover, the meetings industry is also on the rebound. Hosting an event that is under budget is top of mind for most meeting planners. However, as meeting planners look at new ways to plan cost-effective meetings, without compromising the overall attendee experience; the process has become an exceptional task to triumph. In a group discussion with The National Conference Center’s Director of Conference Planning, Stefani Perrini, CMP and Kelli Mueller, senior conference planning manager and a member of the Annual Conference Planning Committee for IACC, the two professionals both shared some note-worthy advice on producing meetings and events that over-deliver on both budget and experience. These budget-savvy planners determined six items to chop or splurge on in your conference budget with a creative-costing savings “do this, don’t do that” list.

Do host your cocktail hour; don’t skimp on projectors in break out rooms.

“Content is why you’re here,” Mueller explains about conference groups, “If it’s an all hands-on-deck meeting once a year, it’s worth it to purchase the projector for break out rooms and impress the attendees.” Both planners agree – networking opportunities are almost as essential as the content. Get creative with entrees that are cost-effective. Mueller says if there are food selections for cocktail hour, planners should avoid choosing higher-priced items like crab cakes and opt for vegetable platters instead.


Do focus on the priorities and logistics; don’t get too caught up in the semantics.

 To have sessions that are successful, Perrini advises to stay within budget and understand all of the content. Perrini helps planners by saying, “Define your goals and priorities and then structure your budget around the items which support and align with those goals. Don’t lose sight of them.” For example, if networking is the goal, you don’t have to splurge on a cocktail hour and can host a team-building activity like a scavenger hunt instead.


Do choose a value venue; don’t overextend your budget.

 When choosing a venue, ensure that it meets your end goal. Planners should not comprise meetings and budgets if your goal is to be training in a classroom all day. Mueller simply states, “If the goal is about learning, you don’t need brass, glass and marble, but if your goal is to only impress, then brass, glass and marble are the best route for you.” Another important factor to keep in mind is not to overspend on guest rooms if attendees will be in meeting space all day, instead put your money there.  


 Do save money on paper production and reproduction graphics; don’t chop upgraded bandwidth to save money.

 “Historically, planners spent money on binders and production. Now, planners aren’t spending money on it anymore because everything has gone digital,” explains Mueller. Surprisingly, the same money isn’t being allocated on the replacement. Perrini adds, “People are chopping the dedicated bandwidth out of their budget to use free Wi-Fi which affects the presentation quality and meeting flow.” She notes that free Wi-Fi for presentations doesn’t give the same presentation delivery that upgraded bandwidth does.


 Do spend money on banquets that are hyper-local; don’t spend too much money on taking attendees off-site.

 Activities off-site are a great way for groups to experience the destination, but if planners have a tight budget, attendees don’t have to leave site for a destination experience. Transportation costs are up and sending attendees off-site for activities can be costly. Mueller’s advice is to host a banquet that is hyper-local and themed for the destination. It’ll be easy for planners to organize an event on-site and keep it cost-effective.


Do provide transportation logistics; depending on the size of the meeting and the organization’s culture, don’t schedule it for each individual.

 The cost of getting to a meeting has increased, whether it’s rental car, taxi or shuttle transportation. Unforeseen circumstances can delay flights and other transportation logistics. Perrini and Mueller agree, depending on the planner’s preferences, the participants and the corporate culture, attendees can make their own arrangements. Mueller says she’s seen groups who try to make arrangements for each individual. She gave the example of delayed flights that lead to missed transportation reservations, and attendees expensing other means of transportation, doubling what was anticipated for transportation costs. Perrini adds, it’s up to the discretion of the planner and the corporate culture.


Perrini and Mueller bring good news to the industry on what a planner’s conference budget should “do and not do.” The two industry professionals advise, “Beware of what you splurge on and chop. While it’s important to minimize expenses, planners will be tasked in 2012 and beyond with designing a creative and cost-effective meeting that delivers on attendees’ overall experience and outcome at the event.” How do these items here rank up against your own “do this, don’t do that” list? What other areas would you advise colleagues in the industry to chop or splurge?

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