What Are You Doing About Flu Season?

OK, I know. This is supposed to be a blog focused on Christian meeting planners so you may be wondering why is he writing about the flu?

Good question, but it’s actually quite simple. As someone responsible for bringing groups of people together, you can also help prevent the spread of flu (and other illness) among your attendees. After all, it’s pretty hard for someone to get much out of your great conference if they’re sick and stuck in their room.

With a little help from the CDC, here are 3 things you can do to help keep the flu from wrecking your event!

  • Talk about flu prevention – Educate your planning team and others about all they can be doing to help prevent the spread of the virus. Things such as covering your mouth when you cough, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth, washing your hands with soap and water, etc.
  • Protect yourself and your planning team – Encourage everyone, including yourself, to get a flu shot. As they say, an ounce of prevention…
  • Provide hand sanitizers – Talk to the facility hosting your event and insist they provide hand-sanitizer stations for your meeting or retreat. At Ridgecrest we provide these at various locations throughout campus.

Curious…how many times have you come home from a conference sick? Unfortunately it happens more than we’d like to admit. All the more reason to do all we can to prevent it.

What's Hot, What's Not In 2011

Last month I posted links to a couple of articles dealing with meeting trend predictions for 2011 (read post here). Over the recent holidays, I had a chance to do a little Internet surfing and check out what more folks were saying about new meeting trends in 2011.

Most everyone seems to be agreement that technology will have the greatest impact on meetings and events in 2011. With that in mind, here are 5 “what’s hot, what’s not in 2011” items for you to consider:

  1. Conference phone apps vs Conference program books – The options for creating a conference phone app to replace printed program books are almost endless, limited only by your budget. However, with a little research, you can find free and low-cost options that could meet your needs.
  2. Collecting meeting date via wufoo.com vs Collecting data in Word documents – Wufoo is a site offering easy to use online HTML form builders, giving meeting planners the opportunity to collect and share data online, in real time.
  3. Creating a Prezi vs Creating PowerPoint presentations – Again, new technology that can help take presentations to the next level.
  4. Smart phone audience response vs Counting raised hands – Our pastor actually used this in church yesterday. He asked a series of 3 questions, people would text their responses and then we watched as totals on the screens were updated in real time.
  5. Water stations vs Water bottles – While not technology related, it is related to the 2nd most popular trend in meetings…going green. Not only is this one environmentally friendly, it could also save you money!

Curious. How are you planning to utilize new technology in your meetings or event in 2011?

Planner's Perspective: Unintended Consequences

The following is a guest post from Dean Jones. Dean is a certified meeting planner and serves as the conference manager for Rejuvenate Marketplace.

James Whitlock is not someone you probably know or have ever met. I don’t know him either, but his story intrigued me and I knew he would be the subject of my next article. The connection starts with my wife (she doesn’t know James either), who is a Nashville kindergarten teacher. The Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) system built five snow days into the 2009-10 calendar. I realize that many of you from climates cooler than Nashville are already shaking your heads and rolling your eyes — and it’s well deserved. Nashville is a semi-Southern city with 5,600 miles of paved roads and 30 snowplows (actually 28 now — two crashed their first day out this season). Needless to say, Nashville doesn’t deal with snow well. So back to the five snow days: MNPS called off school seven days this winter to avoid potential disasters with buses, parents and kids on the roads.

Seven minus five equals two. Two school days must be made up. The dilemma is how: shorten spring break, lengthen the school year or add additional time each day? The MNPS board chose option three. It made sense. The teachers are already at school, the heat is on, buses are running their routes, and 30 additional minutes a day for 26 days seemed like a logical solution. However, as with many “logical” solutions, there are unintended consequences — enter James Whitlock, time systems lead worker. Mr. Whitlock is the sole employee of MNPS tasked with programming and upkeep of school bells. The logical decision became a nightmare for one employee, with 139 school-bell systems to reprogram.

I have made similar decisions related to my events. They seemed logical on the surface but more thought and feedback from staff or outsiders could have revealed flaws in my logic or perhaps an alternate plan with fewer unintended consequences.

So how do you avoid putting yourself and your events into this position? Whenever you need to make a change to some existing system, program, schedule or event, it’s wise to have a pool of people that can help you evaluate potential decisions and repercussions. This team could be other planners, friends, staff or outsiders, but a combination of all would be a great mixture. Sometimes when we bounce ideas off other planners they only offer us one perspective, but an outsider may offer a totally new perspective that we hadn’t considered.

Begin thinking now of your “consequence team” that can help you evaluate potential scenarios, evaluate trouble spots and provide alternative solutions to your decisions. One word of advice — be sure that James Whitlock is on your team!

Be careful out there!

What Should My RFP Include?

In a previous post (read here), I discussed why anyone planning an off-site meeting or event should utilize an RFP (request for proposal) process. Using an RFP process will result in more competitive and complete bids, less telephone tag, smoother negotiations and no big surprises.

The best way to achieve these positive results is by creating your own RFP. Should you choose to do this, here is a list of items you will want to consider including in your RFP:

  • Name/address of sponsoring organization
  • Your contact information
  • Preferred method of response (mail, fax, email, phone, etc)
  • Deadline for RFP submission and schedule for decision making process
  • Title of the meeting/event
  • Brief description of meeting goals, objectives and/or purpose
  • Meeting history for the past 3 years, if possible
  • Overview of attendee demographics
  • Preferred city or region
  • Possible meeting dates, including days of the week meeting is held and whether or not dates are flexible
  • Type of property preferred (i.e. downtown, airport, resort, Christian facility, etc.)
  • Projected sleeping room block, including info on arrival/departure patterns and estimate of single, double, triple, quad occupancy, etc.
  • Desired room rate range (this will help hotels know if they can be competitive or not)
  • Meeting space requirements, including size of rooms, registration area, staff area, 24-hour holds, etc.
  • Meeting schedule for each day
  • Exhibit information (i.e. # of booths, type of booths, set up and tear down times), if applicable
  • Food and beverage needs (i.e. breaks, catered meals, dietary requirements, etc.)
  • Expectations related to waived meeting room rental and complimentary rooms
  • Any other information that will help make your group more attractive to the hotel or conference center

While this may seem like a lengthy list, it’s not all inclusive. What other information do you include in your RFP’s?

Why Should I Use An RFP?

When it comes to planning and booking your next meeting, retreat or event, utilizing a well thought out RFP (request for proposal) process can be a great time and money saver. Obviously, the larger the meeting, the more critical it is to use an RFP, but that doesn’t mean RFP’s aren’t beneficial for smaller meetings as well.

Johnson Spring - Ridgecrest

When you choose to use an RFP process, you basically have 2 options. The first option would be to utilize an RFP form provided by the facilities you’re interested in using. Here are some examples: Ridgecrest/Glorieta, Marriott, Crowne Plaza, Lake Williamson. The advantage is these are generally online forms that can be completed quickly and submitted to the facilities electronically. The downside is they are usually pretty generic and don’t ask for a lot details. You also give up control of how their bid comes back to you, thus making it more difficult to compare all the bids to each other.

The second option, which definitely takes a little more time on the front end, is to create your own custom RFP. After creating the RFP, you would then send it to each of the facilities you’re considering for your event, have them complete it and return to you. Having each facility complete the same RFP makes it much easier for you to compare “apples to apples” when it comes to all the financial details of the proposal.

While either option is better than just picking up the phone and calling facilities, I would definitely recommend taking the time to create your own RFP. In the process of creating your RFP, go through your meeting day by day and account for everything you will need from the facility. Doing so offers the following 4 advantages:

  1. More complete and competitive bids – The more information you give, and ask for, in your RFP, helps the facility to better understand your group’s needs. This should then allow them to be more competitive in their pricing.
  2. Less telephone tag – While I sometimes enjoy a good game of telephone tag…NOT! Simply, the more information exchanged in the RFP, the less the need for follow up telephone questions.
  3. Smoother negotiations – Because the facility knows all of your needs up front, they will usually be more open to negotiate. As a hotel operator, I was much more inclined to play give and take with a client that had laid all their needs out on the table. The last thing I wanted to see happen was for me to make a concession, only to see the group come back and ask for more stuff I was not even aware they wanted.
  4. No big surprises – This one’s huge. Neither you, or the host facility, want to get hit with big NEGATIVE surprises during the event. By taking the time up front to create a detailed RFP, you go a long way towards eliminating those big surprises no one wants to see.

What about you? Do you use RFP’s? Please feel free to share what has worked for you in the past.

3 Tips For Negotiating With Hotels

When it comes to planning a Christian meeting, conference or retreat, one of the more challenging tasks can be negotiating with the hotel or conference center for your sleeping rooms, meeting space and catering. Am I getting the best room rate? Why do I have to guarantee anything? What does guestroom to meeting space ratio mean? These are just a few of the questions you may find yourself asking.

While those are all valid questions/concerns, hopefully we can give you a few tips that will help to lessen any anxiety.

Room rates – There are numerous variables that go into deciding the rate a hotel or conference center quotes a group. These variables include size of group, time of year (high, low or shoulder season), arrival/departure pattern, transient demand, how much meeting space group requires, amount of food & beverage revenue to be generated from event and meeting history for your event.

The slower the season, the better the rate you can negotiate. The same is true if your arrival/departure pattern is opposite the majority of the hotel’s normal business. In other words, if the hotel is primarily a business oriented property you can usually get better rates over a weekend, while a leisure destination location will usually give better rates for Sun-Thu business.

Two other key factors a facility considers before quoting rates to a group are the total revenue value of the event and its meeting history. The more your group commits to spend on food, audio/visual, etc can help you in your room rate negotiations. Also, a group with a consistent history of meeting their room block is much more likely to get a better rate than a first time group with no history. From the hotel’s point of view there’s just less risk with the group that has a good track record.

Guestroom to meeting space ratio– Almost all hotels/conference centers have guidelines by which they determine how much complimentary meeting space to allocate to your group. While this ratio will vary by facility, meeting space will always be tied to the number of sleeping rooms your group commits to. The more guestrooms you use, the more space you’re entitled to and vice versa. In some cases you may be able to rent additional meeting space, but that will depend on how much overall space the facility has available.

Contract guarantees – All hotels are going to require some type of room guarantee in your contract. This is to protect the facility should you fail to pick up your contracted number of rooms. However, it is fair to insist on some type of sliding scale. The further out you release your rooms, the less you’re responsible for, as the hotel will have more time to recoup their loss by selling the rooms to someone else. Hotels with high transient demand will be more open to this, while facilities with low transient demand (such as Ridgecrest and Glorieta) have less likelihood of reselling the rooms and thus have more to lose.

Negotiating with a hotel or conference center should not be adversarial. I’ve always believed a good deal is made when both sides are happy. When that happens the groundwork is in place for a successful event. When it doesn’t…run, don’t walk…and find another facility that will by happy to partner with you and help make your event a success.

5 Common Meeting Planner Mistakes

Ridgecrest Conference Center

At Ridgecrest and Glorieta conference centers, we host hundreds of groups each year, ranging in size from 8-10 people to over 1,500 in attendance. I say this, not to promote Ridgecrest or Glorieta (well maybe just a little), but to point out that we have the privilege of working with many different types and sizes of meetings and retreats each year.

With that in mind, I recently asked our event coordination staff at Ridgecrest to give me the five most common meeting planner mistakes they encounter over the course of the year. Here are their responses:

  • Failure to make a site visit prior to the event/meeting. – This is absolutely critical for large events, but can also be very important for smaller events or retreats as well. Taking the time to make this visit allows the meeting planner to get a clearer picture of the facility’s layout, how the meeting space will work best for their event, how much time to allow in the schedule to move from space to space and to build a greater level of trust with, and confidence in, the facility staff.
  • Failure to read the information sent from the meeting facility. – The purpose of this information is to minimize the chances for miscommunication between the meeting planner and the host facility. Whether it’s the facility contract, pre-planning details or catering forms, it’s critical for the meeting planner to thoroughly read and understand all the information given to them. Before the event is the time to ask questions, or clarify details, not once the event starts.
  • Lack of communication among the group/faculty planning the event. – When this happens, the result is mixed information being sent to the meeting facility. This significantly increases the opportunities for mistakes being made during the event and for the group to incur additional, and maybe unnecessary, expense. We suggest your group have one primary contact person with the venue so as to avoid confusion.
  • Planner makes assumptions about the meeting facility. – My wife always tells me I should never assume anything and the same is true when planning a meeting or event. Every facility/hotel is different and a planner should not make assumptions based on where they met last year, even if it’s the same facility.
  • Waiting until the last minute to send in their information to the facility/hotel. – The earlier a meeting planner can submit their information (i.e., rooming list, catering requests, meeting room set-ups, etc.), the better for everyone. This allows the facility/hotel to be better prepared to provide the best possible experience for the group.

We would love to hear from any of you that plan meetings or events. Do you agree with the list? Anything else you would like to add? What about on the other side? What are the most common mistakes made by the hotel/facility that you have to deal with?

Avoid These 7 Commonly Overlooked Steps When Planning Your Meetings

Creating and sticking to your budget when planning meetings and events sometimes are two different things.  Here are seven commonly overlooked steps when planning and executing your meeting that can help you stick to the budget.

1.  Allow contingencies in the budget for the unexpected.  Don’t cut it so close that you set yourself up for failure.

2.  Include tax and services charges in the budget.

3.  Include labor costs in the budget.

4.  Communicate clear policies to speakers and staff.  What will you pay for?  Set limits on meals, travel expenses, etc.

5.  Review your master account daily and limit the number of people authorized to add charges to the master account.

6.  Rely on your history not attendance when giving your meal guarantees.

7.  Know the value of your business, when you are negotiating your contracts make sure you are getting the best pricing based on the history of what you have spent in the past both on and off the master account.

10 Items for Meeting Planners to Include When Requesting a Proposal

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Whether your a seasoned planner or new to the job having a  stress free planning experience is always a goal.  When you have a meeting coming up and you need to request a proposal from a venue, here are 10 items you should always include with your request to make it as easy as possible for you and the venue to meet all of your needs.

1.  The Name and Address of your Ministry/Organization.
*Be sure to include your contact info and how you prefer to be contacted.

2.  The Title of your Meeting.

3.  The Dates of your Meeting.
*Include if your dates are flexible or set?

4.  What is the objective of your Meeting?

5.  How many Guest Rooms does your Meeting Require?
*Do you have history you can include from past meeting?
*What are the demographics of your attendees?
*Are there trends your aware of?

6.  What is the Daily Schedule of Meetings?
*Do you have any specific requirements?

7.  Do you require Exhibit Space?

8.  What are your Food and Beverage Requirements?

9.  What is your budget for Rooms, Meeting Space, Food and Beverage, etc.?

10.  Any additional information about your Ministry or this Meeting.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about submitting an RFP and as always if you have any suggestions or something that has worked for you in the past, please share it with us in the comments.