Dear Conference Attendee…
This is a letter I’ve wanted to write to you, but never have gotten around to doing. Now that I’ve written it, I might not send it. I’m not very visible to you for most of the year; you only see me at the annual meeting and perhaps a couple of quarterly meetings. I’m a meeting professional with your trade association, working year-round to ensure that your time and monetary investment in being a member pays off for you.
I don’t know if you realize it, but preparation for some meetings such as the annual convention actually begins more than a year in advance. I undertake dozens of activities to assure a successful meeting, including visiting potential sites, walking the halls and inspecting the actual facilities, even going up to the rooms—all to ensure your satisfaction when you actually stay there for three or four days. I may also speak with the hotel or convention hall catering division, their audiovisual staff and security division. I work behind the scenes with airlines, shuttle services and so forth.
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Making the numbers work
Hand in hand with the site selection is the big job of number crunching. How many registrants will we need and at what price, to hold the meeting at a particular site? What kind of discounts can we offer for early registration? How about spouses, staff, kids, directors, vendors? If all the numbers work, how shall we promote the event? We have to tie it to this year’s theme, and make all the flyers, brochures, registration forms and other supporting materials part of a unified effort. It will take several rounds of mailing to ensure that we have enough early registrations so we don’t have to dip into other funds.
Of course, we can’t just plan a meeting, without having events. In some instances, I contact dozens of speakers just to retain the few that will be right for our intended program. Then I have to consider entertainment, spouses programs, children’s activities, receptions, farewells and a host of coffee breaks, tours, parties and other events that require careful planning—although when you’re attending them, I want them to come off so smoothly that you think hardly any planning went into it.
Then there’s the final banquet. Planning that in itself is a gargantuan effort. Will we go formal or semi-formal? Will there be favors on the table? Will there be a dais? Will we get an outside, renowned speaker? Will there be a band, will there be dancing, will there be cordials, will there be a cash bar, will there be a late-night coffee house? The number of options and challenges are almost endless.
The conference schedule
For each activity, each session, each keynote, I have to calculate how many of the total registrants will be in attendance. Should we have morning sessions at 8:00, 8:30 or 9:00? Should they last 60 minutes, 75 or 90? How about break times? How many sessions will we have each day? How many sessions in the afternoon? Should sessions be repeated so people don’t feel frustrated because they have to choose one over another? What about audio and video recording? How should the recordings be priced? What about copyright issues?
As you can see by now, I’m involved and concerned with several hundred distinct issues—and we haven’t even gotten to mailing out registration kits, let alone receiving them, handling the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of phone calls or handling the event itself.
I’ve wanted to explain all of this to you in detail for so long, but there never seems to be the time. When you call throughout the year it’s usually with a question—which I’m only too happy to answer if I can—then you and I have other things to get back to. When I see you at the annual meeting or some of the quarterly meetings, our respective agendas are full. We’re all busy people and explaining everything I need to do to make the meeting successful is not of primary importance at those times.
Sometimes I just want to shout, “Please appreciate me,” or “Please write me nice notes when things go well,” in addition to letting me know when things don’t go so well. Please acknowledge me for the hundreds of things I do long before the event ever comes to fruition.
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Still more work
And the conference follow-up—it’s as rigorous as anything else! When the convention is over you get back on the plane or in your car and head home. I still have many, many tasks to fulfill. I have requests, and maybe orders, to fulfill. There are items to box up and ship back. There’s dispensing of checks to vendors, service providers, speakers, rental companies and the meeting facility. There are notes to be typed up and reports to be written, updates to be made, membership categories to be modified, next year’s convention plans to be altered—it just doesn’t end. I haven’t imparted all this to you although I’ve wanted to, for oh, so long.
Well, I guess I don’t have the wherewithal to send this letter—I knew that before I started. I’ll just leave it parked here on my desktop and turn back to one of the 200 other important tasks that demand my ever-present attention.
Very truly yours,
Your Meeting Professional