Planning a basic meeting is not as cut-and-dried as everyone wants to make it, because every meeting has its own personality. Before you can plan one, you need to know three things:
- The purpose of the meeting.
- What you want to accomplish.
- How much you have to spend – a.k.a., the budget.
Once you know these answers, you’re ready to embrace your assignment, but you still need more information.
How many people will attend? Where will the meeting be held? If it will be local, will the money for mileage and parking fees come out of your budget or be an attendee expense? If it’s a guest event, what expenses will you pick up? If the event is out of town, will you be responsible for airfare and ground transportation? What about luggage fees? Will your company reimburse passengers for an extra checked bag? Are there other fees or supplies related to attendee transportation that need to be covered by your budget?
Meeting rooms are among the most important items on your blueprint. Consider the type of setups you’ll need and the number of attendees you’ll accommodate for the general session room, breakout rooms and any rooms needed for meals or entertainment.
You’ll also need this information for your blueprint:
- Meeting duration. Is it a daylong event or will it last two or three days?
- The number of hotel rooms needed.
- Audiovisual equipment needed (i.e., LCD projector and screen, podium, handheld or lavalier microphone, video camera, lighting, whiteboards, etc.).
- Whether any meals must be provided.
- Whether there are any off-site activities. If so, make sure to account for any additional ground transportation, décor, F&B, audiovisual or entertainment needs and fees.
Knowing those variables will help you determine how to best spend the budget you have. It will also help you eliminate unsuitable venues and find one that fits your group’s needs.
Next, consider these items:
- What kind of registration process will you will use to get information to (and about) your attendees?
- What kind of vendors do you need to contract (e.g., online registration company, in-house or independent A/V, ground transportation, printers, sign company, promotional item company, on-site staff, entertainment and/or caterers, etc.)?
- What will happen when on each day of your event? Create a schedule.
- What kind of meals need to be provided? Plan the menus, taking into consideration the group demographics and dietary needs of all participants.
- What kind of setup will each room need during the event?
- What are the housing needs of company executives or invited guests (and their on-site transportation requirements)?
By going through this process, you’ve outlined all your meeting needs and can get to work checking items off your list. The given time frame — whether it’s a year, six months or (more likely) a matter of weeks — will ultimately determining the order in which you start to make arrangements, whether you need to outsource some of the planning process and what deadlines you need to meet.
Finally, you must execute your event successfully. As a meeting planner, it’s your responsibility to check every detail on your outline for each day’s events. Ensure that the property and the vendors you’re using have all your requirements and can provide the setups and service you anticipate expect. Never leave anything to chance; it’s your responsibility to be sure every “i” has been dotted and every “t” has been crossed. Expect anything that can go wrong to go wrong, and think about possible solutions in advance. Develop a crisis management plan. Make sure you have emergency contact information for everyone, including members of your team, and a communication plan that team members can use in case something unexpected happens (i.e., a death on-site, an earthquake or swine flu, etc.).
Remember, even after the meeting is over, your job is not done until you have reviewed all your vendors’ invoices (and made corrections, if necessary), sent them thank-you notes on behalf of your company for each service provided, and secured all meeting records and notes in a file that can help you or anyone else on your team plan the next meeting.