Does this sound familiar: You’re organizing a meeting or an event, regardless of the size, and it balloons into a complex assignment with a billion details and extensive tracks of preparation. Where do you turn for help and ideas with all the logistics?
According to Kim Corcoran, CMP, president of Destination Michigan/Meetings Michigan in Dexter, the most important thing is having partners in the industry who can be counted on.
“Whether I need a top-notch convention and visitors bureau that knows all the right buttons to push, a hotel that will make my meeting seamless and easy or a company that can handle registration, having partners you can trust is a true blessing,” she says.
“I love working with partners who have the same energy and enthusiasm for this industry that I do. I know who those people are, and I go to them whenever I can to make sure we work together to give our attendees the best experience possible.”
Technology is a major player that helps the overall logistics and planning of events. “We have something that we call the block plan,” says Kim Rangel, director of operations for Destination Consultants in Grand Rapids. “It’s basically a really integrated spreadsheet, a minuteby-minute plan of everything that’s happening the day of an event. I assign things out, so it doesn’t just say what’s happening and when.
“It also says who the contact is for this and who their contact is for that. And then, before the event, I sit down with every person who is on that spreadsheet, and we walk through that agenda minute-by-minute three times. That way, we all know who’s doing what when.”
Rangel’s ultimate goal? “That not everyone is coming to me to ask questions because they are empowered to make decisions themselves, because they own whatever task it is that they have,” she explains. “There’s no scrambling because everyone knows what to do.”
Annie Kruise, CMP, executive director of the Arboriculture Society of Michigan (ASM) in Ypsilanti, says taking advantage of technology is important. “A few of the current trends are the use of conference apps, which reduces the amount of paper you give to attendees by keeping all the event information accessible via a mobile device, and using kiosks for onsite registration or attendee badge printing.
“I’m also seeing vendors use a QR code reader to scan attendee badges, which provides them with contact information [depending on information sharing agreements] instead of waiting for that info to come from the meeting planner after the event.”
Kruise says ASM uses the services of local CVBs to help with parts of the event logistics and planning. “They have the ability to connect with many vendors at one time, which reduces the amount of time I have to spend making calls to facilities or transportation companies,” she explains.
“I provide the CVB with the details, and they communicate back to me with the vendors that can service my event. This makes my job more efficient and productive,” she says.
“From a registration standpoint, we use an event management software connected to its membership database via the web. This system allows registration pricing to reflect the true membership status of the attendee, whereby reducing staff time before and after the event for invoicing any pricing errors. This system allows me to print badges and run reports as well,” Kruise says.
When it comes to room settings, Debbie Hughes, CMP, an event coordinator/accountant for Michigan District, LCMS, in Ann Arbor, says it depends on the event.
“When we have small groups for board meetings, we usually do the U-shape. That seems to work well for that,” she says. “When we have larger conferences in which we’re using the same meeting space and dining in the same room, we typically use the crescent rounds instead of rounds so attendees don’t have to switch their chairs around for a presenter. If we have worship service, we typically do theater-style. If we’re having breakouts, we do classroom-style in which the attendees could take notes if needed.”
Heather Mydloski, national account manager for Experient in Detroit, says that panel discussions are becoming the norm. “They give you an engagement where people can ask questions, and they give you a specific answer by an expert panel. That’s been very beneficial,” she says.
“People are also getting creative with the event experience. One of my clients built a 20-foot-tall pirate ship for its general session. Instead of a meeting having a pipeand-drape background, people are having visually stimulating backgrounds and finding creative ways to do it.”
How do meeting planners work with vendors and others to execute flawless events where attendees get around without any problems or confusion?
“Clear, consistent communication is essential,” says Jenn Morden, CTA, CMP, project specialist for Michigan Realtors in Lansing. “We strive to learn from past events and are continuously trying to improve our communications between ourselves and partners. It’s helpful to put ourselves in their shoes and determine what information we’d want in preparation for an event.
“Often, as planners, we may neglect the vendor perspective. Not intentionally, of course, but because we’re so focused on other meeting logistics. We’ve learned that smaller communication pieces are easily read,” she says.
“We’ve also learned that a vendor will quickly scan an email for key information instead of reading a lengthy body of information at one time. So, we’re working on smaller, targeted marketing pieces to our vendors, giving them quick facts and key information. It makes sense to cultivate good relationships with your vendors because you need each other in the end,” Morden says.
Finding a Mentor
Most event planners have received helpful advice through the years while climbing the ladder of success. Andrea Mohr, director of events for Silver Lining Productions in Novi, is one example.
“I have a mentor who is a second-generation trade show director,” she says. “She’s given me so many pearls of wisdom. Being responsive and working with integrity at all times, which are a given, and being a very good listener are a few. That enables us to understand expectations and exceed them.”
Becky Search, Campaign to End Homelessness coordinator for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority in Lansing, never really had an adviser.
“I was brought into this very last minute during the planning process several years ago,” she says. “The person who had done that up to that point was no longer available, so I just kind of got … so in the deep end, it was like a sink or swim thing, and I’ve been learning something new every year since. So there wasn’t a lot of guidance in my particular case. I sort of taught myself,” she explains.
Search also realizes that, during the course of an event, several different things can be happening simultaneously. “There might be six or eight breakout sessions going on at the same time,” she says, “meaning that there are six or eight presenters with potential needs during that 90-minute session or however long it is.
“Just make sure you know what all their needs are ahead of time. Do they need Wi-Fi, do they need a microphone, and do they need some certain adapter? I have a questionnaire that I send them beforehand to make sure I know what all of their needs are. And then, for any lastminute needs, you need to know how to reach the people at the venue in case something goes wrong, such as ‘This particular breakout doesn’t have Wi-Fi’ or ‘This particular projector isn’t working.’ If it’s an A/V issue, are there A/V people on-site?”
Morden agrees wholeheartedly. “Having a great team is important,” she says. “If you know that they’re taking care of business, then you don’t really have to worry. Delegating responsibilities is also key. One person can’t be everywhere at the same time, so it’s important to have some great planners around you.”
You know, things don’t always go according to plan when organizing events. Says Mohr, “We had a trade show scheduled at a venue that was undergoing renovation, and we were assured, actually had a contract stating, that construction would be suspended and the event would go forward. It would look a little different. The floors would be concrete, but it would be cleaned up. A lot of things had to happen, but they assured me the event could go forward.”
Two weeks before the actual event, Mohr was informed that it would be impossible to have the event at the venue. “So I had to find a new venue, and that involved a lot of challenges. Printed materials had to be changed, a lot of people had to be contacted, vendors had to be changed … it was an expensive lesson with hours of anguish and anxiety. The worstpossible-case scenario happened, but we persevered. The show looked a lot different than it would’ve, but it ended up fine and everybody was understanding.”
Mohr has also had events that were doublebooked. “That creates challenges,” she says. “We have a one-day set-up for one of our trade shows, and typically our exhibitors need eight to 10 hours to set up. The venue was double-booked, so our set-up day was not available to us.
“All of our exhibitors had to come in after 1 a.m. and set up literally before 8 a.m. to be open by 9 a.m., when the trade show opened. So, again, it was inconvenient, but unavoidable. The vendors were exhausted and so was I, but the event went forward,” Mohr recalls
“You just get creative and find a solution. We could’ve cancelled it, I probably could’ve insisted on a refund and gone through that, but, again, the long-standing relationships with the vendors … they appreciate it. It was a mistake by a new sales director. I could’ve made an issue of it, but I decided not to because I wanted to stay at that venue. I just decided to make the best of it and go forward.”
One year, very late in the planning process, Search was notified by a facility that it could not accommodate all of the people they had told her they could accommodate—100 fewer than it had agreed to.
“They said, ‘We’re under construction. We’re renovating,’” she recalls. “So it was a scrambling process with the registration, creating a wait list, making sure that all the right people were there rather than just anybody who wanted to come. It was an ordeal making sure that we had the target audience that we were after. And there was a lot of thought and planning that went into it to make sure that the correct 300 people were there.
“Fortunately, we weren’t that far into the registration process for it to be a real problem. It was probably 60-90 days out when they let me know what the number was. I paid close attention to people who had paid and told everyone, ‘If you’re not paid, you’re not coming,’” says Search.
“Nothing ever goes as planned,” concludes Morden. “You must always have a plan B, a backup plan. I think it’s important, as a meeting planner, to be able to stay calm and kind of go with the flow in some respect. You have to take the good with the bad and just be ready to make the necessary changes.”
“That double-booking was a major inconvenience,” says Mohr, “but you have to have a sense of humor and be able to just roll with it.”