As a veteran planner with plenty of experience that includes corporate, association and incentive programs, I’ve seen a lot of changes in this industry since first stepping into my meeting planner shoes. In fact, even those very shoes have changed since my early planning days when I wore smart and chic high heels to comfortable and practical flats. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but I was a young girl starting out on an exciting career back then. . .) Literally learning to adapt on my feet was, perhaps, my first valuable on-the-job learning experience followed by years and suitcases full of more where that came from.
On the plus side, change is usually done for the better which is what I was reflecting on when I came up with this short list of challenging trends we have all experienced in the last five years of meeting planning, so here goes:
Challenge: Technology, WIFI, and apps, Oh My!
Response: Current mantra, “these are all good things, right?”
Challenge: Attendees Vs. RSVP’s
Response: Pick a number, any number. It’s just a crap shoot anyway.
Challenge: Planning ahead
Response: Yes, it was an urban legend that actually DID exist!
Challenge: Security issues
Response: Did someone say “run!”?
Response: Who or what did we forget or offend this time?
Challenge: Social Media
Response: Fine, let’s just hire another contractor to get the job done
Challenge: “Wow” factor me!
Response: Try it. I dare you.
Challenge: Food and beverage
Response: What ever happened to people just eating what was put in front of them?
So, what do you think – agree or disagree with the above assessment? I realize that the dialogue bubble circling above your head may be a little more targeted and well, politically correct than mine, but still you’ve got to admit there’s some truth to my ‘bubble-babble’!
Seriously, if your boss or client challenged you right now to sit down and list the top five issues your next program should be addressing, wouldn’t at least some of the above topics make the cut? Seems everyone has variety in their share of hot buttons which is what keeps us all busy with some semblance of job security.
But all joking aside, if you really want to know how veteran planners like myself are addressing some of the above challenges keep reading as I’m listing some quick tips to help you get started on navigation of these persistent issues:
Technology – we can’t all be computer Geeks but by gosh we all need to have access to at least one or two who can be our go-to advisors in times of need. If your company can’t afford a full time IT person make sure you’ve got someone on contract who can help you sort things out before it’s too late like the need to review and test your program websites before they go live.
Getting attendees to RSVP – everyone, I repeat everyone is dealing with this these days so best if you realize it’s a ‘new thing’ and try to be proactive in managing expectations. Try using incentives to get better responses and think outside the box on what will appeal as a ‘gimme’ to your particular audience. Also think about lowering your guarantees and/or possibly issuing tickets to assure those that did RSVP get what they paid for while others have to wait for openings.
Planning ahead – don’t ever give up hope on this one! Last minute planning can still be accomplished if you have basic steps in place to cut to the chase as needed. Don’t bother with emails but instead make direct phone calls to all key players including your hotel sales and catering people along with the CSM, advise your printers of an incoming rush order, let the necessary staff know to clear their days when someone else’s ‘emergency’ becomes your priority. No one likes surprises but in the end it is definitely possible to organize that chaos if you take control and keep everyone informed along the last minute journey.
Security – This is a tough one because there really are so many steps to getting a plan in place as to how to deal with the ‘what if’s’. Think things through clearly and involve an entire leadership team who can provide input from your risk management people, security advisors, and so on. Leave no stone unturned when you’re digging in to this project which above all else usually comes down to identifying a clear chain of command and making sure contact information is readily available for all involved parties.
Inclusiveness – just do it, and better now than waiting for an uncomfortable – or possibly illegal – situation to raise its’ ugly head during your program. Think about how your program or event is viewed or accessible by all levels of disability, foreign speaking attendees, and all genders as pertains to signage, printed materials, location and set up of events, speaker presentations, even food and beverage selections.
Social media – another area that is sometimes now viewed as ‘a necessary evil’ but wow, try to ignore those needs and you’ll soon discover a regretful mistake. Accept that people tweet, post, chat 24/7 so best if you set things up in your favor ahead of time. Establish your hashtag, provide cool photo opps, play games as needed to push your agenda forward, but always keep that professional balance. Oh and top of this list is to make sure you’ve covered the WIFI issue or the social media – or lack thereof – will definitely backfire. This is another area that you might just need to turn to professional consultants for if your own budget doesn’t allow for employee management of same.
Wow me – this is so much easier than you might think! Do your homework. Look around you at what other similar programs or events are doing and have a brainstorm session with your staff as to how you can take it to another level. It’s not always about the bestest/newest/most unusual idea but more about something creative and meaningful to your particular audience. Challenge yourself and your staff to come up with new ideas; sometimes it’s the little things and details that make the best impressions.
Food and Beverage – this cannot be ignored. It is a fact of life that where any group of people gather to eat and drink there must be options. And contrary to what many planners think, it doesn’t always have to be a big comprehensive buffet. Plated meals can also work IF you allow for several choices such as chicken or fish entrée and keep vegetarian or special plates in the back of house as needed. However, buffets do offer plentiful options that can usually tick off all the boxes providing everything is clearly labeled. Oh, and those labels? Make sure they are legible-even on a dimly lit buffet- and inclusive, even of the dressing ingredients and sauces, spices, garnishes. You cannot overstress this to your venue as the more they start hearing it from experienced planners the more they will offer it to everyone as a standard procedure. Another important element in this category is making sure the wait staff is educated in all the F & B products that are being offered and also as to what special dietary meals might be on hold in the back of the house to bring out as needed.
Now just for once, wouldn’t it be great if our biggest meeting directive was to focus on the quality of speakers and actual program content instead of putting so much effort into making everything all shiny and pretty and appealing to every single person on the universe?
Do I hear an AMEN to that? I thought so!