Tips to Increase Attendance at Your Next Meeting or Event

auditoriumIf you are a meeting planner responsible for events that are optional for attendees, you face the challenge of getting them to choose your event over others being offered. This is critical as you strive to increase attendance.

My plan for this post is to offer suggestions based on experiences with a few of our customers that have been able to increase their attendance between 8-15% annually. Overall, your goal is to make it a ‘must attend’ event. The attendees have many options and you need to be able to make your event stand above the others. The following are some of the ideas that were implemented:

  • Location- they were able to secure locations that makes it easy for the members and potential attendees:
    • Central- reduce travel time and costs
    • Easy access- driving, flying or train
    • Matches, when possible, the theme of the event or message of your organization
  • Content and Agenda
    • They stay on top of the latest and hottest topics and trends in the industry. This can be accomplished by engaging with the potential attendees by asking for ideas or suggestions for topics.
    • The agenda allowed for time to exercise (starting sessions later or ending earlier) and keeping up with work back at the office (longer breaks).
  • Speakers
    • Once the topics are confirmed, they find the best speakers to communicate the message.
    • They having been using a shorter session format to enable covering more topics and to keep the audience engaged.
  • Utilize all resources to grow the list of potential attendees
    • Local members
    • Local organizations that are in your industry or related industries
    • CVB / DMO
  • Marketing- they created communications that ‘sell’ the value of attending, not just announcing the event.
    • Why Register – Clearly articulate the true benefit of attending and why their attendance is important. Make it a ‘must’ to attend by making sure attendees understand the value of attending. Use testimonials and advocates for attending on your marketing materials to state why they attend. The message is more impactful coming from a past attendee or someone that plans to attend.
    • Make it easy to register – More ways to register will result in more registrants. Use them all; online, phone, fax, check, purchase order, credit card or even a mobile application.
    • Registration options including discounts – Everyone is looking for the best value so offer multiple attendee options; group discounts, company discounts, student discounts, early registration discounts, early bird hotel rates, public transportation discounts, etc.
    • Social Media – understand and utilize all the channels that will help reach your attended audience.
  • Communicate with members and potential attendees:
    • Early
    • Often
    • Through multiple channels


These simple ideas helped increase their attendance. What ideas have you implemented to help increase your attendance?

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Tips for Making Hospitality Industry Trade Shows More Impactful

diary-page-1240501-639x506As meeting planning professionals, we need to have a good return on our investment (ROI) when we attend a hospitality industry trade show. Our objectives are simple.

  • Meet with the suppliers of currently sourced programs
  • Meet new destinations/venues for future events
  • Network to grow contact base
  • Attend educational sessions that will enable us to grow as professionals (a solid education format attracts the best attendance)

Choices of Current Tradeshow Formats:

  1. Traditional – a supplier sets up a booth and works to attract customers to visit them.
  2. Appointments (within the traditional tradeshow) – a supplier sets up a booth and works to attract customers to visit them. They add a new twist, by making appointments with key customers (asking them to stop by at a specific time).
  3. Reverse tradeshow – with this vehicle, it is the reverse of the traditional show. The customer sets up the booth and the supplier visits the customers they are interested in doing business with. .
  4. Hosted Buyer – a vehicle that brings qualified meeting buyers and sellers together with a high likelihood to book real business with each other through pre-arranged face-to-face meetings at the show. The meeting planners are sponsored which enables more qualified planners to attend.
  5. Combination of a few of the above

For me, the best ROI has been the trade shows with set appointments whether attending on my own or as a hosted buyer. To ensure the best ROI, I prefer trade shows that enable the following:

  1. Appointments
  1. Open time to explore
  1. Networking
  1. Education / Training

What do you prefer?

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5 Reasons for Meeting Planners to Work With CVB’s and DMO’s

business-meeting-1239197-640x480As an independent meeting planner, I always involve the applicable Convention & Visitor Bureaus (CVB’s) or Destination Management Organization’s (DMO’s) in the RFP process. They can be true partners in the process of selecting the right destination and/or venue when planning and during the operating of an event.The following are 5 reasons why you should consider partnering with CVB’s/DMO’s:

1. Destination experts – they are the experts on their destination and can provide you with all the information needed to make an educated choice. Their knowledge and personal guidance will give you a true understanding of their destination.

2. Collaboration with the planning and operating of your event – they have the tools, resources and expertise to help in the following areas:

a. Lodging options- provide you with a summary of options/costsb. Air access
c. Convention Center
d. Entertainment, dining and attractions
e. Off-site events venues
f. Transportation
g. Site inspections
h. Pre-promotion
i. Speakers
j. Content development
k. Grow attendance
l. Volunteer support staff

3. Financial Support – the destination may be able to offer financial support through one or more of the following:

a. Incentives or subsidies
b. Marketing/Media support to boost attendancec. Help securing sponsorships
d. Local company involvement

i. Sharing with the local community (restaurants and retail) what groups are in town and getting them to offer discounts to attendees.

e. Partnerships with

i. Colleges and Universities
ii. Economic Development Councils

4. The success of the event is a mutual goal– both the organization and the destination have a common goal – driving attendance. Good attendance + a good experience for the attendees = a successful program for the organization, the attendees and the destination.

a. Organization- achieves the objectives for their event
b. Attendees- will feel good about their investment of time and money to attend the event
c. Destination- the group and/or attendees will come back

5. Community Involvement

a. Community service/volunteer opportunities

Let’s work together with our partners to ensure a successful event. I hope these reasons help you decide to work with our CVB and DMO partners.

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Why Do Meeting Planners and Event Planners Outsource?

business-graphics-1236216-640x640Even as our economy and the hospitality industry enjoys a period of strength and growth, professional meeting and event planners have less time, less budget and less room for error when planning and executing events. Outsourcing various components of a function can allow the organization’s meetings department to focus on the most important aspects of the event. It also allows organizations the opportunity to place the best people in critical strategic positions while conserving valuable management time in the office.

Included below is a portion of an article written by Jim Vandevender, Chief Development Officer, The Knowland Group. He shares some excellent information on why some organizations consider engaging with assistance outside of their organization.

Why Do Meeting Planners Use Third Parties?

It’s not always obvious why meeting planners use third parties. In order to understand, let’s put ourselves in their shoes. Meeting planners are tasked with dozens of duties including (but not limited to!) coordinating the budget, marketing and organizing registration of the event, making travel arrangements, managing all logistical details, determining object ives and requirements of the event, and more. Selecting the hotel to host the meeting or event is just one small part of what can be end up being a big task!

To Save Time

Planners often feel that RFP Creation and the sourcing of hotels or venues are important, but can be too time consuming. They therefore turn to third parties to try and remove some of that work from their plate so they have more time to focus on their many other tasks. Many planners feel that when they send the RFP out themselves they must then have multiple conversations with the properties being considered, often having to repeat themselves over and over, which can be inefficient and an ill-use of their limited time.

Bobby Hobes from SRA lnternational’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine supports this and says “I believe outsourcing is cost effective and allows our internal staff to concentrate on areas that need more attention. The third-party planners afford myself and other planners the luxury of putting energies into other areas i.e. budget oversight, program content and logistic changes, to name a few.

Moreover, Maurits Coppenrath of Porsche North America uses a third party planner and said “every company has its own legalese and she (Deborah Rich of HelmsBriscoe) took the time to learn and understand our particular style of contracting, like what we will and won’t pay for. There is no back and forth. It’s a model that is clean, efficient and to the point.

To Save Money

Most planners don’t come from a hotel background, yet they as planners are forced to negotiate hotel contracts with hotel sales managers. Many feel that someone who was once part of the hotel sales side has a much better understanding and insight into what a hotel will and can negotiate on….in other words, they speak the same language. Planners like the idea of using this to their benefit when it comes to contract negotiation. In addition, many planners believe that because a third party may book more business (meetings and groups overall) than their one organization does, this is beneficial to them from a volume and leveraging point of view. For example, ConferenceDirect and Experient have pre-negotiated group contracts with many major hotel brands that they in turn offer their clients. They offer automatic 20% attrition, group rates 3 days pre­ and post-event, favorable cancellation terms, etc. Many planners feel that although they too may be able to negotiate similar terms themselves, they would have to do so each and every time . By using ConferenceDirect or Experient, it’s automatic!

Bron Prokuski, Vice President of Business Operations for the National Defense Industrial Association, uses HelmsBriscoe for help with his annual meeting and workshop events. According to Prokuski, “it makes no sense to try and run a three-day event for 20,000 people with two or three staff people. Associations are about building the member experience and value, so we need to concentrate on that. The fact that third parties can often pull the association out of a problematic situation is a huge advantage.

Prokuski says he turned to HelmsBriscoe for help because his meetings can best be handled by an outside source that has the core competencies he needs.

Leigh Wintz, former Executive Director for Soroptimist International of the Americas said: “Associations have less bargaining power with hotels and other suppliers than they used to. Because attendance is down, all those contracts we negotiated two to three years ago need new negotiating, and a third party is in a much better bargaining position than I am. Our staff is overworked and when we outsource, we free up time for our meeting planners to do strategic marketing activities that need to be done in-house. Some association planners may still have the attitude that third parties can’t get a better deal than they can, that bargaining is part of their job ….but using third parties costs nothing and they provide a helpful service. So why wouldn’t you?

To Make Money

Yes, some organizations actually make money by using a third party through a Revenue Share Agreement. This is when an organization brings in a third party who then sources the RFPs and charges a ten percent commission, which is collected from the hotel and shared with the organization they are booking the meeting for. This is not uncommon and some organizations have found it a way to create revenue streams with the meetings they book. In many cases, this shared commission helps offset the costs of the meetings themselves. In some cases, it’s a 50/50 split and in a few instances the entire amount is turned back over to the organization in its entirety and the third party is compensated by being paid a flat fee for their services.

SMMP I Procurement

Meeting planners are sometimes required by their procurement division to work with certain third parties as part of their Strategic Meeting Management Program (SMMP).

Why Does This Matter To You?

It is important to understand what the actual relationship is between a third party and their client, meaning you should make a point to find out if the relationship:

  • Is a Formal Written Agreement?
  • Is a “Test Meeting” to see if the third party can show value?
  • Is a long term, deeply established relationship?
  • Is an exclusive relationship in which the organization uses only that third party?
  • Works with one division of the organization or all the offices/chapters?
  • Is part of an implant structure such as a Strategic Meetings Management Program?

All of these can factor into how you go about building a relationship with that third party.

If you want to read the entire article, go to: https://www.knowland.com/white-papers

As you evaluate your organization and explore all of your options to ensure successful meetings and events, I hope you will find this information useful.

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Meeting and Event Planners: Industry and Professional Associations

speakingAs meeting and event professionals, one of our goals for the upcoming year should be to get more involved in our industry. I came across this list of industry and professional associations that were shared in a recent publication. This list provides easy access to all the key organizations we should consider being involved with:

American Hotel & Lodging Association
1250 I Street, NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20005

ASAE The Center For Association Leadership
1575 I Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors- International
2900 S. College Avenue, Suite 3B
Fort Collins, CO 80525

Association of Corporate Travel Executives
510 King Street, Suite 220
Alexandria, VA 22314

Association of Destination Management Executives International
P. O Box 2307
Dayton, OH 45402

Center For Exhibition Industry Research
12700 Park Central Drive
Suite 308
Dallas, TX 75251

Convention Industry Council
700 N. Fairfax Street
Suite 510
Alexandria, VA 22314

Destination Marketing Association International
2025 M Street, N.W.
Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036

Event Service Professionals Association
191 Clarksville Rd.
Princeton Junction, NJ 08550

Exhibit & Event Marketers Association
2214 N.W. 5th St.
Bend, OR 97701

Financial & Insurance Conference Planners
330 N. Wabash Ave.
Suite 2000
Chicago, IL 60611

Global Business Travel Association
123 North Pitt St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International
7918 Jones Branch Dr
Suite 300
McLean, VA 22102

International Association of Conference Centres
35 East Wacker Dr.
Suite 850
Chicago, IL 60601-2106

International Association of Exhibitions and Events
12700 Park Central Dr
Suite 308
Dallas, TX 75251

International Center for Exhibitor and Event Marketing
12700 Park Central Dr
Suite 308
Dallas, TX 75251

International Congress and Convention Association
North America Office, Box 6833

International Facility Management Association
800 Gessner Rd.
Suite 900
Houston, TX 77024-4257

International Special Events Society
330 N. Wabash Ave.
Suite 2000
Chicago, IL 60611-4267

Meeting Professionals International
3030 LBJ Freeway
Suite 1700
Dallas, TX 75234-2759

National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners
700 N. Fairfax St.
Alexandria, VA 22314

Professional Convention Management Association
35 East Wacker Dr.
Suite 500
Chicago, IL 60601

Religious Conference Management Association
7702 Woodland Dr.
Suite 120
Indianapolis, IN 46278

330 North Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611

Society of Government Meeting Professionals
908 King St.
Suite 200
Alexandria, VA 22314

Society of Independent Show Organizers
2601 Ocean Park Blvd.
Suite 200
Santa Monica, CA 90405

U.S. Travel Association
1100 New York Ave. N.W.
Suite 450
Washington, DC 20005
I hope this information helps you check off at least one of your goals for the upcoming year!

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Meeting Planning Professionals: Giving Back Time and Expertise

imageAs a veteran hospitality industry professional, I was recently asked to serve as a member of an advisory board for Ferris State University in Michigan, my alma mater. It is for the College of Business which is where the School of Hospitality Management resides.

During our last meeting, we were asked to review the curriculum they teach. They wanted to know if it matched with the actual tasks we do on a daily basis. They want to ensure they are focusing on the right knowledge and skills for their students. What a great exercise! Essentially, this is the point we all make – “If I could go back to college knowing what I know now, this is what I would do differently”. “If I could start my career over, here is how I would handle it this time”. “If I could do this meeting over again, I would have added this session”. This list of examples could certainly go on.

It is great to see that more colleges and universities are offering programs of study in meeting and event planning. It is also good to see that colleges and universities understand the need to stay current in a constantly changing industry, by conducting these exercises with professionals in the field. I hope this trend continues.

I am a strong believer in giving back. I owe much of my success to the foundation I was given at Ferris State University. I hope each of you will consider giving back to make the future of our industry strong!

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10 Ways to Improve Your Next Meeting or Event

EvaluateSiteInspections_ccMany of us attend meetings, events and trade shows multiple times each year. For those of us that host these meetings and events, we are continuously searching for ways to engage participants and improve the overall experience for our attendees. We strive to exceed their expectations in one or more of these categories:

  • Motivation
  • Training and Education
  • Networking
  • Trade show interaction to improve product or service knowledge
  • Overall value of time spent

How can we achieve these objectives? How can we create a more sensory and interactive experience that someone will tell his or her colleagues about?

The following are some areas to focus on that could help improve your next meeting or event:

  1. Destination: Select a destination that supports the theme of the event.
    Hotel: Select a property with the environment needed for a productive event.
  2. Pre-communication: Create pre-event engagement prior to the event using an event website, social media, mobile apps, video, email, text messaging, etc.
  3. Agenda: You do not need to fill every minute. Leave time for networking and exercise.
    – Change times of events – plan activities when people are at their best.
    – Late afternoon is not a good time for presentations…for these sessions you need to be more
    interactive to keep attention and create a positive learning experience.
  4. Meeting room sets: Try different sets to create a more engaging environment.
  5. Education: Tracks targeted to specific attendees.
  6. Shorter, targeted sessions/presentations: Consider formats like the TED Talks with short, single topic messages. Bring in experts from the field. Also, video is more compelling than a page of text.
  7. Appointments within a trade show or reception: The concept of speed networking helps attendees meet and engage with more people. You should consider holding this at the beginning of the event.
  8. Use the technology that engages your membership:
    Mobile apps
    Advanced Display Technology (3D imaging devices, visual effects)
  9.  Survey your attendees with mobile audience polling devices before, during and after with their expectations.
  10.  Post-communication: Continue the dialog that started before the conference and was reinforced during the conference through webinars, seminars and social media (Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook)

When attendees leave their family and friends to attend our event, we want to make sure there is a return for the amount of time and money invested.

We hope some of the tips presented will help you create a more dynamic meeting or event.

Do you have other suggestions to share?

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Can’t Get This Meeting Off My Mind

guitar-2-1425236-638x426I got a meeting crush…hopefully this comment does not cause the same stir in the meetings and events industry that it did in country music for Little Big Town when they released their single; Girl Crush.

The song made me think about our life in the meetings and events industry. Let me rewrite some of their lyrics for those of us in the industry:

I got a meeting crush

Hate to admit it but

I got a heart rush

Ain’t slowing down

I got it real bad

Want everything to go well

Finalizing those closing banquet BEO’s

Just sending them now

I got a meeting crush

I got a meeting crush

I don’t get no sleep

I don’t get no peace

Thinking about our next event

Under a time crunch

The hard work and planning

The way that it’s pulling me in

Lord knows I’ve tried,

I can’t get this meeting off my mind

I got a meeting crush

I got a meeting crush

Those of us that chose this crazy hospitality industry know that it gets in your blood and you cannot control it. Some of us have even left the industry…only to come back a few years later because we miss it. I think all of us can relate to this country song as we have a little meeting crush.

Thanks for letting me have a little fun with this popular country song.

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Meeting Planning at Month End, Quarter End, Year End

After nearly 20 years on the hotel side of the hospitality industry, I have enjoyed the last 8 years as an independent meeting planner.

The one part of meeting and event planning that I do not enjoy is the rush to sign contracts at month end, quarter end and year end. As a former hotelier, I understand the goals the salesperson, hotel and company need to achieve. However, we have been doing business the same way for years and I keep thinking that there has to be a better way.

Let me share with you one example. Recently, I had to track down a CEO while he was traveling in order to get the contract signed by the 30th. If he did not sign, it was made very clear by the hotel that he would lose his dates. He was going to be back in his office the next day and was willing to put in writing that he would sign the contract, as is, first thing upon his return to the office. The hotel confirmed that this option would not work. Since he was staying at a corporate apartment, he had to go to the hotel next door and ask the General Manager to help him print and scan the contract back to the hotel (a hotel that was not part of his brand by the way). Really…is this the best way for our industry to operate?

There has to be a better way and my top three thoughts for reducing stress and improving this process are:

  1. Hotels and planners work together to establish a realistic timeframe with due dates for both parties (factoring in the site inspection, Board Meeting, travel schedules, etc.).
  2. Set the middle of the month (15th) as the due date so if it spills over a day or two, both parties will still be fine in meeting end of month deadlines.
  3. Implement the same technology the real estate industry has adopted so we can transact business via electronic signatures (i.e. DocuSign).

What suggestions to you have to improve the signing of contracts at month end, quarter end and year end?



Creating Extraordinary Meetings and Events Through Magic Moments

image“Life is about moments; don’t wait for them, create them.” Anthony Robbins

We all want to create meetings and events that our attendees are excited to attend and rave about afterwards. Recently, I have been reading some of Tony Robbins (motivational speaker, personal finance instructor, life coach and self-help author) articles. He has one about creating an extraordinary life which got me thinking about creating extraordinary meetings.

I believe we can create meetings that are extraordinary by creating moments within the event that will make the overall experience memorable. How do we create one or more moments throughout the conference when people say ‘WOW’! My top ideas on how to accomplish this are:

  • Location: pick a unique destination/venue that will inspire attendees
  • Event schedule: get creative…do not do the same schedule as the last event. Also, mix it up from day to day
  • Speaker: bring in an energetic speaker with a message tied to your theme
  • Networking: build plenty of time in for quality interaction with each other
  • Meeting sets: try new sets that will promote the atmosphere desired
  • Technology: engage with the tools that enhance your message and goal
  • Energy: create and maintain a high energy event through the sessions, healthy meals and breaks
  • Takeaways: make sure the attendees leave with lessons or tools that they can implement immediately
  • Community service: tie in a meaningful event that your attendees can choose to participate in pre or post event

As meeting and event planners, let’s strive to create extraordinary experiences at our conferences.

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