Executive Chef Peter Sherlock didn't know much about computers when he moved from New York to San Francisco in May 1997 to take a post at the Fairmont Hotel. But just a year and a half later, after teaching himself how to use PowerPoint, Photoshop, and a digital camera, he's made some palatable improvements in the way his banquet department does business.

Sherlock has photographed his entire 300-item banquet menu and turned each digital image into a computer file, which can be e-mailed to clients (in a PowerPoint format), or accessed by the hotel's sales reps, managers, food buyers, and other staff.

It's not just a convenient first step to planning a banquet, it's also a guarantee of sorts. At the pre-meeting tasting, if a client requests changes to the typical presentation, a new plate is prepared, photographed, and kept on file to be referred to at at the time of the event. On the hotel's banquet event orders, menus include computer image reference numbers for each course. Kitchen staff can use the image to duplicate the agreed-upon food presentation, and food buyers can more accurately gauge the needed ingredients.

Sherlock is currently training the chef at The Plaza in New York to use his high-tech methods, and soon expects to take his concept a step further by creating an Web site for his pictures.

*THE FUNDAMENTALS Veteran meeting planner Ann J. Boehme has written a book about basic meeting planning techniques for administrative assistants who have no experience in planning events or conferences.

Published by the American Management Association, Planning Successful Meetings & Events covers such basics as setting objectives, how to select a site, budgeting, promotions, food and beverage planning, and planning international events. It is chock-full of useful time lines, checklists, and resources, and is available in paperback through Adams Business Media's Bookstore at (800) 396-3939. Boehme is founder and president of Meetings and Management Techniques Plus, based in Valley Stream, N.Y.

www.starwoodhotels.com More than 650 hotels and resorts that now fall under the Starwood name can be found at one Web site. Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Four Points Hotels, The Luxury Collection, W Hotels, and Caesars hotel can now be booked via the Starwood site. Photos and floor plans of each hotel are available online. In addition, planners can access and fill out an online Request for Proposal.

Virtual Auditorium, Real Panic Some meetings live and die by the ability of company execs to give engaging presentations. What do you do when your recently promoted sales director breaks into a sweat on stage? Speech Improvement Company of Boston has one idea: strap on a virtual reality headset.

To help clients get over their stage fright, Speech Improvement now has a VR tool. The program creates the effect of standing in front of a large auditorium filling, and ultimately packed, with 150 people. The 35-year-old company has been using its new (exclusive) technology for eight months with good results. Overcoming stage fright typically takes 8 to 12 sessions with conventional therapies, but with the VR program, five to seven weeks is normal, according to company president Dennis Becker. About 100 clients have used the process so far.

Becker, whose company handles--without VR--conference coaching for the 160 presenters at Lotus Corp's January Lotusphere meeting (among other clients), says more VR programs are on the way. By the end of the year, VR that replicates boardroom situations--speaking in front of seven or eight people--should be available.