Sometimes coming in under budget isn't about cutting expenses, but about working smarter--by planning ahead, saving time and effort, or simply changing the way you do things. Here are 99 tips for doing just that.
Choosing the Right Site 1. Get the local convention and visitors bureau to do the legwork in setting up your site visit.
2. Use local destinations or smaller cities that can offer you more for your money.
3. Use a video camera to tape your site inspection. This will help you to remember the property.
4. Research your hotel suppliers. Is there any competition? How busy is the market? Are you in high, low, or mid-season? How many years has the supplier been in business?
5. Research the rack rates as well as group rates. Call the toll-free line or reservations desk of the property or chain. This way you will know the "worst case" pricing.
6. Always give conservative room blocks. If you block too many rooms, you will end up paying for them.
Smart Budgeting 7. Meet every day with your hotelier to review the master account. This will allow you to catch errors on site.
8. Communicate your budget information to the convention services manager. His or her role is to work with you.
9. Always budget at least 10 percent of your expenses as "contingency." This will take care of unforeseen costs such as
*extra postage and mailings
*phone and computer hookups
10. Ask for a cash discount for payment on site.
11. Limit authorized signatures, and don't accept charges signed by unauthorized people.
12. Learn the tax laws for both your business location and the location of your event. You could be eli- gible for tax breaks that you aren't claiming.
13. Know the value of your business. Keep a detailed history of all your events.
Do's and Don'ts 14. Negotiate sliding-scale rates with the hotel.
15. Negotiate no deposit--or at least that the deposit will be placed in an interest-bearing account.
16. Have several supplier options, and don't let any one supplier think he or she is your only choice.
17. Develop long-term relationships with properties and chains you use often. Negotiate volume discounts.
18. Prepare a detailed request for proposal. Communicate the value of your meeting.
19. Ask for everything and anything that you want right up front, including
*1:30 or 1:40 comp rates
*early check-in times
*late checkout times
*complimentary coffee and tea in the rooms
*complimentary meeting space, rehearsal space, setup/take-down
*no package-receiving charges,
*continental breakfast in the meeting room
*free local calls
*free office space
*free or reduced parking for VIPs and staff
*free foot massages for staff
*health club access or an aerobics instructor for a health break
*late cutoff dates
*reduced room rates for speakers
*reduced room rates for staff
*upgrades for VIPs and staff
*welcome gifts and notes
*a specific amount of electricity for your event to be underwritten by the venue
20. Add a clause in the hotel contract that states you will not pay the final invoice until you have received a detailed post-convention evaluation from the property.
21. Work with hotels to fill their "hot dates," or meeting space "holes." Though the low season seems to be getting shorter, try to schedule meetings in the least busy times of the year.
22. Be flexible with your arrivals and departures. Can you move from a Tuesday through Thursday to a Saturday through Monday meeting?
23. Build in a "protect yourself" clause. Make sure the cancellation clause is reciprocal. What if the hotel is undergoing major renovations during your event? Or if there's a change in management?
24. Build up your F&B totals with on-site meals and functions. Hotels will be more willing to negotiate.
25. Lock in the menu prices. If the hotel will not provide a specific menu in advance, at least agree that the menu prices will not increase more than a fixed percentage per year.
26. Never sign a contract unless you agree with it in its entirety. Cross out or edit clauses with which you do not agree, initial them, and get the supplier to initial his or her agreement.
27. Pay attention to cutoff dates. Keep in regular contact with suppliers even after the contract is signed. Watch the business climate in that city/region.
28. Cash in your comp rooms for suites first, which are more valuable.
29. Work with national sales offices to set up site visits.
Save on Staffing 30. Hire on-site registration and secretarial staff instead of paying staff to travel.
31. Know local overtime restrictions and regulations.
32. Schedule staff at straight time to avoid overtime.
33. Pay staff travel per diem. Outline exactly what they're allowed to spend on meals and transportation.
F&B Tips 34. Deal with the chef directly. Challenge him or her to work with your meeting's goals and concept. The chef will know what is in season and what is grown or produced locally, and can be very creative if given the opportunity.
35. Buy your coffee, tea, and decaf in bulk or by the gallon, if possible.
36. Order as much as possible "by consumption." Uneaten food and drink can be returned and not charged. This works well with soda and packaged foods like potato chips, but can also be done with perishables.
37. Re-use food if possible. Wrap uneaten danishes and doughnuts from the coffee break and provide them at lunch with the dessert options.
38. Instead of a hot breakfast, serve an extended continental breakfast by adding fresh fruit, yogurt, and cereal to the regular offerings.
39. Cut down on portions. Cut danishes and doughnuts in half. Offer mini-pastries.
40. Use sit-down meals, which can cut food preparation labor costs as much as 20 percent.
41. Skip the dessert, salad, or soup. Dessert can be served at breaks.
42. Distribute portable box lunches instead of holding a formal sit-down lunch.
43. Ask the sales office which other groups are using the hotel at the same time. You may be able to have the same menu, thereby gaining economies of scale that can be passed on in cost savings to you.
44. Place expensive food items in harder-to-reach places on the banquet table.
45. Try staffed food stations, such as stir-fry stations and pasta tables.
46. Avoid shrimp, oysters, and other expensive delicacies.
47. Compare a la carte vs. per-person pricing on a spreadsheet.
48. Find a local winery or microbrewery to sponsor your liquor costs.
49. If you are able to, buy soft drinks and liquor in bulk and have your staff serve it. Sometimes hotels will waive their "must use our banquet services" clauses for small hospitality suite functions.
50. Cut cocktail hours short by 15 minutes.
51. Use a controlled-pour system. Make sure the bartenders measure what they pour: If you are being charged by the drink served, you may find a "liberal ice" policy and weaker drinks in general. If you are charged by the bottle, the mixed drinks may be too strong.
52. Eliminate alcohol altogether. Or eliminate the hard liquor and mixed drinks. Serve only soft drinks, bottled mineral water, juices, beer, and wine.
53. Ask the hotelier if a discontinued wine label is available that can be consumed at a reduced rate.
Room Setup Savings 54. Find out which groups are in the hotel just prior to and following your meeting, and work together on your staging requirements. This will save money for setup and teardown.
55. If your meeting lasts more than two days, keep the meeting room setup identical.
56. Use skirted tables instead of renting secretarial desks for on-site offices.
57. Reduce the number of breakout rooms needed, saving audiovisual and setup costs.
58. Use the same room with two setups. For example, use the room classroom-style for the course, and banquet-style for serving lunch. Put up screens or use plants to divide the space.
Inexpensive Speakers 59. Use industry experts as speakers. Book local speakers or entertainers to save on travel expenses.
60. Hire now. Speakers and entertainers often raise their rates every year. Lock in at this year's rates.
61. Negotiate a flat rate instead of fee plus expenses.
62. Piggyback speakers and entertainers with other groups in the same hotel or same city.
63. Use versatile acts in more than one event.
64. Understand union rules and hire the minimum number of musicians required.
65. See the talent in action and check references.
Transportation Tips 66. Analyze the cost savings of airfare requiring a Saturday-night stay. It may not be cheaper than paying for the extra room night plus an applicable per diem.
67. Instead of "meet and greet" services, distribute vouchers for airport shuttles and/or fare for public buses or subways.
68. While negotiating for your hotel or resort, request complimentary limousine service for VIPs to and from the hotel. Also, inquire about reserved and complimentary parking for them.
69. Ask that your special-needs guests and staff members be given reserved parking spaces close to the entrance to the hotel
70. Transport delegates within a four- to eight-hour window to cut back on bus transfer costs.
71. Ask for free drink coupons on airline flights.
72. Ask for additional frequent-flyer points from your official air-carrier.
73. Ask the local taxi company for discount coupons for local shows, restaurants, and sight-seeing attractions.
74. Use the air-carrier's VIP lounge for the group's meet and greet.
75. Travel during off-peak hours (early morning or late evening).
76. Ask hotels whether they provide a complimentary airport-shuttle service, and book with those that do.
AV Answers 77. Work with your AV company on the cheapest way to set up.
78. Use cocktail rounds instead of renting overhead carts.
79. Buy a TV and give it away later as a door prize instead of racking up several days of rental costs.
80. Use a slide projector with color gels for a spotlight.
81. Use as few microphones as possible. This will eliminate labor and the need for sound-mixing equipment.
82. Ask for one complimentary microphone per room.
83. Ask for complimentary two-way radios when negotiating your AV contract.
84. Rent only the size screen that you need. Work with your AV person to determine the minimum size for room and setup requirements.
85. Use LCD panels instead of video projectors--and consider buy- ing your own.
86. Don't arbitrarily put AV in every meeting room. Ask your speakers and moderators whether they'll need it first.
87. If you can, bid AV services to local contractors outside the property. Their services may be cheaper, and the competition may drive the in-house operator to lower its prices.
88. Consider renting a needed VCR from a local video store.
89. Deal directly with the AV company. It minimizes miscommunications and middleman charges.
90. If you need AV for more than one day, negotiate a reduced rental.
91. Travel with your own extension cords and surge protectors. They cost a fortune if you need them on the spur of the moment.
92. Have your audiotaping company record your meeting at no charge.
93. Limit wireless microphones by opting, instead, for handheld microphones with long cords.
94. Limit PowerPoint presentations. The LCD screen rentals can be expensive.
95. Order one microphone to be shared by two panelists at a table.
96. Don't order draping for screens; no one will notice.
97. When you expect to have extensive AV requirements, book a conference center, most of which include equipment in the cost.
98. Use your hotel's closed- circuit television capabilities to post the program and program changes, room assignments, exhibit hours, announcements, and activities.
99. Just before the meeting, reconfirm your speakers' AV needs. Presenters may have originally requested equipment they no longer plan to use. *
Case Study MEDICAL EMERGENCIES: Better Safe Than Sorry When a medical emergency happens at your meeting, forethought and planning can mean the difference between life and death.
"We're not asking planners to be paramedics, but they need to be the eyes and hands in an emergency situation," asserts Richard Obertots of SafeMeetings, Warren, Ohio, a medical emergency provider for meeting planners and facilities (www.safemeetings.com). Being a planner is not just about creating "nice place settings," he says. "A planner can save an attendee's life."
Planners might want to start by preparing to deal with cardiac arrest, since this crisis is the most likely medical emergency to occur, according to Obertots. And with 600 Americans dying from cardiac arrest daily, it is also the most likely to be deadly. But with new and affordable portable devices called automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, someone with moderate training can administer potentially life-saving electroshocks to a heart attack victim. The resuscitation rate is 90 percent when the victim receives the shock within a minute. It falls to less than 5 percent after 10 minutes.
"These things definitely work," says Greg Foreman, director of security for the 1.1-million-square-foot Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla., which has two AED devices on the property--and they've been used successfully at the facility on two occasions.
Ahead of the curve, OCCC purchased the units three years ago from the Orange County Fire Department at about $1,700 each, and the plan is to buy several more when a 1.2-million-square-foot expansion at OCCC is complete.
(In May President Clinton directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to devise guidelines for putting AEDs in all federal buildings; he is pushing legislation that would grant legal immunity to good Samaritans who use AEDs in public or private buildings; and he has proposed a new rule that would require all commercial aircraft with at least one flight attendant on board to include AEDs in their medical kits.)
Right now, there is no central database of AED-equipped venues, which Obertots has dubbed CardioReady destinations. But he is planning to launch an Internet registry of such properties this fall. He signed a letter of intent with PlanSoft (www.plansoft.com), a Web site providing site selection and meeting planning tools. Obertots says the alliance would give SafeMeetings a ready-made database of thousands of properties, and in turn would give PlanSoft relevant content in the field of emergency preparedness.
Playing It Safe There's more to safe meetings than just having an AED on hand, of course. Evaluating a facility's ability to handle an emergency should begin at the point of contact with the property in the RFP and pre-con stages, Obertots explains. "The first thing a meeting planner should do is to ask clearly whether the property has a commitment to safety and a program to support it. Ask specifically what it is and the history. Ask about the ratio of the staff trained in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED. Get a sense of the commitment, then get the evidence."
When a planner decides on a venue, the next and probably most critical step is to learn the site-specific number that activates the property's emergency response. "And don't bury it on page 40 of the brochure," Obertots says. "The main problem is that every venue has a different emergency number and it's not 911. I always ask planners in my seminars to make a pledge that if they remember nothing else, remember how to activate emergency help at their particular venue."
Site inspections are good opportunities to test a facility's commitment to safety, Obertots continues. Ask random staff questions like, "What should I do if someone is having a heart attack?" or "What number do I call on the house phone to get emergency medical help?"
Moreover, the least amount of training that planners and their staff should receive is the Heart Saver course, CPR, and AED instruction, according to Obertots. Each of these emphasizes the all-important issue of rapid, early access to emergency services. "These courses help you to first recognize there's a problem when you see someone stumbling and sweating," he says, "and then to activate emergency services, which is so very critical--I can't stress that enough."
Another important standard planners can impart to the staff is to make regular bathroom checks during an event. "The bathroom is the first place sick people will go, and they might collapse in there," Obertots says. "Make these visits part of your walking protocol."
Lastly, he recommends that planners take every opportunity to give emergency information to attendees. Begin with safety information in pre-meeting packets sent out months before the event, and include the venue's emergency number, whether AED devices are on site and their locations, the staff's level of training, and information about local hospitals. When the registration period is complete, Obertots says meeting planners can reinforce the point by sending a separate e-mail to registrants detailing emergency situations that can arise and how the planning staff is prepared for them."The biggest problem I see is that this information is usually buried in a brochure."
But don't stop there. At the event, Obertots suggests planners keep safety high in the minds of attendees at every opportunity in a variety of ways. For instance, during the meeting, session facilitators can make safety part of their "housekeeping announcements" routine when introducing speakers: Also, give give directions for accessing the property's emergency personnel.