A meeting for five to 100 people takes just as much time and effort as planning for thousands. But the little touches that may go unnoticed by a large group are readily appreciated by a smaller group. Since a minor mistake can become a major problem, it is important to be precise in all of your planning.
Often the success of a meeting will relate directly to where it is being held. Of course, all of us have our own style and preferences, and we all want to satisfy the specific needs of our individual groups. Yet some things are basic to every meeting.
When choosing a date for the meeting, check school holidays locally and in your proposed meeting location. For example, spring break is a bad time to consider a beach resort. Also, find out when religious holidays fall. After you have chosen your ideal dates, consider the geographic location that works best for your attendees.
For a two- to three-day event, look for facilities close to the airport or office, ideally no more than two hours away. No attendee appreciates spending much of the first day traveling, possibly arriving tired or hassled, then anticipating the same return trip on the last day of the meeting.
For an all-day meeting, don't choose a resort. It is very frustrating to see a wonderful golf course, beach, or spa yet know you will never get to enjoy them.
On the other hand, if you want your attendees to spend time together at play, a downtown hotel may not be the wisest choice. Decide how the time will be spent, then determine the type of facility to match your needs.
Check out the names of conference centers, resorts, and hotels in the area. Each facility will have its own characteristics, but all will be able to provide for your basic needs. Some can provide recreational activities and party settings on site, or the staff may be able to help find other facilities available to your group.
Is the site easily accessible by car or plane? Is the location affected by the weather at the time you have chosen?
Call each place and make a list of the amenities, availability of dates, room rates, and general information. Just by looking at the list and matching it to your needs, you can easily choose the right site for your meeting.
Negotiate for some additions to your event, if possible. Ask if the facility will give you a complimentary guest or hospitality room based on the total number of rooms you book. Some facilities will negotiate their listed prices if you book during a particular time or on special days of the week. You may want to change your dates to get those favorable rates. If they cannot change their room rates, they may be able to arrange for other things at a reduced rate or even free — such as airport transportation, an upgraded menu, better rooms, gifts for each attendee, or even cocktail parties (usually the food, not the liquor).
Have an accurate list of all extra charges as part of your negotiations, such as your meeting room, audiovisual, bellmen, housekeepers, service charges, taxes, parking, etc.
Plan a site inspection to give you a feeling for the facility and its staff. It is always a good idea to look the place over yourself. If that is difficult, ask for the names of some of their most recent clients and check out with those references all the things you would see if you could be there in person. Be sure and ask about the little things. As I mentioned, they really make a difference to a small group.
First impressions count. During your pre-event visit, keep your eyes open. Does it look the way it did in the brochure? Are the grounds neat? Were the directions correct? Do the front-desk personnel, waiters, housekeepers, etc., smile and greet you? Are the public rest rooms clean? Are the sales andpeople organized and ready to visit with you?
These things can tell you how well the staff is trained to serve you when you arrive for the actual meeting. Look at the sleeping and meeting rooms you will be using. Make sure they show you the ones you will really be using, not just an example of similar rooms!
Work with only one person as your contact, if possible. If you will be working with more than one person, ask that they all meet with you at the same time. Make detailed notes of everything you have discussed and send a copy to every person you will be working with. Try to do it as soon as you return to the office and before they have filled out any.
When you receive the, make sure all arrangements match what you have planned. Find out about check-in and check-out times. Are they flexible? Do they match your travel plans? Can they make rooms available for early arrivals? What rate will they quote for those coming a day early or staying later?
Ask about any dress codes or requirements. I remember a meeting when the men were required to wear a jacket for breakfast! Request brochures with pictures to send to all your attendees so they will know the ambience of the facility. It can also heighten the anticipation for the event.
Establish final dates for guarantees of rooms and meal functions.
Finally, ask about billing procedures — Can you pay by check or credit card? Will they bill you later? How much later? What goes on the master account? Can they give you copies of the daily charges for each event? Be sure to provide the facility with a written list of those who are authorized to charge on the master account.
Leslie Schultz founded Garrett Creek Ranch in Paradise, Texas, a leading conference center for small meetings of up to 100 guests, 20 years ago. Now owned by Leslie's daughter, the Ranch is located less than one hour from Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport.