Personnel costs can gobble up your meeting budget in a hurry. Here are suggestions for keeping those costs from limiting under control.

Staff and Volunteers

  • Use volunteers. You can find outstanding workers among your organization's retired personnel, and from students from the local meeting planning/hotel management/tourism programs.

  • Never mix paid staff and volunteers in the same roles.

  • Keep the volunteers busy with varied work and blocks of time — not all day!

  • Give guidelines and a thorough, but fun, briefing to volunteers. Treat them like staff. They will be on the front line and must be well-informed.

  • Motivate volunteers by giving them a sense of accomplishment, recognition for their contributions, and clear direction of their responsibilities, and make the best use of their talents. Always thank them in a consistent, public, and visible way.

  • One of the best ways to maximize volunteers is to figure out “what's in it for them.” Someone with a personal agenda will be most motivated. Assign a student who wants to meet influential speakers to assist the host of a hospitality suite or to run the slide previewing room. Ask a retired person who wants to stay current in the latest works of the organization to be an AV monitor and evaluation form collector in a session room.

  • Prior to assigning roles, give your volunteers a major group task, such as stuffing the registration packages. This will enable you to see who is the natural leader, who is good with details, who is artistic, and who is good with people. Try to assign tasks according to people's experience and skills, but also according to their personalities.

  • Give your staff and volunteers time to be properly fed and refreshed. Provide enough people at the registration table to allow for short breaks and, if it is a conference that lasts several days, try to provide enough time for sufficient sleep. Do not assume that everyone is a meeting pro like you.

  • Hire on-site registration and secretarial staff instead of paying staff to travel.

  • Know local overtime restrictions and regulations.

  • Schedule staff at straight time. Avoid overtime.

  • Pay travel per diem, and outline exact expenses and rules.

  • Use staff or students to take candid photos.

  • Double-up staff bedrooms in suites.

Speakers, Entertainment, and Programming

  • Use experts who are members as speakers. Book local speakers to save on travel expenses and avoid travel delays.

  • Hire now. Speakers and entertainers often raise their rates every year. Lock in at this year's rates.

  • Use your speakers for multiple events — as a moderator, a speaker, or as a chairperson of a session. Use your entertainers for multiple events, too.

  • Always ask, “Could we do it differently?” Make the meeting memorable. Have historians do a campfire talk; give board members and VIPs stamped postcards to send to their families. Sometimes small expenses make an event more special.

  • Negotiate a flat rate instead of fee plus expenses. Make sure the rate includes per diems and hotels.

  • Know the rehearsal schedule for your event. If a musical group needs the concert area for a sound check in the afternoon, it could limit the hotel's ability to sell the space for dinner that night, which might carry additional costs.

  • Use versatile acts in more than one event to save on travel expenses.

  • Ask other groups in the area if they would like to share your entertainment or speakers. The other group may pick up the cost of the suite and per diem for some of the time the speaker is at the site.

  • Understand union rules; hire the minimum number of musicians required.