Sometimes coming in under budget isn't about cutting expenses, but about working smarter. Put your meeting under a microscope, with an eye toward cutting anything not directly adding value to the content or the experience. Here are 70 tips for doing just that.

Choose 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 camera to record your site inspection. This will help you to remember details of the property.

4| Research your hotel suppliers. Is there any competition? How busy is the market? Are you in high, low, or midseason? How many years has the supplier been in business?

5| Research the rack rates, as well as group rates. Check the property's Web site for pricing. 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.

7| Consider cruising. A cruise meeting offers budget controls similar to an all-inclusive property, and you can have an international experience while paying in U.S. dollars. It's a great fit for meetings that include spouses and families.

Smart Budgeting

8| Get all the charges listed in writing up front, and then add a “no additional charges” clause. These charges may include:

  • tips and service charges

  • labor charges (including minimum hours and minimum rates)

  • move-in/move-out charges and setup charges

  • microphones, electricity, and phone hookups

  • risers and easels

  • tables, chairs, couches, and linen charges.

9| Meet every day with your hotelier to review the master account. This will allow you to catch errors on-site.

10| Communicate your budget information to the convention services manager. His or her role is to work with you.

11| Always budget at least 10 percent of your expenses as “contingency.” This will take care of unforeseen costs such as:

  • labor strikes
  • bad weather
  • overtime
  • phone, Internet and computer hookups
  • cancellation insurance
  • speaker substitutions.

12| Ask for a cash discount for payment on-site.

13| Limit authorized signatures, and don't accept charges signed by unauthorized people.

14| Learn the tax laws for both your business location and the location of your event. You could be eligible for tax breaks that you aren't claiming.

15| Know the value of your business. Keep a detailed history of all your events.

16| Guarantee exchange rates. Make deposits early for international meetings. That way, the budget won't be affected by inflation or currency fluctuations.

Contract Do's and Don'ts

NEGOTIATE SLIDING SCALE RATES. Negotiate a sliding scale in the contract so that the further out you cancel, the less you pay. You're giving the hotel more time to recoup its losses.

17| Negotiate no deposit — or at least that the deposit will be placed in an interest-bearing account.

18| Have several supplier options, and don't let any one supplier think he or she is your only choice.

19| Develop long-term relationships with properties and chains that you use often. Negotiate volume discounts.

20| Prepare a detailed request for proposal. Communicate the value of your meeting.

21| Ask up front for everything and anything that you want, including

  • 1:30 or 1:40 comp rates

  • airport transfers

  • 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

  • extended-stay rates

  • free office space

  • free or reduced parking for VIPs and 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

22| 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.

23| Work with hotels to fill their “hot dates,” or meeting space “holes.” Although the low season seems to be getting shorter, try to schedule meetings in the least busy times of the year.

24| Be flexible with your arrivals and departures.

25| 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 or ownership, or if the property goes into bankruptcy?

26| Build up your F&B totals with on-site meals and functions. Hotels will be more willing to negotiate.

27| 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.

28| 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.

29| Specify dates and times in your contract. (i.e., “The cutoff date for bedroom reservations is Saturday, June 26, 2010, at 5 p.m.” instead of “The cutoff date is 30 days prior to the meeting.”

30| 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.

F&B Tips

31| Be very tight with your F&B guarantees. Use your history, place conservative estimates, and track your attendees' preferences and patterns closely.

32| 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.

33| Buy your coffee, tea, and decaf in bulk or by the gallon, if at all possible.

34| Buy on consumption. Negotiate flat, per-person rates for things such as coffee breaks and bar tabs. If you do have leftovers, remember that they're yours. Ask for leftover breakfast items to be served at morning breaks and extra desserts to be served at evening gatherings.

35| Hotels typically have décor stored away; ask what's in the back room that can liven up your meeting or banquet at little or no cost.

36| Instead of hot breakfast, serve an extended continental breakfast by adding fresh fruit, yogurt, and cereal to the regular offerings.

37| Skip the dessert, salad, or soup. Dessert can be served at breaks.

38| Distribute box lunches instead of holding a formal sit-down lunch.

39| Ask 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.

40| Place expensive food items in harder-to-reach places on the banquet table.

41| Try staffed food stations, such as stir-fry stations and pasta tables.

42| Avoid shrimp, oysters, and other expensive delicacies.

43| Compare a la carte versus per-person pricing.

Room Setup Savings

44| Find out which groups are in the hotel immediately before and after your meeting and work together on staging requirements. This will save you money in labor for setup and teardown.

45| If a meeting lasts more than two days, keep the meeting room setup identical.

Inexpensive Speakers

46| Book local speakers or entertainers to save on travel expenses.

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

48| Negotiate a flat rate instead of fee plus expenses.

49| Piggyback speakers and entertainers with other groups in the same hotel or same city.

50| Use versatile acts in more than one event.

51| Understand union rules and hire the minimum number of musicians required.

52| See the talent in action and check references.

Transportation Tips

53| Analyze the cost savings of airfare requiring a Saturday-night stay. It might not be cheaper than paying for the extra room night plus applicable per diem.

54| Instead of “meet and greet” services, distribute vouchers for airport shuttles and/or fare for public buses or subways.

55| While negotiating for your hotel or resort, request complimentary limo service for VIPs to and from the hotel. Also inquire about reserved and complimentary parking.

56| Ask that your special guests and staff get reserved parking spaces close to the hotel entrance.

57| Travel during off-peak hours (early morning or late evening).

58| Ask hotels if they provide a complimentary airport-shuttle service and book with those that do.

AV Answers

59| Use as few microphones as possible. This will eliminate labor and the need for sound-mixing equipment.

60| Ask for one complimentary microphone per room.

61| Ask for complimentary two-way radios when negotiating your AV contract.

62| Rent only the size screen that you need. Work with your AV person to determine the minimum size for room and setup requirements.

63| Don't arbitrarily put AV in every room. Ask speakers and moderators what they will need first.

64| 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.

65| Deal directly with the AV company. It minimizes miscommunication, and the hotel won't charge you for middleman services.

66| If you need AV for more than one day, negotiate a reduced rental for additional days.

67| Travel with your own extension cords and surge protectors. They cost a fortune if you need them at the spur of the moment.

68| Don't order draping for screens; no one will notice.

69| Consider conference centers. They're a great option when you expect to have extensive AV requirements, as most equipment is included in the complete meeting package.

70| Just before the meeting, reconfirm the speakers' AV needs. Presenters may have originally requested equipment they no longer plan to use.