At the most fundamental level, return on investment, or ROI, starts with a good budget, one that takes into account the many nuances of the meeting, according to Bonnie Wallsh, chief solutions officer, Bonnie Wallsh Associates, Charlotte, N.C.

First, planners should know the objective of the meeting. “I look at this as the foundation of the building,” says Wallsh. Knowing what the organization and the participants want from the meeting helps to determine the destination, the program, and the cost.

Once that has been established, it's critical to assess the needs of the event, such as the amount of space required, the program and functions, and what days of the week the meeting will occur. All of these elements affect the budget.

Third, planners need to familiarize themselves with their attendees and their needs. Special requirements, such as dietary restrictions, can influence food and beverage costs. The locations from which the guests are can influence the location of the meeting and again, the cost.

After gathering this information, Wallsh says planners should begin to draft a “budget planner,” a spreadsheet that enables them to project expenditures and revenues. Consulting the meeting history, if one exists, is a good way to get a sense of the breakdown of costs associated with the event.

She then suggests compartmentalizing expenses into nine categories: sleeping rooms, transportation, F&B, audiovisual, printed materials, administration, recreation, speaker fees, and miscellaneous.

In each category, the budget planner should include three columns: one for projected costs, one for actual costs, and one to capture the variance. “It doesn't matter if you're off in any one of the categories, because what you're looking at is the bottom line,” she says. “What you need to do is document how you arrived at the projected figures.” Within each category, look for every possible associated expense, including all taxes, fees, service charges, gratuities, and incidentals.

If there is revenue, such as sponsorships, she suggests creating an income spreadsheet. Obviously, the exact figure won't be known until after the meeting.

Wallsh warns planners to always expect the unexpected. “I like to have a cushion of about 10 percent for unforeseen expenses,” she says.