Helping Hands for Meeting Planners

Who can you rely on to make your meeting go as planned?

The food. The meeting rooms. The seminars. The keynote speakers. The after party. Planning a meeting or convention for a large group of professionals can begin to feel like an endless series of decisions and a to-do list that goes on for miles. But association meeting planners don’t have to go it alone. There’s an entire industry of pros out there ready to make things go more smoothly. Here’s who to tap for a helping hand.

Your board of directors. It may feel counter-intuitive to get more cooks in the kitchen when it comes to deciding on a city and venue for the association’s next event, but board members can be a big help. Board members often can assist in lining up venues and connecting planners with key contacts in their hometowns. Just make sure their involvement doesn’t interfere with the bidding process and that everyone is transparent to avoid conflicts of interest. The board will likely want to vote on site selection and can help build buy-in on the selection with association members.

Sales managers. Likely the first contact with a venue, this individual prepares the proposal and books the event. When working with a group of properties, such as MGM Resorts, meeting planners can get several options from one source. An MGM Resorts sales manager can provide details on varied venues, ranging from the sophisticated European-inspired Bellagio to the wellness-focused MGM Grand. “When it comes to the booking process, I have found the contracting with MGM Resorts properties, especially in the last five to six years, has been much easier than the reputation that Vegas traditionally has for contracting,” said James Goodman, Managing VP of Meetings and Conferences for the American Dental Association. “[MGM Resorts are] more open to contract clause changes and more open to legal changes. Frequently, Vegas had a kind of take-it-or-leave-it attitude. MGM Resorts International has led the way in changing that perception and reality.”

[quote_meet]Meg Leighton, our Convention Services Manager at Mandalay Bay, is absolutely amazing. She has the spirit of: I care about you, and I want you to be successful. She takes a personal interest in you, and that creates a win-win situation. Especially in Las Vegas, if you don’t want the time slot or you don’t want the space or you don’t want to sign the contract, there are six people behind you waiting to do it. So to have someone you feel you’ve connected with over time … it’s a great feeling. — Brandon Hensley, COO, Sales & Marketing, International Sign Association[/quote_meet]

Convention services managers. Depending on the size of the meeting, a CSM may work alone or in conjunction with a catering manager. This is the go-to person who pulls together the meeting requirements and ensures all the details are tended to. The CSM will assist with custom event design, entertainment, meeting and expo displays, banquet requirements, audio-visual needs and more, depending on the complexity of the meeting. The CSM is essentially a meeting planner’s right arm. “Anywhere we take the show, you have to have a really good relationship and give-and-take and a team environment to be able to come up with innovative ideas to allow your exhibitors to show their product,” said Brandon Hensley, COO, Sales and Marketing for the International Sign Association, who has booked biannual conventions at Mandalay Bay through 2020.

On-site concierge staff. The Technology Services Industry Association’s three-day Technology Services World convention is held twice a year and includes 1,000 executives from 22 countries attending general and breakout sessions, a 50-plus exhibitor tradeshow, awards presentations and keynote addresses. For a complicated event like this, having on-call help is vital for the meeting planner. “At ARIA, they have individuals they call convention concierges, and these are gentlemen and ladies who are available and visible throughout the day at your event,” said Tom Anderson, CMP, Director of Conferences and Events for TSIA. “They always come in and check in with you, make sure you have their contact information and then ask you several times during the day if there’s anything you need. There’s always somebody available, and I think that’s a nice touch.”

Event attendees. They’re coming to learn and enjoy the experience, so how can they help meeting planners? During content creation, why not crowdsource ideas from them about what they want to learn about during the conference? Free or low-cost online platforms like All Our Ideas or SurveyMonkey make it easy to poll a large group and vote on potential topics. Plus, attendees will be more engaged if they take part in decision-making. Post-event, study attendee feedback forms for themes on what they’d like to see in future years.

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