Meeting costs

Blow Up Your Budget

Don’t just look for way to cut costs; focus on maximizing the attendee experience.

Can you manage meeting costs and deliver big on a small budget? Martie Sparks, vice president of catering and convention services at Mandalay Bay, says it’s most important to know your attendees and what’s important to them.

“There is a lot of money spent on things that attendees don’t care about, so they won’t remember it when the show is over,” Sparks says. Although some expenses are necessary—food and beverage and audiovisual, for example—others are negotiable and can be a significant source of savings. Often, your venue contacts will have budget-friendly ideas, having worked with countless other groups also trying to cut costs.

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Directional signage is a common area of overspending. “Attendees do not need a sign every six feet telling them what direction to go,” Sparks says. Consider having staffers serve as signage. Added benefit: They can answer questions as well.

Chuck Carr, vice president of member services for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., says it’s important to understand what costs are somewhat fixed and which are somewhat variable. Also, determine which cost-saving measures will be felt by the attendee (e.g., eliminating a meal) versus those that won’t draw a lot of notice (e.g., reducing décor or signage).

Carr suggests budgeting to cover your needs first, and then adding your wants if money remains. “In the end,” he says, “a meeting is successful only when both the client and the center are pleased with the business.”

Cutting Edge

Strategies for delivering big on a small budget:

  • Select a general session speaker with a strong motivational message. This person could provide more value to your attendees than a top-dollar celebrity speaker, and at a fraction of the cost.
  • Offer premade sandwiches at a luncheon. This option is likely less expensive than a deli buffet, and the spread will likely look better than a buffet that’s been picked apart.
  • Determine what audiovisual you truly need—a significant expense. Providing one or two microphones on the dais is significantly less expensive than providing one for each of five speakers.


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