SITE SELECTION FOR SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS

It's not who you know, it's where you GO! Today's numerous meetings are held for a multitude of reasons, including: education, training, sales, team building, new product introduction and reorganization. Since the success of these meetings in significantly affected by their environment, it is crucial to give careful consideration to the selection of your meeting site.

In the initial planning phase, it is important that you understand the objectives of your meeting and your desired end result. This, coupled with knowledge of the demographics of your prospective audience (such as: gender, age, interests, and socioeconomic levels), will provide you with the solid foundation required for planning any successful event. Once you've determined your objectives and audience, you must then understand the content and format of your program. It is all of these components which drive the selection of your meeting site.

Other major factors that influence site selection are: facility availability, quality of service, location, price, weather, and local attractions. The most frequently used meeting venues include: convention and conference centers, private clubs, restaurants, university campuses, hotels, and resorts.

Where there are common elements found within every hotel, there are key attributes which differentiate hotels into roughly four different categories: downtown, suburban, airport, and resort. Downtown hotels are typically located near good restaurants, museums, art galleries and public transportation and offer many options for evening activities. Suburban hotels are an excellent choice for meetings focused on training or team building; they are ideal when you desire to keep everyone together in one place.

Also, if people are driving in, suburban properties are usually in a less congested area, making travel and parking easier for your attendees. Airport hotels are the logical selection when groups are flying in for one-day meetings. And lastly, resort hotels are great upscale venues for sales incentive meetings; in addition to their ample meeting space, hey offer many recreation activities.

Bottom line is that you must remain focused on your objectives when selecting a site for your meeting. It is imperative that you work with the strengthens of a property and not design a program which conflicts with those strengths.

Once a list of potential sites has been determined, the planner should arrange a site inspection of the various properties. To ensure the success of your next event, key factors whcih must be thoroughly assessed before selecting a meeting site, are provided

below.

Meeting Space: Determine if the area can physically handle the size and flow of your meeting. Check for pillars (which don't appear on meeting room charts): ceiling heights (particularly if audiovisual equipment will be used); mirrors; black-out curtains;

sound-proofing; and temperature and lighting controls. Investigate what other groups and activities will be in the facility throughout the duration of your program. Anticipate any negative impact these groups might have on your event's agenda.

Equipment Check: Obtain a listing of the inventory, availability and condition of the facility's stock of tables, chairs, platforms, lecterns, flip charts, easels, and props. Inquire if there is a production company in-house, and if you are required to use them.

Food and Beverage: Secure copies of the most current menus and ask to review the food and beverage supplier's portfolio which will showcase their best event set-ups. Meet directly with the Executive Chef (a highly trained and often overlooked resource) and your Convention Services Manager, to design a customized menu that is within your budget. Review the property's collection of linens, china, glasses and flatware. Assess their suitability - quality and quantity.

Hotel Rooms: It is important to have a clear understanding of the hotel's room inventory, maximum group block allowed, and rate structure before negotiating your group's rate. This entails researching the published "rack rates" for standard rooms, concierge or business level and suite room rates, as well as corporate and government room rates. When visually assessing the guest rooms, look at their condition, cleanliness, and amenities (i.e. internet connections for laptops, daily newspapers, in-room coffee, irons, and hairdryers).

Hotel Services: Evaluate all of the services within the facility that may be utilized by your attendees: business centers, restaurants, room service, dry cleaning, health club, pool , etc. Research the associated costs for these services and whether or not there is a discounted rate for groups; consider negotiating some of these services into your contract.

In summary, these site selection guidelines have been provided to assist you in comprehensively planning for your next event. Other factors which need research include: exhibits, security, parking, and union labor requirements. While many considerations have been outlined, unique needs will arise. By concentrating on all of these combined details, the professional meeting planner is separated from the amateur, and a successful meeting is produced.

For more information on meeting planning, consider getting involved in your local chapter of Meeting Professionals International. Contact the MPI web site at www.mpiweb.org.

Frankie Hemphill is Manager of Customer Events for NCR Corp.

Julia Garlington is Meeting Manager for Concepts Meeting and Trade Show Management, Inc., on-site at NCR Corp.

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