The bad news: your company doesn’t employ a full-time meeting planner, so you’ve been tapped to arrange a huge corporate meeting, fundraiser, outing or other event. The good news: experts are at your service, often at the facilities you’ll consider to host your event. Add to that the fact that maybe you can recruit a committee on your end to help you cover your bases, and things are starting to look up.

Now for those bases Julie Clayton, director of sales at the Newport Aquarium, advises starting with a budget and knowing the goal of the meeting. “Is it meant to be motivational or for learning?” she says. “Is it a celebration, something fun and exciting? Everything falls from that.”

“From our perspective, the very first thing we do in the pre-planning meeting is ask what’s the meeting objective, what are you trying to achieve,” echoes Mark Wallisa, general manager of the NKU METS Center. “Sometimes they have a clear idea and sometimes not.”

That’s when the experienced meeting hosts can help the clients, by asking all the questions both parties will have to be able to answer in order to have a successful meeting.
 

WHERE TO?

Armed with a budget and a clear idea of the purpose of your meeting, you can shop for the venue and gather proposals. To get the best idea of a space and how well it will lend itself to an event’s size and tone, Marsha Burton recommends touring it first.

“It can be hard to visualize a space” without a tour, says Burton, director of sales and marketing for the Oasis Conference Center in Loveland. Touring also provides a good chance to ask about catering (in-house or out), break-time features (i.e. shark-petting at the aquarium) and the facilities’ all-important technological capabilities.

“Certainly AV is one of those expenses that can be the unknown,” Burton says.

Find out in advance what the facilities include in their packages and pricing, from having a wireless environment to having enough microphones, podiums, teleconferencing, webcasting or podcasting abilities — which brings us back to the original idea of your needing to know specifics of the meeting from the outset.

WHAT WILL YOUR SPEAKERS NEED?

Meeting organizers sometimes make the mistake of not asking their speakers beforehand about their presentations and what they’ll need, Clayton says.

For example, many times people will say their speaker needs to do a PowerPoint presentation and not realize he also needs a flip chart and markers, Clayton says. Last-minute scrambling to get what the speaker needs “can really hold up the timing of the meeting.”

Similarly, meeting organizers should consider such details as whether they’ll need a coat check room and a registration table. Fortunately, many of the facilities’ staffs have checklists or enough experience hosting meetings to know what to anticipate that will help fill in any gaps on their clients’ preparation work.

“We host so many of these events that we can help think of things they haven’t thought of,” such as whether the client will need to have marketing materials shipped in and placed in the room for attendees, Wallisa says.

This means that covering all the bases are handled a little differently, depending upon the facility.

“Once an event is booked and ready to happen, I have a pre-conference with the contact about one to two weeks before the event to go over agendas and lighting and AV, and make sure everything’s covered,” Burton says. “I include our key management team so everyone knows things like when the contact wants the food served.”

For yearly events that the Oasis hosts, Burton also likes to hold post-conferences to learn what worked well and what didn’t in preparation for the next year.

NKU METS Center staff will even help clients prepare their meeting agendas, which helps ensure the flow of meetings and helps the client achieve its objective for the event, Wallisa says. “Because our technology is truly state-of-the-art, we can make meetings and presentations more effective.”

Receptions, with its multiple locations, even offers clients a way to discreetly get in touch with the staff during events, says Lara Korbee, Receptions marketing manager. Clients are given a cordless phone on which they can call for anything they need without disrupting the event.


HOW SHOULD THE SPACE BE SET UP?

Most facilities offer different ways to set up a room, and here again it’s vital to know how the speakers plan to get their message across, Clayton says.

For instance, if you have round tables and a speaker who will stay stationary at a podium, some attendees will have to turn their chairs around to see and not have anything on which to write. But if the speaker plans to walk around the room, that set-up may work fine.
If the event is to have a theme, facilities can oblige, but planners should avoid “over-theming,” especially when it comes to the food, Burton cautions.

“Themes are helpful and can tie into the food choices and decorations of the room,” he says. “Over-theming the food can be to a group’s detriment — you want to offer options so no one goes home hungry.”


WHAT ELSE?

Other considerations when selecting a facility to hold your event is how convenient the location is to local attendees and to those attendees who will fly in, Wallisa adds.

Every facility offers unique features, from nice views to break-time snacks and novel amusements, so be sure to ask about those when considering which venue will best fit your event.

“No one else can have a penguin come into a meeting,” Clayton says of one attraction the aquarium can arrange. 

A BIG Event: Tn Inside Look
The Savannah Center staff irons out all the details with members of the Butler County Republican Party.
On a blustery day in January, selected members of the Butler County Republican Party met with the Savannah Center’s event planners to plan a May event. And not just any event, it is their biggest fundraiser of the year: The Butler County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner.
The Savannah Center in West Chester is a full-service facility, providing everything from mounted iPod docking stations and plasma TVs to valet parking and enough spaces for 700 cars. The Savannah Center also operates solely on green technology, making it a truly unique destination for a party or big event.
Tom Ellis, executive chairman for the Butler County Republican Party, says they moved their event to the Savannah Center because they were looking for a one-of-a-kind space. “We want this to be a fun party, a real event to get people excited and talking,” he explains.
They have rented out the entire facility for the event and expect 1,200 people for a sit-down, plated dinner. This is the largest plated dinner that the newly opened Savannah Center has done so far. In addition to the dinner, there will also be a cocktail reception, an awards ceremony, a silent auction, entertainment and dancing.
A menu has been pre-determined, and now it’s time for the taste test. Chef Henry Warman has prepared multiple courses sure to whet anyone’s palate including crab cakes, filet mignon, and a delicious fruit parfait for dessert. Every one is impressed with the dishes and can’t wait for the 1,200 guests to enjoy them.
In addition to providing parking and planning a meal to feed so many people, the staff also helps coordinate security for the Republican Party’s surprise guest speaker. According to Event Manager Mary Burns, “We will be working closely with the Secret Service and the West Chester Police Department to provide traffic coverage and protection inside the Savannah Center.”

With so many pieces to the puzzle, it’s enough to make anyone a little rattled. But Burns isn’t worried; she says preparation is key to an event of this size, and the Savannah Center is prepared.
— Amy Hattersley