Location, location, location.

The mantra of Realtors everywhere also applies to  those who are planning a corporate meeting, especially if you're arranging a business event for the first time.

Think about this: If your boss suddenly asked you today to plan a corporate retreat, organize an outing, or schedule a banquet, would you know what to do? What steps to take, and in what particular order?

Choosing the site is your top priority, say local meeting planners and the managers of venues ranging from large suburban hotels to downtown museums and park pavilions.

"The most important thing is picking is the location," suggests Will Greiner, director of the Sharonville Convention Center and a former meeting planner with a dozen years of experience. "There are several factors that should be considered. Obviously, it has to be convenient for the attendees. The type and quality of the facility should be conducive to the type and quality of the event, because the facility not only needs to meet the requirements of the activities, but it is a reflection of the event," he says.

"The first thing to decide is, what kind of meeting is it?" notes Scott Mescher, manager of Drees Pavilion in Covington's Devou Park. "Is it an all-day meeting, or a dinner meeting, or what?"

Mescher says each facility is unique, so have an idea in mind about what you want to accomplish with your event. If you are looking for flexibility in the space, consider a venue such as the Drees Pavilion, which offers indoor facilities as well as an outdoor terrace and a park setting, plus a skyline view.

"They first need to know what kind of meeting their boss wants booked," says Carol Cooper, sales and marketing director at the new Sheraton Cincinnati North in Sharonville. "It makes a big difference whether it's an annual sales meeting or something else. ... Do you need a full-service hotel, or is a limited service hotel"”with no food and beverage outlets"”OK?"

Of course, once the big decisions have been made, there will inevitably be a series of small decisions to contend with, says Greiner and the others. "There are myriad details, including costs, amenities, accessibility, meeting room sizes, ceiling heights, proximities to other meeting rooms, types of air walls, sound and lighting, food and beverage, types of tables, chairs and other equipment, in-house services, other events taking place in the facility, adequate parking" and so on.

What's critical in this detail stage? Being able to work with someone you believe you can trust, to help you avoid pitfalls. For instance, at the Sharonville Convention Center, "Some of the common mistakes people make, we tried to plan for when planning this facility," says Greiner.
"The key is, if you are someone who has been given no direction, then we can help," says Cooper. "The hotel understands what's needed. That's what we are here for, that's how we book business. By being your expert."

What else should first-timers know? You can avoid some common missteps"”whether you are planning a convention, trade show, business meeting, consumer show, cocktail reception or other banquet"”by checking off the following:

"¢KNOWING SPECIFICS BEFORE YOU PLACE THE INITIAL CALL: "You should know what kind of presentation you want. The number of people. The room set-up you want," says Mescher of Drees Pavilion about that vital first contact with a venue. "Once you know this, you can begin the process of researching." Shawnda Krohn, Event Director at the downtown National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, agrees. "Do you have a date and time in mind?  Weeknight versus weekend?  Are you wanting to host an all-day event with breakfast, lunch, a general session and break-out rooms?" asks Krohn, who doesn't hesitate to point out her facility offers rooms with a spectacular view overlooking the Ohio River. "And, is there a particular theme you wish to carry throughout?"

"¢RESEARCH THE PAST: If the event has been held before, if someone else has organized this in the recent past, be sure to benefit by their experience. "Find out if there is any history," urges the Sheraton's Cooper. "If it was done in Columbus at the Hilton last year, you can get the paperwork and the details on the meeting."

"¢CONTACT LOCAL CVBs: CVB stands for Convention & Visitors Bureau, and there are a number of Tristate CVBs ready to assist. What's more, the help is free. "As a planner, you want to maximize your resources. When looking at a destination for your meeting, work through that city's CVB," suggests Sandy Clore, Director of Convention Services at the Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau. "CVBs are designed with the meeting planner in mind and are a one-stop shop for all of your needs. A CVB can put you in touch with the right people and will assist your efforts toward a successful conference/meeting." Some helpful web sites include: Greater Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.cincyusa.com), Northern Cincinnati Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.cincynorth.com), Clermont County Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.visitclermontohio.com), Greater Hamilton Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.hamilton-cvb.com), Oxford Visitors & Convention Bureau (www.enjoyoxford.org), Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.ohio4fun.org), and the Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.staynky.com).

"¢REMEMBER, THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS: "There are a lot of things that can be overlooked," observes Greiner. "Some of the more common ones we see are not fully understanding how sitting in a room for eight hours can affect retentiveness, and things that can be done to improve attentiveness." Other common oversights: not preparing for increased attendance, not planning enough time for set up and tear down, setting rooms improperly (that is, classroom settings do not work well with group discussions), cutting corners on presentation quality, and not adding the small touches that can have large impacts. "Our meeting rooms are close together," Greiner points out. "They have good sound barriers, ceiling heights, lighting and colors. We offer such amenities as high-speed Internet access by cable, telephone lines, and recording and playback capabilities in every room. Our exhibition hall is column-free, has drive-in capability, and the utilities are easily accessible."

"¢THINK ABOUT TRANSPORTATION: For instance, parking. "Make it easy for your co-workers to attend. Choose a convenient location with easy parking," stresses Marilyn Maxwell, special events manager at the Cincinnati Art Museum (where 300 small corporate meetings, business breakfasts and company holiday parties are held each year). "We provide 1,000 free parking spaces on site," adds Greiner of the Sharonville Convention Center. And at the Freedom Center, Krohn says she can easily arrange valet parking.

"¢TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE INTERNET: Many facilities offer online, "virtual" tours, observes the Sheraton's Cooper.
Finally, as you approach D-Day, the experts say make a last-minute checklist:

"Audio visual is very important," notes Mescher, saying it's a good idea to run through the entire AV presentation, even if you are not the person assigned to prepare it. The boss has trusted you to make sure the entire day, or evening, runs smoothly.
"And make SURE the head count is correct."

Finally, consider a new trend in the meeting and convention center industry: one-stop shopping.

"One of the things we do is, we have added a position called a 'one-call sales manager'," notes the Sheraton's Cooper. "It's very common for a corporation in Cincinnati to call and say, 'Help!, we need a meeting next week'." With one call, the sales manager answers questions and handles all the issues: establishing menus, booking hotel rooms and meeting space, setting up AV connections and the like.
Keep the big picture in mind. "I've always said that when a person leaves the event, they should feel good without particularly knowing why," concludes Greiner. "It's a combination of many things that were done right that make the event successful. You don't have to spend a lot of money to do things correctly. Just keep in mind, the event should be remembered long after the price is forgotten."