Although CVB partners excel in handling many of the time consuming details of getting your meeting off the ground, there are some tasks and responsibilities that only the meeting planner and his or her staff can perform. In today’s “do more with less” environment, we wondered how some of the pros work more efficiently to save time and still produce the desired quality results.
In her 25 year career as a corporate and association meeting planner, Jennifer Johnson has developed a treasure trove of creative ways to deal with the logistical challenges that chip away at her time. Now owner of The Johnson Meetings Group, a small meetings and event company in Raleigh, NC, Jennifer knows that juggling the responsibilities and demands of several simultaneous programs requires experience, confidence, and a few ingenious time management tips. Jennifer cites the following five things that consume most of her time in producing a meeting:
- Getting everybody on the same page
- Confirming attendees
- Handling the volume of emails
- Dealing with constant changes
- Being in 6 places at once onsite
Creating an overarching communication plan with time lines is essential to keep everyone on the same page and to keep them accountable. Fluidity is key. “ Not even the Secret Service always runs on time,” Jennifer says, and notes not every task is crisis-worthy. So when it comes to task timelines, “hit the highlights and stay on top of those.” She often sets a premature “deadline” to avoid crunch time panic, and swears by keeping a chronological phone journal with brief notes about all conversations – a great reference tool when you have those “he said, she said” moments in the future.
Securing registrations for association meetings, or getting firm commitments from corporate meeting attendees, can be a huge challenge. In the association world, it is essential to market the program’s value effectively enough to lure potential registrants to sign up: will the education, entertainment and venue have the appeal to warrant the attendee’s time and expense? Pinning down the corporate attendee can be even tougher; although they may have little choice about attending a mandatory meeting, finalizing travel arrangements, determining if spouses are coming, and ferreting out any special requests or needs can be time consuming and frustrating. Often Jennifer works in conjunction with the program sponsor to be sure the key players are committed and handled appropriately.
So Many Emails, So little Time
Jennifer receives up to 75 emails per day from vendors, attendees, sponsors and hotels for each of the meetings she is running, and well over half require an action. She puts her smart phone to good use when she’s away from the office to respond to many emails, and relies upon staff, volunteers, her CVB and a good communication plan to help her plow through and act on the others. As for phone calls, her cell phone number and business number are the same, since she prefers to have only one phone to deal with. Jennifer asks her friends and family to call on her home phone during the weekend, a practice that helps her separate her personal and business time.
Since change is constant, Jennifer says it’s mandatory to deal with each request or situation immediately. Once you are aware that something must be changed, figure out what you have to do , implement the actions, and cross it off your list. If you aren’t flexible by nature or able to deal with fluid situations, meeting and event planning may not be your calling. You need to be comfortable with crisis management, confident in your problem-solving ability, and ready to use your relationship management skills for the best and most timely outcome. “You have to be able to laugh,” says Jennifer. “There are so many moving parts, and many stakeholders to be juggled. Sometimes it’s a balancing act, and you have to realize that you’re not superhuman. You have to be realistic in your commitments and expectations. Above all, practice candor and honesty. ” And never say never. “Twenty –five years ago I swore I’d never do name badges again. . . guess what’s first on my calendar tomorrow?”
About Those Crab Cakes. . .
Until meeting planners learn how to clone themselves onsite, they must delegate some duties to staff and volunteers. At exactly 10:30 a.m., it’s just not possible to simultaneously check a meeting room set-up, be sure the logoed napkins made it to the coffee break, go over the keynote speaker’s remarks, order a last minute laptop, and inform F&B that the chairman’s wife is allergic to shellfish. If you’ve done a good job as a planner, you’ve trained your staff well and completely informed the volunteers of what needs to be done and how to do it. Then you must trust that your helpers will read the spec sheet and “own” their responsibility. Second-guessing and re-checking what your staff and volunteers have done is tempting; “For a lot of meeting planners, it’s very difficult to give it away. It’s still your responsibility at the end of the day,” Jennifer comments.
Finding Your Own Comfort Level
Jennifer uses several shortcuts to save time and has developed onsite routines that work for her. For instance, she provides her food budget to the hotel up front, along with an idea of what she’d like, and asks them to get back to her with a menu instead of wasting her time poring over F&B menus. To reduce the number of phone calls back and forth with her transportation company, on arrival days she uses a flight tracker app on her smart phone to stay updated on when VIPs are actually landing and will need pick-up.
On the day after the meeting, she gets up early, checks out of the hotel, goes to the airport and works in one of the club lounges instead of hanging around the hotel where she’s sure to run into colleagues or be invited to lunch by her hotel sales manager. She swears this routine is “a way to be smart and productive with your time. I’ve spent 4 or 5 hours getting a lot of wrap-up done at the airport before departure time.” Jennifer hasn’t used the WiFi feature on airplanes yet, but thinks it may be an efficient tool for her to try in the near future.
In a Nutshell
The minutia and multi-facets of meeting and event planning can be overwhelming. The remedy? Take advantage of the myriad of assistance provided from your destination’s CVB which, in conjunction with time-tested shortcuts from the pros, can mean the difference in being frustrated and feeling confident that you are on top of the demands of your job.
Experienced meeting planners know that the best shortcut to finding the perfect event destination is to visit www.empowerMINT.com — the link to over 150 convention & visitors bureaus (CVBs). When investigating and selecting the location for your organization’s next meeting, CVBs are the destination expert and are invaluable in providing up-to-the-minute information, obtaining proposals from hotels and support vendors, and serving as your liaison to the hospitality community.