How to Plan a Meeting
When choosing a meeting location, look at all the options. Don’t be bound by chapter tradition – consider resorts, state-of-the-art conference centers, suburban hotels with excellent recreational facilities, airport, and downtown convention hotels. Consider the fact that hotel and resort rates are generally less expensive during off-season times.
- Preferred convention dates (be flexible)
- Number and type of hotel rooms required
- Expected pattern of arrivals and departures
- Number and types of rooms for meetings, offices, exhibits, and food functions
Evaluating Member Preference
Choosing the site that suits the chapter needs and budget requires collecting key information. First, consult the members informally or through a needs assessment survey.
Some questions to consider are:
- Where are most members located?
- What kinds of facilities do they prefer? – urban, resorts, airport, downtown locations, conference centers, local hospitals?
- Do they want a luxury hotel or something more modest?
Answers to these questions will provide general guidelines to get started.
Accurate records about past meetings are very helpful when selecting sites. With good data about past experience, the chapter can anticipate current meeting needs more accurately.
Keep the following information about chapter meetings:
- number of rooms and suites blocked;
- number of rooms actually used;
- breakdown of single and double occupancies;
- type and number of functions held; and
- dollars spent for food functions.
With this historical information, and projections about needs for the upcoming meeting, write a list of anticipated meeting requirements.
With these specifications in hand, contact the convention bureaus in the areas being considered or the hotel sales managers at the hotel the chapter prefers to use. The convention bureau staff and the hotel, through its concierge, can provide information about tours, local holidays, and benefits of meeting off season.
Whether the decision about a meeting location is being made by chapter staff, an officer, or a committee, personal visits to the facilities under consideration are vital. If using a committee, outline each member’s specific duties in as much detail as possible. Unless duties are spelled out, there may be duplicated arrangements and chaos.
For large meetings, a site inspection should be conducted at least one year in advance, perhaps two. When conducting a site inspection, assess everything in the hotel – from the general condition and décor to the attitudes of hotel personnel. Take notes during the inspection and ask questions. Ensure that the meeting facilities comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
If you are planning a meeting in another state, remember to check the Chapter and Related Meetings Calendar that ACEP maintains. This will help to avoid conflicts.
Getting the highest quality hotel for the most reasonable rate is the ultimate goal in site selection.
Before negotiating rates with hotels, however, there are several terms to know.
- Rack rate – hotel’s official, posted room rate.
- Weekend rates – major discounts off rack rate generally offered on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Special weekend packages – discounts off rack rate plus other amenities, often meals, for one rate.
- Group rates – discounted prices given to organizations bringing in high volume business at one time.
- Flat rate – one room rate for all rooms used, based on average costs of available rooms.
- Sliding scale – range of rates based on the types of guest rooms that will be used.
- Full American Plan – three meals are included in the room rate.
- Modified American Plan – room rate includes breakfast and dinner.
- European Plan – no meals included in the room rate.
Begin negotiating for the best possible group rate. Also, ask about the hotel’s complimentary room ("comp") policy. Some offer one "comp" per 50 rooms occupied, and others one per 100 rooms occupied. Some hotels base the number of complimentary rooms on the highest number of rooms occupied during the meeting. Other negotiable items are for extra hotel services and complimentary meeting space. Put all agreed upon details in writing.
The hotel executives from the properties under consideration should send a proposal that details all terms and conditions discussed and negotiated.
In the proposal, the chapter must request the hotel to provide:
- plans for function areas that show ceiling heights, square footage, post locations, electrical outlets, corridors, and accurate capacities;
- recommendations on the areas best suited for planned functions;
- set of menus with current prices;
- list of technical equipment and support services available for the meeting;
- description of the property’s food outlets, recreational facilities, and shops; and
- information about special rules, taxes, beverage control, union contracts, automatic charges, gratuities, and anything else that might affect the success of the meeting.
When hammering out a final contract, the chapter and hotel must discuss detailed information such as identification of the organization, sleeping room requirements, billing procedures, facility specifications, food and beverage functions, and a section on miscellaneous items such as transportation.
This section specifies the names and addresses of the sponsoring organization and meeting facility, contact persons, arrival and departure dates, and the name of the meeting.
Items to be charged to the master account may be specified here. A master account is the easiest and most efficient way to handle meeting charges.
To ensure the master account is handled correctly, specify all the items to be charged to the account and the names of those authorized to sign items to the account. During the pre convention briefing, reconfirm the instructions given.
- Meeting room rental
- Meeting room setup charges
- Food functions
- Audio-visual equipment
- VIP/staff guest rooms (be sure to specify who will pay for incidentals)
This includes the numbers and types of guest rooms reserved; confirmation details; complimentary room policy; reservation cut-off date; deposit requirement; check-in and check-out times; and the agreed on room rates for the group.
Facilities for Meetings/Exhibits
This section may include room rental or set-up charges, and details on services and equipment provided by the facility.
Food and Beverage Functions
This section may specify dates by which the group must confirm space to be used and the approximate attendance at functions; dates for confirmation of food and beverage service; dates by which the facility must guarantee food and beverage costs; and information on gratuities and taxes.
Items such as transportation, parking, and recreational fees may be included here.
Necessary Contract Additions
All contracts should include a paragraph that addresses safety, insurance, and indemnification. Recommended copy is listed below. It would also be helpful to find out who else has booked the hotel facilities to ensure other functions are not incompatible, such as a noisy social event scheduled next to a chapter meeting. The contract should also include a statement that the facility is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The following three paragraphs must be added to the contract:
Hotel shall indemnify and hold harmless Association against all loss, expense, or damage on account of any injury to the person or property of any registrant, guest, or member of Association staff arising out of the negligence or willful misconduct of Hotel, its agents, or employees.
Hotel shall carry liability, fire, burglary, and other insurance in such dollar amount as necessary to protect itself against any claims arising from any activities conducted in Hotel during the convention period and to indemnify Association as provided in this agreement.
Hotel represents and warrants that it complies and shall comply during the convention period with all local, state, and federal fire, safety, and building codes. Hotel further represents and warrants that it maintains procedures and policies concerning fire safety and other safety issues and Hotel shall make all such procedures and policies available to Association for inspection upon reasonable notice.
Promoting the Meeting
A good marketing plan should be developed well in advance of the meeting. After determining the number of registrants anticipated, explore all means that will generate the turnout.
Target markets might include the chapter’s current membership, members from surrounding states, past members, and members of other targeted specialties. Depending on its content, the course may appeal to paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), nurses, management, and billing personnel.
Utilizing Outside Resources
The convention bureau or chamber of commerce in the city selected should be able to supply prepared literature about the city and special events scheduled during the meeting dates. Include this information in the promotional mailing. If there are deadlines for pre-registration and hotel arrangements, be sure the promotional materials are mailed in enough time for registrants to comply.
Printing Promotional Materials
Preliminary promotional efforts may be advertisements and calendar of events’ listings in state medical journals or promotional mailings, such as brochures, flyers, or newsletters. It can also include electronic promotions such as: web sites, electronic mail, and broadcast fax.
Whatever format is used, be sure to include these details:
- meeting date;
- meeting facility;
- city and state;
- preliminary program and speakers;
- CME credit information;
- Target audience;
- Learning objectives
- Joint sponsors (if applicable)
- social activities;
- optional events (tours, guest programs);
- hotel and registration costs and procedures; and
- general site information.
Remember that if your meeting is jointly sponsored with national ACEP, you must have a draft of your promotional pieces approved by the CME Approval Coordinator before it is printed or joint sponsorship can be denied.
If the chapter plans to create printed materials to promote the meeting, keep these three steps in mind – planning, printer selection, and production.
There are three basic steps in planning the promotional aspects of the meeting.
- Determine printing budget. Cost information from previous meetings – if available – can be a good basis for projections. Monitor costs closely.
- Develop a theme or logo to be used on all convention material. This will make the meeting easily identifiable.
- Prepare a list of items to be printed. It might include letterhead, promotional brochures, pre registration forms, on site materials, name badges, and tickets.
With the plans in hand, request bids from at least three reputable printers. Along with the bid, request the printer to prepare rough layouts for the meeting materials. Mention that suggestions on ways to reduce costs and improve quality would be a big help – the printers may provide some wonderful suggestions.
After selecting the printer, give him/her a schedule detailing the materials to be printed, when copy will be supplied, when printing samples will be ready for chapter approval, and the required completion date. Monitor these production schedules carefully to make sure mailing dates are met.
Allies for Success
There are several allies for having a successful meeting, and one of them is keeping a log of people spoken with, dates discussed, and issues decided.
However, once the content is set, CME credit applied for, faculty selected, contract finalized, and promotional efforts under way, there are two other allies that focus attention outside the chapter to help make the meeting a success.
Convention bureaus can be valuable assets in planning and implementing a meeting. Services that many bureaus provide include registration clerks and other personnel; promotional items such as flyers, photos, maps, or brochures; and equipment such as copiers, bulletin boards, or typewriters. Some items may be free, while others may require a fee. The convention bureau also can provide assistance in selecting caterers, florists, photographers, and other services. Remember, convention bureaus are dedicated to helping conduct successful meetings.
The Convention Services Manager
After signing a contract with the hotel, the sales manager turns the meeting over to a convention services manager. This individual will be the chapter’s main contact through final planning and implementation of its meeting. A typical convention services manger supervises set up crews, works closely with food service personnel, and writes and distributes instructions for hotel staff (meeting resumes).
Because each facility operates differently, be sure to ask the convention services manager the following questions:
- Whom do you supervise?
- Do you write the meeting resumes (DEFINE THIS) for hotel departments or do individual departments create their own?
- Can I reach you at all times?
- Who is your backup in case of an emergency?
- How can this person be reached?
Get all the pertinent phone numbers for personnel with whom you’ll be working.
To have a successful working relationship with the convention services manager, develop open lines of communication. If discussing any details over the telephone, always follow up with a letter detailing the discussion.
Setting the Stage for an Effective Meeting
Providing comfortable and efficient settings for learning can increase the value of the chapter’s educational meeting to registrants. Each room should have adequate space, effective seating, and appropriate audiovisual equipment.
Function sheets are the complete staging guide for all aspects of the meeting. If completed properly, they eliminate many potential problems. These sheets should be completed and forwarded to the convention services manager three to four weeks prior to the meeting date.
A Complete Function Sheet
- Date and name of the function
- The room assigned to the function
- The time the function will begin and end
- Expected attendance
- A checklist of all equipment (including audiovisual) to be in the room
- Diagrams to make sure equipment, tables, etc., are placed where specified
Function rooms are the settings for the meeting’s business, educational, and social activities – and extremely important to the overall success of the meeting. When confirming function rooms recommended by the hotel in its initial proposal, consider attendee comfort, audiovisual requirements, convenience of food and beverage service, and external noise.
The chair and table arrangements requested will depend on the event and the limitations of the function room.
Suitable for large sessions and short lectures that do not require extensive note-taking. Because chairs can be moved, this is a good set up to use before breaking into discussion or role-playing groups.
The most desirable set up for lectures is the schoolroom type, although it generally requires a large room.
Tables provide attendees with space for spreading out materials and taking notes. Always provide at least three feet per person, more if the room is large enough. Most hotel convention brochures are based on two feet per person.
Appropriate for interactive discussions and note taking sessions for fewer than 25 people.
Appropriate for groups of fewer than 40 people with interaction with a leader seated at the head of the set up.
Generally used for meals and sessions involving small group discussions. A 5 foot round seats eight people comfortably; a 6 foot round seats 10 people comfortably.
Once the set up configuration is specified, give some thought to other details that will help create an effective meeting atmosphere:
Speaker support furniture placed on top of a table is a lectern. A podium is a taller piece of furniture that serves the same function, but is placed on the floor. Both pieces should have a light attached.
Platforms can be 6, 8, 12, or 16 inches high; 4, 6, and 8 inches long; and 4 to 6 inches wide. The size of the platform should be based on the room size, number of people in the room, and the ceiling height.
The first step in planning audiovisual support is to get a list of the specific equipment needs of the speakers.
- Lavaliere mike – hangs around the neck or clips onto clothing, freeing the speaker’s hands.
- Table mike – mounted on a short stand, usually on head table.
- Floor mike – mounted on a taller stand, often placed at intervals throughout an audience to pick up questions and comments.
- Lectern mike – fitted into a holder on the lectern or podium.
Hotels usually will supply one free microphone per meeting room.
- LCD projector – the most frequently used projector for PowerPoint file projection.
- 35 mm slide projector –available with such features as automatic timers, remote control, and auto focus.
- 16 mm projector – some older educational films were produced in 16 mm. For the best projection, the film’s soundtrack should be plugged into the house public address system.
- Overhead projector –to project transparencies on which the speaker can write while making a presentation; and in a large room instead of a flipchart.
Videocassette Player and Monitors
Many speakers use videocassettes instead of slides with their lectures. The cassettes may come in either ¾" or ½". Be sure to find out from the speakers which size cassette they’ll use so the proper player can be ordered.
Some of the more widely used systems are:
- Standard TV sets (has to be specially wired to accept video);
- Monitors (like a TV, except that it has higher quality pictures and no channel selectors);
- Videocassette recorders (VCR); and
- Computers and projection units.
If a speaker uses an older version video presentation that cannot be projected through the LCD projector, several monitors may be needed in the room to ensure the audience can see what is being shown.
At least a month before the meeting, check with the convention services manager for shipping instructions. Then select the method and company that best suit the schedule and budget. Ask the company how long it will take to transport materials, and whether they have any special procedures that need to be followed.
Begin packing by making a list of all materials needed at the meeting. Never ship registration materials or anything else needed upon arrival at the meeting site or that could not be quickly replaced in a timely manner. Ship materials so they arrive at the facility at least 3 days prior to the meeting. If a package gets lost, it may take a few days to locate it or replace it. Bring return labels for shipping materials back. The hotel does not always supply them.
Food and Beverage
Meals, breaks, and receptions serve as the main opportunities for registrants at the meeting to make new friends and renew old acquaintances. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make these occasions memorable – only a lot of imagination.
Breaks, usually 15 to 20 minutes in length, give registrants a chance to refresh themselves and return to sessions more attentive. Coffee is the mainstay of the menu, but consider other beverages such as tea, hot chocolate, fruit juices, soft drinks, and decaffeinated coffee and tea. If snacks are in the budget, try using breads (croissants, nut breads, and muffins), yogurt, fruits, and puddings. Try to avoid per person charges by the hotel for breaks. It is more economical to purchase coffee by the gallon and pastries by the dozen.
Most breakfasts are limited to continental service – breads, fresh fruit, coffee, and tea. Try to stay away from sticky sweet rolls and other hard to handle items.
Luncheon menus should be kept light, since heavy food leads to drowsiness. Salads, sandwiches, soups, quiches, vegetarian platters, and broiled fish are popular choices. Limit desserts to sherbet or fruit.
With today’s emphasis on health and fitness, the meat and potatoes menu is on its way out. Fish, poultry, and veal are good alternatives – and consider rice, noodles, or pasta in place of potatoes.
If the reception is to precede dinner, most people will eat lightly in anticipation of the meal. Expect hors d’oeuvres consumption to average 6 per person for each hour. If there is no meal following the reception, figure 12 hors d’oeuvres per person for each hour.
If offering liquor, count on it being one of the largest food and beverage expenditures. There are five ways to set up liquor purchases with the hotel.
Chapters should avoid bringing food and alcoholic beverages into the suite. All food and drinks should be prepared and distributed by hotel staff. The chapter’s liability exposure is reduced because food that is not properly prepared will be the responsibility of the hotel. Bringing food into the hotel increases the exposure of the host organization because it will be difficult to determine if a resulting illness is the result of the hotel prepared food or the food brought in by the chapter. In addition, alcoholic beverages should be served by hotel staff. The hotel will have the responsibility of terminating service at their discretion to individuals who appear to have consumed too much. This arrangement is preferred as opposed to having a member of the organization staff provide bartending services.
- By the head
The hotel charges a flat rate per guest and agrees to supply all the necessary liquor. This is the easiest method; however, it is also the most expensive.
- By the drink
When liquor is purchased by the drink, this is considered an "open bar." When the reception is over, there will be an itemized bill of the number and types of drinks consumed. When establishing the budget, assume people will consume an average of three drinks during a 1 to 1 ½ hour reception.
- By the bottle
There is a charge for each bottle opened. Be sure to specify whether less expensive house brands or deluxe name brands are to be served. Find out if the chapter can keep any bottles that are not emptied.
- Cash bar
Guests at the reception pay for their own drinks. If a cash bar is established, let registrants know in advance.
To limit drinks, provide a certain number of free drink tickets and then have a cash bar for additional drinks.
The pre-convention briefing (pre-con) is not the time to make arrangements. The purpose of this meeting is to reconfirm the meeting requirements. At this time, walk through the function areas. Ask the convention services manager how to control the temperature and lights in the function rooms. It is also important to have a briefing with the chapter members and staff who will help implement the meeting. Make sure they know who the convention services manager is and how to get in touch with that person if necessary. If a master account was established, reconfirm the instructions given.
Attendees get their first impression of a meeting during registration. Make it a good one! The atmosphere of the registration area is extremely important. The area should be large enough to handle a continuous flow of traffic.
Here are some tips for a successful registration:
- Proper lighting.
- Signage – keep the messages simple and brief. There should be at least two signs directing the attendees to the registration area. Ask the convention services manager if the hotel has any special requirements regarding signs.
- Telephone – it is important to have a telephone at the registration area to receive incoming calls about registration and the meeting.
- Message board – make sure information on where and how to send or receive a message is available.
The benefits of thorough planning show up most clearly when the meeting is up and running. Remember, though, that even the best meeting can have its mishaps. The majority of problems occur when the set up crew does not follow the diagram.
Check each function room one hour before the event is scheduled to begin. This allows time to decide if the room can work the way it’s set up or to have it changed.
If a master account was established, review the master account before leaving the hotel to avoid any major surprises when the chapter receives the bill.
Post Meeting Evaluation
A post meeting evaluation is the most important tool when planning for the next meeting.
Areas to discuss are:
- meeting site;
- signage; and
- food functions.
An essential element in determining the success of a meeting and to identify future improvements is through a conference evaluation. You may have individual course evaluations that measure the success of each speaker and his/her presentation as well as an overall evaluation to measure registrants’ perception of the conference as a whole. You may also wish to ask faculty for recommendations for future improvements and topics. Lastly, your course director or education committee chair and staff should provide written feedback and an evaluation summary of their perceptions. Once all of the data from registrants has been received, staff must summarize the data and recommend future changes and improvements based on the data and future plans. A comprehensive evaluation is essential for CME programs and must be part of the CME activity file.
Putting on a chapter meeting can often seem like an overwhelming challenge. With careful planning and attention to detail, the chapter can offer meetings that meet member needs – and the chapter’s budget. For more information and advice on successful meetings, contact the ACEP Educational & Professional Products Division.