You work hard enough to win your meeting and conference business, so it makes sense to leave a positive lasting impression and an incentive for them to return. A lot of effort goes into first impressions, but what sort of lasting impression are you leaving on your meeting and conference delegates?
In my line of work I see a lot of meeting and conference venues, sometimes as a mentor, but frequently also as the client or a delegate. Normally the first impression is alright, you get a warm welcome and asked at the outset if everything is okay. But it’s what happens after this that invariably leaves you let down
- If using a projector, are there sufficient sockets for a laptop, and can these be easily reached without the presenter tripping on a lead and breaking their neck?
- Has the presenter been included in the delegate numbers and been provided with a chair, glass and water, or does the venue really expect them to stand for eight hours? (At two venues only last week I was not given a chair for an all day workshop.)
- Check the size of the table needed for the presenter; if they have notes and handout materials have you provided them with a table that is big enough to put down their notes and props, or it is taken over by the projector?
- Is the projector lined up properly screen (and in focus), or is it so close to the screen that the image only fills a quarter of the space available, and worse still, not angled upwards so the image only shows on the bottom third of the screen.
- If they’ve requested flip charts is there a supply of fresh paper, and do all the pens work okay and not dried out. Test them at the end of every meeting and discard those that have passed their best.
- Consider also the positioning of tables and chairs. I frequently find that the presenter is positioned so far away from the rest of the participants that it would be necessary to shout to hear! When a cabaret set up is used factor in the length of the meeting; if it is an all-day meeting and delegates are required to face the front, ensure that they can do so without having to keep turning round and straining their necks.
- Having refreshments turn up on time is critical to the smooth running of any event. Just five minutes late when you have only scheduled a 10 minute break can have a serious impact on the timetable. And this means everything being on time; clean cups, fresh milk, plenty of teabags, etc etc. I know this sounds obvious but you’ll be amazed how often the milk runs out, or everyone favours a particular flavour of tea.
- Avoid bottle necks at the coffee station: Arrange flasks so you don’t get congestion all around one spot. Clearly label which pot or flask is tea and which is coffee and which is hot water. Is there somewhere to dispose of tea bags once tea is brewed? If you have more sophisticated coffee machines do ensure they can keep pace with demand. A machine that takes just 20 seconds to brew and dispense a cup of coffee can only accommodate 30 people in a 10 minute period, so certainly won’t be suitable for a meeting with 50 delegates.
- Lunch: A simple label on buffet food so delegates know what they are eating (and cut down on wastage). And ensure lunch is cleared away promptly at the end of their break.
- Watch for trends. If your delegates get through more still water than sparkling (which in my experience is usually the case) match what you provide in your set up to meet the demand. Likewise for other beverages. It not only keeps your delegates happy, but saves on wastage too.
- Check the room temperature, and be responsive to organisers’ requests to adjust this. The bane of my life is air conditioning. Invariably it blows too hot or too cold. Half the time I question whether it’s adds anything, particularly in a room where the windows open, but there are times when it’s needed. But nobody wants to be sat right beneath a blast of cold air, and adjusting it to suit everyone’s requirements is a fine line.
- Everyone wants to get off as quickly as possible, so just a few minutes of your time to help with the packing up and to get the organiser on their way just a couple of minutes earlier would always be welcome. And provides the perfect opportunity to gather that all important feedback.
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When I turned up at my training venue the other day it was in darkness. I assumed that the room had no windows, but when I looked behind the curtain there was one huge window. Why on earth then would I want the curtains drawn and have to rely on artificial light all day?
The room was set up with a freestanding screen stood in front of the window, so I asked for the room to be rearranged so that the projector faced an internal wall so that we could open the curtains and allow in the natural light. So I was even more confused when I discovered that there was already a built-in screen on the internal wall.
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered such a setup. When will conference facilities realise that natural light is far preferable to artificial light, and when you add in the potential energy and cost savings on lighting this seems an absolute no-brainer!
So please, conference venues and hotels please show us the light, and keep those curtains open.
Perhaps hotels could divert some of these savings to bedrooms and give guests some decent lighting here for a change.
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As someone who regularly uses hotels for meetings and training courses I get to see the good, the bad and occasionally indifferent ways venues cater for such events.
Here are my top 20 tips to keep your hosts happy and encourage repeat bookings:
- Confirm the booking in writing- date, room size, set up, what’s included and what’s not.
Put this in a format that is easy for the booker to pass on to the host.
- Recognise that the host may not always have been involved with the booking, and not everything will always be exactly as they would like it – Be flexible to changes.
- If the room has natural light, make use of this. So many venues put the presenter and screen in front of the window then end up having to close the curtains (and waste power by having all the lights on – where is the logic in this?)
- Before arrival – check that the room is ready and that all equipment works. Simple things such as sufficient flip chart paper, the flip chart pens supplied all work, that the projector lens is clean (when was the last time yours saw a lens wipe?), the stationery box is stocked with basics such as blue tack, there is a waste paper bin, water, coat hooks, etc
- Check positioning of the projector (lined up correctly with the screen), and ensure all running cables are covered with a cable mat – both for safety and a professional appearance.
- If it is a presentation or training event, provide the presenter with a table and some space to put all their papers, etc.
- If any materials have been couriered or sent on ahead to the venue, ensure these are already in the room.
- Brief staff on what meetings and events are taking place, and where. If using a welcome board, check all the information is accurate (especially company names and spelling).
- On arrival allow the host time to get settled after their journey, and as a minimum go to the cloakroom and see the room, before going through the detail of refreshment breaks, etc.
- Offer refreshments to the host in advance of the other participants arriving, so they have a chance to enjoy theirs before being ‘on show’.
- Ensure someone is on hand to help with any last minute changes to the set up and in particular showing them how any equipment – projectors, air con, etc works, and going through fire and facilities.
- Make it easy for the host to contact someone throughout the day without having to chase around the hotel to find you if there is a problem.
- Check refreshment and break times and ensure these arrive on time. It’s also useful to check with the host regarding duration of breaks – some meeting timetables are very tight, and don’t allow for a leisurely one-hour lunch (one hotel I used recently took 1½ hours to serve our lunch – our timetable only allowed for 40 minutes, so we had to cut out 50 minutes from the afternoon timetable!). Be prepared to be flexible with break timings – agendas don’t always run on time.
- Provide refreshments or buffet lunch away from the meeting room whenever possible to allow a change of scene.
- Check with host if they are happy for staff to enter the room during day to clear cups, etc.
- Be imaginative with your buffet menus – no one wants to eat bread and pastry every day.
- Use different flasks for coffeee and hot water to avoid coffee tainting water flasks. Label these clearly to avoid confusion (this cuts down on wastage too as you wont have people pouring coffee onto tea bags!).
- Provide hosts with a method of securing the room without having to find a member of staff. (And ensure it can be left unlocked if need be for people to get in and out easily). Ensure staff servicing the room during breaks locks it again afterwards.
- At the end of the day ask the host for their feedback – they will welcome the opportunity to let you know, especially if they have further events booked with you. And you will learn what needs attention.
- And finally aim to do something exceptional, some thing different or special by which you will be remembered and you will increase your chances 10 fold of getting referral or repeat business.
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