Friday, February 6, 2015

Customer Service vs Hospitality

Consider the difference between service and hospitality, which may help you meet clients’ expectations:

Service is what you do - It is a sequence of acts, tasks and procedures which if done with consistency, should satisfy most clients and projects. Most of us will have some sort of written sequence of service in place, something to guide us through the project, the timeline, the critical path, the checklist and to do list.

Hospitality however, is your secret weapon; this is how we rise above the hum drum and endless stream of consultants, planners and managers that just don't seem to understand what this business is all about.

Hospitality is, in its barest form - the ability to make an emotional connection with your clients, customers and partners.

While service is important - I tend to look at it as the foundation of hospitality.
Hospitality is the magic aspect that brings your client back time and time again.

I have heard people in our industry say attitude can’t be trained - a philosophy which I really disagree with - of course it can, it simply takes longer and requires a much more individual approach. So then how do we ensure that we (your team and you) offer great hospitality?

Listen well, train your attitude to be a positive, sunny personality, communicate well, give a bit more than expected, and ensure success is the same vision for all.

Take the time and effort to invest in your people and develop their ability to connect with you and their event. Set and understand expectations – yours and your partners  - and constantly check in our yourself and them, to ensure you are both doing your job.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lunch – the guilty pleasure

It is so very, very unusual for people to dine at mid day. Especially in North America where the average person grabs a bite to eat at the coffee shop, or the food cart, while many more remain seated at their desks. Sometimes the lunch is a healthy, home prepared fare, more often than not, less so.

Most of Europe and Mexico, in fact most other continents and countries enjoy their mid day break. People dine healthier than Canadians and Americans, having a bigger lunch, and a much smaller, lighter dinner.

For many North Americans the guilt complex overrides the mid day meal. “No time, work harder, work longer”. If one is to eat well, eat after the approved working hours.

Still, with many people wanting to eat healthier, enjoy life a bit more, and many more working virtually, getting away from the nine to five work day, lunch may just become a meal to be redefined.

While the days of the three martini lunch are long gone, and a meal such as the one we experienced yesterday will still remain in the luxury category, this dining experience gave us pause. What a fantastic way to eat, an exploration of flavours, small bites, fabulous service.

A showcase for the talents of a great chef, mostly using local, seasonal products. A dining experience that will be remembered for a long time.

Deciding to combine a late lunch with a business meeting, we chose Tap Restaurant, located in Rosemary Heights, South Surrey. Upon arrival, a little after 1 pm, the restaurant was just finishing the traditional lunch hour rush.

Executive Chef Alistair Veen was on the line, and a warm greeting was given. A pleasant surprise, since I had only been to this restaurant once before, on a busy Saturday night.

This lunch meeting was with a very good friend, who is a chef, definitely a foodie, and while the goal was business, the enjoyment of food, and the company, was equally as important.

Therefore we started our lunch the way any civilized lunch should start, with a glass of bubbly. Our excellent server chose a half bottle of MOËT & CHANDON. Moët Impérial is a bright, fruity champagne. This surprise decision set the tone for what was to follow.

Chef Alistair served us an amuse bouche, his delicious lobster bisque, topped with lobster foam. A depth of flavour that hit all the taste buds. Light, rich, not the often times too creamy, too overpowered with sherry, bisque, but a just right richness obtained from a well prepared stock, and a beautifully strained product.

Which led us to inquire if Chef “wanted to play?”

This is an invitation that most chefs cannot resist. Where the guest throws away the menus, and allows the chef to prepare any dish that comes to mind. Often called the chefs table, this treat is amazing. This allows the chef to use products at hand, sometimes try new recipes, and usually serve a dish that is not on the menu. Typically this results in a memorable meal. Chef Alistair did not disappoint.

The first course was an amazing deconstructed clubhouse sandwich. Turkey, prepared sous vide, wonderfully moist. A flavourful slice of tomato. Bacon, perfectly cooked, air dried, devoid of any grease or fat, prosciutto like. A grilled button of sourdough. His house-made dressing, with a hint of spice. A drop of balsamic vinegar that had us wishing we had spoonfuls of it. The plate was pleasing to the eye, the creation had us savouring every single bite.

Next up, a perfect prawn. Seasoned with black pepper, lightly grilled. Standing beside a stacked salad.
A base of goat cheese, candied walnuts, topped with fresh spinach, brushed with a honey soy dressing, finished with a sweet strawberry. Yes, the strawberry was imported. While Chef Alistair works mainly with local products, most chefs incorporate global products and flavours in the creation of great recipes. This one called for the strawberry. (Chef shared his secret of the sweetness: Remove the strawberries from the clamshell and the fridge, allow to sit in the open air, the natural sweetness will be enhanced)

We are now defining a leisurely dining experience. Taking our time to enjoy, not only the flavours, but the presentation, the food experience.

A sip of champagne, a bite of food, interesting conversation. An hour slides by.

The empty plate is whisked away. A 2010 big, buttery, un-oaked Chardonnay is poured - Dirty Laundry Chardonnay, from the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, with hints of apple and pear, very clean on the palate, absolutely perfect for the brie risotto that is next. The risotto is al dente, exactly to my liking. Topped with chorizo, mango and the freshest of basil, this was a perfect winter day entrée.


The risotto stayed warm in the deep bowl. We took our time. The flavours melded.

Complete satiated. What a lovely meal. Enjoying the last of the chardonnay, our conversation moved over many topics. The restaurant is almost empty. Three ladies a couple of tables over have also enjoy a leisurely lunch. They stop by our table as they depart. Unbeknownst to us, they have been watching the courses being served, perhaps with an envious glance. With a smile and a laugh, one says: “We want to start having lunch with you! You ladies certainly know how to “Chow Down”. This meal looked fantastic!” We took it as a compliment.

Chef came over and asked us how we were, checking on the level of fullness. Although both of us were quite happy, we could not help ourselves. Chef Allyson was too curious to see if anything else was on the radar. And, of course, one more dish was to be served.

Pillow perfect gnocchi, drenched in a lamb reduction, sautéed with green olives and tomatoes, a gnocchi lamb ragout. Again, deep, rich flavours that can only be obtained by hours of loving attention to sauce and reduction. Served with a McLaren Vale Shiraz this final course finished the performance. Each course, each flavour built on the previous one. Not a note out of place.

The perfect lunch, a dining experience. Thank you Chef Alistair Veen. Tap Restaurant.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Raising funds for charity - a golf marathon

Las Vegas Golf Courses attract Golf Marathon 2 from British Columbia, Canada

March 2, 2013 (Las Vegas) Sunshine and great golf courses in the Las Vegas area have a lot going for them in March – especially for Canadian golfers. Something about wet and rainy weather in British Columbia, and snow in most of the rest of Canada, sends golfers south.

This is why four amateur golfers decided to turn an annual golf holiday into a charity-fundraising golf marathon. Canadians Jim Kennedy, Lyall May, Steve Zenone, and Mike Bryant will be golfing 36 holes each day, with of goal of 1100 holes of golf, raising funds for the BC Hospitality Foundation “Tip Out to Help” Campaign. Golf Marathon 1, in October, 2012, saw them play 983 holes of golf. Golf Marathon 2 added an extra day to enable at least 1100 holes.

Normally, on a golf getaway, the fun-loving foursome would golf one round each day, perhaps with a couple extra rounds thrown in. The “GoGolf 4 BCHF Team” invite pledges and “tips” for their golfing endeavour. They have promised to golf 36 holes, daily, from March 2 to 10, 2013. The employees at Versacold Derwent Way, where Zenone and Kennedy work, have really got into the fundraising. At time of press Versacold staff had pledged over $500.00. The marathon is becoming a badge of honour.

This golf marathon attracted some attention in October of 2012. Golfers got it – 1000 holes of golf, in 7 days, that’s a lot of golf. Especially when daylight is around 7 am, dark is around 5:30 pm. Golfing dawn to dusk takes on new meaning. Even if the foursome plays well (remember, they are amateurs, and these guys aren’t spring chickens) shooting an average score of 80, with one practice stroke each shot, that means over 2500 golf swings in a week. People thought this was worth pledging a penny or two a hole; and the foursome raised over $2000.00 for the BC Hospitality Foundation.

The 2012 Tip Out to Help Campaign raised over $100,000.00.

Las Vegas golf courses thought this was a charity worth supporting, and this golf marathon was a good cause. Most of the courses were able to schedule the foursome in at daybreak, giving them the first tee-time of the day. Then, after a quick bite to eat, the foursome went back out early afternoon for round 2. March 2013, this same routine for eight days straight, on eight different courses, will help them reach the goal. A few courses they have played before, a few courses are new.

Jim Bolla and Par 4 Golf Management have been remarkable supporters of the Go Golf 4 BCHF team. One hundred percent of funds raised go to the BC Hospitality Foundation; the support of the Las Vegas golf courses allows them to golf more rounds in their charitable endeavour. The foursome covers all expenses themselves. They donated over $1000 as a team to the Foundation, thanks, in part, to the generosity of the Las Vegas golf courses.

Bing Smith, Chair of the BC Hospitality Foundation, says: “The Go Golf team makes a difference. Not only raising funds for the foundation, but, simple awareness for the foundation. The Tip Out To Help Campaign is year round. This golf marathon keeps us in the public eye – lets people know we are there to help them, in times of medical need.”

Anyone and everyone are invited to pledge support or to “Tip Out” the team. Donating online at is the easiest way. Click on the team name – GoGolf 4 BCHF – and pledge or tip any amount. Tax receipts are issued

Primm Valley Golf Club, Badlands Golf Club, and Silverstone Golf Club, courses managed by Par 4 Golf Management, have hosted the foursome. They are kicking off the charity golf marathon with these three courses, March 2, 3 and 4, 2013. Sunshine, a warm welcome and great golf. Not a bad way to raise funds for a wonderful charity.

For Further Information, please contact:
Dawn Donahue
Go Golf Events Management
Advisory Board Director, BCHF

Bing Smith
Chair, BC Hospitality Foundation
About the Foundation:  

Hope. Opportunity. Inspiration.

The British Columbia Hospitality Foundation (BCHF) provides financial support for individuals within the hospitality community who are coping with extraordinary costs arising from a serious health crisis. The Foundation also awards scholarships and bursaries to students enrolled in hospitality programmes in BC.

Our vision is to be the industry’s charity of choice, providing financial support for individuals within the hospitality community who are coping with extraordinary costs arising from a serious health or medical crisis.
Our mission is to offer financial assistance, beyond traditional medical benefits and insurances, to individuals within the hospitality community in their times of critical health or medical need. As well, we are committed to supporting the industry’s next generation by providing scholarships and bursaries to selected students enrolled in hospitality and culinary programs at partner schools in BC.

Who We Are:
We are a group of people who work together to help our own within the hospitality community. Together with a number of dedicated volunteers and partners, we raise funds to provide our colleagues hope, inspiration, and a helping hand by providing support when they are coping with extraordinary costs arising from a serious health or medical crisis, and that cost is not covered by conventional medical plans, EI, or other insurances or benefit plans.

In addition, a portion of the funds we raise provides scholarships and bursaries to selected students enrolled in hospitality or culinary programmes at partner post-secondary schools within British Columbia.

Tip Out to Help Campaign:
The Tip Out To Help campaign gives every person in BC’s hospitality industry an opportunity to help the BCHF—to help themselves. Register yourself or a team right now and help raise funds to fill the world’s largest tip jar. By joining your colleagues, you’ll be able to help those in our industry who need it. Together, we can make a difference.

The Hosting Golf Courses:
Par 4 Golf Management
Jim Bolla
702 210 6101

OB Sports Management – Coyote Springs Golf Course, Legacy Golf Club, Painted Desert Golf Club

TPC Las Vegas Golf Course -

Supporting Golf Courses
The Revere Golf Club/Troon Golf
Dennis Piekarski 702.617.5757

Las Vegas Paiute Golf Courses

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Best Compliment Ever - tell us about yourself..

I received the best compliment just the other day - an intern who has been working with us for over a year or so, starting during her last year of University. After graduation she chose to volunteer with us, and has progressed to mentoring the new interns with the Chocolate Festival and the Chefs Conference.

Out of the blue, she asked me to explain our business model, and what exactly we do. What a wonderful compliment. 

She had seen parts of the business, much of the volunteer side of who we are, and, quite frankly, was curious as to how we could survive as a business, with everything we did pro bono...

So, in a nutshell, this is the answer:
The bulk of our business is consulting – speaking, teaching, strategic planning, business development and event production. 

However, as an entrepreneur, I am all about the big picture; too many charities and events see only one aspect of their business model – especially volunteer event committees.

Therefore, when I get involved with a business or association, I am usually able to identify the areas they are missing, the areas that they haven’t identified as a necessary part of their success, and attempt to create the strategic plan, and operations plan, that allows them to "understand" the big picture. 

Normally people reach out to me because I am seen as a business developer, association manageress and event guru  - someone who can create events that always makes their targets - financially or otherwise. Events that create the Return on Investment the client is seeking - it may be product awareness, an marketing campaign, a recognition or awards program, membership drive - you get it - the ROI.

Think of me as a hired gun CEO – a trouble shooter who comes in to assist companies/charities/events. We are the actual chair behind the chair in most cases. We offer training so the volunteers/company are able to reach their level of success, usually a 3 to 5 year plan for each company and event.

As for the interns and mentor programs, this has truly developed over the last fifteen years. We believe in offering education to volunteers, and to committees. To give people a chance or experience they may not get otherwise. To invest in their work experience.

Nevertheless, I started finding some committees and boards were committed to having their name in the program, not to the actual mandate, so we needed to build a team of volunteers/interns to support the committees. In essence truly defining and developing the roles of the Steering Committee and the Operations Committee.

With the autonomy and experience we offered the volunteers/interns it was relatively easy to create these teams. This takes a lot of our time to teach, mentor, and run two committees for every project, but it is rewarding for all involved. 

The chocolate festival strategic plan is the formalization of the mentorship program we created – whereby we have succession planning and mentorship year after year…event after event.

This model is extremely successful for career building resumes, hands on work experiences, and true opportunities for our youth - someone offering them the opportunity to learn, apprentice, and have ownership and responsibility of a project - with measurable results and return on their investment.

After the above conversation, our fabulous young intern had motivated me and perhaps re-inspired me to continue the pro bono work for a couple of major associations and events. Her feedback was amazing. She reminded me of the many letters of thanks we have received from past interns, charities, not for profits, committees, and Chairs of Committees - that our team, and our many volunteer hours really made a difference.

Funnily enough, her interest in what we do, and how we actually pay the bills, came at a particularly challenging time. (inspiring people seem to know when they are needed the most - thanks, young intern!)

A group of volunteers, responsible for a major event in their industry, have been making excuses for not meeting time-lines, deadlines, and truly important revenue commitments with the same old statement- "We do everything last minute" "What do you expect - we are only volunteers" and the best of it - "we don't have time to read all the information" - can you bring us up to speed - again.. (*two years of this, by the way)

I was at the point of removing all pro bono work, and concentrating strictly on our business - after all, to do what we do means 16 hour days, often 7 days a week. Then, out of the blue, this compliment came in - reminding us of why we chose, many, many years ago, to make a difference.

Thank you, interns - you inspire me - you keep us current, and, you make a difference.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Conference Planning Committee - hiring the right volunteers

Yesterday we had several meetings with several committees for an upcoming conference. A relatively large conference, 7 days, with several event locations, and hundreds of moving parts. A fabulous conference; nevertheless, one that takes incredible attention to detail. Managing the human resources, committees, time-lines and tasks takes two excellent managers. Managing the actual events, and conference activities takes a team of ten.The conference is in the last details, having started over two years ago, and having had an well thought out time-line and project management outline.

So, you can imagine my astonishment, and dismay, when one of the Committee Chairs, responsible for several of the most crucial components, did not know what date his events were taking place. And, yes, it was important that the venue had the correct date.

It was at that point that I was once again reminded how extremely important it is for success - insure volunteers and volunteer committee members do not have the attitude "we are volunteers, what do you expect" Because, regardless of paid or unpaid work, once a person has accepted and committed to the position, what we expect is the same for everyone - paid or unpaid. Meet the needs of your team, your committee and your position. Respect the time-lines. Do your job.

Someone else asked me what exactly goes into planning a conference.  Answering that question would take a book - actually, it is called training, certification, experience, education, and dedication to excellence. And, there are a few books, courses, and degrees available if you are really interested in this fascinating and rewarding career.

Therefore, for those that are interested, I thought I would outline what you should think about if you choose to plan a conference, and, the importance of hiring the right committee and staff - and, yes, hiring is what the chair and steering committee need to do - whether paid or unpaid staff, without the right team, your conference is challenged.

in one persons humble opinion. 

The Conference Planning Committee

Planning, organizing and conducting a training conference can be rewarding and challenging. To develop a successful conference, you must employ the talents, cooperation, coordination, and participation of many individuals. For this reason, it is best to establish a Conference Planning Committee very early in the planning process, even before a decision is made to actually hold a conference.

A Conference Planning Committee is a group of people that holds some responsibility for shaping the conference and planning the program. Committee members should broadly represent your conference target audience. If one organization is sponsoring the conference, members or employees of that agency are usually appointed to the committee. However, it is not unusual to ask representatives from outside agencies who would have an interest in the conference to serve on the committee as well. When more than one agency is sponsoring the conference, each sponsoring agency is usually represented on the committee. There is no one formula for success, so other arrangements are possible. A committee should be used to distribute the workload among many people, but the greatest benefit of using a committee is that it ensures that the conference represents the thinking and planning of more than one individual.

Small conferences have small planning committees; larger conferences may need larger committees because there are more decisions to be made and there is more work to be done. Be careful--forming large committees can lead to problems. Getting everyone together for meetings is the most obvious difficulty. Getting everyone to agree on issues can be more serious. Certainly, situations will occur where complete agreement cannot be attained. The point here is not to create problems by assembling a committee that is so large that reaching agreement is difficult.

Look for persons to serve on your committee who:
* Are qualified to serve due to their experience on substantive issues, respect given to them by professionals in the field, or their organizational, negotiation, or communication skills.
* Are dependable.
* Are able to accept responsibility.
* Work well with others.
* Can make decisions.
* Can abide by the decision of the majority.

Typically, the Conference Planning Committee shares responsibility with the Conference Coordinator and the Sponsor for the following three functions:
* Serve in an advisory capacity.
* Approve scheduling and logistical decisions.
* Respond to recommendations and suggestions on conference content.

Once you begin to deal with various issues, the committee's role will become more defined. The key to avoiding confusion or misunderstandings is to clearly explain to committee members the committee's purpose and function. On different issues the committee may be asked to advise or make recommendations, give its stamp of approval, or make a final decision. Additionally, there may be instances in which the coordinator or sponsor will use the committee as a sounding board; in these cases, the committee is asked to react without the responsibility to do anything more.

You will find that creating a written document that states the purpose and function of the committee minimizes conflicts and sets the standard for your conference organization. Before meeting with the committee, meet with the sponsor to prepare a written statement of the committee's purpose and function. Additionally, illustrate the relationship among the committee, coordinator, and sponsor by preparing a "block form" of conference issues to be addressed and the function of each of the "conference triumvirate."

Continue to add issues as appropriate and necessary for your conference. Once the list is completed and the function of each person or group has been indicated, review the list with the conference sponsor before presenting it to the committee.

There are other committee issues that the sponsor and coordinator need to address, such as:

* Will committee members be compensated for their time or reimbursed for meeting expenses?
* How often will the committee meet?
* How long will the committee exist?
* Will the committee evaluate the conference?
* Will the work of the committee be recorded for future use?
* To whom is the committee responsible?
The answers to these questions are especially important when the committee consists of representatives from various organizations and agencies.

The Conference Coordinator

One of the first responsibilities of the Conference Planning Committee may be selecting one of its members to serve as the Conference Coordinator. Another common practice is for the sponsor to designate a coordinator who is not a member of the committee. The person appointed as coordinator may be an internal person or an external person.

An internal coordinator is a member or employee of the sponsoring agency or organization. It is by far the most common practice to appoint an internal coordinator.

An external coordinator is generally a person who is exceptionally skilled in conference planning and is contracted by the committee/sponsor for conference services.

Having a competent person serve as coordinator is vital to the success of the conference because the coordinator is involved in every aspect of conference planning and execution. You need someone with all the qualities stated earlier for committee members plus a few more.

 Look for a person who:
* Possesses good organizational skills.
* Is a good communicator.
* Has an eye for details.
* Can function well even if things get a little stressful. A good sense of humour is a big plus.

Management Functions
* Prepare a conference budget.
* Set the schedule for completing tasks leading to the conference.
* Conduct site visits.
* Negotiate contracts with hotels/meeting facilities.
* Recommend and correspond with speakers/entertainers/exhibitors.
* Prepare session descriptions.
* Set the flow of the conference and plan the program.
* Recruit and train conference staff/volunteers.
* Manage conference crises.
* Authorize on-site expenditures.
* Develop session and conference evaluations.
* Ensure bills are paid.

Administrative Functions
* Organize, schedule, and staff Conference Planning Committee meetings.
* Develop conference notices, brochures, and registration forms.
* Communicate with conference registrants.
* Order conference supplies, materials, and equipment; work with suppliers.
* Prepare name badges, signs, banners, and the program book.
* Order room setups for all workshops/sessions.
* Handle logistics for VIPs.
* Recruit and train conference staff/volunteers.
* Process conference registrations in the office and on-site.

The work of the Conference Planning Committee is a part-time responsibility; for the coordinator, the conference can become a sole assignment!

Why Hold a Conference?

There are many good reasons to hold a conference; the sponsoring agency's desire to hold a conference is not necessarily one of them. The purpose of the conference should be clearly established before the planning process begins. Generally, a conference is initiated through the following steps:
1) An agency, board, or coalition is called on to serve as a conference sponsor.
2) A conference planning committee is appointed.
3) A conference coordinator is selected or appointed.

Before preceding any further, the need for and purpose of the conference must be determined. The Conference Planning Committee can be a valuable asset in guiding and advising the sponsor on establishing the purpose of the conference. Remember, your planning committee is a broad representation of your target audience; don't underestimate the committee's value.

Following are tips to guide you in developing a statement of the conference's purpose:

* Establish a clear and emphatic purpose. Some conferences fail simply because their purpose was not fully addressed.

* Know what others are doing. For example, if your conference will address a specific discipline such as education of junior chefs, find out what colleges, universities, employers, and other agencies are doing in terms of training and education.

Learn the needs of your target audience.

Don't tell your target audience what information and training they need--let them tell you. Surveys are helpful to determine need. Surveys usually will reveal that training, education, and the exchange of information are high priorities with members of the culinary associations. Your challenge is to research the matter a little deeper to identify what topics are in demand and what systems are already in place to provide training and education. Then do an honest assessment. Is there a need for additional training and educational programs? Can you identify gaps in the current system? If so, you have identified the need for and purpose of your program.

Who is the Target Audience?
You can see that this topic is closely linked to defining your purpose, but the question of audience composition merits a separate answer. In the conference planning process, the purpose is determined first, and then the appropriate participants are identified.

However, for a membership association conference these two factors, purpose and participants, are sometimes reversed. If the participants who are expected to attend a conference are known, the goal should be to determine what conference purpose will encourage them to attend and to ensure that conference topics will address their needs. Whichever comes first, it is important that the conference's purpose and participants are well matched.

Members of different associations or people from different professions will have different training and educational needs. Know the audience you want to attract and understand their conference needs.

A popular trend in large, multidisciplinary conferences is the development of "tracks" that target the needs of different groups. Tracks permit individuals to stay with one course of training throughout the conference or "cross train" by jumping tracks.

For example, a regional conference was presented with one track of training specific to the needs of local, sustainable, and culinary tourism, a second track for staff and volunteers in the local chapters and associations, and a third track for people who work in purchasing, sales, and supplier relationships.

Number of Participants
Some conference planners believe that a large number of participants will ensure a better conference; this is not necessarily true. The number of conferees must relate to other factors.

Consider the following:

* Target audience. Don't plan on a conference of 500 when your pool of expected attendees numbers only 200.

* Conference budget. The financial resources available to spend on the conference will directly affect your program and may also affect the number of invited participants.

* Number of meeting rooms and room capacities. The number of available meeting rooms can limit the number of concurrent workshops you can hold. Total seating capacity limits the number of participants you can invite.

* Hotel accommodations. The number of sleeping rooms and hotel capacity are extremely important when an overnight stay is required for conference participants.

* Number of conference staff and volunteers. Although staffing is usually determined by the number of participants, this may be a factor if you have a limited number of conference staff available.

* Size of ballroom or banquet facility. When plenary sessions, meals, or other general sessions are part of your program, the number of participants is again limited by room capacity.

* Conference dates. Select dates that do not conflict with other events, including holidays or religious observances.

Conference Dates
Conference planners should consider a timetable of at least 12 months to organize a conference. This should provide all the time you will need to handle the planning and administrative tasks. Of course, these tasks can usually be accomplished in much less time, but the earlier you start, the easier your job will be.

When reviewing conference dates, consider that all hotels and meeting facilities have peak periods of high demand, "value" periods of low demand, and "shoulder" periods of variable demand. If you are considering dates during a peak period, you may need additional lead time to get the site you want, when you want it, at the price you want. These are three fundamental elements involved in site selection--location, dates, and price.

Some conference planners regard date and location as the most critical elements; others are most concerned with price. Realize that prioritizing any two of these scheduling elements strongly influences the third factor.

Before you contact convention bureaus or meeting facilities with your request for bids, establish first, second, and third date preferences.

When you are identifying preferred dates, some thought should be given to:

* Dates of other conferences competing for your target audience.
* National and religious holidays and events.
* Expected weather conditions.
* Dates of school openings and closings.
* Peak convention seasons.

These factors have an impact on conference attendance by staff, speakers, and conferees. They also may affect the hotel rates you are quoted and your ability to negotiate certain items in your contract.

Conference Budget

A conference budget should be prepared through a thoughtful process involving the sponsor, the planning committee, and always the coordinator. The sponsor should be included in the process because the sponsoring agency is usually responsible for paying all conference expenses. The planning committee should be included, even if only to make recommendations, so the committee will understand the budget implications of its actions. The coordinator should control the budget--that is, all budget items should be initiated by or developed in conjunction with the coordinator. The coordinator should be the person who approves payment of budget expenses. If payments are approved by someone other than the coordinator, it will be difficult to hold the coordinator accountable for conference expenditures.

Because budgets deal with numbers and dollars, they are thought to be financial documents. Actually, a budget is a planning document and a management control document. It is a listing of all anticipated conference expenses followed by a listing of all conference funding sources and projected conference revenue. Among the budget development considerations are the pros and cons of charging registration fees and your potential advantages for encouraging early registration, such as conference room discounts.

In preparing the budget, conference planners need to prepare an extensive budget checklist, and then determine which costs will be paid by the conference master account and which will be paid by persons attending the conference. This division of expenses is sometimes referred to as a split folio. There are many ways a folio can be split between master account charges and individual guest charges. Be sure to clearly communicate your split folio plan to the hotel, in writing, when your letter of agreement is prepared.

Conference Management:

The Committees and Chairs are usually volunteers. Insure your committee members understand the job description and the time required to properly plan a conference. Each member should sign an employment agreement, outlining the scope of the project and the time required.

Committee Members often believe because they are volunteers, they should not be held accountable to time-lines, scope of project, budget, reporting, and communications. While conferences could not be planned without committees and volunteers, the lack of attention to detail and time-lines is often the reason for less than successful budgets and conferences.

The Conference Chair must insure the committee understands, and accepts the responsibility of fiscal and time management.

For the Conference Planner, the Committees often make their work extremely difficult and stressful, by not respecting all of the above. Insure the conference planner is able to cope with this additional stress, and insure the budget has a contingency fund for areas the committees have not adhered to, or completed in a timely manner.

After the Conference:

Sponsor Reports, Debriefs, Volunteer thank you, Budget updates, profit and loss statements, reporting, committee reports, and updating the conference manual – so ofter this is where volunteer committees fail. Usually due to volunteer fatigue and burn out. Insure your budget has identified the amount of hours to properly complete the conference, and addresses the manpower required to do so.

The Sponsor Benefits and Reports to Sponsors are crucial, and time consuming. However, so may volunteer committees have not assigned the staff or hours to complete what was promised to sponsors. Hence, the reason many sponsors do not believe they received value for their investment. Writing the sponsor package and sourcing the funds was merely 30 percent of the work required – the other 70 percent happens during and after the events.

A well planned, well executed conference is akin to running a small business. Requires entrepreneurial leadership, excellent management, dedicated staff and volunteers, year round execution and long term planning.

Return on investment, association benefits, member benefits, fiscal responsibility, due diligence, and proper time management should be key words in all committees’ job descriptions.