January 26, 2011

Speaker Stranded and Can't Make it to your Meeting? Skype to the Rescue!

Recently I had a conference here in Austin that had multiple speakers from all over the US. The day before our conference started, a large storm hit the northeastern US and several of my speakers were unable to fly out of their destination. Rather than scrambling to replace them on the program, we met with our onsite AV team at the hotel and arranged to Skype them in. We already had large screens, laptop and an LCD projector in the room. It simply required wired Internet access in the meeting space, and a couple of additions to the AV Equipment order. The AV technician had a Skype account and each speaker had a Skype account. We made sure to Skype the night before to make sure it worked on both ends and to iron out any kinks in advance. It was a lifesaver and so easy to do!

Site Visits That Deliver Results

You’ve developed an RFP for your meeting, distributed it, received proposals from interested properties, created a spreadsheet for comparing properties and have narrowed down the list of all the potentials to the properties that look the best on paper. Your next step should be a site inspection of your top properties in order to determine which one works the best for your meeting.

If you have been working with the local CVB, they will be happy to make all the arrangements for your visit, setting up appointments at each property, picking you up at the airport and accompanying you on your visits. If you didn’t send your lead out through the bureau, you’ll need to make your own appointments; I like to allow at least two hours per property, more if a meal is included.

I use a checklist of items I have defined as being important to my group, so I can make sure I’m looking at the same things at each property and I provide the checklist to my hotel contact ahead of time so they can tailor the site inspection to meet my needs. If I’m conducting the site with several others, such as conference chairs, clients, etc. I find it can be hard to keep everyone in the group focused. One solution I’ve found works well is to give each person an area of the checklist that they are responsible for collecting information and making notes on for our discussions afterward.
I take a digital camera and a flip video camera along so I can capture images of the property for use later when I’m making my arrangements. This is really helpful for capturing the flow of public space and event space, which helps when I’m trying to visualize the layout for receptions, exhibit space or registration areas when I’m back in my office.

When you’re onsite, you’ll want to visualize how your meeting might fit into the facility and continue to adapt your vision as you tour. Once you’ve seen the entire space, you might completely change where you place meetings from what you initially planned. Stay flexible and adaptable, and keep an open mind when presented with options by the hotel staff for how your meeting might work best at their property.

Observe how other meetings going on during your site are staged, noting unusual setups, how the space looks set in your preferred manner, and see if you can identify any potential problem areas that might negatively impact your meeting. If you have a chance, visit with meeting planners onsite to see how their meeting is going and get some honest feedback on the property.

Try and spend some time on your own in the properties so you can experience the property as your attendees might. I usually try to come in the night before starting site visits and have dinner or drinks at one property, visit another for coffee the next morning before my appointments start and just observe how the staff interacts with guests.
Knowing what your attendees value the most in a meeting facility and what you need from a hotel to ensure a successful conference are essential to conducting a successful site inspection. Keeping those factors at the forefront of your decision making process, ensures you’ll find the right property for your needs.