Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Working with Images in InDesign

As the primary graphic designer for RDL, I get the opportunity to work on many different design projects from creating signs, brochures, and name tags to creating conference registration packets and programs. As the office “expert” in Adobe InDesign, I am frequently called upon to help with InDesign-related questions and assistance. I would have to say that one of the most common issues is placing and re-sizing images. So, here are the basics of how one would place and resize an image in the InDesign program.

Placing an image directly on the page
To place an image directly on the page, you first need to make sure that you know where on your computer the original file is stored. Make sure to give the file a name that allows you to easily distinguish what it is.

Next, make sure that you have selected your selection tool from the tool palette.

Now select File > Place (Keyboard Shortcut: Command +D)

A dialogue box will pop up and you will then need to locate the file on your computer.

After selecting the file you wish to place, click Place in the dialogue box.

You will now see a small version of your image on your cursor. You can move the image to where you want to set it on the page, click once with your mouse and the image will appear on your page.

Resizing an image
In many cases, images need to be resized after they are placed on the page.
First, select the image with your selection tool.

Next, hold down the shift key and click any corner or the image to either increase or decrease the image size. (Holding the shift key while resizing is important because it constrains the image.)

Be sure to release the mouse before releasing shift.

Now depending on whether you made your image smaller or larger, you will either see some extra white space in your image box or it will look like your image is cut off. This is an easy fix.

Make sure you have your image selected with your selection tool and then select Object > Fitting > Fit Content Proportionally (KS: Shift + Option + Command +E)--

~ Carmen Zorick • Graphic Designer, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Work-Life Balance 3

In this series of articles by Molly Gordon, MMC, (geared towards small business owners) there is information that may help you find a process that can help you balance your work time with your business and your life. I have found these to be both interesting and helpful. Each article can be read about in more detail here – and each strategy is highlighted with additional information that is worth a read.

Articles On Work Life Balance
By Molly Gordon, MCC

* Work Life Balance - 9 Strategies to Help You Regain Your Equilibrium
If you are a small business owner, you may have noticed that the relationship between personal and professional life can be rocky. Developing and maintaining a healthy work life balance can be tricky. I know pat success formulas don't help. I also know it is possible to take care of ourselves and our businesses if we are willing to do the work. Read about nine strategies that, taken together, can help you change course without abandoning the destination and help you restore work life balance.

* Work Life Balance And The Power of Positive Thinking
Can we learn how to respond optimistically and hopefully to events that challenge work life balance? According to psychologist and researcher Martin Seligman, the answer is YES. While some folks appear to be hardwired to respond optimistically to ups and downs in life and work, others are wired for pessimistic responses. Fortunately, you do not have to settle for the wiring you were born with. Find out how you can improve your resilience and your hopefulness by acquiring solid positive thinking skills.

* Refine Your Work Life Balance by Setting Healthy Boundaries
Do you think of boundaries as ways to keep something or someone out in hope to maintain your work life balance and protect your time, energy, and resources? What do healthy boundaries look like, and how can you know where and how to set them? Let's take a big breath and take another look at this business of setting boundaries.

* Work Life Balance: Adding White Space
You most probably heard that work life balance is called the ''holy grail of the 21st century.'' In bookstores, the bookshelves groan with books devoted to the topic, yet ironically enough, quite a few people just can't find the time to read them. May this article help you cast a fresh eye on what work life balance means to you and take a further step towards balanced life.

* Work Life Balance: The Gift Of Too Much To Do
People are always asking me how I get everything done. How do I find the time to read so much? How can I travel and attend trainings while keeping up with my practice? How do I manage to write my blog and Authentic Promotion newsletter? How do I maintain work life balance that has become the Holy Grail of our times? In this article, I am gladly sharing one of my "secrets."

* Work Life Balance: 9 Quick Tips for Managing Overwhelm
If you feel that your work life balance is teetering on the edge; isn't it time to make changes before the problems overwhelm you? Whether or not you own your own business, life is often overwhelmingly rich. I wish you joy in the dance as you move with order and disorder, discipline and insight, gracefully maintaining work life balance.

* Your First Step To Balanced Life: Make Room for Enough
Here is the secret that underlies all life balance.

* Calling Your Energy Home
Find out about two main reasons we run short of energy we need to maintain work life balance and call your energy home with an energy inventory offered in this article.

* Work Life Balance: Self Care, Whether You Deserve It Or Not
Answering these simple questions will help you start or resume your journey toward real work life balance.

* Transition to Balanced Life: Do You Have Your Instrument Rating?
There are times in life and in business when it's just not possible to know what to do next based on your usual sources of information. Read about the ways that will help you avoid error, achieve more, and enjoy a balanced life.

So in your busy lives of working and living, I do hope that some of this information that I discovered is insightful and will help you in creating your balance.

~ Cyndy Hutchinson • CFO, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Food and Beverage Minimums in Contracts

Those of you who have been in the industry a while will most certainly come up against food and beverage (F&B) minimums at some pointing your career and how you have handled them will likely have been determined by your client’s needs and the particular event’s specifications. For those of you who are new to meeting planning, F&B minimums can be a bit daunting.

So what is a food and beverage minimum and why would I allow them into my contracts? Well, the term itself is pretty self-explanatory – it is the minimum amount of food and beverage your group is committing to in the contract – but does not go far enough to capture all that the clause entails.

F&B minimums in a contract will nearly always be spelled out in terms of dollars to be spent on catering for your event. You are spending at least that amount of money, regardless of what you order or how many people actually attend. If I have an F&B minimum of $15,000, then my final catering bill will be at least $15,000. It is important to note, too, that the minimum is the base price, exclusive of tax and service charges. (For more on these “hidden charges”, check out this post.)

The hotel calculates the minimum based on the meal functions that you have planned and secured space for at the property. They also look at how many people are projected to attend those events. If the number seems unreasonable to you, do your own calculations based on your best information about the group and using the hotel’s own menus, then make a counter-offer to the hotel. Remember, like nearly any other clause in the contract, you can suggest changes and negotiate terms. When I see an F&B minimum in a draft contract, I will always do my own (realistic!) calculation of what I think my group will order – and try to get a lower number in the contract. This leaves me some “wiggle room” in case my numbers are not as high as I expect or if the client reduces the size of or cancels any particular function.

So why are those clauses even in the contract? Basically, this is a bit of self-protection for the hotels that arose out of the days when planners would book the sun and fail to deliver even the moon. Hotels needed to protect themselves from the unrealistic projections of planners. (OK, not all planners did this but enough did that the trend was very disturbing for hotels.) As a result, the F&B minimum was “born”. It allowed the hotel or caterer to make the planner be realistic in their projections of how much food they would actually order once the meeting occurred – and they enforced this by making the planner put their money where their mouth was. If you tell the hotel that you are doing a banquet for 100 people, then you need to be willing to commit close to that amount as the minimum. Planners quickly learned to look at their events a little more critically so that they could be more accurate in booking those events.

Don’t get upset when you see an F&B minimum in the contract, though do check the numbers carefully. Just as we as planners want certain protections in there, so, too, do the hotels and this is one protection I agree with. Though, as I mentioned earlier, I do work to ensure that the minimum requested is a realistic target for my group to hit. If I know my group is only likely to spend $5,000 in F&B, I will not sign a contract for any higher amount. Neither will I argue if the hotel wants to impose a $2,500 minimum, especially if I know my group can easily make that level.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is Happening with Federal Travel

Recently the Federal Government issued a Federal Travel Regulation Bulletin (GSA Bulletin FTR 10-6) regarding Travel Policies and Practices. The stated purpose of this bulletin is to “enhance travel cost savings and reduce green house gas emissions.” This travel policy was established in response to the President’s Executive Order requiring heads of agencies to consider reductions associated with “implementing strategies and accommodations for transit, travel, training, and conferencing that actively support lower-carbon commuting and travel by agency staff.”

The travel bulletin goes on to say one of the ways to enhance cost savings is by reducing or eliminating travel. The new guidance encourages eliminating travel when possible by utilizing technology in lieu of travel. Agencies are encouraged to use teleconferencing, video conferencing, webinars, social networking options, etc. We have heard all of this before. It will be interested to see if we see an increase in demand for electronic conferencing.

Both travel costs and carbon reduction strategies are encouraged in the guidelines when planning any travel. Suggestions include traveling lighter (less luggage), using public transportation, and ridesharing and or walking, to and from lodging and meeting sites. When cabs are used, the traveler is encouraged to use cabs that use alternative fuels. If rental cars are required, the traveler is encouraged to use the smallest, most fuel efficient vehicle or if available under a government agreement, use alternative fuel or hybrid rental.

Lodging should be “Green”. Travelers are encouraged to look for lodging that is LEED certified, or has an EPA Energy Star rating or participates in EPA’s Waste Wise and Watersense program and has a stated commitment to practicing environmentally preferable purchasing in the products and services used. The guidance also asks travel to participate in the hotels reuse of linen to conserve water and recycling programs. It also encourages turning off AC/Heat, radio and TV in the room when leaving. These are good suggestions for all us as we travel for either business or pleasure.

When hosting meetings and conferences requiring travel, the guidance encourages strategies such as offering an alternative for remote conferencing, ensuring the site is easily accessible to public transportation, assuring the property incorporates green principles, and that if possible, schedule concurrently with other meetings so attendees can overlap their attendance and avoid multiple trips.

What does that mean to both government planners as well as independent planners? I think this is the wave of the future and we should all consider these guidelines when working with all of our clients and planning for our future events.

~ Linda Begbie • CEO & Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Ed Note: If you are traveling in or to California, check out this web site for a list of green-certified hotels and learn what it takes for them to become certified. - KB

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to Plan a Gala - Outsourcing for Vendors

I recently finished planning a 28th annual gala in San Diego for one of our clients. About a year ago, I wrote a blog about how to plan a gala, using the same client’s event as the example. I offered some basic tips, depending on the type of venue being used. This time around, I would like to highlight and discuss a few details I did not mention in my previous gala blog.

Outsourcing for vendors was one of the main tasks this time. San Diego has a huge market so competition was stiff and, in today’s economy, everyone wants a piece of the pie. In sending out the request for proposal (RFP), I noted important aspects of the event, i.e., date, time, location, food & beverage requests, audio-visual, and other considerations. Several venues in the downtown area of San Diego responded. After learning about each vendor’s policies and procedures, the type of space provided, and rates, we made our selection. However, the venue finally chosen did not provide many elements needed for the gala. First, I needed to hire a catering company. Typically, venues have a preferred vendor list for special events. It is helpful knowing these companies have created a great working relationship with the venue, understand the space really well, and can offer discounts. Second, the event needed a professional DJ for the entertainment portion. And third, we needed a beverage vendor to provide bar service. Now, this is working with three different companies, three different negotiations, and three different contracts – outside of the venue contract. Thankfully, the catering company provided tables, linens, chairs, flatware and glassware. That could have been yet another element.

Dedicating enough time to such coordination is important. I started planning 6-8 months prior to the event, due to its size and complexity. Each vendor was extremely helpful offering suggestions to create a smooth and easy event. Overall, I found working with many different vendors was easy and enjoyable. All of who did an exceptional job. The venue coordinator was among the best I have worked with. I am looking forward to planning the 29th annual gala in Atlanta, GA.

~ Tess Conrad • Meeting & Conference Planner, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Work-Life Balance 2

Last month, I wrote about keeping a balance between work and life and have been doing more research (and there is a lot out there). Here is another article that I wanted to share.

Work-Life Balance Defined - What it really means!

Despite the worldwide quest for Work-Life Balance, very few have found an acceptable definition of the concept. Here's a proven definition that will positively impact your everyday value and balance starting today. (Average reading time 120 seconds).

Let's first define what work-life balance is not.

Work-Life Balance does not mean an equal balance. Trying to schedule an equal number of hours for each of your various work and personal activities is usually unrewarding and unrealistic. Life is and should be more fluid than that.

Your best individual work-life balance will vary over time, often on a daily basis. The right balance for you today will probably be different for you tomorrow. The right balance for you when you are single will be different when you marry, or if you have children; when you start a new career versus when you are nearing retirement.

There is no perfect, one-size fits all, balance you should be striving for. The best work-life balance is different for each of us because we all have different priorities and different lives.

However, at the core of an effective work-life balance definition are two key everyday concepts that are relevant to each of us. They are daily Achievement and Enjoyment, ideas almost deceptive in their simplicity.

Engraining a fuller meaning of these two concepts takes us most of the way to defining a positive Work-Life Balance. Achievement and Enjoyment answer the big question "Why?" Why do you want a better income…a new house…the kids through college…to do a good job today…to come to work at all?
Most of us already have a good grasp on the meaning of Achievement. But let's explore the concept of Enjoyment a little more. As part of a relevant Work-Life Balance definition, enjoyment does not just mean "Ha-Ha" happiness. It means Pride, Satisfaction, Happiness, Celebration, Love, A Sense of Well Being …all the Joys of Living.

Achievement and Enjoyment are the front and back of the coin of value in life. You can't have one without the other, no more than you can have a coin with only one side. Trying to live a one sided life is why so many "Successful" people are not happy, or not nearly as happy as they should be.

You cannot get the full value from life without BOTH Achievement and Enjoyment. Focusing on Achievement and Enjoyment every day in life helps you avoid the "As Soon As Trap", the life dulling habit of planning on getting around to the joys of life and accomplishment "as soon as…."

My caffeine source is diet cola. But I'm a somewhat fussy diet cola drinker. I don't like cans or bottles, I like fountain. And there is a big difference in fountain drinks. So I know all the best fountains within a five-mile radius of my house and office. My favorite is a little convenience store near my home called Fitzgerald's.

Let's say I'm wandering into Fitzgerald's at 6 in the morning, in my pre-caffeinated state and the implausible happens. Some philosophical guy bumps into me, and says…. "Heh mister… what's your purpose in life?" Well even in that half-awake condition, I'd have an answer for him. I'd say, "You know, I just want to achieve something today and I want to enjoy something today. And if I do both of those things today, I'm going to have a pretty good day. And if I do both of those things every day, for the rest of my life… I'm going to have a pretty good life."

And I think that's true for all of us. Life will deliver the value and balance we desire …when we are achieving and enjoying something every single day…in all the important areas that make up our lives. As a result, a good working definition of Work-Life Balance is:

Meaningful daily Achievement and Enjoyment in each of my four life quadrants: Work, Family, Friends and Self.
Ask yourself now, when was the last time you Achieved AND Enjoyed something at work? What about Achieved AND Enjoyed with your family; your friends? And how recently have you Achieved AND Enjoyed something just for you?

Why not take 20 minutes on the way home from work and do something just for yourself? And when you get home, before you walk in the door, think about whether you want to focus on achieving or enjoying at home tonight. Then act accordingly when you do walk in the door.

At work you can create your own best Work-Life Balance by making sure you not only Achieve, but also reflect the joy of the job, and the joy of life, every day. If nobody pats you on the back today, pat yourself on the back. And help others to do the same.

When you do, when you are a person that not only gets things done, but also enjoys the doing, it attracts people to you. They want you on their team and they want to be on your team.

Simple concepts. And once you focus on them as key components of your day, they are not that hard to implement. So, make it happen, for yourself, your family and all the important individuals you care about…every day for the rest of your life… Achieve and Enjoy.

Jim Bird, Publisher

On thing that I am finding over and over, is that there is not one easy solution to maintaining a healthy work and life balance. Everyone needs to find a way to make this happen for themselves. Opening yourself up to suggestions is only the beginning, but we all have to begin somewhere.

~ Cyndy Hutchinson • CFO, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Offering Gratuities to Hotel Staff After the Conclusion of the Event

It is great when you have enough money in your budget to offer additional gratuities after a conference to reward those who went above and beyond the call of duty in support of your event. So how does one go about doing that, short of walking around with an envelope full of cash...?

If you wish to present gratuities to staff at a hotel for exemplary service, I would recommend creating a list of those individuals that you want to recognize with cash payments (gratuities). From there, you can start plugging in dollar amounts. Alternately, you decide on a total that you are willing/can afford to pay and start giving it to various people until you run out. The more someone did for you and/or the group, the more they would receive. The whole process is a back and forth kind of affair as you adjust the list of names, the amounts they get, and the total you are disbursing until you reach a final list you are comfortable with.

Typically, the CSM gets the largest amount, followed by banquet captains or other "dedicated" staff at the hotel, depending on their role in supporting the event. I will sometimes include servers or other line staff if they really went "above and beyond" in their service - though, as often as not, a letter to the General Manager acknowledging their work and expressing thanks serves a more valuable role for them. Only in extreme instances do I include bellmen or anyone else who would have received a cash gratuity on the spot for their services. In any case, my list of folks who received gratuities after the fact is rarely more than six to ten people.

Though various service industries often try to set “recommended” gratuity rates, remember that gratuities here are a reward for service “above and beyond”, not just for good service – and there really is no one right amount to give if you are presenting gratuities. Do what feels right (and is within your budget).

When you have your list finalized, you send a check to the hotel for the total amount along with a list spelling out who gets how much of that total. The list and check typically go to the CSM, though sometimes they will go to someone else instead – confirm who should get them before sending.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Update on What is Happening in the Hotel Industry and How it Affects Meeting Planners

An article in the Oct. 11, 2010, edition of Business Travel News (posted online October 15th) warns meeting planners to expect more difficult negotiations in 2011. According to the author, attrition clauses, demands for room cut-off dates, and deposits will become much less negotiable and planners should be prepared for this new trend. The article goes on to say that planners can still expect to negotiate freely for food and beverage credits, room upgrades, and waivers on resort fees and parking. This is helpful to know as we begin moving forward in sending out RFP’s and negotiating for sites for future meetings.

We have all been reading room rates are rising. One source for the article predicts that we could see anywhere from a 7 – 11 percent increase in room rates. Others have projected a 5 percent increase. I think we have all been expecting this increase and have just been waiting. This can be interpreted as an optimistic move on the part of the hotel industry. We also are encouraged to watch out for the hidden fees such as occupancy tax, resort fees, etc. Some properties have increased those fees in order to keep their rack rate low, yet still raise their bottom line.

The one thing not taken into account is the issue of Video Conferencing. Everyone pays lip service to this type of meeting as it a method of cutting travel and lodging costs. The question is how will this affect the bottom line in the hotel industry? Are they gearing up for meetings that include this component? If not, they need to be developing marketing strategies to the planners with ways for attendees to be video conferenced into a live event. We are constantly dealing with this issue with clients and expect to see an increase in this demand as the government begins implementing their new travel guidelines. An increase in room rates may not deter a client from using a convention property, but not having the facilities to conference others in or do a live feed out could eliminate a property from consideration.

We would love to hear your thoughts.

~ Linda Begbie • CEO & Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post Traumatic Conference Disorder (PTCD)

What is Post Traumatic Conference Disorder (PTCD)? It is a new name for the emotional withdrawals and attachment experienced after planning an event that took many long months to coordinate. In this case, I’m offering a light approach to my last experience planning a conference, with hopes others will relate.

As a meeting and conference planner I coordinate many diverse events. Some take a few weeks to coordinate, some a few months, no big deal. It’s the conferences that take almost a year to plan that give me PTCD. Wikipedia describes PTSD nicely, “symptoms that last more than one month and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” For PTCD, I would add to this definition: exhaustion, over stimulation, and increased levels of carbohydrate, caffeine, and alcohol consumption. Such events often include and were experienced or witnessed onsite during the four-day manifesto.

When all is said and done, the attachment disorder comes from all of the wonderful people I worked with. The attendees I finally met face to face. The travel and amenities, and feeling taken care of by the hotel staff and vendors. It was great to be the omniscient conference director. This reminds me of other events I have coordinated. On some level, there is always something I would have done differently. In this case, it would have been the self-preparation beforehand.

How PTCD is treated? Post treatments usually include rest, recuperation, and relaxation! Next time I will better prepare myself for such an event. Prevention of PTCD will include yoga, meditation, increased quite time, and relying on support from family and friends. In the end, we have to remember we can’t do it alone, nor would we want to – good grief!

~ Tess Conrad • Meeting and Conference Planner, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When should I open registration for my event?

Those of you who regularly read my posts can probably predict my answer to this one: “it depends”. You also will know that I usually have a “rule of thumb” that can be used to get you started towards an answer…and, in this case, the rule of thumb is open registration eight weeks prior to the event.

Two months? Really? Yes, really. Two months before the event seems to be an ideal time to open registration for most meetings and conferences. It gives you time to offer early bird rates and still have a registration deadline (if you have one) that is early enough to be valuable to you as the meeting planner without cutting into the registration window too much.

For many events, especially smaller ones, opening registration earlier than two months ahead of time may result in too many people forgetting about the event – unless you constantly pepper them with marketing to keep it forefront in their minds. Opening later (i.e. closer to the event date) may not give people enough time to register before the deadline, make travel or hotel arrangements, or result in conflicts with other personal or professional commitments.

Please remember, this timeframe is not set in stone, nor does it apply to all events. For some events, it simply makes a lot more sense to open earlier. You may need to avoid holiday breaks or just give attendees more time to get agency approval. If that is what you need to do, then do it. And there are occasions when you will open registration later due to the circumstances of that particular event. An event on a recurring schedule (such as monthly or quarterly) may need different lead times throughout the year for each specific meeting. The goal here is simply to give you a starting point. Any adjustments from there are wholly dependent on the needs of your target participants.

Also – just because you are not opening registration until approximately eight weeks out does not mean that you should not start your marketing earlier. In fact, I generally argue that marketing to potential attendees should begin as soon as you know when and where your event will be taking place. Regular reminders can be used to give updates, remind folks of important deadlines, or just to keep your event in the front of their minds when they are considering which events to attend. And, once an event is established for a certain time of year (for example), marketing for it can almost be year-round. Even if you may not have specific dates set, your attendees will still know that it will be “about that time of year”.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Work-Life Balance

Being a business owner & CFO of RDL enterprises is a very fulfilling job. The daily challenges of managing money are challenging. Working with clients is great and our employees are the best. However, keeping a positive balance in the office and in my personal life is what drives me the most. Recently, we had a staff meeting and the, “RDL Talks!” blog was on our agenda. As I was thinking about what to write for one of my next posts, I started thinking about the work & life balance that we all face each and every day. So, I began to do a little research to see what people do to make this all happen and to see if what I was doing was along the right path. First, I looked to Wikipedia to see if there was such a definition of work and live balance. Much to my surprise there was! I found no reason to change what I found, so I am sharing it with you in the original form.

Work–life balance
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Work-life balance is a broad concept which is closely related and derived from the research of Job satisfaction as explained and researched by Farnaz Namin-Hedayati Ph.D from Innovent Consulting a boutique consulting and work-life solutions firm in Orlando, Florida. Within the research of Job Satisfaction, Hackman and Oldham's Job Characteristics Model, had found that there are both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, which affected perceptions of, job satisfaction within individuals. Intrinsic factors referred to job characteristics specifically. However, the extrinsic factors referred to the social and cultural norms the individual holding the job operated by. Hence, Work-life balance was considered one of the inputs of this extrinsic factor. The most researched area of work-life balance and its bi-directional relationship component referring to life-work balance was introduced by Netemeyer et al., which also described the multi-dimensionality of work-life balance (time, strain behavior). One can say that Work-life balance is the proper prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) on one hand and "life" (pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) on the other. Related, though broader, terms include "lifestyle balance" and "life balance". This is fine, as long is it is clear that there is a large individual component in that. Meaning, each individual's needs, experiences, and goals, define the balance and there is not a one size fits all solution. Also, what work-life balance does not mean is an equal balance in units of time between work and life.

After reading Wikipedia’s entry – I continued to do more research (the internet is a wealth of information). I found a lot of interesting articles and information that I think is not only informative, but worth a read. This piece below was written by the staff at the Mayo Clinic was one of the articles I found. Check it out, you may learn some interesting tips that you were not aware of before…

Work-life balance: Tips to reclaim control
When your work life and personal life are out of balance, your stress level is likely to soar. Use these practical strategies to restore harmony.
By Mayo Clinic staff

There was a time when the boundaries between work and home were fairly clear. Today, however, work is likely to invade your personal life — and maintaining work-life balance is no simple task. Still, work-life balance isn't out of reach. Start by evaluating your relationship to work. Then apply specific strategies to help you strike a healthier balance.
Married to your work? Consider the cost

It can be tempting to rack up hours at work, especially if you're trying to earn a promotion or manage an ever-increasing workload. Sometimes overtime may even be required. If you're spending most of your time working, though, your home life will take a hit. Consider the consequences of poor work-life balance:

* Fatigue. When you're tired, your ability to work productively and think clearly may suffer — which could take a toll on your professional reputation or lead to dangerous or costly mistakes.
* Lost time with friends and loved ones. If you're working too much, you may miss important family events or milestones. This can leave you feeling left out and may harm relationships with your loved ones. It's also difficult to nurture friendships if you're always working.
* Increased expectations. If you regularly work extra hours, you may be given more responsibility. This may lead to only more concerns and challenges.

Strike a better work-life balance

As long as you're working, juggling the demands of career and personal life will probably be an ongoing challenge. Use these ideas to help you find the work-life balance that's best for you:

* Track your time. Track everything you do for one week, including work-related and personal activities. Decide what's necessary and what satisfies you the most. Cut or delegate activities you don't enjoy or can't handle — or share your concerns and possible solutions with your employer or others.
* Take advantage of your options. Ask your employer about flex hours, a compressed workweek, job sharing, telecommuting or other scheduling flexibility. The more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you're likely to be.
* Learn to say no. Whether it's a co-worker asking you to spearhead an extra project or your child's teacher asking you to manage the class play, remember that it's OK to respectfully say no. When you quit doing the things you do only out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you'll make more room in your life for the activities that are meaningful to you and bring you joy.
* Leave work at work. With the technology to connect to anyone at any time from virtually anywhere, there may be no boundary between work and home — unless you create it. Make a conscious decision to separate work time from personal time. When you're with your family, for instance, turn off your cell phone and put away your laptop computer.
* Manage your time. Organize household tasks efficiently, such as running errands in batches or doing a load of laundry every day, rather than saving it all for your day off. Put family events on a weekly family calendar and keep a daily to-do list. Do what needs to be done and let the rest go. Limit time-consuming misunderstandings by communicating clearly and listening carefully. Take notes if necessary.
* Bolster your support system. At work, join forces with co-workers who can cover for you — and vice versa — when family conflicts arise. At home, enlist trusted friends and loved ones to pitch in with child care or household responsibilities when you need to work overtime or travel.
* Nurture yourself. Eat healthy foods, include physical activity in your daily routine and get enough sleep. Set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga or reading. Better yet, discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends — such as hiking, dancing or taking cooking classes.

Know when to seek professional help

Everyone needs help from time to time. If your life feels too chaotic to manage and you're spinning your wheels worrying about it, talk with a professional — such as a counselor or other mental health professional. If your employer offers an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of available services.

Remember, striking a healthy work-life balance isn't a one-shot deal. Creating work-life balance is a continuous process as your family, interests and work life change. Periodically examine your priorities — and make changes, if necessary — to make sure you're keeping on track.

The information in this article, for me, seemed to reflect that I am pretty much on track. I do find that when my balance tips, that is when I feel the most stressed. So, keeping priorities in focus and maintaining those priorities seems to be the key. I always keep in mind that life is not a rehearsal, but a journey; so take time to smell the flowers along the way. Enjoy your day.

~ Cyndy Hutchinson • CFO, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Is the Service Charge hotels charge the same as a Gratuity or Tip?

Many hotels and catering venues include a “service charge” on top of their base prices (which came up in this post last year). Typical service charge amounts range from 18% to 22% tacked on to the base price for food and beverage charges. I have even seen rates as high as 25%. It is easy to assume, since these percentages are similar to what you would pay as a gratuity if you were to eat out at a nice restaurant, that the service charge is the equivalent of a gratuity. This would be a mistake.

In spite of how it may appear, the Service Charge that hotels tack onto the bill is not a gratuity – not even close. In fact, a hotel's own documents often explicitly state the two are not that same (though usually in the fine print). Service charges exist to help cover the indirect costs of supporting your food and beverage functions, such as cleaning, last-minute staffing additions, and replacement for broken or otherwise non-reusable serving items (plates, glasses, etc.). And, while the percentages venues use are in line with what you would add your dinner bill in a restaurant as a tip, the money collected from service charges very rarely, if ever, goes directly to anyone who actually worked your event.

A true gratuity, on the other hand, would go directly to venue staff and you determine who receives how much. In a future post, we'll look at ways to do this after the event has concluded.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why is the transient market important to meeting planners?

You may think that this is a subject that only the hoteliers out there care about but I would argue that it is one that all planners should pay attention to. In my recent post on meeting planning and the economy, I posited that the ups and downs of leisure travel were an indicator of the how the industry as a whole would perform in the future. Why is that? What is my reasoning for taking such a position?

Primarily, it comes down to the mentality of individuals. Since predicting the behavior of individuals can be tricky, though, it is sometimes helpful to look instead at the behavior of masses – in this case market segments. I combine leisure travel and transient business into one segment. Corporate, association, and government are the others that I typically look at when reviewing trends in the industry. These do not encompass all of the possible market segments but they do allow me to view, in broad brush strokes, the landscape of the hospitality industry. However, each segment is usually treated as separate and somewhat unrelated. So why does the transient market have such an impact that I consider it to be an important indicator of economic trends? Why not one of the others?

My stand is that it is the beliefs and attitudes of individuals that drives our industry. If enough individuals believe that the economy is bad and do not want to travel (whatever the reason), those beliefs have a negative impact on each market segment. The same is true if they believe that the economy is good and feel comfortable with travel and going to meetings. Here’s how I see it working…

Individuals have opinions about traveling, be it for personal or professional reasons. When they do not feel like they can afford to travel personally (usually for fiscal reasons), the transient market drops. The more people who feel that way, the more that market segment is affected.

Then, when they go to work, they carry that attitude with them – maybe not consciously but they carry it nonetheless. That affects their willingness to attend conferences (especially if it involves out-of-pocket expenditures) and their perception of the value of meetings and conferences in general. If enough people carry these feelings into the workplace, then it can cause the corporate market to sag. Add into the mix the fact that such feelings usually have some basis in real economic conditions and you have a situation where companies are already beginning to tighten their belts and clamp down on “extraneous expenditures”. Meetings and conferences tend to get eliminated from the budget along with anything else that is seen as unnecessary or wasteful.

Association events tend to weather downturns in attitudes and economies a bit differently. Because many of these events are voluntary rather than having mandated participation, you often see their events get downsized rather than eliminated completely when the economy sours. Those involved have a personal desire to attend and may work harder to do so. However, the attitudes they carry about personal travel certainly still have an impact here.

On the plus side, these same forces work when people believe that they are secure financially. They are more willing to travel in their personal lives, which translates to more willingness to travel professionally. Since their choices affect the transient market first, then the corporate and association markets, I keep an eye on trends in leisure and transient business at hotels to give me an early glimpse of what the future may have in store for my meetings and events.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When can I expect to see registrations start to come in?

Believe it or not, I actually get this question fairly often. A client will open registration and then want to know how soon people will start to register. It is particularly common when registration opens particularly early. However, while it is a fair question, a little patience is often in order as it can often take a while before your attendees begin registering.

When folks will register for an event depends on many factors. Think about what would affect your decision about when to register for an event – and extrapolate that to your projected attendees. Do they need to wait for agency approval? Perhaps they need to wait until their next paycheck. When you hit an agency’s budget cycle may also cause people to wait – or to register right away. Similarly, if you open registration while your audience is on vacation, you will probably have to wait a bit longer to see registration numbers pick up. Even with all of the variations among groups, though, I have noticed that there tends to be a “sweet spot” and a few secondary periods in which most registrations come in.

For most events I have done, the sweet spot tends to be four to six weeks before the conference is scheduled to take place. I believe that the reason for this is that it is far enough out that people have time to budget for it and plan to attend, yet it is close enough that they also feel some sense of urgency to complete their registration.

The next two periods that typically result in the next highest numbers of registrants is from six to eight weeks out and two to four weeks out. Both of these time frames share a trait with the sweet spot – but not the other. Six to eight weeks out leaves plenty of time to get registrations through their agencies for payment, but there is sometimes a lack of urgency that it needs to be done right away. On the other hand, those who register in the two to four week period certainly have more of a sense of urgency, but are often faced with challenges in processing payments.

Another period worth noting is event-specific. The deadline for early registration – the date when the cost of registering goes up – often sees a spike in registrations as people scramble to get their registrations in before the deadline. This “early bird bump” is one reason we often recommend to clients that they offer early bird rates: they get more registrations in early enough that we can make meaningful projections about the final attendance. I have also seen smaller spikes in registration immediately following targeted marketing efforts as people respond to the email or phone call reminding them to register.

All in all, there really is no magic period in which a group should expect the majority of their attendees to register. Instead, it is a moving target that successfully predicting requires an in-depth knowledge of your attendees and the specific conditions they operate within and the situations they face. However, I am able to use the “sweet spot” of four to six weeks as a decent gauge of how well an event is doing getting registrants – and whether or not additional marketing efforts are called for.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our Experience as a Vendor at a Virtual Trade Show

In the spirit of “Green Marketing”, RDL attempted something new. We participated in a Virtual Trade Show. We built our trade booth using the tools provided, which was fun since it had the potential of being totally interactive, and times were posted for it to be interactive, with an open chat room for folks going through the booths.

As part of the trade show, visitors can pick up a copy of your brochures and other marketing materials. You can post videos, articles, do a giveaway or be as creative as you wish in terms of what you post at your booth. There is a record of who visits your booth, what they took, and if they left a business card so you can do follow-up. This all sounded like great way for us to reach a larger market.

The Trade Show was to a have an interactive grand opening and then was to be open for 30 days with at least one more “live chat” event. The target market was to be the west coast and, as an added bonus, it was being marketed to the Far East. We purchased the booth through a regional organization that is part of a nationwide organization whose mission is to support small, women-owned businesses. We believed in their ability to follow through on their marketing commitment to the booth holders.

Our experience was dismal to put it kindly. Over the 30 days that became 60 days, only one person who was not part of the sponsoring organization or one of the other vendors visited our booth. They were selling, not buying. The marketing commitment from the sponsoring organization was non-existent, so the only marketing efforts made were those we made using our own traditional marketing outreach tools. In our mind, we had a trade show and no one was invited except our closest friends and colleagues and they had no reason to go. They either already knew us or could check out our website as a link in our marketing materials.

In hindsight, there were flaws in what potentially had some great opportunities. Of course the first one was depending on the sponsoring organization to fulfill their commitment. We were new to the organization and did not know the organization’s reputation for offering great ideas with a total lack of follow-through. Some lessons are hard met. Another flaw was having the site up for too long. It needed to be a short-term, highly publicized event, hopefully tied to another event such as a webinar or other electronic marketing activity.

I am not sure that RDL would do another virtual trade show. It was a costly mistake in terms of time and money for us, but I still think it may be viable tool for marketing a business in our virtual world. I would recommend approaching it carefully in terms of who is sponsoring the site, how it is marketed to others, and who else is part of the show. Our partners were a combination of small service providers and large corporations. It should have been a successful mix.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Ed. Note: Linda’s original post on this topic can be found here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Current Economy and Three Signs that the Hospitality Industry is on the Road to Recovery

Like many professions and industries, the hospitality industry has been hurting. We wonder when the economy will turn around, when business will pick up, and how to survive in the meantime. And, these questions represent common themes of discussions in the groups and associations to which I belong. Given my many years in the meeting planning industry, I am frequently asked for my opinion and perspective as a planner on the state of the economy as it relates to our industry. Now, I am no economist and have nothing but anecdotal evidence and my own experiences to support my views but, for what it’s worth, here is my two cents on the matter…

The current economic “downturn” is the third one I have been through in my sixteen years as a meeting planner and it is certainly the longest and most severe. The causes are many and often disputed. To make matters worse, most reports in the news suggest that we may not come out of this for quite some time as the complex interplay of economic forces adjust to the “new realities”. Does this mean that the meetings industry is doomed? Are we condemned to languish for years in economic doldrums? I think not.

Each time there has been a downturn in the meetings industry, it has been preceded by a drop in leisure travel. The typical pattern has been for transient business to drop and, six to eighteen months later, corporate business falls off, which is then followed by the association market. Government meetings have usually gone on more or less unimpeded. They may have slight drops but nothing on the same scale as the other markets. This time, government has also dropped significantly (about the same time as corporate and association). However, it is not all darkness on the horizon. I have noted three signs that indicate that recovery may be on its way for meetings and conferences.

1st sign: that drop in leisure/transient business that seems to appear each time before a downturn? Well, I’ve noticed that it also appeared to rebound ahead of each of the previous recoveries. In talking with the hoteliers I know, they have all seen recent (last six months to nine months) increases in the level of transient business at their properties. And, these increases have been significant both in terms of numbers and duration. Transient business, once it started to pick up again, has remained solid for many of the hotels that I have talked to. In my mind, this is the most important factor in gauging how the industry will fare in days to come.

2nd sign: Inquiries for our services are up. Like hotels and other service providers, we do not win every job we submit a bid for but an increase here is another good sign. I see this an indicator that groups are once more looking to host events. In some cases, it has taken them longer to secure funding for their events; in other cases, they had fired their planners (to cut costs) but now need assistance to produce those mandatory events that were once handled in-house. In either case, it means that the desire to hold an event is there and as the saying goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

3rd sign: Last minute hotel bookings are up. This also tells me that people still want to do meetings and events but perhaps they have been waiting to make sure their funding is secure or it is taking longer for meetings to get approved. A year ago at this time, there was nothing happening - many hotels were practically empty - so to see the increase in last minute bookings is encouraging. The uptick in the transient market, combined with high levels of last minute bookings for events has helped carry them through thus far.

As encouraging as the signs may be, though, we are not out of the woods yet. I do agree with the economists that the industry is still in for some rocky times but I also believe that our recovery is already beginning. Where everything last year was very gloomy and all signs were negative, I now have some positive signs to point to that reinforce my belief that things are improving.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Healthy Meeting Options – Beverages

The food and beverage choices that you make as a planner can have a huge impact on your attendees. In fact, the food that someone has at a conference can be remembered long after the event is done and that memory may even last longer than whatever they learned in the actual sessions! So what can you do to help your attendees to have a healthier meeting? We have previously discussed healthy options for food; this time, let’s take a look and the other half of that pairing – beverages.

1. One of the most obvious ways to help people drink healthier is to provide water for the meeting participants. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have been to plenty of meetings where water was not provided. Be sure to provide water at your meetings. The next big question is whether to serve water in pitchers or bottles. I will stay out that debate here, though I will say that I have heard compelling arguments for both sides of the debate. Suffice to say that which one you choose may come down to personal preference, event budget, or other factors as much as it may be driven by environmental concerns.

2. Provide non-caloric options, such as tea and coffee. Remember, these drinks are only non-caloric so long as you do not add anything else to them, which brings us to the next option…

3. Choose nonfat or low-fat milk for folks to use in their coffee or tea.

4. While I have never been able to completely eliminate soda from the day’s menus, it is possible to offer healthier options here, too. Vegetable juice, fruit juice (100%, please!), unsweetened teas, and even carbonated waters are all good options here.

5. Finally, exercise portion control. Yes, this is possible with drinks (bars do it all the time). Asking the hotel or caterer for smaller cups (an 6.4 ounce cup instead of an 8 ounce or larger mug, for example) means that, at minimum, an attendee needs to walk a bit more to get the same amount of beverage, which burns that many more calories. It may not seem like much, but it does add up.

Providing healthier options for beverages at a meeting may seem like it would yield only minimal benefits - and that may be true if it is the only approach used. However, when used in conjunction with healthier meal options and increased exercise during meetings, it can greatly support the overall goal of healthier meetings.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thoughts on Surviving this Economy as a Small Service Business

After over 20 years in business, the economy finally came knocking on our door, walked in, did a little staff reduction, and found a place to stay for a while. As is true for all businesses, this has been a challenging eighteen months. We are under no delusions that it is over, although we maintain hope that things are easing.

How have we survived? I can only say our survival is based on some tangible and some intangible reasons. Probably the biggest reason is commitment. The staff here at RDL have maintained a commitment to success in spite of the months our client base had dwindled, and we were marketing as creatively as we knew how in spite of our limitations both financially and experientially.

The RDL staff are an amazing group of people. They are absolutely positive that we will continue in our success and are unwilling to think or hear that there are any other options. Everyone has been a part of the belt tightening that keeps us going and although the belt has not been moved up or back a notch, we are breathing a little easier as our hard work has begun to show some results.

Some of our existing clients continue on planning their events, and some have postponed them in hopes of future funding. Our hard work and commitment has paid off in the new clients we have added to our base. One came as a referral from an existing client, one came as a result of good networking, and others have come through following leads.

Whoever said that positive thinking doesn’t work, should spend a day at RDL. We are positive that as the economy gets healthier so will our bottom line and we can loosen that old belt buckle or maybe even just buy a new belt.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What is a CVB and how can they help your meeting?

CVB stands for Convention and Visitors Bureau. When we looked at common acronyms in the industry, this was one that definitely needed to be in that list and, if you are new to meeting planning, this is one of those terms that you absolutely must learn. Why? What’s in it for you as a planner?

Well, for starters, CVBs exist for the sole purpose of bringing business to their city and region – from individual travelers all the way up through citywide conventions. They have the resources and knowledge to help you find the right venue or the right services to support your event. You do not need to know the region in depth – that’s their job. Every first and second-tier city has one (some areas have more!) and most third-tier cities have them as well.

They can also assist you in selecting a venue for your event – helping with everything from initial determination of meeting specs and lead distribution to collecting proposals and aiding with site inspections.

They are a resource for every kind of service that you could need for your meeting or conference. If they do not have members who offer the kinds of services you are looking for, they can help find them. I will often use the CVB to help me find AV providers, caterers, decorators, and other specialty services – especially if I do not know anyone in that area already who provides the services I need.

If you need information on events going on while you are in town, the CVB can provide that to you – everything from dining options and shopping centers to museums, sporting events, and theaters. Remember, the Bureaus are geared to help individuals as well as groups so, when I need to know what options exist for my meeting attendees before or after my meeting is done, the CVB gives me a great place to start to find the things that will interest my group.

The kicker for me, though, is the cost – free. That’s right, free! How CVBs are financed varies by bureau but, for me as a planner, there is no cost for most of what they offer in the way of assistance.

It is worth noting that Bureaus are usually funded by a combination of taxes on hotel rooms sold and disbursements from their cities so, yes, I do “pay” for the service through taxes on guest rooms for my groups but that tax will be charged whether I use the CVB or not – so why would I not use them? If in doubt, ask them what they can do to help you for free and what comes with a cost. The stuff I’ve mentioned above, though, is all provided for free.

Another bonus is that many of these resources are available online (also free of charge) and the CVB web sites are a great way to get an initial “feel” for a city and what they might have to offer your group in the way of attractions, dining, entertainment, etc. Look for the “meeting planner” links on their sites. You can get valuable information about venues in the region, as well as submit a Request for Proposals (RFP), check out their convention and events calendars, or locate local vendors for the services your event needs.

Check them out. You may be surprised at how much a CVB has to offer you…

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How do I know if a budget expense is variable or fixed?

Here’s another question for you: why should you care? After all, many planners never have to worry about this at all. I’ll assume that, if you asked the question, you care about the answer. However, my take on it in general is: if you are going to work with event budgets, then it is your responsibility as a meeting planner to make those budgets as accurate as possible. Knowing whether an expense is a variable or fixed cost is crucial to that goal. It is also an absolute requirement if you are going to do projections and not simply post-event reports. And, one of the most important projections you can do is to calculate at what point your event “breaks-even” and starts making money. [For more info on calculating the break-even point, check out my previous post on that subject (Part 1/Part 2).]

In preparing or working with conference budgets, one area that many novice planners struggle with is knowing when a budget expense is fixed and when it is variable. Fortunately, there is a simple rule of thumb that will help you keep it straight: if the total cost for an expense goes up or down proportionally as you increase or decrease the number of participants, then it is a variable cost. If not, it is a fixed cost.

Some cases are easy – meals, for example. Food and beverage costs are nearly always considered Variable Costs when calculating event budgets. Why is that? Well, meals are prepared, served, and billed “per person”. If your 75 person meeting suddenly jumps to 125, then your total bill jumps proportionally; each person added to the count increases your costs by the same amount. Similarly, the total cost of your meal will drop if your numbers drop (providing you have not already guaranteed a minimum number of meals). Handouts for attendees and confirmation letters are two more examples of Variable Expenses.

Speaker fees are another simple example – this time of a fixed cost. If you are paying $1,000 to a speaker, that fee does not usually change if there is a change in the number of attendees for the meeting. Nor do the speaker’s travel costs change (if you are paying for those). It does not matter how many people actually attend your meeting, the airline will still charge the same for the speaker’s ticket. Other examples of Fixed Costs are meeting space rental, audio-visual charges, and marketing expenses, just to name a few.

So what about tax and service charges – the dreaded “plus-plus”? They count as Variable or Fixed, depending on what expense they are tied to. When calculating tax and service charge on meals, you should include them as a variable cost. If they are being tacked on to room rental, then they should be treated as fixed.

Though much of this may seem to be pretty obvious, it can get confusing. Where most people start making mistakes is when they see expenses that do change as attendance numbers change but are not directly tied to individuals. Audio-Visual charges, for example, can often trick novice planners – these fixed expenses are often misidentified as variable. What the planner says to me is something like: “but I would not have ordered that microphone if my numbers had not grown so it must be a variable expense.” While that statement may be true, adding or removing a microphone on your order is a result of a certain threshold being reached and not a function of each individual added to or subtracted from the audience – therefore it should be considered a fixed expense.

Though the examples provided here are but a few of the potential budget items that you might have to manage, the rule of thumb provided above should aid you in determining how each item in your budget should be handled. If there is an item you are not sure of, or have questions about specific budget items, please send me an email and I’ll be happy to respond to your questions.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is a “Pre-Con”?

“Pre-Con” is short for pre-conference (or pre-convention) and can refer to any meeting that occurs before the main conference or convention. However, for meeting planners and hoteliers, the term has a particular meaning that is instantly recognized by any who have been in the industry for a while. We use the term to indicate a specific kind of meeting that takes place before the conference, one between the meeting planner and the venue. So why is this special meaning important? What happens at these meetings that make the term stand out in the hospitality industry?

At its most basic, a pre-con is a meeting in which a representative for the group producing the meeting meets with a representative from the venue in which the meeting is being held for the purpose of reviewing the details of the event to ensure accuracy and completeness. This meeting gets everyone on board and “on the same page”.

A typical pre-con begins with the venue welcoming the group. Introductions are made of all of those present from the hotel side and their role in making the event a success. The planner will introduce their team as well. I think of this part of the pre-con as the “big picture” section. We review the goals and objectives for the event and discuss the keys to making the event a success. This section is not always needed and whether or not it is included is often a function of your needs and preferences as well as the size of your event. The larger your event, the more likely this will be included in some fashion. For small functions, an informal round of handshakes may suffice before you move on.

The next portion of the pre-con, which I call the “nuts & bolts” section, usually involves a much smaller group than the “big picture” piece. Where the “big picture” piece can involve as many as 20 people, the “nuts & bolts” piece will usually not involve more than five or six – and I have often had just two or three people (including myself) for smaller meetings. This portion of the pre-con is where the details of the event and the BEOs are discussed in…well, detail. Everything is reviewed to ensure that everyone knows what is scheduled to happen when, what goods or services are to be provided, and who the responsible parties are. This portion of the pre-con is the part you should not ever skimp on – take the time to do it and do it thoroughly.

For large events, I make sure to meet with my CSM far enough in advance to make sure that there is time to inform every department of any changes and get them “on board” with my group’s requirements. Typically, holding the pre-con the day before the event starts provides sufficient time for this, though I have seen pre-cons done as many as three or four days ahead of time. If I am managing a small event, do I still do a pre-con? Absolutely, though it may just be a quick review of the BEOs with my catering manager the night before my meeting starts. In any case, though, I never do a meeting or conference without conducting a pre-con prior to the beginning of the event – and neither should you!

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Healthy Meeting Options – Meals & Snacks

When planning meals and snacks for meetings, it can be hard to provide healthy options to participants. Actually, the hardest part is getting people to choose healthy options but, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. So what’s a meeting planner to do? Make sure the options exist. Here are some of the ways I strive to provide healthier meal and snack options for attendees at my meetings.

1. Make sure that fruit and/or vegetables are available as much as possible within the constraints of the menu. For me, this usually means whole fruit for breaks, particularly in the afternoon, since they last longer on display and can easily be taken by those who want a healthy snack later on. I typically include a vegetable-based item for receptions.

2. For any meal where fowl or red meat is a main component, be sure to include a vegetarian option. For lunch buffets, this could mean including entrées that are based on non-meat proteins such as beans or tofu, or alternate meats such as fish, depending on the needs of your diners. At receptions, including multiple dishes that do not contain meat gives participants additional choices.

3. Control meal portions. This is nearly impossible to do with buffets, but is quite easy to do with plated lunches (read this post for more info on plated vs. buffet meals). You can control portions at receptions through choices of items or by having servers walk around the room instead of simply putting all of the food out at once (which I discuss briefly here).

4. Talk to the chef about lean meat options so that those who choose meat dishes still get a healthier meal. The chef can often even work with limited budgets to still make this happen.

5. If possible, choose snacks that are low in fat and salt and that contain no added sugar.

Now, I don’t always use every one of these ideas but even choosing just one or two of them will help you provide healthy meals or snacks for your events. Use the ones that make sense for your budget and particular situation – and, above all else, that make sense for your group. If the attendees won't eat a particular item, then providing it is a waste of food and money. However, that does not mean I can't provide healthy options to that group…it just means I need to work a little more to find something they will like.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Ed. Note: A follow up post on beverages - the other half of F&B - can be found here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How much dry snack mix do I need for my reception?

This question has come up for me a lot of late, both online and off, and is one of those areas where your budget can quickly get out of hand if you do not have at least a rough guideline for how much to serve. Dry snacks such as peanuts, pretzels, popcorn, or chips are a staple in bars, very common for house parties, and fairly common for receptions following meetings – especially those receptions with a bar. Why is that? For house parties, it is primarily because they are easy for the host to provide. There is little to no prep time and all you really need is a bowl (though that may be optional depending on the party). In bars, dry snacks are a good way to sell more alcohol. The salts in and on the dry snacks promote thirst, which in turn leads to more sales. Even if you serve “unsalted” dry snacks, people eating them tend to consume more beverages than they would with “wetter” foods.

So how much of the snack mix should you serve? A good rule of thumb is to have one pound of dry snacks for every fifteen people in attendance. You can adjust that figure up or down based on the specific preferences of your group and what you are trying to accomplish with your reception. If nothing else is being served to eat, then you will need more – I’ll usually go with an estimate of ten people per pound in such cases. If you are providing a lot of other food choices, you may be able to get away with twenty people or more per pound. Knowing your group’s preferences will help you gauge how much you need to adjust the figure, too.

For receptions following meetings, dry snack mixes are often chosen because they are usually cheaper than providing other fare. In fact, they can even be cheaper than basic cheese platters or plates of fruit or vegetables and dips – but be sure to double check the venue’s pricing. You may not save as much as you think. Another reason for providing dry snacks is the same as any bar – to drive up drink sales (of all beverages). This could help you meet a minimum sales requirement for a cash bar.

The main reason, though, that I have come across for serving dry snacks instead of other reception items is to discourage people from making the reception their dinner. I have talked before about how much food to serve at a reception and how many different items to provide. If you recall, one of the dangers with receptions is that attendees may try to make the reception their dinner. Many reception items can easily be made into a dinner for someone – not so with dry snacks. Yes, they can still make it dinner, but it is more of a stretch for them to do so. Serving dry snack mixes is a good way to encourage people to leave the reception to find dinner.

Regardless of your reasons for choosing dry snacks for your event, though, start with a ratio of one pound of snacks per 15 people and you should have a decent estimate of how many snacks you will need to provide.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Making Meetings Productive

When you ask someone to attend an office meeting, a common response is a heavy sigh as an air of resignation settles over the other person. Why is that? Well, most surveys I have read indicate that people generally feel that most meetings are a waste of time. So how can you make your meetings more productive? Here are a few ideas:

Limit meetings to one hour or less. If a half-day or an all-day meeting is necessary, schedule breaks no more than an hour apart to allow participants the opportunity to move around, stretch, etc.

Avoid scheduling meetings over the lunch hour. For a “social” meeting, this may be acceptable, but holding a business meeting over lunch usually means that little actual business gets done.

Start your meetings on time and end them on time. If at all possible, end early. People always appreciate getting done sooner than expected.

Incorporate physical activity into the agenda. This is especially true for longer meetings. If that is not possible, make sure that participants have permission (and know they have permission) to stand and stretch if they need to.

Limit the number of topics to be discussed. This will make it easier for participants to prepare for the meeting, the meeting can retain focus, and there is less danger of “agenda creep”. For long meetings with many agenda items, this means limiting the number of topics you try to cover in between breaks.

Send out the agenda in advance. That way, people can prepare appropriately and know exactly what will be discussed. Afterwards, send out minutes or a re-cap to let people know what was decided or accomplished. This will help “tie it all together” for those who attended.

This short list is certainly not the “end all, be all” of making meetings productive and not all of them will be useful or useable all of the time. Use what you can; even one of these used consistently can help tremendously. If you want more ideas, entire volumes have been written on this subject – just check your local bookstore – but these are some of the main concepts I try to incorporate when advising clients on the structure and content of their meetings.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What type of microphone should I get for my meeting?

The easy answer is…it depends. But that’s not very helpful, is it? Let’s take a quick look at the types or styles of microphones that are common for meetings and what they are typically used for. Then, you can make a better guess as to which kind would work best for your meeting.

Essentially, there are two kinds of microphones (from a planner’s perspective): wired and wireless. And, there are two varieties of each of those: handheld or lavaliere.

Wired microphones are those microphones that are connected to the sound system be means of a wire or cord (simple, huh?). The speaker’s range of movement onstage, for example, is limited by how much play or slack exists in the wire. If the cord is only 10 feet long, he won’t be traveling very far from the unit it is plugged into! Most “table-top” mics and podium or lectern mics are wired – they don’t need to travel very far (if at all) from where they are set up. On the plus side, inputs from wired mics are very strong and only on extremely rare occasions will they pick up signals from another source. This is very good when a clear signal is mandatory or if there is the potential for interference from structures or other broadcast signals.

Wireless microphones, on the other hand, are not constrained by a physical attachment to the control/input unit. A speaker can wander anywhere in a room and still be connected to the sound system. The microphone transmits signals to/from the control unit by way of a pre-set frequency. If you have multiple wireless mics, they will each be on a separate frequency. The mobility of a wireless unit does come with a price, however. If other wireless units are operating within range of your receiver, you may pick up those signals instead of the ones from your own microphone – or someone else may pick up your signal!

Handheld microphones are by far the most common. It can be mounted on a stand or actually held by the person speaking. When speaking at a podium or a lectern, you are most likely using a handheld-style microphone that is being held by a stand. Wired handheld mics are most often used for podiums/lecterns, audience mics, and table-top mics for panelists. A wireless handheld unit, though, is more often used for what I call “talk-show” or interview-style presentations.

Lavaliere microphones clip onto the presenter’s lapel – which is why these types of mics are also called lapel mics. This frees up the speaker’s hands, allowing them to gesture, play instruments, or do any number of other things with their hands while presenting. Wired lavalieres used to be quite common and are still used when maintaining a strong signal input (perhaps for a recording) is paramount but, most of the time, ordering a lavaliere microphone means getting a wireless lavaliere. This allows for maximum range of movement by the speaker as well as leaving their hands free.

To determine which one is best for your setting, consider how the microphone will be used. A single, highly mobile, and energetic speaker would most likely need a wireless lavaliere microphone, whereas a series of speakers delivering their presentations from a lectern would probably just need a wired mic mounted on the lectern. There are many other types of microphones out there, some of which fulfill highly specialized needs.  However, knowing the difference in capabilities between wired and wireless, and between handheld and lavaliere, microphones will suffice for most meetings. When in doubt, though, I consult with my audio-visual techs. These are the guys I’ve hired to provide the equipment and, since they deal with this topic on a daily basis, I will go to them for advice when I am not sure which approach is best. However, the basic review above should give you a place to start.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Case for Face-to-Face Meetings

As a meeting and conference planner – I am always interested to know what people “out there” are thinking when it comes to the practicality of Face-to-Face meetings as opposed to an electronic format such as web conferences, videoconferences, or another virtual meeting. I personally have a hard time with the electronic type or TelePresence meetings. I can make all kinds of excuses to avoid the meeting, re-organize my priorities, check my emails repeatedly throughout the electronic meeting, surf the web. I get easily distracted or totally forget that it was on my calendar to “log-on”. Depending on what you are reading there are plenty of pros and cons out there to justify both. Your preference is exactly that…a preference for your own style of meeting: Face-to-Face or TelePresence. In my opinion, there is a time and a place for all.

For years, I have heard that the meeting and conference arena will be shrinking and that the new technology will be replacing it. However, even with all the hype and so many agencies still in the throngs of budget cuts & belt tightening, I am still finding that face-to-face meetings are still the preference among attendees and business executives. It seems that the face-to-face meetings are not only preferred by most, but that they are the primary channel for building deeper bonds between people and agencies. It seems to be a style that cannot be readily replaced on-line.

In Forbes Insights’s Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face, the case is made that face-to-face meetings are still important. Furthermore, “…it’s not just one-on-one meetings where face time is crucial. While tides have turned against holding larger corporate meetings, many executives noted the importance of driving profitability and value from these events – where “down” time can be priceless for building bonds with clients and colleagues.” In this article more than 750 business executives where surveyed about their meeting and travel preferences. In many cases, meeting budgets have been the first discretionary expenses to be cut and, as the recession has continued, these same expenses have been the hardest to recover. With all of these cuts, the virtual meeting has become more popular. However, 8 of 10 executives have a preference for the face-to-face meetings. It was felt that the face-to-face meetings build stronger and more meaningful relationships. Meeting face-to-face is better “for persuasion, leadership, engagement, accountability, and decision-making." Forbes went on to say, “There’s more to a business meeting than closing the deal. The benefits of in-person social interaction—from bonding with co-workers to using time at the pool or café to cement a client relationship—are among the more subtle, less measurable advantages executives cited.”

According to John Russell, chief executive of NYLO Hotels and former chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, “People don’t want to sit in their office looking at each other on computer screens. That personal interaction—getting together to talk over dinner, drinks or a cup of coffee—is the foundation on which business relationships are built. It’s what drives business.”

The Forbes article also points out, “With executives under greater pressure than ever to justify the return on business travel expenses, how can they best make the case for greater use of face-to-face meetings and conferences? Clearly, most executives surveyed see tangible benefits to in-person meetings that outweigh the time and expense related to travel. With economic recovery in sight, it may be up to leadership to relieve some travel restrictions and encourage more face-to-face interaction. Web-, video- and teleconferencing have their role, but the executives in the survey do not expect them to make the need for face-to-face meetings obsolete. Rather, many see the ideal as a mix of face-to-face and technology, enabled meetings and conferences.” A realistic middle ground that will benefit everyone would be an ideal compromise. “In some cases, technology may take the place of smaller meetings. Hotels should see this as an opportunity and offer virtual meetings on property. It would be a great way, for instance, to bring branch offices together for virtual regional meetings across five or six different markets. That would be a win for everyone: Hotels would continue to serve as meeting venues, and companies would reduce travel costs.” The majority of those surveyed felt that the virtual meetings will never replace face-to-face time required for building solid business relationships among businesses and the people that can make a difference.

This is great news for those of who plan meetings and conferences, for the airlines, and for the hotel and tourism industry in every state and country. Survival is dependent on the success of all partners involved in travel in the real world.

Interesting additional comments can be found on this LinkedIn Forum.

~ Cyndy Hutchinson • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Should I order a plated lunch or a buffet for my meeting?

Believe it or not, this is a question even seasoned planners ask themselves on a regular basis. The answer is dependent on factors such as number of diners, budgetary limits, and amount of time available in the schedule for lunch. Let’s take a look at when you might prefer to use one rather than the other…

Plated lunches are often cheaper than buffets, which is one reason why you might choose this type of lunch. Why are they usually cheaper? Basically, it comes down to number of options and portion control. There is more variety in a buffet than with plated meals. A plated meal will have an entrée, and one or two side dishes while a buffet typically has 2-3 entrée options and 2-4 side dishes to choose from. With a plated lunch, the kitchen can control how much food is served to each diner, allowing them to know with some certainty exactly how much each person eating will cost them in terms of ingredients and labor for your chosen meal. Buffets have little to no portion control. Each diner can take as much or as little as they want. These two factors mean that the kitchen has to prepare more food overall than if the meal is plated. After all, you (and they) do not want an entrée choice or a side dish to run out before everyone has had a chance to get some!

Buffet menus, as mentioned above, typically offer more variety to your diners than plated meals. This is particularly valuable if you are working with a group whose dietary restrictions and preferences are unknown to you. With a buffet, you can accommodate most dietary preferences with ease. Accommodating various diets with a plated lunch simply requires special meals to be prepared by the kitchen. This is not difficult but it is one more thing that you, as the planner, need to be aware of and plan for.

Other factors can also come into play in determining which type of meal, plated or buffet, you choose to serve. Time and number of diners are the two biggest ones that come to mind. Buffets work great when you have a lot of time and not a lot of diners. When you have a lot of diners and very little time to feed everyone, plated meals are almost always best.

I have had some people tell me that plated is always better or that buffet is always the one I should choose but the truth is: the better choice is the one that is right for each particular group and to never consider both options is to remove an effective tool from your meeting planning toolkit. Remember, no matter which type of service you choose, the goal is the same: to efficiently serve your guests so that they get a good dining experience that fits your meeting or conference.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three Rules for Using PowerPoint

One of the most frustrating things I have encountered when attending workshops at a conference is to have a presenter really misuse PowerPoint. It is a tool that has replaced slides in meetings and, while making it easy for anyone to create presentations, has unfortunately also brought out some of the worst urges in presenters. I have attended many workshops where speakers have flooded the screen with irrelevant images, overwhelming amounts of information, animations, and other “enhancements” that end up just distracting the audience from the full value of the material. With that in mind, here are my three “rules” for using PowerPoint…

Rule #1: 6x6. This helps me remember to not have more than six lines of text on any given slide AND that I should have no more than six words per line of text. When the screen is jammed full with text, the audience cannot pick out what is really important. As a presenter, I should make it so that the audience can easily see what is important in the material. Limiting the amount of text on the slide means I can use a larger font (making it easier to read from a distance) and the audience can listen to what I am saying rather than spend all their time trying to read the slides.

Rule #2: High Contrast. Have you ever tried to read yellow text on a red background? It is not easy. Light colors on dark backgrounds work well, as does dark text on light backgrounds. I have heard some arguments for choosing one approach over the other, but the two sides agree that having high contrast will make the slide easier for the audience to read.

Rule #3: Judicious Use of Images. This rule also applies to sounds, movies, and animations. I am not saying that you cannot use images, etc. but you need to be sure that the images add something useful to the presentation other than “flash”. Content should stand on its own and not need much more to illustrate its value. My feeling is that when speakers overuse flashy add-ons such as animations, those end up being distractions that take an audience away from the content. If you like the flashy stuff, go ahead and include it. Just be careful to not add so much of it that the content delivery suffers.

In many cases, these rules can be bent or even broken (perhaps I should have called them guidelines instead). But it is important that, if you choose to break a rule, you know exactly why you are doing it. If you need some slides to have more than six lines of text to get your point across, then do so. If the animations or images help draw attention to a particularly important part of the material or enhance a theme, then I often consider that a good use of the technique and an appropriate time to bend or break the rules.

A dancer friend of mine once joked about his “flash and trash” routines, observing that the flashy footwork distracted the audience from his rusty technique. When entertaining a crowd, “flash and trash” may be good enough (I certainly have done that enough times, myself) but, when it comes to professional presentations, I want to make sure that the flashy additions do not hide or obscure the information being shared. After all, people generally go to educational sessions to be educated first – and entertained second. Don’t let the entertainment detract from the education in your next presentation.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Five Factors Affecting the Brightness of Projected Images

This may seem like a very specialized topic for a meeting planner but it is actually something that all meeting planners need to learn at least a few basics about. As mentioned in previous posts, I will often defer to the expert audio-visual (AV) techs when I need specialized knowledge about AV for my meetings. However, I also make sure that I understand enough to be able to keep up with what they are doing. Learning these five factors has been a big help to me in doing just that when it comes to projectors – especially those LCDs that every presenter seems to want these days…

So what are the top five factors that determine how bright or powerful the projector needs to be? Well, I’ve listed them here in order of importance – from most to least – as I see them.

Ambient Light: Essentially, this is “how much light is there in the room?” The more light there is, the more light (brightness) you will need the projector to put out in order to get a clear image projected on the screen that everyone can easily see.

Size of Projected Image: Effective brightness drops as the image size increases. This is due to the fact that the projector’s light output does not change while the surface area goes up, which means less light per square foot on the screen. A more powerful projector can overcome this. It is worth noting that the light levels can drop precipitously as the image size increases. According to some estimates I’ve seen, doubling the image size can result in as much as a 75% reduction in image brightness!

Aspect Ratio: The standard aspect ratios that people are used to seeing are 4x3 (TV) and 16x9 (widescreen) but there are many more out there... In essence, though, the higher the aspect ratio, the more light the projector needs to produce to maintain image brightness due to the increased area that needs to be illuminated.

Projection Surface: Different surfaces have different refraction rates; that is, light “bounces” off of them differently. Some surfaces reflect more light while others reflect less. This can affect how the eye sees images that are projected – not just the colors of images, but also the clarity and brightness. If you are using a standard screen, you don’t really need to worry about this factor.

Projector Calibration: I’ve listed this one last because it the one factor that I have rarely, if ever, actually seen have an effect on the projected image. It is possible, but very rare. Typically, the other factors make such a difference that this one is accommodated without the audience even being aware it exists. Every projector is calibrated slightly differently. They may be near to identical when they leave the factory but, through use and “wear and tear”, they can become slightly “off” from others of the same make and model. A replacement bulb might also be an issue, changing how the final image looks onscreen – even when all other factors have been accounted for.

When setting up a projector and screen for a presenter, I always try to take these factors into account. I am not always able to minimize the effects of each factor but I can usually adjust for that by selecting a more powerful projector – one that puts out more light. Testing during setup is very important as well, so you can make sure that you have done everything you can to make the presenter look good. If they remember the presenter – and not how the AV looked – then you have done your job…

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises