Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How many people do I need to staff my event?

Obviously, that will depend on the specific needs of your event but there is a nice rule of thumb that you can use to get a rough idea of staffing levels needed. When we need to estimate staffing levels, we begin by using the “1 per 100” rule. This means that for every one hundred people attending (rounded off), we need one staff person. So, if there are 475 people attending, we expect to need about five staff. If there are 312 people attending, we’d need about three staff.

Now, as I said, this is where we begin. This rule of thumb is geared to determine how many people you will need at registration, so we also need to look at how simple or complex the event is and how many people will be present for any given piece of it before we can settle on a final number for the event as a whole. In most cases, the staff assisting with registration of attendees can also handle other duties at the event, especially at larger events, but we do need to make sure that no critical areas are left out.

Some of the factors that would cause us to lower the estimate are: very simplified check-in process, timing of registration, no breakout sessions, limited AV requirements, and so forth. For example: if our 475 attendees arrive over five days so that only 100 check in on any given day, then we’d probably only need one or two people to staff the registration desk instead of the five that the rule suggests.

Factors that may require more staff that the estimate suggests include: handling payments onsite, complex check-in process with many items or issues to resolve, large number of breakout sessions, etc. If payment for your event is being collected onsite, then you will probably need an extra body or two at registration in order to keep the line flowing smoothly.

If you have never staged the event before, use the “1 per 100” rule and you will have approximately the right number of people. Common sense will often dictate if and when you will need more or less than that.

Note: we rarely modify the estimate by more than one or two people and we never reduce it to zero. After all, someone still has to manage the event!

Also, bear in mind that the staffing estimate is about number of staff – not their skill set or knowledge base. While that can be just as or even more important as how many staff you need, it is a discussion for next week…

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

10 Common Acronyms in the Meeting Planning Industry

(that are not associations or industry groups)

All industries have their own lingo, and the meeting planning industry is no exception. I’ve chosen ten of the acronyms that pop up frequently in the course of my work and given short explanations or thoughts for each one. Hopefully, you find these helpful…

ADR – Average Daily Rate
This is a measure of how much money a hotel is earning on a given night per room in the hotel and has become more common in a hotel’s evaluation of different pieces of business. Meeting planners: a hotel may not bid on your group’s business because the rate you want (or are willing) to pay would reduce their ADR to a point where it is not profitable for them to do so.

AV – Audio-Visual
This covers all of the equipment and teaching aides used for presentations. When discussing AV needs with a hotel, the conversation will also include staffing needs and other “support” items.

BEO – Banquet Event Order
Sometimes called a Function Sheet. BEOs detail out your event in a form that all departments at your host venue use to ensure that you get the goods and services you are paying for at the times requested. Check out my previous post for more details about BEOs.

CMP – Certified Meeting Professional
This is an industry certification that requires, among other things, a minimum of three years’ experience in the industry. It certifies competency in multiple areas of meeting planning through an application and examination process.

CSM – Convention Services Manager
Essentially the hotel’s meeting planner. This person will work with you on your event once you have signed the contract (and Sales passes off your group’s information to them).

CVB – Convention and Visitors Bureau
May have other names, such as Convention and Visitors Authority (CVA) or Visitors and Convention Bureau (VCB), but these are all essentially the same thing. This is an agency whose purpose is to bring business to their city and/or region. They are a great (free!) resource for meeting planners as well as visitors to the area.

F&B – Food and Beverage
This encompasses all meals, breaks, receptions, and other food functions that you are providing for your event.

IPO – Individual Pays Own
This is a billing notation for the hotel. Some attendees have expenses covered by the group (through Master Billing) while others are on their own for some or all charges. This acronym, when used in conjunction with a reservation, allows the front desk and accounting to know that the individual is responsible for all charges incurred for their guest room (typically: room, tax, and incidentals).

MOD – Manager on Duty
For me, as a meeting planner, this is one of the “go to” people at a hotel during off hours and weekends for things that line staff cannot handle. From a hotel’s perspective, the MOD “is a point of contact for the guests if they have a challenge or if they would like to pass on compliments regarding the staff or facility. They can be a manager of any department within the hotel but act as a supplemental support to the line level staff.” [Thanks to Megan Chappell at the Doubletree Sacramento for providing the hotel’s perspective!]

RFP – Request for Proposal
Sometimes called a Request for Quote (RFQ), though I usually see a RFP as including more information about the proposer and their services than a RFQ, which I typically see as focused more on the price for the service being offered.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What is Collaboration?

We all use the word collaboration pretty freely. As meeting planners, we say we "collaborate" with the client to plan an event or we "collaborate" with a team to determine an outcome. What does this really mean?

I thought I would Google the word "collaboration" and see what I found. According to Wikipedia, “collaboration is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature—by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus." I knew immediately I was in trouble since I had no idea what recursive process meant. So I looked for a reasonable explanation.

Back to Wikipedia I went, to learn that recursion is the process a procedure goes through when one of the steps of the procedure involves rerunning the procedure. This sounds like a circular definition if ever I saw one. An analogy Wikipedia provided was that a procedure is like a menu in that it is the possible steps, while running a procedure is actually choosing the courses for the meal from the menu.

The question for me now goes back to, do we typically use the recursive process when we are collaborating with a team on a project? I believe the answer is “absolutely!”

Let's use the menu and the meal analogy again. When we work collaboratively with a team, we are looking at the many options available to us to come to consensus on an issue or to produce an outcome. By listening to input from all members of the team, coming up with the options (menu), analyzing those options, and then selecting the best solution or plan (meal), the team has used the recursive process to reach consensus. I think we all know this as “Brainstorming” but it is a process that can be utilized throughout the entire project, not just at the beginning.

I think if I were to define collaboration, I would also include words like: communication, respect, trust, knowledge, experience, and negotiation. It is clear to me that, by truly collaborating with others on a project, we have the opportunity to glean the best of everyone’s expertise and come to consensus on the optimal conclusions.

- Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Importance of Site Visits

There are few planners who would argue against the need to conduct site visits (also known as site inspections) of venues that they are expecting to use, but I have worked with a number of clients who have not seen the value in them. There are certainly good reasons (from their perspective) to not conduct site visits or inspections but I believe the benefits outweigh the drawbacks by a huge margin.

Time and cost are usually the main objections to conducting site visits. The time excuse – and in my mind, that’s all it is – falls apart when you lose precious time later in the planning process dealing with issues that could have been addressed and resolved during the site visit. Managing costs is a bit trickier but the impact of cost can be reduced with smart planning. Now, I did mention some benefits… so what are they?

First and foremost, I am able to look at a property with the specific needs of my client in mind. Since I am physically on site for the inspection, I can look at the areas that my client will be using, I can see every angle of guest rooms, dining areas, event space, and access and proximity to off site options for dining and entertainment. A site inspection should include every aspect of the facility that will be used by your group – and any area that they might use… How well maintained is the property? Does a particular room really work for my group or is there an issue with the space that doesn’t appear in the marketing brochures?

Secondly, I am able to get a “feel” for how the venue (usually a hotel in this case) treats their guests. I will walk through the public areas and, as much as possible, observe the staff interacting with guests and event participants. How they treat others when they don’t know I’m watching can give me vital clues that will help me determine how they will treat my group when were in-house for our event. This is an important area for me – I can’t look good to my client unless the venue helps me look good. On occasion, observations about how a property reacts to guest complaints or requests has resulted in elimination of that property from consideration for my group’s business. It can also “cinch the deal” if I am considering two properties that are otherwise very close on paper.

Getting to know the “feel” of a property also allows me to put myself in the shoes of my attendees, so I can know what their experience might be like while they are there for the event. This is critical because, as every planner can tell you, not every property is right for every group. Different groups look for different things – one group may want easy access to a golf course, while another is more interested in the bar or restaurant setup. What is important to your group is the key here and, unless you can go in person to inspect the site, you are relying on someone else’s perception – and they won’t know your group (or your group’s preferences) as well as you do…

Now, I will grant that much of this information can be gathered online, but remember that any images taken from the venue’s web site will be the ones that place the venue in the best light. This is not a bad thing – but it cannot replace an in person evaluation of the venue. The only time I am comfortable skipping a site inspection is if (1) it is a meeting that I have done frequently AND (2) if I am using a property that I am extremely familiar with. Apart from those few cases, I always recommend to my clients that we conduct site visits.

- Karl Baur, CMPRDL enterprises