Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Value of Meetings

Meeting “different” has been the theme for the past couple of years. Meeting professionals have always known the meeting in person is a far more effective networking tool than meeting electronically. When meeting and conference evaluations are compiled, often the highest rated component of a meeting is the networking opportunities. Now we can quantify the value.

Oxford Economics USA recently completed a study for the U.S. Travel Association. The focus of the study was to determine the return on investment for business travel when workers travel for meetings, conventions, training, or as an incentive. Studies show that businesses spent over $200 billion dollars in 2008. The findings for this study show that for every dollar invested in business related travel, $12.50 in incremental revenue and $3.80 in new profits is realized. Check out the U.S. Travel Association website for more information.

In other news, legislation was introduced in Congress this February by Representative Sam Farr (D-California) called The TRIP Act (Travel Regional Investment Partnership). This legislation creates a matching grant program in the U.S. Department of Commerce that will promote domestic tourism through local and regional partnerships between convention and visitor’s bureaus and other community tourism entities. Hopefully this will be an incentive to get tourism back on track in the future.

Those of us in the meeting industry are eager to see a return in business travel and especially the return of business meetings and events. Hopefully studies like the one done for the U.S. Travel Association and legislation offering incentives for travel will help.

- Linda Begbie, Meeting Planner • RDL enterprises

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Basic Principles of Layout & Design for Meeting Planners

Many meeting planners are asked to do things that they may not actually be trained to do – so we go out and learn them. One of the most common tasks planners are assigned is to create flyers, web sites, brochures, newsletters, and all other manner of printed documents to promote their event or provide information to attendees. As one of the areas in which planners have little formal training, I have found it useful to take a few classes and do some reading on the subject. To help you get started on your own layout and design work, here are four basic principles that everyone seems to agree on. I will also share two additional principles that some include, which I find to be useful ones as well.

The four Basic Principles (in alphabetical order) are:
  • Alignment
  • Contrast
  • Proximity
  • Repetition

Alignment is the idea that everything on the page should be connected (visually) to something else on the page. Left-justification and lining up image centers are both examples of alignment.

Contrast is about differences. The greater the difference, the greater the contrast. In fact, too little contrast often looks like a mistake and can actually create conflict on the page as the reader subconsciously struggles to figure out why things don’t quite look right…

Proximity deals with how close objects or text are to other objects or text on the page. The strength of the relationship between two objects is implied by their proximity to each other. Things that relate to one another should be closer than items that do not relate to each other.

Repetition is simply about having some element of the design repeat throughout the document. Let me say that again…you should have some elements repeat throughout your document. The repeated element could be a font type or style, a graphic or picture, a spatial orientation, or even just a thick line.

The two additional Principles that I use are:
  • Balance
  • White Space

Balance is a measure of equilibrium and “completeness”. Does the page (or document) flow smoothly? Does the eye track cleanly across all elements, or does it stop and start while trying to find the important information?

White Space refers to how much “unused” area exists on the page and is not necessarily white in color. Use of white space provides the eye with a nice rest while it tracks over the page, allowing the reader to take in what they have read before moving on to the next piece.

When I am designing a brochure or other document for a client, I always try to keep these six principles in mind. There is no hierarchy to the principles and none of them is more important than the others. It is also not always possible to use each one to its full extent. You will have to make some choices about which principles you choose to emphasize based on your specific needs.

If you are looking for more information about layout and design principles, there are many great books and resources out there. I use as my reference a book recommended to me in one of the classes I took: “The Non-Designer’s Design Book, 2nd Ed.” By Robin Williams (not the comedian). The 3rd edition is available through Amazon.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Lower Costs for Small Group Meal Functions

We have discussed in previous posts how you can control costs in receptions by limiting items served. We have also looked at ways to save some money when providing break service to your groups (by ordering on consumption, by shifting dessert to the afternoon break, or looking at bulk vs. package pricing). We have even looked at working with the Chef to create great meals within a limited budget but what about your small groups? Lunch may be the only meal provided, yet it is just as important to control costs with a small group as it is with a large one. Planning meals for small groups can be difficult. With small groups, it can be hard to accommodate every food preference and there is often an additional “service fee” tacked on if your numbers drop below a certain amount. However, there is a way to potentially reduce the costs of providing a meal for your small group that just requires understanding where the hotel’s costs are in producing that meal for you.

The two biggest cost areas when it comes to food and beverage functions are materials costs for the food itself and the labor involved in preparing and serving the food. Find out what other groups that are at the hotel at the same time as your group are having – and serve the same meal. If you can “piggyback” onto their meals by ordering the same items for your group, you may be able to save some money on your meal function. How does this work? It basically comes down to bulk ordering and reduced staff time.

If my small group is using the same menu as a large group that is having their meal the same day, the Chef can simply include my order in with the other group when purchasing the raw materials to create the meal. The cost for 500 entrée items, like a chicken breast, can be significantly cheaper (per item) than if I only need 25 of them. By including my order of 25 with a larger group’s 500, I may be able to save a few dollars on the total cost of my meal. The same principle can work with salads, sides, and desserts, though not usually to the same extent as with entrées.

The other area of potential cost savings comes with the labor involved in putting together my meal. If my group is eating at approximately the same time as the large group (and we’re serving the same meal), then the kitchen does not need to assign additional staff for the sole purpose of creating my group’s meal. Preparing my group’s meal can be included in the food preparation for the larger group and the kitchen and the servers just need to make sure that my order is separated for actual serving. I can also ask my CSM and the Chef for meal ideas that are less labor-intensive. Again, I may be able to save some money off the total cost of my meal.

It is important to remember that any time you want to modify the contents or prices of a hotel’s banquet menus, you need to involve your Convention Services Manager at minimum. It is also preferable to include the Chef in the discussion as well. They can both work with you to find ways to reduce the costs of your meals but you have to ask. While piggybacking onto a larger group’s meal function does not work 100% of the time as a cost savings measure, it works often enough that it is a method I will always explore with the hotel when the food budget is an issue for one of my small groups.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pareto’s Principle and Time Management in Meeting Planning

Simply put, Pareto’s Principle (described here) states that, in anything, 80% of the results come from 20% of the group. While this principle was originally applied to the distribution of wealth in Italy, where 20% of the population owned 80% of the wealth, it can also be applied to other areas of life. In Quality Management, it became the “80-20 Rule”.

So how do Pareto’s Principle and the 80-20 Rule apply to meeting & conference planning (or any job for that matter)? The 80-20 Rule says that you should spend 80% of your time on the 20% of daily activities that really matter – because those activities will produce 80% of your results! For me, this means figuring out which 20% matter.

In order to be a good time manager, one would typically keep a list of hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly priorities; this is a great office technique regardless of the nature of your job. It helps to manage time well and to complete that tasks that are the most important in a timely manner. Taking the time to prioritize activities is a good way to identify the tasks that are most important and make sure they get done no matter what.

Teamwork is an important part of inter-office dynamics (for us, anyway) and should also be planned into the workday. Know when you have the time to jump in and assist another colleague and how long it will take to make a positive impact on the work to be done. Volunteering to assist another colleague does affect your workload and how much time you have for your projects, so plan accordingly.

As meeting and conference planners, it is important to keep current “timelines” for every project. This helps to guarantee that we focus on the 20% that matters most without losing track of the rest in the process. The timeline also designates who is responsible for each task and when the task is due to be completed. The length of time involved to complete various task is always different and needs to be considered per task on a regular basis. Keeping detailed notes or a daily log of “things-to-do” is also a great way to keep on task.

When I get into the office each day – I determine what are the most important things I need to do that day. Some of the more immediate things many include: listening to voice mails, returning phone calls, or responding to client emails. Referring to a list of daily priorities throughout the day is also helpful. That way, it is easy to check things off as they are completed, while at the same time being aware of what remains to be done and the time of day that tasks need to be completed. Paying attention to deadlines is also very important. Each day is totally different in terms of priorities, so I make sure to review my lists every day.

Part of my interpretation of this rule is that 80% of your time is non-productive. Being non-productive, in the office or in my own personal life is not something I am comfortable with. I feel good when I accomplish things each and every day! I like to use my day to the fullest and enjoy the ride along the way, as well. Some may argue with the fact that it is not necessary to be productive every day, but we all have our own opinions and live our lives accordingly. Organization is a huge part of most of our lives and everyone can and will approach it differently.

If you have suggestions to add to my input on “Time Management” – please email me at I would appreciate your feedback and be happy to share responses in future posts.

Note: What you have just read is the opinion of one – me! It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the entire RDL Management, staff, or any of our clients.

- Cyndy Hutchinson • Executive Director, RDL enterprises