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 cafĂ© 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