Thursday, December 15, 2011

A final farewell…

After 23 years of providing comprehensive meeting planning services to clients across the US, RDL enterprises is closing its doors and our staff will be moving on to new projects and adventures.

Thank you for reading RDL Talks! In the past two and a half years, I have received some wonderful feedback on the blog and hope you have found the information useful and, maybe, a little entertaining as well.

Although there will be no further posts on this blog, previous posts will continue to be available. Click on an author’s name in the Authors List to the left to see their contributions to this blog.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • RDL Talks! Editor

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What is Reception Seating?

[This post is the fifth and final post in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. To finish out the series, we’ll take a look at Reception Seating...]

Reception has its own seating style? Really? Yes, really. In the hospitality industry, receptions have their own seating style. Why? Basically because people take up space even if no chairs or tables are provided. Therefore, in order to know how many people can safely fit into a room for a reception, you need to know how much space a single person needs.

Seven to eight square feet per person is the basic space requirement – and that figure presumes no chairs, no tables, no audio-visual equipment, and no other items (such as decorations) that might take up any space. I typically assume ten square feet per person for receptions so that I have a little space built in to provide some seating, a few highboys (chest high tables to put food and drinks on), and food and beverage tables. My estimate also allows space for minor AV.

So, now that we know the basic space requirement, we can come up with an estimate for how many people can safely be in the room at the same time. However, the more space you use for other things, the less space you will have for people. I know this sounds pretty obvious, but I have seen people try to take a room that holds 100 people maximum, then try to add in a dance floor, a buffet, a DJ, and lots of floor decorations – and still want to get 100 people in there at once. That rarely works. Remember: for every item that takes up floor space, you need to reduce the maximum attendance accordingly.

Ultimately, though, Reception “Seating” is the most flexible of any of the seating styles. You don’t have to provide seats for everyone since you anticipate people mingling (tables and chairs discourage that). You can maximize the use of oddly shaped spaces because you are not fixed into any particular placement for tables. Buffet tables can fit into spaces where you would never be able to fit tables and chairs for a meeting and what few tables and chairs you do provide can go almost anywhere. Unlike other sets, your creativity is limited only by the amount of space available.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

View and download a Seating Capacity Chart here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What is Conference Seating?

[This post is the fourth in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. Last week, we covered Theater, Classroom, and Rounds. Today, we examine Conference Seating...]

Most people outside the meetings industry consider "Conference" Seating to be the same as Theater, or they might equate it with Classroom seating. This is because they don’t attach any special meaning to the word “conference”. However, those in the industry do have a particular meaning for the word, especially when used to describe a seating style.

Basically, Conference Seating is a style in which all participants are seated around the same table. Conference seating is very useful for small gatherings that need to be face-to-face to conduct their business. Picture a boardroom table: you have perhaps ten to twelve people all seated around a rectangular or oval table. They can easily interact with each other and there is typically a “head” where the most important person usually sits. This style also works well with small work groups. They can easily move around and the table provides ample workspace.

The major drawback of the style is that it requires quite a bit more space than any of the other seating arrangements – I usually estimate 40 square feet per person for this one – and can quickly become unworkable if you have too many people around the table. I have done this set with as many as 50 people seated around the same “table” and they needed microphones to amplify their voices just so they could be heard across the room. As it was, the size made genuine personal interaction difficult to do, if not impossible, for anyone more than one or two seats away from you.

I can just see you sitting there trying to figure out how you make a table that big. The answer is – you don’t. Once you reach a certain number of participants (about 20 or so) that need to sit around the same table, you have to abandon the concept of an unbroken surface all the way across the table and switch to a variant called Hollow Square. With Hollow Square, you use the same tables that are used for Classroom seating to create a square with the center open (or hollow). This allows you to have more people around the same "table".

U-Shape Seating is essentially the same, but with one side of the square removed (making it look like a "U" from above). You lose a quarter of your seating, but gain the ability to use the center space that would otherwise be inaccessible.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

View and download a Seating Capacity Chart here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What are Rounds?

[This post is the third in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. Earlier this week, we covered Theater and Classroom Seating. In this post, we’ll look at Rounds...]

Rounds (RND). What is that exactly? Well, in the case of the meetings industry, it is a style of seating where people sit around a table, one that is nearly always round or oval in shape (hence the name). The easiest way for most people to visualize this is to think of a banquet or a wedding reception. Eight to ten people sit around a table and there might be 20-30 tables set in rows to accommodate all of the guests.

• Size: 60” and 72” diameters are the standard options.
• Seating: 8 to 10 people per table
• Space Requirements: 15 square feet per person

Why is this style common? Primarily for one reason that I’ve already mentioned: banquets. Seating in Rounds is a good way to feed people and allows for social interaction during the meal – something which most people, at some level, enjoy most of the time. But, how well does it work for meetings?

Well, it depends on what your goals for the meeting are. Rounds are good for workshops or trainings where participants will need to work together in teams. This style lends itself quite well to creating pre-set teams without any real effort on the part of the speaker or the organizers. It is also good for sessions where participants need a lot of table space to work on projects. Regardless of whether each person is working with others or on their own, Rounds provide ample space for shared supplies and materials while leaving enough workspace open for them to do any projects.

Rounds do not do so well with traditional, presentation-focused sessions. No matter where you are in the room or how you orient the table, at least one third will have to place their backs to the presentation or give up a surface to write upon. Perhaps another third will be sitting with the table to one side or the other, which can create just as many problems for note taking if the table is not on your writing hand side. This means that only one third (or a little over that) of your audience will have a good view of the presentation and an effective surface to write on. However, let’s not write this style off completely just yet…

The variant of Rounds that does work fairly well for meetings is called Crescent Rounds. With this approach, you remove the roughly one third of the seats with their backs to the speaker, leaving six or seven chairs remaining (out of ten originally). Furthermore, you don’t redistribute the chairs around the table to “space them out”. Instead, you keep them in their original spots. That means one section of the table will have nobody sitting in it – but it also means that more people can have both a writing surface and a good view of the presentation.

So, why would you use Crescent Rounds instead of Classroom, for example? Well, use of Crescent Rounds allows you to harness the advantages of Rounds (such as for small group work) while still allowing effective participation in lecture-style presentations. The downside of Crescent Rounds is that, since you have fewer people sitting at each table, you will need more tables and, hence, more space to accommodate the same number of people. The space factor is one reason I think we don’t see this frequently as a room set, though it is still used often enough to be one of the basic sets that all planners should know.

Another alternative, if you have enough space available, is to use a double set. (Check out this post for more information about double sets.) This would allow you to have a presentation in one half of a room and small group activities or meals in the other half. Such a set reduces transition time (no needing to find your way around the hotel if you are just going to another spot in the same room) and can help moderators keep track of participants a little easier.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

View and download a Seating Capacity Chart here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is Classroom Seating?

[This post is the second in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. On Monday, we looked at Theater Seating. Today: Classroom Seating.]

Also called Schoolroom Seating, Classroom Seating (CR or SR) is one of the most common types of room sets used for meetings and conferences. So, what are the characteristics of this type of seating?

• Length: 6’ or 8’ per table
• Table Height: 30”
• Table Depth (width): 18”, 24”, or 30”
• Seating: 2 – 4 people per table

Why is it used so frequently? Well, one of the reasons classroom seating is popular is because it gives attendees a surface on which to write (as well as a place to put snacks and drinks). This makes it an ideal choice for all-day training sessions and workshops in which attendees need to take notes, work on projects, or just need to do a lot of writing.

Generally, the tables are set up in rows facing the front of the room. Since most meeting rooms are essentially rectangular in shape, this basic setup fits quite well into them. For oddly shaped rooms, though, this may not be an efficient style. And, in any case, this is not the seating style that allows the maximum number of seats in the room (that prize goes to theater seating). Since it does not provide the maximum possible seating for a room, you may need to do a double set or a different set entirely for larger groups.

Sometimes, especially in larger rooms, those who sit at the far edges of the room may have trouble viewing the screen (or the speaker) simply due to their angle relative to the screen. There is a way to address this while still using Classroom Seating, though. The planner will angle the rows slightly to create a variant called Chevron Seating. Using this variant requires a bit more space than the basic classroom style to accommodate the same number of people. However, the benefits of having everyone with a direct view of the speaker usually outweigh the loss of a few seats or the extra space needed.

“Basic” Classroom and Chevron Seating can be mixed as well, which is commonly done in larger rooms and with greater numbers of attendees. The seats directly in front of the stage are set square to the front of the room, while the rows that are off to either side are angled. The goal here is to ensure that everyone in the audience is able to have a good view of the presentation.

Classroom Seating, regardless of the variant used, does have one other drawback: it is generally not conducive to interaction among the participants. The focus of this seating style is typically the front of the room. That positioning highlights the speaker and subtly emphasizes the didactic (lecture) nature of most presentations.

So how much space does this style use? You’re looking at approximately 15 square feet per person if the tables are 18” wide and 20 square feet per person if they are 30”. In the rare cases where I have come across 24” wide tables, I use the 20 square foot number to be on the safe side. Here’s a handy-dandy seating chart to help you figure out how much space you’ll need based on your expected attendance (up to 1,000 people).

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Monday, December 5, 2011

What is Theater Seating?

[This post is the first in a series of pieces looking at the different types of room sets in more detail than we have previously. This week: Theater Seating.]

Theater seating is probably the most common seating style in use today – especially for large events. Needing just ten square feet per person (eight if no AV), it allows you to fit the greatest number of people into any meeting space (while not violating fire codes). However, that is not the only reason it is popular. It is also flexible and quick to set up or strike, making room changes easier than with many other room sets.

The standard configuration for Theater Seating is to place the chairs in long, straight rows. The area in front of the stage is set with the chairs directly facing it. All of the rest of the rows in the room are set in line with and parallel to those. However, there is much more that can be done with this style and the possible configurations are not limited to just this one method.

For instance, you can change the angle of the rows, or even the chairs themselves, to provide better viewing angles. Better yet, set the chairs in an arc around the front of the stage, giving everyone a “head-on” view of the speaker. You can even place the chairs in a circle to promote sharing and interaction. Placing chairs in concentric rings creates a “stage” in the center, which creates a more intimate space in the room.

If your attendance soars (a great problem to have usually), you may find yourself running out of seats. With Theater Seating, it is easy to bring in more seats (assuming you’re not already at capacity for the room). With many conferences I work on, I will recommend planning to use another seating style first if possible, one that uses more square footage per person, and shift to Theater Seating when the numbers increase beyond the capacity for the original style.

Fortunately, the math for this style is pretty easy to do in your head. Simply multiply the number of expected attendees by ten and you have the approximate total square footage you need (including space for AV, aisles, etc.). If you know the total amount of usable space in a room, you can figure out how many people should fit by dividing the total square footage by ten. And, if you don’t want to do the math, here’s a room capacity chart I whipped up to help you with the numbers.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Friday, December 2, 2011

Signage for the Budget Minded

We all have clients who are very careful about how money is spent on their signage. We have done everything from large banners and foam core signs to an inexpensive slip-in sign holder. In many cases we have done a combinations of all these options for one client.

If you are looking for an inexpensive way to produce signs for your client try using slip-in sign holders. We use commercially produced sign holders from PC Nametag. These holders are 16X20 inches with a vinyl pocket that holds 8 ½ x 11 inch paper. In addition to having the signs in multiple colors, they also have one that is a large red arrow with the vinyl pocket. The signs are inexpensive and we used our first set almost 10 years. Although we have lost some to shipping, the wind, and even once to a lawn mower, these signs still fill many of our signage needs. We now have a large portfolio case that we use to ship the sign holders to our events and that has increased their survival rate.

The key to making these sign holders look like they belong to the event is the consistency of the message on the insert. The logo and name of the conference needs to be large enough to be recognizable from a distance. Once attendees key into the signs being a part of their event, they know to look for them and the information they convey, either in terms of what is happening in a meeting room, or directions to difficult to find rooms. The vinyl pocket allows room for multiple pieces of paper so, for each session, the old sign can come out and the next page is ready with the new information.

These portable sign holders can be used either landscape or portrait. Sometimes we have arrived on site with our signage produced portrait style to find that the only way an arrow will work is landscape. We have learned to bring some of each style and/or produce new ones on site. We always have the template for our signs with us in case we need to make changes to the information, such a new speaker or a cancellation.

Another cost savings tool we use focuses on the large foam core signs. We set them up to allow for the customization of information by having generic general signage with space to place a smaller sign, attached with Velcro, that makes the sign specific to an event. Our inserts are usually 2-3 inches in height and the width of the sign, though they can be done at any size you need for your functions. The same sign or series of signs can be used to welcome attendees, direct them to a reception or a luncheon, and they can often be moved to off-site events and customized accordingly. We even have had red arrows made for our signs to convert them to directional signs. For local events, the large signs can be reused each year, providing the basic information and design is generic enough.

We find that using these combinations of signs has represented a significant cost savings for our client. The slip-in signs and the inserts for the foam core signs are inexpensive, representing a significant cost savings over custom signs for our clients’ events.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director and Meeting Planner, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So how much water should I drink while at a conference?

Last week, I talked about the importance of staying hydrated while at a conference – whether as an attendee or an organizer – and gave suggestions for how to do so. However, I did not mention how much you should drink, which begs the question of what the right amount of fluid intake is for a person attending a conference. The answer is – all together now – it depends.

Your body needs what it needs. This seemingly unhelpful piece of wisdom is actually quite appropriate when it comes to water consumption. Many people still believe that you need to consume eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water each day to stay properly hydrated. However, the science behind that statement is completely lacking and, according to, even nutritionists and physicians who specialize in water and hydration do not know where that “rule” came from.

If you lose 80 ounces of water throughout the day, then, yes, you need to take in roughly the equivalent of about ten 8-ounce glasses of water each day because you need to replace what you have lost. But even that figure is somewhat misleading. After all, (1) it doesn’t need to be water, though that is usually the best option; and (2) you actually can get much of your daily fluid intake from food as well.

How much water do you get from food? According to this article by the Mayo Clinic, your food typically accounts for about 20% of your daily fluid intake. If you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, then you are getting a higher percentage of water from your food than usual. The more water you get from your food, the less you need to actually drink.

What liquids, other than water, can you drink? Just about anything in a typical diet. Coffee, tea, juice, soda, milk – even beer and wine – can all count towards your daily intake of water since they are comprised primarily of water. Now, that is not to say that these are optimal replacements for water, nor should they make up a large portion of your total intake, but they do count towards the total – which is something usually ignored or overlooked by those pushing the “eight 8-ounce glasses of water” rule. Water is still generally the best choice, though: it is “calorie-free, inexpensive, and readily available” (Mayo Clinic; italics are mine).

Don’t forget, too, that other factors come into play as well. How physically active are you on a given day, what is the weather like, how humid is it, what physical conditions do you have, etc. are all key factors. These and other factors feed into the question of how much water you should drink daily. And the answer may be vastly different each day… Pay attention to what your body is telling you and, most of the time, you will be on track to drink enough water

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Monday, November 28, 2011

Event Cost Savings: Signage

Creating signage for events is an easy task that every planner can do with ease. When planning an event, it is important to have the correct information available and an easy-to-read format for attendees. However, the display and choice of materials is widely varied. Often the client budget is a big factor in how elaborate signage is at any given event.

RDL takes pride in working with our clients in all facets of planning the logistics of their meetings, conferences, or events. Client budgets are always very important and looking for cost savings measures for our clients are options that we like to share. Signage can be a huge expense and the message is the same; directions & information for attendees. Signs can be as large as billboards, they can be multiple colors, illuminated, 3-dimensional, magnetic, and in every size and shape imaginable. Banners and large foam-core signs are beautiful and depending on the number of signs needed to assist attendees in getting from place to place and knowing what is happening in each venue can be huge.

Here’s some information for many different and unique options for event signage.

Signage can also be very moderated and still be quite effective, depending on the venue, the client and the number of attendees. RDL planners often reduce the cost of big expensive signs by using slip in sign holders.

The slip in sign holders have borders in many colors that can compliment our client’s theme or colors. These sign holders have a plastic center for a 8/5x11 pre-printed sign. This style sign is easy, efficient and inexpensive for our clients. These slip in signs also have large red arrows to assist attendees with directions to venue meeting rooms and other events. Signage provides directional assistance to elevators, up and down stairs, around corners, and down long hallways.

Just a little bit of information that I thought would be interesting to share. Great to know of something that other planners may not be aware of & to know that this form of signage is cost inexpensive and efficient.

~ Cyndy Hutchinson • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Friday, November 25, 2011

A New Way to Do Business with the Federal Government

As meeting, conference and event planners, it is always a challenge to find ways to work with the Federal Government. The newest strategy we have seen in requests for quotes has been for NO COST contracting. This means that the planner is required to recoup all of the costs incurred in planning the event, usually including the meeting site costs. This is done through registration, exhibitor, and sponsor fees. The challenge is to determine reasonableness in building a budget based on anticipated costs and projected income, including no charge to government employees. This is, of course, much easier when you have a meeting that will draw your anticipated number of attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors. Sometimes the government gives you a range of attendees, which is another challenge for budgeting.

I know the government agencies are looking for ways to save money, but we must caution ourselves, not to lose money in the process of contracting with the government. One of the recent bids we did required no more than a 10% profit to the contractor. In building a budget, that is easy to project, in reality I am not sure how that works.

We find this to be a new and interesting trend. We have seen it in the private sector for a long time, but now the government is engaging in this practice, without a full understanding of the consequences. When bidding, you don’t have a contract with a meeting site, an audio-visual vendor, a drayage company, or a caterer. This means that much of what you use to determine a registration fee to propose to the government is based on your experience and best guesses as you are projecting costs.

We will keep you posted on how this trend as we continue in our efforts to work with the Federal Government.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Drink Up! The Importance of Staying Hydrated while at a Conference

Most people are aware of the basic facts about water consumption – the human body is approximately 75% water, you lose water throughout the day through normal activities and you need to take in a certain amount each day to replace what is lost, etc., etc. [Dehydration occurs when you take in less water than you lose, creating an imbalance.] However, many people are not aware of just how much even a little dehydration can reduce your effectiveness.

We all know that being thirsty is a sign of dehydration but did you know that even mild to moderate levels of dehydration can result in headaches, sleepiness, physical weakness, or dizziness? Higher levels of dehydration can become dangerous: irritability and confusion, low blood pressure, fever, and even loss of consciousness (Sources: Mayo Clinic and Medicine Net). Since we need to remain healthy and productive while managing an event, hydration is a key component that we cannot ignore.

Of course, you’d never let yourself become so dehydrated that you lose consciousness, right? You’d recognize it right away and drink more water, right? Maybe – but are you even aware of the symptoms and that dehydration is the reason you feel “off”? It is surprisingly easy to reach high levels of dehydration without realizing it – especially at a conference, and especially if you are the one “in charge” of the event. Why is that? I chalk it up to self-perception.

When I am onsite and the Lead for a conference, I become focused on all of the myriad details that need to me monitored to ensure a smooth-flowing event. The more details that need monitoring, the more focused I become on the needs of the event – sometimes to the point of forgetting my own needs (like eating and drinking). My focus (something needed, by the way) can get in the way of my ability to self-perceive my own condition. And this is not just something that I face. I have heard from other planners who have had similar experiences – and seen it occur in others as well.

Even attendees can suffer from dehydration. Have you ever been so busy that you “forgot” to eat lunch? (Be honest!) Conferences can be very busy affairs for the attendees as well as for the organizers. Packed event schedules can make even the most dedicated hydrator forget to drink up sometimes.

So, given that even low levels of dehydration can have negative effects on you, your work, and your moods, what can you do to combat dehydration at a conference (or anywhere for that matter)? Here are just a few ideas…

1. Set an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to drink (and eat!) something. It does not have to be a lot – just enough to make sure that you are staying hydrated (or fed).

2. If you are onsite with other staff who work with you, remind each other periodically to get something to drink and/or something to eat. You may not realize you need it until someone says something to you. This is a technique my office uses with great success while onsite at meetings.

3. Keep a water station at your registration desk, in your onsite office, or wherever you will regularly see it. Having water in sight serves as a subtle reminder to regularly drink up.

4. If you are able, carry a water bottle with you as you make your rounds of the event, checking details, checking in with vendors, etc. Like having a water station in view, having a bottle of water with you can be a good reminder to stay hydrated. I know many planners who use this technique.

Don’t limit yourself to just these suggestions; find other ways to remind yourself to drink regularly throughout the day. Find what works for you – there is no one “right” way…

One final word of advice: don’t rely on just one method to remind you to stay hydrated. A single technique might fail. You could lose your water bottle (setting it down, then forgetting where you put it – or even that you had it) or miss/ignore your alarm. People can forget to remind you. But, if you have multiple reminders in place, the chances are much better that you will remember to drink plenty of water – and avoid any of the nasty effects of dehydration.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Monday, November 21, 2011

ADA Accessibility & Site Selection

Americans with Disabilities Act has provided guidelines that came into existence under President Bush in July 1990. This important legislation was put in place to extend civil rights protection to people with disabilities.

Evidence of this legislation is everywhere we go: Federal, State & public buildings, medical care facilities, libraries, and public transportation has been modified to accommodate people with disabilities. Curbs have been lowered at corners for easy access to street crossings, ramps have been added to older facilities & to new facilities to allow easy access to buildings where stairs are the main entrance. Railings have been added to buildings and other public places for easy and safe accessibility. Elevators have been added in old buildings, in attempts to bring them up to code for easy access. Public transportation has added ramps and lifts to their vehicles for access and to transport wheelchairs and walkers along with their users from place to place. Parks have added paved or wooden paths for easy access. In fact, if you just look around you – easy public access is everywhere in our daily lives.

As meeting, conference & event planners ~ we at RDL are always thinking about easy access for all attendees to our venues. In choosing an event, special consideration is given to how easily the space is accessible to all attendees. If someone is in a wheel chair, on a walker or using a cane, can they easily get to each room of the venue?

RDL always keeps in mind ~ how accessible are the restrooms and the elevators. How far way are the meeting rooms from the general plenary sessions? Can an attendee in a wheelchair or on a walker or using a cane easily get from room to room in the time allotted for transition from one event to the next? Are the restrooms easily located and accessible? Are the stalls equipped with doors that open out and does the restroom have an area large enough for a wheelchair or walker to easily get in and out?

There are many things to think about when choosing a venue ~ try walking the property through the eyes of someone is a wheel chair, on a walker or using a cane. See how long it takes to get from one area to another in a limited amount of time. Also keep in mind locations and access to various levels, elevators, restrooms, restaurants, public transportation and other public areas.

Finding the right venue in older cities where construction is very old is a huge challenge. Special attention needs to be devoted to easy public access for all. It is important to keep in mind that no one wants to enter an event through a service elevator in the kitchen or through an alley.

For more information ~ here is a link to many more

~ Cyndy Hutchinson • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Friday, November 18, 2011

A real paperless meeting

In today’s meeting environment we are all looking for ways to be digital friendly. Do we use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or do we look for ways to really use our electronic resources? I have been researching the use of smart phones and tablets by attendees as they prepare to attend an event and while they are on-site...

In my research, I have found applications that can be customized by the planner and allows the attendee to log in and gets all the most up to date information about the event. It can include:
Customized logos
Conference Agenda
Map of the meeting site
Map of the exhibit hall
Special Events
Links to social marketing for the event
Last minute changes to the program
Some events are using Bar Code or QR Code Readers that allows planners to embed a barcode with the confirmation information and email it to the attendee. The attendee can print the confirmation with the barcode, or they can scan it directly from their smart phone. They just needed to scan the code on a Barcode or QR Reader and they get a nametag printed. If the attendee has not registered, they can do so on site and get a bar code generated at that time. The QR Reader could also be used as a sign in for attendees registered for continuing education or special events.
This gives the planner immediate feedback as to who is actually in attendance.

The possibilities are limitless and we have only to challenge our creative minds to find ways to move into the paperless meeting environment.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Exhibiting in a Tradeshow – A first-timer’s view

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in a small tradeshow as an exhibitor. Given that I am usually either attending the tradeshow as a participant or am part of the team organizing the event, being on the exhibitor side was quite interesting. Although many aspects of the experience were not unexpected, I did come away with a new respect for what exhibitors go through on a regular basis.

Setup time for my table was scheduled well in advance of the event start time – but that is nothing new for me. When I am onsite for a conference, I am always there long before the first scheduled activity (including exhibit setup!). Being a first-timer, though, I was paranoid about missing any of the scheduled exhibit hours, so I made sure I was back at my table well before any attendees would be able to come by. I didn’t want to miss anyone!

The evening reception was nice, though I was too busy manning my table to really enjoy the food much, and I saw enough traffic to feel like it was a good use of my time. What I found most interesting was that not all of the exhibitors had arrived and set up yet. Given that the reception represented the single largest block of exhibit time, I was a little surprised that more exhibitors were not present. However, I suspect that they believed that they would get enough exposure throughout the next day’s schedule.

The next day was a full schedule, too. Again, I am used to long hours onsite during a conference, so the early start and length of the day did not concern me. By the time the day’s first session began, all but one of the exhibitors had arrived and set up (I found out later that the one exhibitor missing had car trouble on the way, which is why they were not there). Flow throughout the day was steady, if slow. Traffic picked up a bit during the regular breaks for exhibit viewing and networking but I was amazed how many people skipped sessions to wander through the exhibit hall. As an attendee, I can’t think of a time when I have done that, though I suspect that I would if I was already familiar with the material being presented… The end result was that I did not get to go to many sessions myself – which was OK since I had heard most of the session content at similar previous events.

Was it worthwhile? I don’t know yet; time will tell. I did not feel that it was a waste of time, though. I got several good leads on potential business (I think) and, knowing that the planning cycle can take quite some time before an agency decides to do an event and hire it out, I do not expect to receive any RFPs from these contacts right away. But, if I can build good connections with them, the potential for work is there.

Would I do it again? Yes. (In fact, RDL will be exhibiting for the first time at CalSAE’s Seasonal Spectacular in Sacramento on December 7th – stop by and say “hi” to our owners: Linda and Cyndy!) Having done this once, I feel that we can only get better at our outreach and marketing by adding exhibiting to our efforts.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Autumn’s Song

Autumn has graced her presence on most parts of North America. I’m always amazed at how the seasonal equinoxes and solstices take time to peal back their natural layers. There is rhythm and harmony to nature’s slow process as she takes time to unravel her seasonal song. She sings through the wind, “I am seductive and mysterious and I’ll arrive when ready.” September 20th is the first day of fall. It’s early November and certainly feels like fall more than any other day, previous. Trees shed warm, comforting colors of yellow, red, brown, and orange. The dusty, colorful leaves sway throughout the sky. Autumn’s sound is loud and bustling. Her presence is fierce stating, “I have arrived. Pay attention. Transformation is taking place.”

Autumn is a time of nostalgia and letting go. It’s a turning point. Ana Forrest writes, “As children of the earth, it’s easier for us to make changes if we work consciously with the earth’s changes.” It’s about balance. Nature is cycling, harvesting, and decomposing into the earth. It is a transformational process of give and take, clearing and renewal. Naturally our bodies connect to this quintessential time of year, wanting to remove old behavior patterns and break off dried up beliefs that no longer serve a purpose. Earth eases us to slow down, transform, and nurture each other and ourselves. It’s a time for gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving. During this season of harvest ask what needs self-reflection, release, or both? What are you doing in your life now to connect to the planet, to each other?

During this time of year, as business slows down, we here at RDL reflect on the past year and consider the road ahead. I urge each of us to get grounded and connect to the season of change. Take inquiry of our surroundings and to nature’s beautiful rhythm. This is an exciting time of year. Be grateful for everything! Today I am grateful for breath, creativity, and friendship. Bring attention to whatever it is that brightens your spirit and makes your heart sing. Get curious. I challenge you to do something everyday in November that ignites your spirit, connects to your body, and deepens your breath to finding your authentic self - your spirit.


Walk in beauty,

~ Tess Conrad • Event Planner, RDL enterprises

Note: Ana Forrest is the author of Fierce Medicine and creatrix of Forrest Yoga.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How Food Can Impact Your Meeting’s Success

When planning menus for their meetings, most meeting planners focus on what sounds good to serve and fits within their budget (I am usually one of them, too). Rarely do they put much thought into how what they choose to serve can impact the success of the meeting. However, what meals you choose to provide to your attendees has the potential to affect their ability to learn as much as the lighting levels, type of room seating, and the room temperature. The good news is – you don’t have to be a nutritionist (or even play one on TV) to make better choices in your menu selections. So how does a planner take all of the diverse factors into account (budget, dietary restrictions, service time, etc.) and still support the learning goals of an event?

The old adage, you are what you eat, is quite relevant here. Studies have backed up what people have long believed: what you eat affects your moods. And, in a meetings setting, your mood can affect how well you learn and process information and how you interact with your fellow participants.

We’re all familiar with the post-Thanksgiving Feast lethargy, yes? You eat a huge meal, then want to spend the rest of the day on the couch watching football (or otherwise being lazy)… We want to avoid a similar response after lunch at a conference because that “tryptophan high”, while feeling good, also impedes your ability to receive and process information. So what’s the solution? Reasonably sized meal portions can help make sure that your attendees are not dozing the afternoon away when you want them engaged and learning. Fortunately, most chefs already provide reasonably sized meals (for plated meals) so you don’t need to worry about this one too often. Do keep it in mind, though, as it can be a factor after buffet lunches.

Providing balanced meals are also important because the body requires a variety of nutrients to function properly. If you are missing key nutrients in what you eat, then your body is forced to draw from its own reserves to fill in those gaps. Why does that matter? Well, the brain cannot store food energy as the rest of the body can. This means that, if it needs a particular nutrient, the brain will need to “steal” it from another part of the body. Depending on the nutrient needed, we may feel hungry, depressed, tense, irritable, etc. as the brain sends out signals to the rest of the body with its needs. All of these moods affect your ability to function effectively and, with the “negative” moods, can make it impossible to participate fully in a meeting or conference. As with meal sizes, your catering chef will help you with this as they create meals for you. You might have noticed that plated entrees always include a protein (usually meat), a starch (rice, potatoes, or pasta), and vegetables. This “triangle of food” is a basic, roughly balanced meal. While you don’t have to worry about providing every nutrient the body needs in each meal, the more variety you include, the better the results can be.

Let’s talk dessert. We have addressed desserts before (here and here) but, in this case, we’re more concerned about what happens with your attendees when you serve dessert. First off, it usually means they are eating a larger meal than they otherwise might since most people do not eat dessert after lunch every day. We’ve increased the meal size, which increases the chance they will become lethargic afterwards. Secondly, the sugars in most desserts are, in many ways, junk. Yes, your body “needs” sugar; it makes you feel good and provides an energy boost. However, that boost from desserts is short-lived and the good feelings drop off just as quickly. When combined with a large meal, this can make your attendees very sleepy just when they need to be most alert. Candy and soft drinks, often served at breaks, can also cause spikes in energy as they provide short, quick boost to blood sugar, then fall below normal levels before stabilizing. This is not to say that you need to remove all sugary foods from your menus – just be aware of what affect they can have on your attendees. This is one factor that you have a lot of control over in menu planning.

So, from a meeting planner’s standpoint, three things to focus on when providing meals that can affect productivity after a meal are meal size, meal composition (balance), and sugar content. So why not look further into the chemistry of the mood-food relationship? Well, for one, there is too much info out there to easily sum up here (especially since I am not a nutritionist) and, for two, there is another factor in this that cannot be easily addressed here: the attendee. Every person responds to food differently. Yes, there are general responses and long-term health effects that are true across the board, but those are less true when applied to specific individuals. One person may be greatly affected by caffeine, for example, while another could drink a pot of coffee right before bed and have no ill effects. And, those with dietary restrictions or allergies, such as lactose intolerance or nut allergies, may respond very differently to the same meals as those without the same conditions. The examples could go on forever – but the point is that a general awareness of how meals can affect your meeting participants will go a long way in making sure that you don’t sabotage your own event by providing meals that undermine your goals.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The APEX Initiative

What is APEX? Well, the dictionary defines apex as “the highest point”, which is appropriate for the Initiative but doesn’t really tell us anything about it. APEX, as an acronym, stands for the Accepted Practices Exchange and is an initiative spearheaded by the Convention Industry Council (CIC) to improve the performance of those in the meetings industry. It is meant to take us to "the highest point" of event planning.

For more information about the Initiative or the CIC, please use this link.

OK, so you have the link – but why should you go there? Here are just a few reasons why I keep their site bookmarked on my computer…

1. The APEX Initiative offers sample forms and tools that can be downloaded as PDFs or as Word documents. These can be very useful if you are new to meeting planning but can also help a more experienced planner to bring their own documents in line with industry standards (if they’re not already).

2. The Glossary. This is my favorite part of the web site – and not just because I’m a word geek. If you are a regular reader of RDL Talks!, you’ll know that there are a lot of terms and acronyms that we have to know and deal with in the course of planning meetings. However, even the most seasoned planner will occasionally come across a term that he or she does not know. I turn to the APEX glossary for the answer when I am unfamiliar with a term.

3. As a Certified Meeting Planner (CMP), I also have access to member-specific sections of the web site (not all of which require certification to access). Though I don’t use this section often, it is the section I direct folks to if they are interested in earning their CMP designation.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Building a Reception

Many factors – almost too many to mention – go into creating a successful reception for your event’s participants but there are some key ones to keep in mind. Let’s take a quick look at some of the main factors you need to address in order to set the stage for a successful reception.

Define your goals for the event
Consider this to be your “big picture” starting point – what do you want to accomplish with the reception? Your goals for the event will help create the framework around which everything else will be built. And, they will help you answer questions that will come up along the way. The timing of the event, menu choices, themes, and entertainment options, as well as many other details should all work together in support of the goals for your reception. Even a goal of “we just want to have fun” will help define the event and guide you through the planning process.

Estimate the number of guests
You need know how many people are expected to attend – for planning purposes if nothing else. Is every attendee invited, or only a select few? While this does not replace RSVPs for creating your BEO guarantees, it will give you an idea of the size of event you wish to hold. That information will be of great importance to you during the site selection phase of planning.

When and where will your reception be held – and for how long?
Yes, we all know that receptions are typically held in the evening, but will it take place before or after dinner? Or will it replace dinner? As I discussed in this post, the timing and duration of a reception will affect how much people will eat. Before dinner, people will eat more (if dinner is provided). If you intend for the reception to replace dinner, you had better be prepared with more substantial food options and plenty of it! As for the where, it is generally preferable to host a reception near to where dinner will be served so guests can easily flow from one right into the other. If dinner is not served, you have more options available to you. One more note here: a reception held immediately following a general session will draw more people than one held later in the evening with a break in between sessions and the reception. A late-night reception will typically draw even fewer as many may decide that sleep is more attractive than your event. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and you need to keep the habits of your attendees in mind when planning when and where your event will be held.

Will there be entertainment or a program during the reception?
The presence or absence of an agenda for a reception can make a huge difference in where you hold the event and what kind of equipment you will need for it. A speaker of any kind, even if only for announcements, will need a microphone at minimum. A band or other performing group will have their own AV needs as well that you will need to take into account. Furthermore, including a program of events with a speaker requires people to stop mingling in order to hear the presentation. Similarly, an entertainer will also draw people away from other activities that may be happening at the reception. Not that these are bad things, mind you – they are just items of note to keep in mind as you are selecting the venue and planning the reception.

Choosing the menu!
Once you have the basics out of the way (who, what, where, when, and why), you can sit down to start planning your menus. This is the part that most people like the most and who can blame them? Food is very personal to people and the right choice of menu items can make a statement that is as important as any other aspect of your event. I won’t even attempt to tell you what you should serve, though, as those selections should be tailored as much as possible to the likes and wants of your group and, as I have said many times before, knowing your group is the key to a great event. One group may prefer sushi, while another wants mini corn dogs and sliders. The only right choice is the one your guests will enjoy.

Modifying reception service
OK – this one isn’t really a factor you need to nail down before building your reception. In fact, it is usually done late in the process as you try to get more bang out of your buck. However, knowing what service options exist before you start can be helpful to know as you make other decisions along the way. So, here are a few more posts with additional information for you (if you’re interested): Limiting Menu Options, Open Bars, Ordering Items on Consumption, and Food Distribution and Service Options.

There is one more “factor” that needs mentioning here: the guests. Unfortunately, you can’t really control whether or not they have a good time. Nor can you control whether or not they attend or if they go along with the program as you envisioned it. However, their participation is crucial to making your reception a success. So doing your best to present them with an event that they want to attend and will rave about for years afterwards will go a long way to making your receptions a success for you and for them.

As you can see, there is much that goes into building a successful reception – and this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are two final keys I’d like to leave you with: 1) think ahead – answer as many questions about your event as you can before you begin the actual “building of your reception – and 2) work closely with your partners, be they the hotel, outside caterers, AV companies, or your speakers and entertainers, to make sure that everyone’s issues are addressed as early as possible in the process. Using these keys should help you get off to a great start in producing a successful reception and will make dealing with any changes down the road easier to manage.

Good Luck!

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Placing Images as In-Line Text

Last year, I wrote an article about placing images directly on a page using the InDesign program. Now, I would like to explain placing images as in-line text. This is especially helpful if you have many images within a document and want your images to stay in place with certain text. That way you don’t have to keep moving images around if you are adding or taking information out of your document.

Placing an Image as In-Line text:
To place an image as in line text, 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 type tool from the tool palette.

Place & click your cursor on the page where you want the image to be placed.

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.

The image will then appear. You can use your selection (arrow) tool to move the image up or down within the text. If you highlight the image using your type tool, you can change the alignment in the control palette like you would with type. In some cases the image will be the wrong size, you will then need to resize the image.

To Resize an Image
First, select the image with your selection (arrow) 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).

Using Text Wrap
In some cases your image my be very close to or overlap text on another line. To fix this, you will need to select the image using your selection (arrow) tool .

Next, you will need to open the text wrap palette, select Window > Text Wrap. The Text Wrap palette will pop up on your screen. with your image still selected, click the second icon in the Text Wrap box.

When you scroll over this it should say “Wrap around bounding box” (This is the option that you will typically select). You can change the offset for each side of the image in the Text Wrap Bounding box as well, by typing the measurements in or using the up and down arrows .

~ Carmen Zorick • Graphic Designer, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Adult Learning Styles in the Context of Meetings and Conferences

While this is not something that many meeting planners need to worry too much about, it is nonetheless an important piece of what we do. After all, one of the reasons people attend meetings is to learn something. In this post, I’d like to take a quick look at adult learning and what that means for training sessions.

There are, essentially, three styles of learning (for adults or children): Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. Visual and Auditory learning styles are somewhat self-explanatory. These are learners who prefer to assimilate new information either with their eyes or their ears – they want to see or hear the material – and will process information best when it is presented in those formats. Kinesthetic learning is movement based. People who learn this way do best when they can physically interact with the information somehow, such as through discussion or exercises. Sometimes, a fourth style is included: Environmental. Environmental learners do best when they are in comfortable surroundings. How you present material to them is less important that the environment around them when receiving that information.

When I am asked to do a training, I try to make sure that I have, in addition to my lecture (for the auditory learners), handouts or a PowerPoint presentation of some kind (for the visual learners) and, when possible, samples of what is being discussed (for the kinesthetic learners). The environmental learners are harder to accommodate since they may not even be aware themselves of what factors they need to best learn. So I try to make sure that the space in which the training is happening is as comfortable as I can make it – which is tough to do when you may only have folding chairs and limited control of the room’s temperature…

Another piece in all of this that is often overlooked has to do with the differences between adults and children in how they approach learning. Adults typically have substantial experience that they bring with them. That experience shapes how they approach the material. Although they often come to a meeting or training with beliefs and attitudes already set, they can be a great resource for a trainer to tap into. This diversity of experience also allows adult learners to help each other – and not simply rely on the trainer to make it all make sense to them.

Adults also tend to be more outcome-oriented than children. Adults want the training to relate to and address their needs – whether those needs are personal or professional. They also want to see results quicker than children, who are often happy enough to accept the teacher’s word that the information will be useful later.

All of this means, as a trainer, you need to be more flexible in your teaching methods than you might think. Adults come to learning situations with so much more than children – more experience, more beliefs, more tools to learn with, more expectations – and a good trainer will be able to incorporate many of these things into their classes, making the experience more productive for all of the students. They need to be able to find different ways to present the same material since one size most certainly doesn’t fit all when it comes to adult learners. Having said that, keep in mind that everyone is capable of learning using each style. What we’re talking about here are preferences, so if the material is not suited to one style, you don’t have to force it. Prepare for as many styles as you can and be ready to use the knowledge base that your students already have. Your trainings will be more successful the more you can tailor them to the needs of the participants.

At any given conference, you will find each learning style represented. See if you can distinguish what people’s preferred learning styles are by how they approach the sessions, what they say and do, and what they take away. If you can figure out what styles your attendees have, you can help your speakers, presenters, and trainers do a better job of reaching them with the information they have come to the meeting to get.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why is hotel food so expensive?

Lately, there has been a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about government excess and the $16 muffins and $8 cups of coffee that the Department of Justice had at a couple of their events (Here is the article that touched it off). Mind you, the article leaves out a lot of details behind the numbers and, instead, focuses on the particular items that are sure to fire people up. After all, they need an attention-grabbing piece to sell the news and including the details explaining how those figures came to be would have turned off most readers. The Meeting Professionals International (MPI) blog posted a response to it here, so I won’t go into that particular issue.

However, I have heard complaints for many years – from conference attendees and funders, mostly – about how expensive hotel food is. It certainly seems that way. $8/person for a coffee break, $22/person for a lunch, $34/person for dinner – you can certainly eat quite well as an individual at those prices, especially when you find out that these prices are “plus-plus”. Let’s examine each of these examples one by one. I’ll start with dinner, since that is the one most often referenced in conversations on this topic.

Dinner, at a hotel, typically includes a soup and/or salad, bread, the entrée (with sides), dessert, and coffee service. All of that is included in the $34/person. Now it isn’t fair to compare this to a fast food joint, like McDonald’s or Carl’s Jr. The two types of meal service aren’t even close. Meals served at conferences are more like eating at a restaurant – and a moderately nice one at that. If I were to get the same menu items at a middle-of-the-road restaurant in the same city as my conference, the prices (before tax and tip) might break down like this:

• Soup (or Salad): $5
• Bread: usually included for free
• Chicken Entrée: $16
• Dessert: $7
• Coffee or Tea: $3

Add that all up and you have…$31. Suddenly, the hotel’s pricing does not seem so out of line as it did before, does it? Yes, it is still a bit higher, but it is not shockingly so, which is what most people react to.

Lunch is very similar to dinner. For a restaurant lunch comparable to what a hotel might serve, you’re looking at prices something along these lines:

• Soup (or Salad): $4
• Bread: usually included for free
• Sandwich Entrée: $10
• Dessert: $5
• Coffee or Tea: $2

The total for a similar lunch at a restaurant is…$21? Yep, we’ve saved an entire dollar compared to the hotel’s pricing. Not much of a difference there…

Finally, let’s look at the $8 coffee. Yes, I know I said I wasn’t going to into it here but this is the one that seems to generate the most ire from certain folks and it is one area where your local coffee shop is way below the prices charged by hotels. Let’s look at in more detail…at $8/person for coffee service, what do you get? You get coffee service for a fixed amount of time (usually 1/2 hour), during which your attendees can pretty much drink as much coffee or tea as they want. How many of them do you think have just one cup?

When I order “in bulk” for coffee (to save money), I know that one gallon will give me 16-20 cups, depending on the size of the cups used by the hotel (see this post for more details). Will I order one gallon, then, for a group of 20 people? Probably not. I will want to have some extra available in case they drink more than I anticipated, even if this results in leftover coffee that no one drinks.

When ordering a break package, such as coffee service billed “per person” instead of by the gallon, the same principle is at work. The hotel does not want to run out of coffee (it makes them look bad), so they need to prepare more than they think people will drink. Plus, coffee service includes tea and decaf. The hotel needs to make sure that there is enough for people with those preferences as well. Your corner coffee shop (even Starbucks) can make coffee one gallon at a time and still promptly serve their customers. A hotel, trying to serve coffee to several hundred people all at the same time, must make much larger batches.

The upshot of all of this is that there is the potential for considerable leftovers (aka “waste”) with coffee service. Since the hotel must, at least, cover costs for providing it, they must take that into account – which results in higher prices. Even your corner coffee shop does this; their level of “lost product” is simply much smaller. In fact, every business that serves food must take wastage into account with their pricing or they will quickly be out of business. That’s basic economics.

So, does this mean that hotel food in not expensive? No, it’s still pricy – and I still think it’s expensive when I compare it to preparing a meal at home. However, when I compare it to eating out, I find that the prices are not too far off from what I would pay in a restaurant. Restaurants and hotel both need to cover not just the cost of the food, but also the costs of rent, equipment, staff wages, maintenance, and a myriad of other expenses that go into providing a service to the public – which means that it will always be more expensive than what it costs me to make the same dishes at home (assuming I even know how to make and have the time to make said dishes…).

So, the next time you hear a complaint about how expensive hotel food is, look at similar options before joining the chorus. You might find that the claims are right on track – or a bit overblown…

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How much would a Meeting Planner charge to produce my event?

That’s a tricky one to answer and there is no way I could give a realistic estimate without knowing details. So – let’s look at how the Meeting Planner would come up with an answer for you. It mostly comes down to two main factors…

To begin with, it depends on how the planer expects to get paid. Do they work on commission or do they use a “fee for service” structure? If they are “fee for service”, do they charge by the hour or by the job? Or, do they mix the difference fee options? [For more on how meeting planners get paid, check out this post.] Each approach yields different answers in terms of how much you would need to pay the planner, though the amount earned by the planner often ends up being roughly the same.

The second piece of this puzzle is the event itself and what you items you want the planner to handle. This is, in many ways, the greater of the two factors as well as being the more complex of the two. A couple of things you may recall from earlier posts: event RFPs outline the basic structure of the event and staffing (who staffs the event and how many people you will need) helps determine the planner’s physical presence at your event. But these areas only scratch the surface of what a planner will want (need!) to know about your event before they can give you an accurate estimate of cost… What more will they want to know? Well, once you get past the basic information about when, where, and how many people, a meeting planner will want details about each task that you want them to do. Each task requires a different amount of work and that amount is potentially different for each event – even for the same task.

For example, if you want the planer to handle registration, then information about how many people you expect to attend, what fees they will pay (if any) and who collects those fees, who produces name badges, etc. will all be useful for the planner to know in building a quote for you. Similarly, asking the meeting planner to handle all of your food arrangements will involve needing to know how many food functions you will have, how many people you anticipate attending each one, and meal restrictions or guidelines. And, an event for twenty people will require different things than an event for several thousand (though there are many similarities). Basically, the more information you can provide for each task you wish the meeting planner to do for you, the more accurate a quote they can provide.

When RDL works on a response to an RFP, we examine each task area that the potential client is asking us to do, while looking at how that task fits into the “big picture” of the event. We then start building the estimated “fee for service”, using a grid that outlines each task area with the common jobs within each area (and, no, I can’t share the grid…sorry). The grid allows us to estimate the hours required for each job and for each level of staff expertise, then calculate a total for the event. One of the nice things about this approach is its ability to take in account overlapping task areas when pricing an event. For example, the budget management task area includes many jobs and responsibilities that also appear in areas like site selection, food ordering and management, attendee reimbursements, and audio-visual services, just to name a few. If we are handling multiple areas for a client, we can often reduce the charge for those services below what they would be if you simply ordered services off of a “menu”. The whole costs less than the sum of the parts…

If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry about it too much. Remember, meeting planners – especially the independents – are used to doing this on a regular basis. They can get you a cost estimate fairly quickly. However, be ready to answer their questions in as much detail as you can so they can give you a more accurate response.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Negotiating Hotel Contracts

It is often said that everything is negotiable in hotel contracts. While that is not 100% true, there is still quite a lot that can be negotiated beyond the guest room rates, rental rates, and food and beverage prices. So how do you go about getting what you want and/or need for your event? Negotiation, of course, and that’s where knowing what you can reasonably negotiate in your contracts can make a difference. Let’s take a look at some common approaches…

There are some that believe that, if you want the moon (so to speak), you should ask for the sun and the moon – knowing that your request will be rejected and a counter offer will be put forth. The idea here is that, by asking for more than you need, you will get what you need as well as, possibly, something extra on top of that.

Others take the position that you should only ask for what you really need when putting out an RFP to hotels. This allows you to easily weed out those who cannot provide your basic needs while still giving you some choices among respondents. Anything they offer above and beyond the basics are considered a bonus.

I, and many others, tend to take a middle road of sorts. I outline the absolute minimum requirements for the event in the RFP. [Read this post for an outline of what that should include…] Once those are listed, I then will often add another layer or two of special requests. The first layer consists of the items that are desirable to get as part of the package. By themselves, none of these items are deal-breakers, but they can help make a bid more attractive to my client by providing certain perks that are of value to them. The second layer is made up of the client’s “wish list” items. These are things that will really take a proposal “over the top” but that we really don’t expect to get. This way, I ensure the event’s basic needs are met, without the hotels having to guess what those items are, and gain a few additional extras in the process that I know the client would like to have, without having the hotels offer items that are worthless to the client (and thinking those are deal-clinching incentives).

So, what do I ask for? What do I negotiate on? Well, that depends on the client and, if there are items that I absolutely must have, I am sure to include them in the RFP. Knowing what to ask for means that you, as the group’s planner, need to really know what the group requires, what would be of value to them, and what their ideal, pie in the sky, response would include. The better you can picture those three lists, the more productive your negotiations can be. Although there are those who view negotiations as “how much can I get from the hotel”, I prefer to view the process as one in which I am searching for the intersection of desires that maximizes what my client wants with what the hotel wants (yes, they want something, too – and it’s not always money!). If I can identify what the hotel wants, and can give it to them, then I can get more of what my client wants in return.

Every property is different and that will shape my approach. One may be able to negotiate on room rates but not on space rental, while another may be able to waive rental fees but cannot alter their food prices or guest room rates. As the planner negotiating on behalf of my group, it is up to me to find those areas that the hotel can negotiate on and work with them. Remember, if you cannot find an acceptable intersection of needs, you can always walk away – as can the hotel.

How do I know where the hotel can bargain? Some of it comes down to experience but, ultimately, if you don’t know where they have room to negotiate, ask them. Their goal is to book your business, which means they have an incentive to find a workable middle ground, too, and many sales reps understand that an informed opposite in negotiations can help them make it work for both parties.

While “everything” may be negotiable, I have found that being realistic about what I ask for and expect to receive in return for what I have to offer at the bargaining table is an excellent way to begin – and leads to a successful contract/partnership more often than not… And, a final thought here, if I can make the negotiations work for both sides (my client and the hotel), they are each happier with the results and my value to both of them goes up, too.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When should I get a second screen for my presentation?

When I work with clients to determine the audio-visual (AV) requirements for their events, they often consider one screen to display a presentation sufficient. In many cases, they are right. However, there are times when a single screen just isn’t enough. So how do I know when to use a second screen (or more)? There are essentially three factors I consider when deciding to use more than one screen.

     1. Audience Size
     2. Angle of Viewing
     3. Size and Shape of the Meeting Room

    Audience Size: Simply put, a large audience is more likely to need multiple screens than a small one. Note: I do not give a specific number. There is no fixed number at which you must have a second screen. A large audience does not, by itself, necessarily demand more than one screen but having higher numbers does raise a red flag for me, warning me that I may need to add screens. You need to take the other factors into consideration.

    Angle of Viewing: Given the way light reflects off of screens, it is very difficult to see projected material if you are at too low of an angle relative to the screen. Straight in front of the screen, 90 degrees (or perpendicular) to it, is usually the best spot. Ease of viewing is gradually impacted as you shift away from that prime spot until you hit about a 45-degree angle. Once you pass that and sit at a sharper angle, it becomes very difficult to read whatever is on the screen. Don’t believe me? Try it with your computer monitor and see how far you can get away from 90 degrees before you can’t read your screen. The same principle is at work.

    Size and Shape of Meeting Room: This actually impacts more than you might think and, while most meeting rooms are fairly rectangular in shape, there is great variation out there. A single property can have long and narrow rooms as well as square ones and the shape of the one you are using can have a huge impact on your seating and screen needs. Here are just a few of the ways a room’s size and shape can affect seating and the need for more than one screen.

    1. A room that is wide but not very deep might require a second screen in order to accommodate proper viewing angles.
    2. A room that is long and narrow may need a second screen due to distance from the screen (as per the 2x8 Rule).
    3. Ceiling height affects the maximum size screen that can be used, which determines the maximum effective viewing distance.
    4. If there are pillars or other obstructions, you may need to provide additional screens to ensure that everyone has a good view of the presenter’s material.

      All of these factors are really about sightlines and making the viewing experience better for the attendees. When I do a site visit, I always take the time to walk the room, testing sound (to determine if I will need microphones or not) and checking sightlines. I am also looking for things that will affect how I can use the room – where “front” can be, where aisles can/must be placed, etc. Permanent fixtures such as doors, windows, fire escapes, and other areas that you cannot block with staging, seating, or screens can also affect set up and you need to take those into account when determining the need for a second screen.

      If you do decide to get a second screen for your event, don’t forget to also request a signal splitter. This device routes the signal from a laptop (for example) to multiple destinations – in this case, multiple screens.

      I often say that, even after everything else is forgotten, attendees usually remember two things about every event: the food and the AV (especially if bad). If they cannot see the presentation clearly, they will likely remember that fact longer than the content of the session. So take the time to consider multiple screens for your event and provide your attendees with a good AV experience to remember…

      ~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

      Wednesday, August 31, 2011

      What size screen do I need at my event for presentations?

      Most meeting and event planners simply let their audio-visual provider decide this for them – and why not? Those professionals often know what will work best in most situations, so it is easier to just let them make the decision. Well, those of you who have followed my posts for a while will know that answer is not good enough for me. I want to know how to make that decision myself – not because I don’t trust them to make the right one – but because I can do a better job of planning the event if I know the answer myself. I can find better event space (or make better use of what we have), I can get more out of my AV provider (by speaking to them intelligently about my group’s needs), and I can better advise my clients about what needs to be done and why. So how do I determine the size of screen needed for a room?

      One of the main rules I keep in mind is that the base of the screen typically needs to be at least four feet above the floor [note: some AV companies recommend five feet minimum]. This means that the image projected on the screen (which usually fills the screen) sits at or above head level for a seated audience, allowing everyone to see the presentation. If the audience is standing, then the bottom of the projected image will need to be at least six or seven feet off the floor. Why does this matter? Two words: Ceiling Height.

      If you are holding your meeting in a ballroom, then the ceiling is probably between fifteen and thirty feet high. Raising a 10’ by 10’ screen so that the bottom edge is four feet above the floor is not going to be a problem. However, what if the ceiling of the meeting room is only ten feet? Now, you are limited to just six feet of space for a screen once you raise it up four feet. If your audience is standing, then you have, at most, four feet left once you raise the screen six or seven feet – and a six by six screen is usually the smallest size available. You would need to either change rooms or switch to using multiple monitors…

      The audience size is important as well in determining screen size. If I am expecting 100 people to attend my meeting and I know that I will be seating them at 60” rounds, I will need about 1,500 square feet to seat everyone. [Download Sizing Chart] Let’s assume the ceiling is 12’ high and the room measures 30’ wide by 50’ long. We can fit an 8’x8’ screen or a 6’x6’ screen in the room, based on ceiling height. Which do we need? I would most likely use the 6’x6’ screen. Why? Well, the 2x8 Rule says that, for a 6’x6’ screen, the closest seat should be at least 12 feet from the screen and the furthest seat should not be any more than 48’. Since the room is only 50’ long, even someone at the very back of the room should be able to easily see the screen. Could you use an 8’x8’ screen? Certainly. But, in this example, I would go with the 6’x6’ unless there were specific reasons to use the larger screen instead. As your attendance rises, so does the size of room that you will need. As the size of the audience requires more space, your screen will have to be bigger as well to accommodate that.

      So what happens when one screen is not enough for the number of people you have, or when you have to use smaller screens due to ceiling height? You get multiple screens and sync them so the same image is displayed on each screen. I’ll look at when to use those options in a future post…

      ~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

      Wednesday, August 24, 2011

      Women Owned Small Business in the Government Market

      You may have heard that the Federal Government has really put an effort into getting contracts into the hands of women-owned small businesses. In February of this year, they formalized their certifications so that women-owned businesses are now required to go through a certification process. You can qualify as a Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) or an Economically Disadvantaged Woman Owned Small Business (EDWOSB). The difference is not money, but whether or not your NAICS code (code that the government uses to identify your business type) is underrepresented or significantly underrepresented. Meeting Planning Services are significantly underrepresented so we qualify as an EDWOSB.

      If you are registered with the government as a contractor, then go to the SBA login. If you are not registered, go to and set up an account. It is populated with the information from your Federal registration with CCR and ORCA. It is on this site that you get the information regarding what is required to qualify as a WOSB. You can upload the required information, or if you are already certified by one of the very few approved certifying organizations, (ours was WBENC) you can upload the certificate. You also have a form to complete. Once you have completed your paperwork, then go to CCR/ORCA and update your status.

      I have not seen much in the way of Federal agencies doing set-asides for WOSB, but I keep hearing it will be happening in this next fiscal year. We certainly are hoping that we benefit from this new program. If you have any questions about how we got our certification and/or I can direct you to where you need to go to get started, please feel free to email me at

      ~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

      Wednesday, August 17, 2011

      Why would you serve dessert at an afternoon break?

      It is such a simple idea, serving the dessert from lunch at an afternoon break, yet it is a strategy that is often overlooked by novice planners. Indeed, most planners I work with when they are new to the field tend to treat each meal function as a separate event, unconnected to any other on the schedule. Although this is true to some extent, when it comes to lunch and the afternoon break, you have a golden opportunity to save some money while providing timely snacks for your group.

      A typical draft agenda schedules lunch from 12:30 – 1:30, with a break (that usually includes more food!) set to occur somewhere around 2:30 or 3pm. Now, I love to eat, especially when someone else is paying for it, but this ends up being a lot of food in a fairly short amount of time. Your attendees will have just had a (hopefully) filling lunch, including dessert, and you are now offering them more food – which is likely to be just as sugary and as high in calories as dessert…

      Some people believe that, in a situation like this, people will self-regulate and eat less at the break than they would if the break were served later. From my observations over 17 years, though, that does not seem to generally be the case. People still pile up their plates with cookies (or whatever else is served). They then snack on the pile for a while and end up leaving most of the plate sitting on a table somewhere – uneaten! Not only have we failed to have people take less food but we have also generated a lot of wasted food – and spent a fair amount of money to do so.

      The two primary solutions I offer to clients are (1) to change the time of the afternoon break and/or (2) to serve the dessert from lunch at the afternoon break. If they also need to rein in their budget, then I really will push for option #2. In fact, I will often recommend serving dessert at the PM break even if the break already is, or can be, scheduled for a later time.

      Pushing the break back a bit in the schedule lets folks have a bit more time to digest lunch (and possibly dessert) before they are presented with more food. However, serving dessert at the afternoon break, in conjunction with a time shift or not, does more than just spread out the calorie intake.

      People do eat a bit less at lunch (simply because you are providing less) and their stomachs will not be as full if you omit dessert from lunch. With less calories consumed at lunch, you attendees will more likely be ready for dessert when you serve it later in the afternoon. And, since dessert is typically included in the price of the lunch you provided, you are not spending more to have it brought out at the break. [So long as this option is arranged ahead of time, most hotels are quite willing to work with you on it and do not charge extra for serving dessert separately.] So… not only have we saved some money by not serving a whole new set of snacks but we will also, hopefully, find ourselves with less food left over both after lunch and after the break.

      While this solution does not work for all groups in all situations, it is one more option to be aware of that you can use to trim your food costs while still providing your event’s participants with an enjoyable conference food experience – and I frequently recommend it to my clients.

      ~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

      Wednesday, August 10, 2011

      Choosing the Right Venue

      When working with various clients to plan a meeting, conference, or event of any kind, one of the big pieces is the site selection. Site selection is a process with a purpose. The site has to have the correct parameters for the event that will be held there.

      The size of the plenary session needs to be adequate to comfortably fit all the attendees in a comfortable setting and one that makes sense for the topic and attendee participation, if any is expected. The meeting planner also needs to take into consideration if any large screens are going to be used, what media will be used, will the attendees be able to see easily, and what room set-up is preferred.

      Meeting “flow” is another area that is important for each event. The number of meeting rooms and the size and arrangement of the meeting space to be utilized can have a large impact here. How large is the General Session room? How many breakouts are needed? Where are they located? Are they on the same level as the rest of the event? Can attendees access them easily? Can the rooms easily accommodate the audio-visual equipment needed?

      And, how far away is the food? Yes, that is always an important question for everyone! RDL staff never likes to use the same rooms for meals that meetings are being held in when they can avoid it but we do want it close by. (Having meals in a separate space gives people a chance to get up, stretch, and move a bit. Plus, the change of scenery can be good for a mental break as well.) And attendees don’t like to be too far away from the food either. Considering all the flow and potential uses of space before selecting a site is incredibly important.

      Another important thing to consider when selecting a venue for a client is the location of the event. Is it convenient? Is it located close to public transportation? For those flying to the event, where is the airport in relation to the venue? How about the subway/train? And, for those driving in, what parking options exist? Take into consideration ADA access & limitations, such as the location of elevators in relationship to sleeping rooms & meeting space. Where are the restaurants and the recreational facilities and how easy is it to access them?

      One of the final, but vitally important, considerations for many clients is the price. What will it cost to hold the event there? How much are the sleeping rooms? What is the cost of the food & beverage? Is there a cost for the meetings space? Is the venue willing to work with us to meet budget limits? Can the client afford it?

      All of these items are important and will help guide the client towards selecting the most appropriate venue for their event. Keep these suggestions in mind and enjoy your next event!

      ~ Cyndy Hutchinson • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

      Wednesday, August 3, 2011

      Three Types of Presentation Aids

      Although many options exist for speakers, I have found that there are really only a handful of aids that they regularly use when making presentations at a meeting or conference. So what choices are they making? Let’s take a quick look at three of the most common types in the industry today (not in any particular order)…

      Yep, these are still used. They are easy to acquire and set up, and don’t require a lot of space to use. They give the presenter flexibility in terms of what information to post on the page. However, their utility is limited as the audience size grows, becoming ineffective once you hit a certain point. Flipcharts are excellent tools for small groups with high interaction between the audience and the speaker or trainer.

      Videos can be very engaging and powerful, using the combination of images and sounds to evoke strong feelings in an audience. However, lowering the lights to effectively show a video may also encourage portions of the audience to doze off… In all seriousness, though, videos are very much a one-way presentation format with little opportunity for interaction between the presenter and the audience. When properly incorporated into a presentation, videos can work well regardless of the size of the audience.

      Essentially a slide presentation, PowerPoint offers a few advantages over the old slide carousels. Firstly, it allows a presenter to make substantive changes to their presentation very late in the game. In fact, many presenters don’t even complete their presentation until just before their scheduled talk so they can include the latest data or information and reorder the slides for best presentation of the data. A few other advantages PowerPoint has over slides are that it allows for relatively easy “jumping” to other sections of the presentations, it can include video and sound files as part of the presentation, handouts are easily produced from the originally file, and the file itself is much easier to transport than a slide carousel. Unfortunately, the format does tend to get misused by presenters in their attempts to make their presentations more interesting. If you need to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, you may want to check out my Rules for Using PowerPoint.

      Those of you who are more experienced will notice that I’ve left off two formats that were once quite common: Overhead Projectors and Mock-Ups (also known as examples or samples). Both of these formats are still in use but neither one is used as frequently as the three types outlines above, if at all. Overhead projectors, once a staple of any AV company’s equipment stock along with slide projectors, have been almost completely replaced by LCD projectors (which are being used to project PowerPoint presentations). I have not seen one used in a presentation for at least five years. Mock-ups are still in use by trainers but they, too, seem to have been supplanted by PowerPoint in many cases and, when they are used, I have almost always seen them used in conjunction with one of the other methods.

      Keep in mind that, whatever method you choose to use, make sure that it is appropriate for the venue and audience – as well as for the content. Ultimately, how well the type of presentation aid supports the content and situation is usually more important than which type it actually is and, as always, your content is more important than the aids used to present it.

      ~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises