Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Common Lighting Terms for Meetings and Conferences

Like so many other professional fields, the hospitality industry uses a lot of terms that are thrown about as if everyone understands what the terms mean. This can be quite frustrating for newer planners, especially when those terms are drawn from a field such as audio-visual technologies. In this post, I will share some of the common lighting terms (and maybe a couple of not-so-common ones) that meeting planners will come across at hotels and other venues.

First off, let’s look at the different types of lighting that hotels often use.

LED: This stands for Light Emitting Diode and is frequently used for accent lights. They use little energy and give of a bright but cool light.

Florescent Lights: This is one of the most common forms of area lighting for meeting rooms. The light tubes contain a reactive gas that emits light when an electric current is passed through it. They come on quickly at their maximum brightness, do not usually emit a lot of heat, and provide a nice, even brightness level.

PAR, aka PARcan or “cans”: A Parabolic Aluminized Reflector, this is your stereotypical “can light”. You usually find them recessed into the ceiling of the meeting room. These lights get pretty hot, which is one of the reasons for recessing them, and the “can” in which they sit helps direct the light down from the ceiling.

Lekos: Also called “ellipsoidals”, these lights are essentially spotlights. They are used to shine a bright light on a specific area and are frequently paired with gobos. One of the neat features with Lekos is that they usually have built-in shutters that allow you to focus the light, widening or narrowing the beam to illuminate only the target area. It is almost unheard of to find one of these lights built into a room’s ceiling or walls, except in a true theater – and it is not common there either, so they need to be mounted on something.

Fresnels: Typically used for area lighting (of a stage, for example), Fresnels produce a soft-edged light, which can be somewhat shuttered by the use of “barn doors”. Colors can be added to the light to create mood lighting. Like Lekos, Fresnel lights require a stand or framework for mounting and are rarely built-in to a meeting room’s structure.


Now, let’s look at some other lighting-related terms. Though not commonly used for most meetings, each of these terms may show up if you are doing a more extensive production for events, such as for an awards banquet or a major keynote presentation.

Cyc: Short for cyclorama, this is a heavy curtain used as a backdrop for a stage. Images can be shone upon it, or it can simply be used to visually create a space for presentations. It is often used as well to block undesirable objects from view, such as a door leading into a service hallway or all of the AV cables that are connected to the equipment on stage.

Gobo: A term originating with film sets, gobo is short for “go between”. The term refers to anything that is set between a light source and the “stage” to create a shadow or an image on top of a presenter or against a backdrop (or cyc). The most common application of gobos in meetings is to display a logo on a wall, the floor, or even the ceiling.

Scrim: In theater applications, a scrim is a light, gauzy material placed in front of the cyc that can be transparent or opaque, depending on how it is lit and what effect is desired. It can be used to “hide” a presenter (or an object) onstage until the precise moment you want the audience to see them.

Barn Doors: These shutters are mounted on the outside of a light’s casing to allow customization of the light’s beam. With barn doors, you can adjust the light, for example, to keep it off of a curtain, light only to the edge of the stage, or to help define the edge of an area.

As with other audio-visual equipment issues, the question often arises: do I really need to know this as a meeting planner? Of course, the answer is “no”, you don’t need to know it. After all, you don’t need to know what a PAR is to use one and, if you have more extensive needs, that is one of the reasons you would hire AV experts – to have them help you with just this kind of thing. However, I am a big believer in knowing as much about our industry as you can. It makes you more able to understand what the people you hire are talking about and it means you can take a more direct role in ensuring that your event goes off as you envision it.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How many Registration Counters are Needed for My Event?

While I’ve not come across a hard and fast rule to answer this question, I believe that we can still give ourselves a good rule of thumb to apply as a starting point.

In a previous post, I examined the question of how many people you needed to staff your event and, if you recall, the rule of thumb given there (1 staff per 100 attendees) was geared towards knowing the number of people you would need to staff your registration counters. But – does that estimate also apply to the registration counters themselves…?

Yes and No.

As with staffing levels, 1 per 100 is a good place to start. In this case, though, we’ll use one registration counter for every 100 registrants. Why? Well, I use this as my starting point mainly because each staff person will need some space within which to operate and it is difficult to have too many people all working the same counter. Another reason, quite honestly, is that it makes the math easy and I can make a quick estimate if necessary.

When it comes to actually ordering registration tables or counters, though, I take a good look at what the check-in process will entail. Will attendees simply come by and pick up a badge then go into the meeting or is there more to it than that? Will they need to sign in and/or sign out of the meeting? Are there additional materials that they will need to collect on check-in? If so, how are those materials to be handed out – as a package, singly, attendee chooses what they want, etc.? All of these questions affect how much space you will need to check people in to your event – and, therefore, how many counters you will need. Even the size of the name badges can affect the amount of space you need.

A good way to roughly calculate the space you will need is to set up a mock registration counter in your office. Just pick a table and lay out ten to twenty badges, plus any additional materials they will need to receive on check-in, as if you were conducting your event check-in right there. That will allow you see how much space you will need for everything. You will need to extrapolate a bit to figure out your total space requirements – but it will give you a rough approximation.

Then, think about how long it will take to hand them everything – time how long it takes you if that helps you. Remember, the longer the process takes, the more people you will need to make the process go quickly and efficiently. If you need additional people, you will most likely need more space. If, on the other hand, you am only handing out name badges and there are no other materials or activities taking place at check-in, you could probably get away with one counter for 200 people – and just need one staff to manage it.

So, as usual for many of my posts, the ultimate answer is “it depends” when we look at how many registration counters are needed for a particular event. However, you can still use the “1 per 100” rule to get you started.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Five Questions to Answer about Guest Rooms on Your RFPs

Previously, I gave an overview of the kinds of information you should include when creating an event RFP. I did not go into a lot of detail then about each section but, rather, just gave a brief overview. This week, I’d like to look at one of those areas in more depth – Guest Rooms.

Although the only information required for the RFP is how many rooms on each night you need rooms and what nightly rate you are looking for (or cannot exceed), there is, in fact, much more information you can (and should) share with prospective bidders if you know it ahead of time. Here are five additional questions for you to consider when compiling your RFP details.

1. How many ADA rooms do you need and what types of accommodations are needed for those rooms? For example, I worked with a group for a while with two members who were wheelchair-bound. I needed to make sure that they had roll-in showers available in their rooms. If you have attendees who are blind, deaf, or otherwise impaired, it is incumbent on you as the planner to make sure that the facility you choose can accommodate their needs – especially if they are regular attendees to your event. In general, though, you should be sure to select ADA compliant properties just in case any attendee for your event requires one.

2. Will you provide a rooming list or will guests be calling the hotel on their own to make reservations – and who pays for the room charges? While this rarely affects the hotel’s ability to meet your needs, it does help them to understand the relationship that will exist between the venue, the planner, and the guests.

3. Since hotels have some rooms that have a single bed and others with two beds, another piece of information you can share is how many rooms you will need each night in which configuration. In other words, list how many single rooms and how many double rooms will you need? If you also have guests who will stay three or four to a room (triples and doubles), you should share that information as well.

4. Do you need a “pet-friendly” hotel? If so, you’d better ask for that up front or you and your guests could be in for a shock if the hotel does not allow pets and they plan to bring them. [Note: Service Animals are NOT pets and, by law, are allowed everywhere their owner goes.]

5. Will you need any smoking rooms and what is the breakdown of smoking vs. non-smoking rooms? This may seem like an odd one to include these days, with so many hotel chains going completely non-smoking but, if you have a group of smokers, you need to make sure that the hotel knows that you will need smoking rooms (or at least, smoking areas). In addition, many foreign groups or groups traveling overseas still prefer or require smoking rooms.

Make it your practice to gather data on your attendees and their use of guest rooms – not just at your primary (host) hotel but also at alternative sites as well if you have access to that information. As with so many things in our industry, the more you know, the better prepared you are to meet the needs of your group and have a successful event.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What information should I include in my RFPs?

Easy answer: Everything.

Realistic answer: Everything that matters.

OK, I realize that the “realistic” answer isn’t much better than the “easy” answer so let’s see if we can narrow down what that really means. And, since a successful event has to begin somewhere, let’s begin with the basics.

To start, you need to make sure you include basic information, such as your contact information (phone, email, address, etc), the deadline for submission of proposals, and when/how a decision will be made. But that is not all that is needed…

When I create a Request for Proposals (RFP), I am looking for a useful “snapshot” of my conference that a hotel sales manager can use to determine if they are able and willing to compete for my business. It needs to include information about what I need, any limits I have on those needs, and when and how proposals are due. Here are the key areas I cover for all of my groups:

Dates – When I want to hold the meeting. This could be a range (any weekday in October), a pattern (a Mon-Tues in October), or specific dates (October 23-26). If you have flexibility on dates or if there are dates you absolutely must avoid, be sure to include that information in your RFP too.

Guest Rooms – Simply put, how many guest rooms over how many nights do I think I will fill with my group. Usually, this is listed as X number of rooms for Tuesday night, Y number of rooms for Wednesday night, etc.

Rates – How much I am willing to pay for various items, such as guest room rates, meeting room rental, or food and beverage functions. In most cases, this is an upper limit (i.e. I can pay no more than a certain rate for guest rooms, or I cannot pay for space rental, etc.) but it can also simply be a way to share what I would like to pay for guest rooms, space, etc. I also use it as an opportunity to let the venue know if I can negotiate on rates or not and how much room I have to do that.

Space – An outline of the space requirements for the group: how many rooms, when they will be used, what types of room sets, and how many people will be in attendance for each event. Include everything you think you will need, but be realistic about your requirements. That especially applies to your estimated counts. If your group history shows that typical attendance for your meeting is 200 people, don’t look to hold space for 500 without some kind of solid reasoning (i.e. wishful thinking is not a good basis for this estimate).

F&B –A listing of each food and beverage function planned and the estimated number of people in attendance for each function. As with Space requests, ask for what you think you’ll need but be realistic about it.

AV – Indicate how much and what kind of Audio-Visual equipment my meeting will use (whether rented or brought) because this impacts the size of rooms needed for the group, as well as possibly representing another source of income for the venue (if they have an in-house AV department). It also helps paint a picture of what the group looks like for the sales rep.

Other Key Decision Points – If you have special requests that will “make or break” a venue’s chances of winning your business, be sure to include those items in the RFP – and this goes for any service or item that will affect your final decision. For example, if you need free high-speed internet access in your guest rooms, ask for it. If you can only book with a hotel that is a union property, state that in your RFP. That way, you will not waste your time, or theirs, by getting bids that you know up front you cannot accept. Similarly, if parking or shuttle rates are important, be sure to ask bidders to include that information in their proposal as well.

Group History – As we’ve discussed previously, having a solid group history helps show that your space and F&B requests (as well as all of the other items on our RFP) are reasonable and realistic for the group. I typically include a minimum of 3-5 instances of the meeting in the RFP, assuming the group has met at least that many times. For each “instance”, I will provide the date and location of the meeting (city and venue) on the RFP. With a typical large conference, this means I am sharing at least 3-5 years of history. For smaller groups that might meet 3-4 times each year, I usually only list the previous year or two to show that it is not just a “one-off” event and that there is a solid basis for my numbers. Believe it or not, hotels do look at your group history – especially for larger groups.

With each area, I will delve into more detail about the group’s needs as appropriate. Where I take each of the areas above depends greatly on the group I am working with and what they need. To go into those finer points here would take up way too much space so I will instead take the time in future posts to look at some of these RFP areas in greater detail. In the meantime, I hope this has given you enough to start thinking about your RFPs and what information you choose to include in them.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises