Golden Nuggets

In Part I of this Golden Nugget, we identified the major elements of a facility contract.  With regard to specifics, there are a number of major areas to address to mitigate your risk.

For example, the attrition clause (what happens if your group fails to consume the number of rooms committed to in the room block) must be clearly understood and agreed to.  Some contracts calculate the attrition on the overall pick-up percentage (better approach) but some contracts calculate the attrition on the per night pick-up percentage (not so good).  Attrition clauses usually specify the minimum percentage of room block pick-up required to be eligible for complimentary meeting space.  However, be careful as to the way the breakdown of the attrition break points is indicated.  The attrition clause must also be very clear on the dates when you can release a portion of your block, without penalty.

Another key point to negotiate in your facility contract is the set-up time required for your meeting room installations.  Facilities typically try to book back to back events so that the same meeting room can be turned over for another revenue generating event on the same day.  However, you have to make sure the contract specifically gives you access early enough for your event’s installations.

Your Professional Conference Organizer (PCO) can provide helpful advice on how the meeting space configuration will work best, or why the meeting space proposed by the facility will not work in your favour for your program.  Insist on having floor plans drawn to scale for each of your meeting room set-ups to ensure that the facility takes into account all your room set-up arrangements (including technical and audio-visual installations and staging) so that you can be confident that the meeting space booked in the contract will provide the right physical environment.  If you end up with a long and narrow meeting room, don’t book a panel presentation requiring a head table set-up in that room.  In a lot of cases, the program is developed after the meeting space is booked in which case your Program Committee needs to be fully aware of the space considerations and limitations.

The facility contract is not just about meeting and hotel room space.  Be sure to get banquet price lists before you sign the contract.  If you don’t you might be unpleasantly surprised when it comes time to place your order.

Any clause restricting you to use the facility’s ‘official supplier or penalties or surcharges to use your own supplier should be specifically addressed.  While the use of official suppliers is usually negotiable if it is a “deal breaker”, your PCO should know the flexibility of the facility on these points.

These are only a few elements of the facility selection and contract negotiation that a Professional Conference Organizer can successfully manage on your behalf.  Walk with your PCO and you’ll be off on the right foot.

Written by Hélène Lamadeleine


From the beginning of the process of site selection through the facility contract negotiation, a Professional Conference Organizer (PCO) can help you choose the right facility and get the best deal.  A qualified PCO will provide added value in this process, based on having extensive experience in working with various facilities and having been involved in negotiating numerous facility contracts.

Once you’ve selected the venue for your event, which terms and conditions of the facility contract can and should be negotiated?  If you wanted to build a house, would you know what permits, building codes and specifications you need to be aware of, or would you hire a general contractor to guide you and advise you through the process?  When it comes to negotiating a facility contract, your PCO is like a General Contractor who will take care of all the details of the contract through successful completion.  Generally site selection companies can negotiate similar contracts but they are not involved in their execution, which is another benefit of working with a PCO.

Negotiating a facility contract is not just about negotiating the best hotel room rate, or the lowest meeting room rental charge.  Risk mitigation is the key objective in addressing all the clauses of the contract.  Depending on the size and complexity of your event, your contract should include some variation of the following:

  • Dates of the Event
  • Room Block (rooms per night, price, cut-off date and method of reservations, complimentary rooms)
  • Meeting Space (named rooms with set-up and capacity, dates and times including set-up, cost usually on a sliding scale)
  • Food and Beverage (policies, spend commitment, pricing)
  • Attrition and Cancellation (policies including timelines and resale)
  • Exclusive Vendor Policies (AV, telecommunications, electricity, catering, rigging – if possible for your flexibility, these should be negotiated out, except if a health and safety case can be proven)
  • Relocation (what happens to your participants if the hotel is oversold)
  • Force Majeure
  • Legal (insurance, indemnification, dispute resolution, assignment, change in ownership, notice)
  • Construction and Renovation Limits and Remedies
  • Performance (reflagging, standards to which the facility must deliver and consequent financial remedies)
  • Over-Performance (incentives for the group to exceed contracted commitments)
  • Riders (additional hotel policies, services and pricing)

In our next Golden Nugget, we will provide some specific tactics to minimize your facility contract risk.

Written by Hélène Lamadeleine

Running an event on-site is already a stressful enough activity.  Following is a list of hints I developed for a major national event’s staff and volunteers a few years ago.  It still stands today.

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring a second or third pair to the venue each day and change them a couple of times with fresh socks or hose.  You will be amazed at how refreshed your feet and legs will feel. The Convention Centre’s floors are hard, very hard (even where they are carpeted) and this is hard on most of us that don’t walk that concrete every day.
  2. Never miss an opportunity to eat. You never know what is going to happen next and may conflict with the next meal time. I am probably the most guilty of this so I know of what I speak.
  3. Drink lots of water. We get busy and we often forget and tend to get dehydrated and don’t even realize it.
  4. Keep your sense of humour – remember that everyone else is probably just as tired and stressed as you are. If you have to blow off some steam, make sure you take it out of the public areas both from sight and sound perspectives. Let’s always try and support one another.
  5. Never run. You may be in a hurry, but the media notice when organizers are running – it usually means there is a problem so let’s not give them a heads up.
  6. Whenever you run into a problem, remember there is always a solution, it just may not be in the direction you were initially heading.  Conventions happen in real time so to state the obvious, everything happens very quickly (especially when it’s not going according to plan). If there is something wrong that doesn’t seem to have a solution, take a step back, take a deep breath and consult your colleagues.  Together, the solution will come to you.
  7. Did I mention to change your shoes often?

Please feel free to pass this on to anyone I might have missed on my distribution list and who might be able to benefit from these tips.  If you remember which event this was written for, please feel to post in the comments section.

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP

A number of years ago, I had a client who was a lawyer by training and he had several sayings by which he was known.  One of them was “The devil is in the details” and this could not be more true than for event planning.

True risk mitigation regarding event execution starts with the contract.  But when you get to making sure the finer details are articulated, you want to make sure every possible question is asked and answered.  You will be working through the facility’s processes and operational staff and you must make sure both of you have the same understanding of what you expect.  Most hotels and convention centres utilize some form of Banquet Event Order or BEO.  Because the BEOs are the facility’s understanding of your requirements, you should provide them as much detail as possible.  We use function sheets to describe everything from room set-ups to staging requirements to food and beverage and telecommunications.

There are some pieces of information that should go on every function sheet and BEO:

  • Location of the event (facility, room, etc.)
  • Event organizer (you) including contact and billing information
  • Facility organizer (often called a convention services manager (CSM))
  • Date of the event
  • Times for the event (set-up, run and dismantle)
  • Room set-up
  • Number of people expected details you should include but are dependent on the specific type of event may include:

  • food and beverage menu selected
  • service instructions (buffet, plated, white glove, etc.)
  • staffing (such as bartenders, ticket sellers, etc.)
  • room set-up details (such as how many chairs at each table)
  • timeline as to how the event unfolds including presentation times
  • description of the event including speakers and purpose
  • audio-visual installations (so the set-up staff know what they will have to work around)
  • size and height of staging
  • floor plan (what goes where)
  • telecommunications requirements (telephone and internet)
  • security
  • water stations (bottles, jugs or coolers) vs water service at each table
  • centrepieces and decor
  • colour of linens and stage skirts
  • costing of everything covered (if it is not on the BEO and not subsequently ordered (and signed for) you don’t have to pay for it)

After the facility translates (and yes that is the correct word) the information on the function sheets to their format of BEO, you must review them with a fine tooth comb to make sure they are accurate and describe what you want to happen.  For example if you asked for 100 cups of coffee on the function sheet and the BEO has 1000, make sure the BEO is corrected (before you sign it) or you will be charged for 1000 cups of coffee.  If you are not sure about something and what it means, ASK.

You should provide your functions sheets to the facility at least 30 days before the event (you can still fine-tune the guarantee, usually up to 72 hours prior to the first event function) and the facility should provide the BEOs at least 21 days prior to the first day.  Finally, you should review the BEOs with the on-site staff at a pre-con meeting before the event to reinforce what is expected to be delivered.

If you’ve detailed it down to a “T”, that devil will look for someone else.

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP

The waste management mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is also the cornerstone of sustainable meetings practice.  Many of the best practices have the double barrelled effect of being not only good for the environment but also for saving you money.

Reduce should be your first strategy.  Obviously if you don’t have to have something you don’t have to pay for it.  Most people wouldn’t even think about mailing a preliminary program to prospective conference attendees anymore.  Consider other ways you can reduce or eliminate your printed materials.  Look for other options, such as picking a venue that is close to your audience or has all the elements located very close together, to reduce transportation costs.  Sometimes replacing the way you do something with another way will help you reduce; a simple example is replacing bottled water with either pitchers of iced water or water coolers.

Thinking local is another example of reduction.  Source whatever you can locally (from locally grown food and beverage to printing to floral products).  This will save on shipping costs.  Most caterers will also work with you to use local, seasonal products but this is sometimes easier said than done when you live in a northern climate like Canada!

If you can’t reduce the use of something, at least find ways to reuse it.  Signage is an easy element of this greening principle.  Don’t make a new sign for each session, design it so it can be reused (with a replaceable customized portion) over and over again.  Don’t put dates on the signs so they can be used at the next event as well.  Reuse your badge holders and lanyards from one event to the next by collecting them at the end of each event.  Both of these ideas will help you save money because you will have less to purchase (but make sure the cost of shipping and storage doesn’t outweigh the cost savings of reuse).

When it comes to thinking about recycling, the cost savings come from less trash generation (and your cost to have  garbage destined for land fill removed).  Many convention centres charge for waste removal (especially after a tradeshow) so anything you can do to divert materials to recycling will help save money.

There is another “R” that can add to your bottom line and that is “rethink”.  As with goals and objectives (and BEOs for that matter) you should always be asking “why?”.  From a sustainability perspective, look at your processes and procedures and see if there is another way of doing something that is more environmentally sustainable and you might also find a way to save money.  Just by restricting registration to an online process will help the environment (less paper generation) and save you money (less data entry time).

Reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink.  You’ll be helping the environment and your bottom line at the same time.

There are a multitude of resources and sources for good ideas on-line.  Following is just a small sample:

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP

As we come to the end of the year, it is time to think of the annual budget (well actually it was several months ago and it actually depends on your year end or budget cycle, but what better message for the holiday season).  Event budgets can be very challenging to create and administer since there are so many variables such as sources of revenue, number of participants, unforeseen costs, etc.

When we build a budget we operate by the mantra “estimate expenses liberally and revenues conservatively”, and not just because we are headquartered in the nation’s capital where politics sometimes seems a blood sport.

To build a budget you first need to identify the financial objective of the event:

  • Revenue generating (makes money)
  • Revenue neutral (the money you collect offsets your expenses)
  • A budgeted expense for your organization (limited or no revenue is collected as the organization is paying the bills)

Now set your mind to determining what your expenses are going to be. 

If you have a budget from a past similar event, then this is a good place to start.  If not, the following categories of expenses will help:

  • Facility Costs (rental, accommodations, electrical power, internet, security, dock master, package delivery, etc.)
  • Food and Beverage (meals for participants and staff, breaks, receptions, etc. based on a percentage of total attendance using historical data)
  • Audio-Visual (including projection, sound, lighting, rigging, computers, set-up and dismantle, labour)
  • Show Services (for exhibit-related costs and decor)
  • Marketing and Promotion (e.g., graphic design, website, e-blasts, mobile app, paper mailings if you must, Final Program and Show Guide, signage)
  • Program Development (e.g., speaker fees and travel, abstract management system, committee meetings, entertainment, facilitators)
  • Professional Fees (e.g., event management, photographer, interpreters)
  • Registration (on-line processing fees, credit card fees, kit bags and gifts for participants, badges, lanyards, temporary staff)
  • Miscellaneous (shipping, parking, meeting expenses, etc.)

The final expense category you should always include is a contingency fund.  There are always things you did not budget for (e.g., a social media campaign) or cost more than you expect (e.g.,the service charge based on a union contract increases unexpectedly).  A contingency fund will cover you for these little (and sometimes not-so little) surprises.  Depending on the history of the event, as little as 5% should cover it, but if the event is a first time occurrence, I would suggest 10% unless you are really in uncharted waters (such as an event in another country).

Now you know how much the event is expected to cost.  Assuming that your event’s objective is to make money or break even,

You will next want to calculate your expected revenues. 

  • First to consider is your sponsorship revenue.  Based on a viable sponsorship plan determine what the minimum amount of money you will be able to raise from your partners in exchange for marketing exposure.
  • Second is whether you will have any exhibit revenue which, again, you should estimate on the low side.
  • Excluding registration or participation fee revenue, determine if you have any other sources of revenue (such as a silent auction, sales of merchandise, etc.).
  • Add together sponsorship, exhibit and other revenue along with any desired profit.  Subtract this amount from the total expenses and you will now have your registration revenue target.  Determine what the minimum number of attendees is likely to be (and maybe reduce it by 10% to be safe) as well as the split between paying and complimentary attendees.  Divide the required registration revenue by the number of paying attendees to determine your average registration fee.  Based on your required categories and their relative weight (e.g., professional member, non-member, student, etc.) and other inducements (e.g., early-bird discount), you can use a spread sheet to determine what each fee should be.

Depending on the organization’s taxable status, you may want to include taxes as a line item, but make sure they are included (at the appropriate rates) for both revenue and expenditures.  Don’t forget that in Canada the provincial tax regime that applies to revenue is the one in which the event is delivered.

You don’t want any nasty financial surprises at the end of the event, so it is not only politically correct to estimate expenses liberally and revenues conservatively, but it also makes sound financial sense.

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP

“Chance” is a fairweather friend of all event organizers. Sometimes she can really help you out and other times he just makes a bad situation worse. I would never leave Chance in charge of an event, because that would be surrendering control to the unknown and the preventable.

When I started out in event management someone once told me to think about the front page of tomorrow’s paper and make sure you get the picture (and story) you want – or at least not the one you don’t want. All event organizers should do everything in their power to plan how an event is going to unfold. There is an expression, the devil is in the details and we will be discussing logistical planning in another Golden Nugget. But events happen in real time, so the on-site manager needs to consider what to do when something doesn’t go according to plan or happens by chance.

There are some things for which you can have back-up plans ready and you can determine what falls into this category. For example, if you have a table reserved for dignitaries at a meal and they don’t all show up, you can have a few “reserve” attendees in your back pocket to fill the table(s) so the absences aren’t noticed. Plant some questions in the audience to ensure your question and answer session doesn’t fall flat.

Know where and how local resources can be called up on a moment’s notice (such as a 24/7 printer or how to contact your AV supplier after hours) and have contact information (both on-site and off-site) for all your key personnel and suppliers. The local facility can be one of your best resources for the un-expected as it may have happened to them before. Make sure you know how to access emergency services in your chosen facility (it usually isn’t 911 but rather the specific facility’s security department, because the emergency services will waste time contacting them before dispatching).

You can’t possibly plan for every contingency. The secret is to be ready for ones that have a higher chance of probability (lack of attendance vs a tornado as long as you are not in the US Midwest during tornado season). Risk mitigation is also about knowing what to do when something doesn’t go according to plan. Maybe your keynote speaker’s plane is delayed or more people show up for dinner than registered or event staff don’t arrive when expected. The first and most important thing to do is to stay calm. Then you have to find the most effective and efficient solution to the problem in the shortest time possible with the least impact on your participants.

Sometimes no matter how much time you have spent planning for the worst, the unforeseen happens. It may well be that how you handle the circumstance will save the event. At a conference a couple of years ago, I was heading to the conference office to start the day before all the participants came down for breakfast and the hotel lost power. It was on a special grid with redundant back-ups and no one knew how long it was going to be before the power came on again. Thankfully breakfast had already been cooked, so it was just a matter of keeping the buffet warm. Minutes became half-hours as we considered what to do about the program. After breakfast we were scheduled to have a keynote address and the speaker had arrived. We had about 50% of our attendees eating the buffet breakfast amongst the exhibits (which had some emergency and some natural light. Our plenary room, however, had no power and very little emergency light. We checked with the keynote speaker and he had just a speech and was comfortable addressing the audience without a sound system (he knew how to project his voice), so we moved the podium off the stage and into a corner under an emergency light and attached a flashlight to a pole so he could see his notes. The AV techs escorted the audience to their seats with flashlights just like ushers in a theatre. The keynote delivered his address to an audience completely in the dark and everyone loved it because the conference adapted to the adversity without panic and moved forward. Thankfully the lights came back on after the keynote and we were able to get all the systems up and running within minutes and the program carried forward.

“Chance” can make a vacation better by adding to the adventure, but you really don’t want him to be planning the entire itinerary or you won’t have anywhere to stay and won’t get the opportunity to do the things you want to. Don’t let her take charge of your event either, because, if you leave it to “Chance”, “Chance” will fail you.

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP

If you have an interesting risk mitigation story, please share it in the comments section.

Trade shows can be stand-alone affairs or an integral part of your conference or educational event. But, just because you have a trade show or exhibition doesn’t mean people will attend. The organization of all trade shows requires the event host to consider encouraging attendees to visit the exhibitors’ booths. This is known as generating traffic. Your communications strategy will be targeted to generating participation in the trade show by both exhibitors and audience. But, you could be doing more to assist exhibitors by increasing the number of visitors to their booths.

If the trade show is part of a conference, you should build some program events to take place on the trade show floor. Consider all activities that don’t include a speaker as exhibit attendance opportunities from breakfast to breaks to lunch to receptions. Some trade shows also included dedicated times during the program for exhibit visiting, but you will need to weigh this against other program requirements as well as your overall goals and objectives.

Depending on the size of the trade show, you may want to consider an exhibit passport. This is a printed document provided to participants at registration which includes space for attendees to collect proof that the attendee has visited the exhibitor’s booth (usually by way of initials, an answer to a trivia question or a stamp of some sort). Once complete, the attendee will return the passport to Show Management to be included in a draw for something that is valuable to the attendee (a necessary incentive to encourage visiting as many booths as possible). For larger or more diverse shows, it might be possible to operate this passport on a subset of exhibitors (say 50% or a designated market segment). This might result in more targeted traffic to the booths and result in happier exhibitors as exhibitors are most interested in qualified leads or visitors who are actual potential customers rather than having resources consumed by visitors unlikely to influence purchasing decisions.

If suitable given the nature of your event, another option is to provide a list of registered show attendees to your exhibitors in advance of the opening so that the exhibitor can invite known attendees to drop by their booth during the show (make sure your privacy policy allows for this). The exhibitor will often provide an incentive to the visitor, such as a giveaway or a discount on their next purchase, helping to build visits to their booth. For shows which are open to a broader audience and where registrant revenue is less important than traffic, exhibitors might be given a number of show passes to be distributed to their clients in advance with an invitation to visit their booth. Both of these attendance building strategies will also provide trickle-down traffic for other exhibitors.

One of the challenges of a trade show is maintaining the interest of conference registrants. Another way of attracting attendance is to have prize draws on the show floor for which attendees have to be present in order to win. However, make sure that attendees will be present as it is very embarrassing for all involved if a long string of names are drawn and none are present.

It is also important to make sure that your trade show is a place participants want to be – not just for the food and beverage or the draws – but because it is a welcoming place. Consider the flow of your show when designing the floor plan and include gathering spots, soft furniture seating, tall standing tables and internet kiosks to make the exhibition a welcoming environment.

Lastly, listen to the suggestions of your exhibitors. In many cases they have worked lots of shows, often nationally or internationally. They may have seen something that works particularly well for your audience.

Remember, building it is not enough for them to come. You need concrete strategies to get attendees to spend time on the show floor and to interact with exhibit staff. Your exhibitors will thank you by returning for future shows.

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP

The name badge is an important, yet inexpensive, marketing tool!  Make no mistake, the name badge isn’t just proof that someone has checked in at your event, it is the simplest networking tool you can provide.  Use it to your full advantage.

Six sure-fire tips for creating an excellent and efficient name badge for your event participants:

  1. Don’t overcrowd the badge!  Keep it simple and maximize the print area by using larger size fonts for the information that’s most important to see readily: the name of the person.  Design the badge to include your branding at the top or bottom, one line for their first name (in larger font), another line their family name in slightly smaller font, and a third line for their organization.  You may want to add a fourth line to include the city/province or, for international events, the country, which can help break the ice between attendees who don’t know each other.

  2. Make sure you use your event branding on the badge.  This is a simple and easy opportunity to reinforce your brand and keeps everything nicely tied together.  If the branding on the name badge needs to be bilingual, plan for a concise design so that the text will be legible on the badge.

  3. Ever noticed how badges attached to a lanyard or string flip over and all you see is the back of a blank name badge?  If you are not using the back of the badge for personalized agendas, print the same information on both sides of the name badge, and voilà! The name badge functions properly at all times.  If you need to use both sides for different information, consider lanyards with two clips (one for each top corner).

  4. If your delegates are asked to pre-select their conference sessions, use the back of the badge to print their personalized individual agenda, including room assignments.

  5. Not everyone likes lanyards, so make sure you offer the option of a lapel clip.  Most badges are designed to accommodate both.  And, let’s face it, it’s easier to read a badge from someone’s lapel.  On the other hand, be careful not to suggest to someone that they attach a ‘clip/pin’ type badge to their expensive suit jacket or fancy dress!

  6. Choose the right badge holder – it’s as important as the design of the badge itself!  Is the badge holder meant to hold banquet tickets or a ‘pocket’ program?  If so, make sure you choose the right sized badge holder.  Should the badge holder be totally clear or should it have a colour bar at the bottom which could be used for colour coding of categories of registration (e.g., exhibitors, speakers, sponsors, etc.)?

Registration is the first on-site experience of your event your attendees will have.  By making sure the name badge is professional, efficient and effective, you are creating a positive first impression.

Above all else, never, under any circumstances, ask your participants to write their name on a sticky peel-off label that says “Hello… My name is”.

Written by:

Jessica Ward, CMP
Event Manager
Golden Planners Inc.

In the first Golden Nugget, we reviewed the importance of goals and objectives as the crucial starting point to achieve event success.  The second step is a detailed Critical Path, also known as a work plan.

Event management is a stressful activity – telling your participants to come back tomorrow or next week because you are not ready is not an option!  There are a myriad of tools that can be used to build a work plan from a “to do” list scribbled on a sheet of paper all the way through to an automated process using project management software.  To some degree, the process you use will be driven by the complexity of the endeavour and your comfort with the mechanism.  The basics remain the same however.  You need a plan to get you to the successful completion of the event.

With that in mind, work back from the start date of the event and plan all the components backwards.  For example, if something needs to arrive at the event facility the day before the first day of the conference, research shipping times based on the method of shipping you plan to use (air or ground) to determine the deadline for shipping.  If you are going to print a Final Program, generally allow two weeks for printing from the time of final artwork.  This means that you need to allow time before that for the graphic design of the final program which means that all the details in the program have to be confirmed before that.

When you are developing the work plan, it is best to focus on one component of the planning at a time.  For example, develop the list of tasks and timeframes related to logistics (and you can further break it down into subcategories such as audio-visual, room design, food and beverage, etc) and then do marketing and communications.

As you include all tasks that need to be accomplished in your work plan, consider who should “own” responsibility for it and assign this responsibility right in the work plan.  This way when you review the work plan (which you should do with all the members of your planning team on a regular basis), if someone is having a challenge meeting a deadline, you will know and be able to reassign resources or provide additional help.

Once you have completed the work plan, sort it in various ways (chronologically, by resource, by task area, etc.) to determine if you have accidentally created roadblocks.  If you find something that is scheduled to be completed after a task that depends on its completion is scheduled to start, adjust the timing of one or the other (for example speaker recruitment and program promotion).

Sometimes, your plan will have too many things happening at the same time which will likely result in a key task not being accomplished.  Periodically review the plan to see if there are different tasks scheduled to be started or completed at the same time and evaluate if the assigned resource(s) will be able to achieve the expected outcome.  If there is any doubt, add some time to the critical path for this task.  This will be an important component of your risk mitigation.

Events happen in real time so your work plan should be a living document.  Update it when circumstances change and tasks are completed so you are prepared if (and when) something doesn’t go as expected.

So remember the famous words, Plan to work and work to plan!  The quote may be anonymous, but a good plan will be remembered as yours.

Additional resources:

Sample Workplan template:

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP

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