How to plan a company event – and survive

No matter the size or nature of your business, the need might arise for a company-sponsored conference or training session. In fact, your business may already host this type of event on an annual or bi-annual basis. For the attendees, it could be one of the most anticipated events of the year, or one of the most dreaded. Either way, these types of events could be fun. That's right…I said fun!

So how could such events be fun if it requires the attendee to be away from the office, sit in a conference room with no windows and listen to financials and policy changes being thrown about the room? Not to mention having to endure the same food and beverage items offered the last three years? The key in hosting an event that attendees will enjoy, while still accomplishing the meeting's purpose, is planning. If the planning process is approached in the right way, the event could become the highlight of the year for each of the attendees.

The event planning process for small business is really as simple as answering the questions: Who, Why, Where, What and How?

Who will be attending

and presenting?

– In most small businesses, this might only include certain employees or departments, but larger companies could have attendees coming from several different locations. It's also important to consider if spouses and families might be invited as well.

– Lodging requirements for any attendees and guests, along with any presenters who might be traveling from other areas should be reserved as soon as possible. Depending on the time of the year, many hotels/resorts, especially those in northern Michigan, fill up quickly. The last thing you want is for your main presenter to find him or herself without a room.

– Your meeting planner for the event will need some potential head counts early in the detailing process. Taking the time to estimate accurate counts from the beginning will lay the groundwork for a successful event.

Why are we having

this event?

– Most businesses that host these types of events will have a certain topic or "theme" that the programs will be based around. Examples of themes or topics include reviews of last year's performance, a marketing campaign for new products/services or strategic planning.

– Establishing a theme will give you an idea of what the "flow" of the event will be. Event flow simply refers to a progression of the program. This is crucial to the meeting planner so that they help you keep the event moving at a desirable pace. The facility personnel will also find the "flow" to be important to their staffing, room set-up and food and beverage production timelines as well.

– An event theme or topic will also help the meeting planners and facility representatives in determining how the look and feel of the event will evolve. For example, if the theme of the conference is to introduce a new company customer service initiative, signs and posters promoting the key components of the program could be placed throughout the facility spaces.

Where will the conference

take place?

– Have a good idea of the environment your meeting will be held in. Is there ample parking, meeting space, dining space and restrooms? If you really want your attendees to have fun, make sure the atmosphere and facilities will favor their comfort.

– It is advisable to tour the space with a facility representative, and again on your own. This will allow you to see the event through the eyes of your attendees. Will they be able to find the registration area, restrooms and meeting space, or will signage need to be used to direct them?

– Most importantly, once you have selected your site, plan to meet with the sales/catering representative of the facility. This will ensure communication among all departments of the event site to make sure everyone understands your vision for the event.

What is the agenda and

what will be your menu

and equipment needs?

– The creation of an agenda is very helpful to both the meeting planner and the facility representative. It will help to confirm the timeline so that the food and beverage and room set-ups can be completed in a timely manner.

– It is always good to discuss with your presenter their needs for audio/visual equipment. This type of equipment can be costly if rented without advanced notice, and it will help to save the embarrassment of not having the needed equipment set up properly prior to the start of the meeting.

– During a visit to the facility, make it a point to discuss with the facility representative what equipment might be available and at what price. This will give you an understanding up front in order to guard against "surprises" when the bill arrives. And speaking of bills….

How much is my budget?

– Oh, the budget…one of the most important aspects of the planning process, but usually the least desirable to discuss. The best advice for budgeting is to have a fairly firm number on paper so that you can use it as a guide in the planning process. Have some idea on the ceiling number. Knowing the spending limit ahead of time will help you plan food and beverage menus, equipment rentals and material costs accordingly.

When planning a company meeting, whether large or small, investing a little time with five simple questions will provide a big return for both you and your employees. Once that's done, let the facility professionals take over. Your work is done.

Jeremy Martincheck has been in the meetings business for 14 years and currently works for Kilwin's Franchises. BN