by Ken Hayward | February 03, 2019

Across industries, summer and fall are peak meeting seasons. Given the fact that many meeting planners start formulating their event strategies well over a year in advance, now is the perfect time to review what professionals in charge of meeting and event planning can do to make their next meeting, conference or retreat as successful, productive and engaging as possible.    

Smart and strategic meeting planning is especially important now because of the way that meetings have evolved in the wake of the last recession. Once little more than glorified "getaways" and social events, today's events need to be substantive and provide clear value to stakeholders. Today, organizers and executives need to justify the expense and the time out of the office. A truly outstanding event or conference can help your organization stand out and is a great way to engage and inform your current team, as well as serve as a valuable tool for attracting, motivating and retaining top talent.

The following best practices can help meeting professionals facilitate a successful conference or meeting. 

Consider context

When you begin the planning process, remember that identifying a venue is about much more than the facility itself. Location is hugely important and the cost and complexity of transportation and logistics is just part of the equation. It might sound like a great idea to hold the annual company retreat in a city like Las Vegas, but keeping the team on site and in tune can be a challenge when there are so many distractions right outside the door. If you want to encourage team building, bonding and interaction, consider a more isolated, rural or "destination" venue. When weighing budgetary considerations, carefully consider what kind of experience will be the best fit. For some organizations, making an impression might be well worth the investment of spending a little more for a premier experience at a destination resort or facility with unique spaces, décor or character.

Communicate and coordinate

Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you have a strong handle on how the hotel or resort approaches corporate events, specifically how it handles scheduling and its servicing philosophy. Think about time frames and required lead times for booking, taking seasonal considerations into account. Ideally, a venue will consolidate all planning through a single contact: a trained meeting/convention management professional capable of coordinating transportation, social events, A/V setup, meals, in-room amenities, and more. The level of trust and communication established with your planner is critical. A little extra attention to detail from a trained planning professional can go a long way in improving the overall experience. Multiple contacts, including outside travel vendors, can lead to complications and communication breakdowns. Indeed, many venues are locked into policies that will not allow you to execute the event in your preferred manner.

Make it special

The traditional "wine and dine" simply doesn't cut it with today's workforce. With more and more companies looking to make their events creative and compelling, take time to review your options. Don't pick a place at random; be strategic and thoughtful about planning, be clear on what your vision is, and what you hope to accomplish. Decide if the goal of the event is education (learning and growing professionally); recreation (rewarding or recognizing hard work); or team building, (connecting and strengthening bonds), and identify high-quality options accordingly. Make sure the property can deliver the facilities, services and amenities to meet your needs and company culture. Would your team prefer a formal dining room or more casual dining options? Are unique activities available? Can the hotel/resort help you curate memorable outings, events or team-building activities? What unique sights and sites are in the area? Can those experiences be connected back to an overarching theme or lesson?

Make sure your accommodations can accommodate you

It's important to ensure that your venue is flexible enough to accommodate your vision for the event. Will you need formal meeting facilities or a collaborative classroom-style setting? Or will the focus be on creative activities and events -- in which case a banquet room with A/V equipment may be sufficient for group communication. If spouses/significant others and families are invited to attend, make sure they can be accommodated. Confirm not only that there is available space, but that there are plenty of activities and attractions for all participants to enjoy. Pay attention to the fine print. If the venue includes an attrition clause, make sure you know how much you'll be responsible for paying if rooms go unused. Determine whether there will be extra charges for meeting space and A/V equipment, or if the use of those resources is included. Don't dismiss complimentary extras, like coffee for meeting breaks, which can end up saving a lot of money in the long run.

Today's rule for successful meetings and events comes down to value -- which is different than price. The right fit can energize and inspire stakeholders, but the wrong space, place and budget can have a dismal result. How well a venue fits your needs, goals, talent and team can make or break the success of your conference, your bottom line and your company's perception of meetings for years to come.

Ken Hayward is executive vice president and managing director of Grand Hotel on Michigan's Mackinac Island and draws from over 30 years of travel industry experience, including roles with the Michigan Travel Commission and on the board of the Historic Hotels of America. Grand Hotel  features old-world hospitality and charm and provides a unique location for your next meeting. With more than 22,000 square feet of meeting space under one roof, including the two-story, 16,000-square-foot space Woodfill Conference Center, Grand Hotel is the perfect destination for groups of all sizes. Learn more about this historic property's meeting offerings here.