Solving conference conundrums

At the University of Aston, Director of its meetings and events arm, Lucy Talbot, picks out four issues to consider when staying on top of the business:

1. Consider your customer’s competitors

Got a worldwide soft drinks manufacturer holding a conference in your venue? Then you had better make sure that the vending machine stocking a rival’s beverage is promptly hidden for the duration of the event.

“It’s a mistake that seems so obvious when being pointed out to you in frank fashion by the company CEO, but one that hadn’t crossed your mind when getting excited at the time of booking,” says Talbot (pictured right) who relates the case of one global telecomms provider client.

“We thought we had everything under control and planned to the finest detail, until a surprise request during the showround. All the orange chairs we had in one of the suites had to be removed as they would evoke images of a competitor. A minor hiccup, which was quickly resolved, in what was a perfect event where the future with that client might look bright, but it certainly could not look orange.”
 
2. Event rookies

We’ve all had them; it’s the first time they’ve been asked to organise a conference or meeting and unravel the wide world of DDRs, room hire, OHPs, LCDs, theatres and cabarets.

Talbot says it would be easy to let them make a fool out of themselves (although it would probably be a good learning curve for some). “But, event rookies need a guiding light; our team will hold their hand and walk them through the event to make sure it all goes smoothly and they’re not out on their ear before being given a chance.

 “The key is to listen to what they’re after and make subtle suggestions on how they could improve their plans. Would a different room layout allow more space for delegates, for example?” Talbot adds.
 
3. The quest for the perfect menu

With events of all sizes, whether it is a simple main course and coffee or a four-course special, everyone has their own ideal when it comes to selecting a menu.

Dietary requirements and sourcing issues can provide challenges for a chef, but forewarned is forearmed. A list of requirements to ensure products are sourced organically is no problem usually if sent in plenty of time.

 But Talbot warns to be prepared for last-minute alterations.

“Are you ready for the lactose intolerant vegan who has forgotten to alert the event booker as to their condition and preference? Make sure the kitchen has everything they need to be able to whip up a replacement dish as if it was no bother.”
 
4. VIPs

In the conferencing world, everyone should receive the VIP treatment; nonetheless, customers do request that little something extra for their own VIP, whether it’s their CEO, director or key stakeholders.

“These top level stakeholders are the norm at our events and something we have to be prepared for,” says Talbot. “As well as the bigger details such as ensuring they are booked into suites with king-size beds, large TVs and en suite bathrooms; the little things such as a parking space by the front door and a personal welcome from our own director on arrival can make all the difference.”

This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Paul Colston

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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