Impressing your manager with cost effective meetings.
A sure fire way to earn yourself brownie points in the current climate is to demonstrate your ability as a spend-savvy meeting planner. This doesn’t mean skimping on essentials, but rather adopting some of these top tips suggested by the professionals.
If your dates are flexible take a long range approach and see if you can book during the off-peak meetings seasons, typically at the beginning of January and later in July and August.
Alternatively, should the meeting be at shorter notice, quiz your favoured venues for dates when there has been a cancellation. At such times they are likely to be especially keen to fill gaps in their diaries and offer discounts, add-ons and upgrades. Equally, consider the days of the week you are planning to book. It’s commonly known that you can save up to 30 per cent on rates by moving your midweek event to a Monday or Friday, as these are usually quieter and therefore cheaper. Or perhaps your event could be held over a weekend, when meeting rooms tend to lie vacant – particularly during the day.
If you’ve got people travelling to the meeting by public transport then consider starting it a little later in the day. This enables delegates to travel using off-peak tickets. Alternatively, maybe it’s more sensible to begin earlier and avoid those expensive lunch costs.
Meeting equipment can be costly, with even simple flipchart hire regularly topping £15. Double check with presenters what they need and be sure that whatever you order is absolutely necessary. Also think about whether you can take kit from your office. If you are bringing your own, perhaps a member of the organising team can take it with them in their car. If you have to use a shipping service, arrange dispatch well in advance to get the best rates.
Work with the existing venue decor as far as you can. The minimalist approach favoured by most hotels generally means clean lines, which convey professionalism and a down to business feel. If the event requires a rather more showy atmosphere, choose items that fit with your brand and can be reused. Try a smaller supplier – they may be willing to offer discounts on products in return for an opportunity to discreetly promote their services at the event. You might allow them to have a pop-up, leave some flyers, or even to be unobtrusively present at arrival. They could also be present during breaks for delegates to approach if they would like to learn more.
Room layout also has price implications – for example, cabaret style for 35 delegates needs more space than theatre style, which can affect cost. Before confirming, why not experiment with different arrangements to see if you can pare down your room size requirements.
Think about final numbers and contract at the lowest number but make sure your room can still accommodate an increase. Perhaps contract the space but not the food and beverages. Consider separate cancellation terms for this as it can be amended before food is ordered and therefore not incur a cost. When contracting be clear as to who has authority to sign off additional costs on site. This will help hugely when it comes to final reconciliation.
Don’t be fooled by headline prices. Rock bottom rates can often lead to a raft of personal expenses not linked directly to the meeting cost, but which do have a significant impact. For example, car parking at a cost could often add between £10 to £25 to the cost for every delegate. Remember to scrutinise the final invoice, to ensure you haven’t incurred any additional costs in error.
There’s lots of potential cost savings here. For example, based on a conference for ten people, a buffet lunch can save ten per cent per delegate – as opposed to a sit down meal. Bear in mind that lunch at a business event is typically intended as a functional affair to keep participants satisfied and set them up for an afternoon’s concentration, rather than an indulgent feast.
In the summer a barbeque may be a memorable and budget friendly option.
In the meeting room, rather than ordering bottled water, go for jugs of water with ice and lemon. This can save you the average cost of four pounds per bottle. Ask the venue to supply whole pieces of fruit rather than preparing smoothies or blended drinks. Plus, if there’s a branded coffee shop on site be careful about what refreshments you pre-order. It may be that people would rather have their favourite brand during the break – and this that you don’t pay twice. If alcohol is an expected part of the programme ask about corkage – you may be able to source cheaper alternatives to those offered by your venue.
Always prepare for the unexpected. Whether it is caused by climate or people, a relatively newly-established watchword for the meetings planner is unpredictability – and crises tend to be costly especially if they catch you totally unaware. Ensure that some of your preparation time is devoted to considering contingencies in case of the unexpected. Much of this may be down to communication, but try to think of how you can help key attendees ensure that they can get to the meeting, what you would do in the event of a venue problem, and above all the safety of your travellers. Keep in touch with your meeting suppliers as closely as possible, and monitor any breaking news for the meeting destination, as well as those of VIP delegates, so that you are aware of any emerging issues.
A disrupted event, or one where only half the attendees are able to get there, is wasteful of time and money but you may be able to salvage it with proper preparation and strategies to work around last minute problems – whether a drop in numbers or supporting alternative venue and travel arrangements.
If your meeting is a three-hour affair, do your participants really need Wi-Fi?
Connectivity during the event may be a hindrance to productivity as participants sneak a look at their email or check voicemails. Consider imposing a polite veto on electronic devices in the meeting room to reduce distraction potential.
On the other hand, if your meeting is to take place over the course of a whole day or longer, it is reasonable to expect participants to want to stay in touch and skilfully negotiated online access is likely to be much appreciated. Look out for venues that offer free Wi-Fi or see if you can trade off an unwanted package add-on for it. Hotels strive to keep prices artificially high and will load their rates with additional items to justify the higher price so try to negotiate add-ons that really do bring added value.
Analysing your spend will help identify areas for savings and efficiencies. The spreadsheet approach is effective but time consuming but there are new tools in the market which can automate the process for you.
Always check your invoice. Just because the total is under your budget or your purchase order, doesn’t mean it’s right. Check every line and ensure you’ve not been charged for next door’s sparkling water or the bar tab from someone else’s sales meeting. Ensure you receive signed dockets for any additional extras.
To demonstrate that you’re adopting a savings mindset when planning a meeting, inspect every detail for opportunities to cut costs and remember that this can be done without compromising success and outcome. Don’t be afraid to haggle – if you don’t ask you don’t get. Event management, dedicated to getting the most out of meetings spend, is a professional sector in itself but effective negotiation, including cultivating the goodwill of suppliers and relationship building, can most certainly give you an edge.