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Current Challenges for the Government Meeting Professional – Roundtable Discussions

By Jan Thor, CMP        

At our January 8, 2020, SGMP, PNW Chapter meeting, we enjoyed a very fun, interesting and informative educational program featuring roundtable discussions on the subject of Current Challenges for the Government Meeting Professional.

At each of 3 tables, attendees discussed one of three topics for about 15 minutes (ultimately getting to discuss each of the topics).  The facilitators introduced the topics, began the discussion, and annotated information shared.  Discussions were lively and each table came up with great ideas, tips, and best practices.  Each facilitator shared the results of their table discussions with the entire group, and then invited all attendees to add input.  The results were extensive and useful.

The facilitators introduced the following topics:

Budget Restrictions and Hotels – Robin Baumert-Toth, CGMP

What are ways planners can save money when working with hotels (room blocks, event spaces/conferences)?  How do you best communicate your budget when negotiating with hotel staff?  Why choose a hotel over another venue?  What are the benefits of using a hotel?

Being Short Staffed - Becki Ellison, CGMP

What are some tips and tricks you’ve utilized to run events when sort staffed?  What are ways planners can rely on hotel staff on event day and how can you best utilize them?  Do less with more—from planning stages to event day, what are the challenges of this concept and how have you overcome them?

Guest Experience—Mattie Bess

How do you ensure guests are having a dynamic experience at your event?  How did you implement new practices to enhance guest experience?  How do you evoke an emotional response from attendees?  What are your best practices for collecting feedback?

Here is a synopsis of what the tables came up with as tips and solutions to these challenges.

Budget Restrictions and Hotels.

Ways to save--Plan your event during the hotel’s shoulder seasons as they can offer more at that time; Plan you event during the hotel’s “need dates” as they have more flexibility then; Ask for lower than per diem rates; Be flexible on you needs and wants; Combine 2 ½-day sessions into 1 full day session; Use the same menu as other groups in the hotel at the time; Use the same room set-up and AV as the group before you (to eliminate set-up fees).

Why hotels or conference centers may be a better choice economically than private venues—Hotels can offer free meeting rooms based on F&B and number of guest rooms booked; Private venues have no banquet staff, no linens, no food service, no technology, all of which you would have to provide yourself; You can possibly lock in room and menu pricing on future meetings based on your current meeting.

Being Short Staffed

Hire part time workers; Recruit volunteers (and give them designated responsibilities); Ask hotel staff for help (volunteers from the facility that would be willing to pitch in); Recruit college interns (this can give them educational credit).  Do not offer honorariums to speakers (tell them they will get exposure from your group); Recruit free speakers (pay for travel and lodging only); Recruit sponsors to help pay for AV, F&B, etc.  Ask CVS for assistance with advertisement information, visitors guides, registration, reporting, etc.; Make sure to have daily preconference briefings with employees, hotel staff, volunteers, so that everyone knows their responsibilities and what they are expected to do.  Communications is key; Develop a good working relationship with the hotel housekeeping and security staff as they can be very helpful.

Guest Experience

Attendees tend to tell the planner if they are having a good experience—are happy; Endeavor to give your attendees what they expect; Provide lots of networking experiences (receptions, private small group lunches, etc.); Provide creative activities;  Provide variations in seating plans throughout the day’s activities (freestyle, chairs, chairs and tables, couches); Provide appropriate recognition; Ask local restaurants and attractions to offer attendees discounts; Provide hotel gift shop discounts; Provide information about local events, concerts, ball games; Provide feedback opportunities—feedback boards, surveys;  Planner should do some additional one-on-one outreach after the event; Make sure to accommodate attendees food challenges (within reason—and in this regard buffet offerings are better than plated meals; Have a treat table; Make sure to have a second (and third) set of eyes on the meeting plans as little details can become big when they go wrong.  Partner with the local CVB.

Our meeting was held at the beautiful Tolmie State Park in Olympia, Washington.  We thank Becki Ellison, CGMP, for securing the venue and for the delicious lunch and gracious hospitality.

We especially thank the table facilitators and the meetings attendees for their great participation.

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