By Beth Buehler
This question can lead to a variety of answers. When planning a destination meeting in Colorado for example, it’s a nice touch to provide attendees with some options and ideas for post-conference vacation days, as this is a state that has a prominent spot on many peoples’ bucket lists. Or it might mean sending out follow-up surveys and links to information and photos from the gathering. Yet another answer might be, “It’s time to start planning for next year!” If a destination and venue have been selected, announce the location and dates immediately. If not, start getting in touch with “clearinghouse” organizations like Destination Colorado and local destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to start the process as soon as possible!
Some planners might think, “Why bother with this when my main job is making sure my client’s or my organization’s meeting goes off without a hitch?” My response is it can help sell extra registrations when the destination is a place that someone wants to visit anyway, and it certainly helps score points in the goodwill category. Working with the local destination marketing organization to come up with great ideas to list for an extended stay doesn’t take much extra time and it will score points with your DMO contacts. In Colorado, it might be horseback riding excursions, raft trips, hiking, food tours, festivals, train rides, snowshoe excursions, skiing and more. See if the hotel where your group is based can offer a discounted rate for attendees who want to extend their stay.
For a planner, a few extra days on site could mean holding a wrap-up meet with suppliers, negotiating for next year, visiting another destination in the same state to consider for future meetings, or taking a few days off to relax and regroup.
I like conferences that keep in touch with attendees after the meeting is over. Follow up with a survey so they have the opportunity to offer feedback. Perhaps provide a prize as incentive to reply; it could be something from a sponsor or a free registration for next year. Surveys provide the chance to find out how the lodging property, venues, food, activities, keynotes, breakout sessions, team-building, etc. were perceived and to gather ideas for what destinations and activities attendees would like to see considered next year.
Sending out links to Power Points, videos of speakers (especially of breakouts they couldn’t attend due to overlap), a slide show of conference photos and the date and location for next year keeps the conversation going. Need some new planning committee members? Want people to consider speaking or organizing a panel for a breakout session? Follow-up communication provides a great chance to ask. Sprinkle information out amongst a few emails to have legitimate reasons to reach out to attendees but don’t go overboard with tons of emails. It also be can part of an association or corporate newsletter depending on the audience.
It’s also important to debrief with your team and client. While it’s fresh in everyone’s mind, discuss what went well, improvements and ideas for next time, roles and responsibilities, budget, etc. This doesn’t have to happen in a meeting room. Get out for some fun!
Planning for Next Year and Beyond
The two conferences that I attend annually in Colorado always have their dates and locations for the following year ready to announce at the closing luncheon. One is always held at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver, while the other changes location every fall and distributes a request for proposal to Colorado destinations.
It’s become a seller’s market for much of the meetings and events industry, so booking early with a venue, lodging properties and suppliers and coming to the table with some flexibility regarding dates is very helpful. In a recent event profile about the Big Shots Centennial Gala hosted by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado that I wrote for Colorado Meetings + Events magazine, event organizers noted that one of the hardest parts regarding the advance work for 2019 has been securing a venue. The nonprofit needs space to seat 500 and competes with conventions that are planning five years out, as well as other May galas, graduations and proms.
When searching for a meeting destination, organizations like Destination Colorado that represent a large membership of venues, destinations and suppliers make it easy with a website to review and an RFP process that involves filling out one form that is sent to entities that fit the parameters set by the planner. Many DMOs also have a similar approach or have extensive knowledge about properties and can help narrow it down.
On a totally different note, refrain from deleting all online information about a conference once it’s over. I think it’s nice to keep details and post-conference information posted for several months so that people can look back and find information if they attended or heard about the gathering. As a journalist and an attendee, I’m constantly looking online for meeting and event dates and information about past happenings. However, make sure there is a section for next year’s conference to list dates and details as they become available.
Just because a conference is over doesn’t mean the work is done. The wrap up surely merits a sigh of relief, but energy needs to be saved for tying up loose ends, gathering feedback and planning for the future!
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events, lives in a ski town and enjoys exploring Colorado.