Meeting and Event Planners Timeline and Checklist
Destination Colorado is the standard for the most memorable and productive meetings. Colorado boasts 300 days of sunshine with endless options for activities including viewing free-range Bison in the plains near Denver and Fort Collins to vineyards near Grand Junction and postcard-perfect peaks of Aspen, Telluride and Buena Vista. With all that Colorado has to offer, your first question should be, “Why aren’t your meetings in Colorado?”
Event Planning Tools: Destination Colorado has created this downloadable meeting planners timeline checklist to ensure your next meeting will not only be successful but memorable.
18 Months Out
Yes, 18-months out (a year-and-a-half before your meeting) you should be planning your meeting or event. Seem like a long time? Call it job stability. After all, they call it meeting planning for a reason right? After you have decided that Colorado is the place for your destination meeting your next question should be, “What is the meeting about?” Answering this question will help ensure your objectives are met and keep you on track throughout the planning process.
First, identify the goals and objectives of your event. As the familiar adage states, “You can’t hit a target you can’t see.” Additionally, make sure your objectives are measurable so you can review the success of your event upon its completion and make any adjustments if needed. Also, prepare a preliminary agenda, guest list, and establish a protocol with your staff, sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, press, and registrants to ensure expectations are clear so that questions are routed appropriately. Establishing promotional action plans (remember your job title as a meeting planner?) at this time will help clarify “who-is-handling-what” so you can review, update, and prepare any policies governing the event and keep all relevant staff informed.
One way to help you and your staff stay on track is to create a calendar of staff meetings, conference calls, and webinars. The calendar should include any known printing requirements, timetables, and deadlines for everyone that is involved. Plan around tasks that are related to the event so that you can make sure expectations are being met and responsibilities are being communicated.
Many events include research and keynote speakers. The eighteen-month mark is an excellent time to establish guidelines for the submission of papers to allow you and your team ample time to review and select your speakers as well as give them time to plan for your event.
It is never too early to begin preparing preliminary budget categories to establish your overall ROI’s. This includes your AP/AR and financial procedures, registration fee and cancellation structures, exhibit fees, and new sources of funding if required. A good preliminary budget will also include your findings of past, current, and potential funding sources, and it is a good idea to establish insurance coverage. You don’t want event attendees making claims of whiplash due to your amazing exhibitor displays.
With the many locations that Colorado has to offer, you should have no problem selecting a site that exceeds your expectations and those of your attendees. Identify possible dates for your meeting as soon as possible and have a general idea of how many guests you expect to attend your event. The next step? Head over to www.destinationcolorado.com to find your perfect venue. After you send the meeting requirements to your selected sites – your requests for proposals (RFP’s) – you can begin assembling an attendee prospect list. As your site proposals start to pour in, don’t forget to think about accommodation needs for your attendees. It doesn’t make any sense to have the perfect venue while requiring your attendees to sleep on the convention center hallway benches. If this is the case, then let me recommend your next planned move; review the classified’s for job listings.
Once you select a few venues, make a point to perform site visits to ensure the accuracy of the information about the venue as well as identify potential hotel rates and blocks. After this is complete, you are ready to publish the preliminary event information to your website and begin marketing your event.
Fifteen Months Out
The fifteen-month mark is a perfect time to focus on marketing your event. Marketing tasks should include developing a promotional strategy, preparing press releases, and outlining specific requirements for your various vendors such as advertising, caterers, decorators, entertainment, freight handlers, furniture, printing and props, security, and other service providers. Don’t shy away from delegating as you will need to form committees and perform many PR functions in the upcoming months. Initial PR duties should include mailing out your first meeting announcements and promotional materials to prospective attendees and exhibitors, if appropriate.
Monitor your budget. You will begin to get a sense of your actual costs as you confirm your venue and identify the needs of your suppliers. By continuing to stay-within-budget, you will gain praise from your superiors as well as confidence in your abilities (and possible job security). How do you remain within your budget? Two ways: by either increasing your funding or negotiating with your service providers. The earlier you can set your guarantees the better suited you will be to forecast final expenses. This will go a long way in assuring the needs of your event are met and allow you some breathing room to focus on other important information such as the needs of your keynote speakers, equipment, and accommodations.
Twelve Months Out
The twelve-month mark is a good time to review hotel contracts and their associated deadline dates. Create a final meeting budget and make revisions to your accounting procedures if needed. You may also want to prepare a tentative meeting schedule for the media outlining the next twelve-months to ensure your marketing plan is on track. Other tasks should include preparing a conference brochure of phone app, including copy, layout, and establishing categories for awards and selection criteria.
Ten Months Out
This is a good time to continue your marketing efforts through organizational magazines and newsletters. Be sure to include the biographies, headshots, and introductions of your presenters to effectively reach your target attendees.
Continue your housekeeping efforts by preparing a master list of suggested program topics, refining the master format for your general sessions, workshops, and ancillary events, as well as comparing accommodation spaces. This will allow you to get an idea of the functional areas of your venue and forecast tentative room assignments for events and activities. Knowing as much as possible about your venue will help you establish and monitor procedures and controls for sessions and admittance into your events.
If you want to be ahead-of-the-game make your final selections from all of your remaining vendors and follow up on any papers that you are considering for presentation. Taking time to reevaluate your target markets and prepare materials for your brochure will also set yourself up for success later on.
Eight Months Out
If you have done your homework and have met your deadlines, the eight-month mark is a time for you and your team to take it easy, said no one ever. Humor aside, this is the time when all of your efforts begin to come together. However, follow-up remains key to ensure your event goes smoothly. Begin the final selection of papers and determine award nominee lists. Email your first meeting brochure and prepare your second exhibitor solicitations, if appropriate. This will keep you up-to-date on any changes that need to be addressed before you convey the updates to your venue.
Regarding your attendees, once you receive registration forms you will want to process them and begin to mail pre-registration confirmations. Also, consider preparing registration lists and name badges and establish a protocol for how your guests will acquire their credentials.
Other administrative duties include preparing hotel function space diagrams for registration, general sessions, workshops, social functions, and so on. Determine the final schedule for all events and actively solicit advertisers for your program book so you can ensure market saturation for your specific demographics.
Four Months Out
It is time to mail your second promotional brochure to potential attendees and make final selections of your award recipients. By continuing to solicit and follow-up with exhibitors, sponsors and advertisers you can ensure everyone’s needs are met. This is also the time to identify materials for registration packets and order conference packets. Don’t forget to design and print all the tickets for admission into your meeting functions and order all necessary on-site furniture and equipment including room decor such as signage and flowers for banquet tables. All food-and-beverage menu selections will need to be confirmed, and orders should be placed for awards with related materials. Regarding staffing, begin to identify and assign on-site staffing responsibilities and prepare briefing notes for all staff involved in the event.
If you wish to add some panache to your event, consider whether or not it is appropriate to present gifts to your speakers and other distinguished guests. This is an excellent way to show your appreciation to them, and it may encourage your speakers to return for future events.
Two to Four Months Out
You’re almost there. Things are starting to heat-up but being a savvy meeting planner you are prepared and confident in ensuring the success of your event, right?
The two- to four-month mark is the time when you will need to prepare a special meeting issue in your newsletter, or other periodicals, to remind your audience of your event. You may also want to review and confirm your session schedule, room assignments, and function-room diagrams with your venue’s facilities and appropriate event suppliers. Determining the sleeping-room pickup list, security needs, establishing a risk management protocol, and confirming that your event is in compliance with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) is also a good idea.
Other follow-up duties include: reviewing your event’s budget and making adjustments as needed, selecting a printer for your program book, if you haven’t already done so, and preparing and printing your event’s evaluation forms for feedback.
Day of the Event
Can you believe it? You’ve worked hard for the past eighteen-months and the day is finally here! Lucky for you, you still have work to do.
Be sure to meet with your conference manager and perform a walkthrough of their facilities upon arrival. This will give you a good idea of the size of the rooms, seating capacity, power availability, and fire exits. Also, confirm your preferred setup-styles (theater, classroom, banquet) and table choices (6’-10’ foot tables, round tables) as well.
Upon completing your walkthrough, confirm that each banquet room is equipped with its appropriate services such as; tables/linens, chairs, bartenders, liquor, caterers, and at least one consultant to handle special needs and questions by your attendees. Locating appropriate areas for signage and premiums is also a good idea to determine during setup.
Your venue may have a predetermined area for your registration desk so consulting with your conference manager about the location is crucial (as your venue may have multiple events being held on the same day). Consult on registration framework and methodology, payments, name badges, registration lists, reports, and personnel. As a meeting planner, you will need to oversee the processing, confirmation, and reporting of registrations, payments, deposits, refunds, and cancellations. If your event accepts on-site payments, it is a good idea to determine a protocol to keep payments safe. Also, monitor the preparation of registration lists and badges and make sure to assemble the registration packets before the opening of your event.
Conduct pre-conference and daily staff meetings and give instructional briefings for your registration staff, data collectors, volunteers, and others. Make sure your staff knows the chain of command and levels of authority to ensure appropriate responsibility levels. It is always a good idea to review each day’s requirements and highlight the following day’s needs with staff as well. Review responsibilities, procedures and overlap areas like registration, food guarantees, speakers, VIPs, media room setups, spouse/guest/children’s events, exhibits, sponsors, and so on.
Arrange a daily invoice review with your facility manager to confirm and monitor the delivery and pickup of all event-related materials. Consult with meeting support personnel as required for issuance of gratuities and conduct a post-conference wrap-up meeting with facility departments and suppliers as needed.
Other areas of concern for your event are determining the needs of your photographer, videographer, confirming hotel reservations and transportation, supplying welcome gifts for attendees, decorations including welcome signs, presenter backdrops, directional signage, entertainment needs, and caterers.
Immediately after the event
Your post-event follow-up is just as, if not more important, as your pre-planning efforts. Make sure you prepare a list of thank-you letters and mail them promptly upon the completion of your event. Obtain conference evaluations from attendees and staff, pack and perform an inventory of all of your materials, and reconcile your financials to ensure your organization has been billed appropriately. Watch out for hidden costs included in your supplier invoices. It is always important to get your vendor agreements in writing before services are rendered, so you not charged for services that were not agreed upon earlier.
Perform a post-budget performance review and collect and organize your data for final meeting reports. Your meeting reports should include a summary of all evaluation forms with appropriate cost centers and payment schedules broken out.
Destination Colorado has many resources available to help you plan your next event. Let us show you how our expertise can elevate your next meeting from regular to remarkable with a click of the mouse at www.destinationcolorado.com.