Meeting Planning 101

Meeting Planning 101

One summer, Robbie Davis was planning a meeting at a hotel for company personnel. In her email to attendees, she unknowingly made a typo in the link to the hotel's Web site, leading recipients instead to a pornography site.

While she immediately sent another email correcting the error and asking recipients to disregard the first one, coworkers clicked the original link to see what was different about it. They discovered the porn site, and Davis' mistake became a company joke.

"My CEO passed it off as a humorous incident, so I did not really get into any trouble," says Davis, administrative leader for Las Vegas-based Yamas Controls Southwest. "But I can guarantee I will never let a document of any kind with a Web site go out from my office without triple-checking it first."

More admins are involved in meeting planning today than ever before. Follow this advice to avoid mistakes and ensure your function is a success.

Common Pitfalls

Sarah McMillen, senior administrative assistant at Alcoa Mill Products in Texarkana, Texas, cites three common fumbles made by beginner meeting planners: not ordering enough food or beverages, not asking sufficiently detailed questions of site personnel and vendors, and waiting until the last minute to pull everything together.

If problems do occur, act proactively and creatively, McMillen says. At a leadership-training seminar, a projector failed and couldn't be repaired or replaced, while the podium was at the room's rear. "I asked the group to turn their chairs around, and then we were OK and we proceeded," she recalls.

Be Meticulous

Jo Peay, executive assistant to the CEO at Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based pharmaceutical firm Targacept, suggests that successful meeting planning comes down to three tenets: attention to detail, organizational skills and working within a set budget. Peay, who also runs her own wedding-planning business, prepares meeting checklists, which she modifies with each assignment. While she keeps much of her information electronically, she creates a notebook with tabs to hold hard copies of documents, such as menus and hotel and vendor contracts. She not only develops folders for out-of-town conference attendees that include travel information and meeting details, but also provides valuable information to attendees as they arrive, anticipating that they inevitably will leave key materials at home.

"This could almost be considered obsessive behavior, but that's my job, and it reflects back on me and my company," Peay says.

Other important skills for meeting planners include negotiating, building relationships, networking and double-checking all arrangements -- literally up to the day of the conference.

"Whether it's food or other services, people promise me the moon, but it's not very often that they deliver it if I don't stay on top of things," Peay says.

Valuable Resources

Professional organizations provide a wealth of information for both budding and seasoned meeting planners, says Inge Hafkemeyer, convention and meeting manager for the International Association of Administrative Professionals. These groups offer networking opportunities and educational programs.

  • Meeting Professionals International: This is the largest trade association for the meeting-planning industry with 19,000 members, approximately evenly divided between planners and suppliers. The organization publishes the Meeting Professional magazine, holds conferences and offers continuing education.
  • Professional Convention Management Association: This group hosts an annual meeting in January and publishes Convene magazine.

You should also contact the local convention and visitors bureau where your meeting will be taking place. They can provide information on meeting sites, vendors, restaurants and sightseeing for spare time. And if you want to learn more about meeting planning, you can explore taking hospitality courses.

For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.