When event planners talk about their biggest pain points, the issues that come up over and over include shrinking lead times, rapidly changing technology, disappearing budgets, and demonstrable return on investment in the conference itself. Many of these issues are new to the business and have only arisen in the past few years during the sweeping changes to the meetings industry brought on by a lean economy.

Shorter Lead Times

Industry professionals invariably mention shortened lead times as a modern challenge. Given that many organizations don’t know what their meetings or event budgets will be until the most recent fiscal results are available, the planning cycle has shrunk from one or two years down to months or even weeks. Tish Davis, CEO of Elegant Event Sitters, says, “Coming to someone two weeks before and expecting a flawless shindig for 1,000 isn’t impossible, but it is a lot of pressure to put on yourself and on your planner.” However, Davis notes that this is happening with greater frequency.

Keeping Pace with Technology

Image courtesy of adventurejay.com Incorporating technology into meetings has grown from being a novelty to a necessity. The use of mobile devices has conditioned meetings and event attendees to expect information and interactivity to be constantly available. An event website now includes apps, mobile sites, and the use of pre-existing social media channels to enhance meeting attendance and experience. Recording and repurposing data and presentations at conferences and meetings is commonplace. The term that has come to describe meetings that involve both face-to-face interaction and virtual technology is “hybrid events.” Meetings technology provider INXPO describes the advantages of hybrid meetings, which may include extending the reach of your traditional audience, reaching new groups of customers, cutting costs, and generating additional revenue.

Shrinking Budgets and Controlling Costs

Most planners agree that the “traditional” cost structure for meetings and events has permanently disappeared; in its place is a shift toward smaller meetings of shorter duration, scheduled regionally or locally to reduce travel and expenses. Sponsorships that were traditionally geared toward large signage and big dinners or receptions have moved into the virtual realm, creating new revenue potential at the aforementioned hybrid events. Meeting and event planners have to prepare for these changes and the client’s expectations that go with them. Industry experts at Plan Your Meetings suggest such several tactics that will help you control costs while still presenting a memorable event. Consider writing everything that needs to be controlled into the contract, sign multi-year agreements, and make sure you receive credit for any unused comps.

Measuring ROI

Image courtesy of Pattaya Exhibition and Convention Hall As cost-consciousness has driven visible changes within the industry, one of the invisible impacts is the desire to measure the return of the investment (ROI) in the meeting or event. It’s no longer enough to simply put on a great event and walk away. The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials offers a succinct primer on discovering the return on investment in a conference. First, planners must measure discrete expenses like registration, travel, lodging, local transportation, per diems, and other costs. Beyond that, however, are more intangible benefits: Do meeting sessions have relevance to your company’s work? Does the conference introduce tools and technologies that will benefit your organization? Will you meet new vendors and make important contacts while you’re there? Does the conference highlight industry best practices or offer actual training? An organization’s ROI will depend on finding out the answers to as many of these questions as possible as early as possible and then applying the benefits of the conference to the real-life work setting after the conference is over. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses suggests creating worksheets to track the value of participation in a conference and then, significantly, communicating that value to management afterwards.

Image courtesy of Harless Todd, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service The industry has spoken—some permanent changes have come to the meetings business. As the 2014 American Express Meetings and Events Forecast shows, meetings remain under tight budget controls, and the use of technology has forever altered participant involvement. Hybrid events—ones that utilize both “virtual” and “actual” activities—are expected to grow and become more common. Another trend that began as an outlier but has made significant inroads is what is commonly called the “unconference.” Corporate & Incentive Travel Magazine notes that whatever term is used for the unconference, it’s a concept that meeting planners should understand. Defined by Wikipedia as “a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization,” the term unconference first appeared to describe the 1998 xml developers meeting. The format of an unconference may vary widely, but typically the agenda at an unconference is set by the attendees upon arrival, and discussions are participatory rather than led by a single speaker lecturing at the front of a room or hall.

Trends in Meetings Drive Unconference Growth

The unconference has grown in popularity in part because of the overall trends in the meetings industry described by the AmEx report. Smaller, shorter meetings that are regional in scope, incorporate technology, have a lower cost for attendees and planners, and which are put together with much shorter lead times lend themselves to the unconference model. Another trend mentioned in the report is the desire to find non-traditional properties to host meetings. This too has been a characteristic of the unconference. Venues that have never been in the business meetings market before can now offer themselves as potential hosts for these participant driven events. Restaurants, collaborative workspaces, museums—any facility with open space and free Wi-Fi is a potential unconference site.

Different Expectations

Image courtesy of Pedro Lozano The unconference is not intended to be a “free for all” but rather a structured way to allow participants to help shape the exchange of ideas. The expectations of conference attendees have changed over the past 10 to 15 years, and interactive technology has made participation and access to information easier. Venues that play into these different expectations have an advantage over traditional conference facilities. The non-traditional venue is also desirable for unconferences because it sends a message to participants that they’re not attending “the same old meeting.” Planners choose these sites to encourage participation in the dialog and exchange of ideas, recognizing the value of the setting in driving the event.

Every Organization Can Benefit

Some businesses or associations may see the unconference as too unstructured, but even large firms such as Booz Allen Hamilton and major meetings like the Big Data Analytics Unconference have successfully employed the participant-driven model. Far beyond the tech world or nonprofit organizations, the unconference is taking hold and has been called “the future of meetings” by Meetings Magazine. Tapping into the ideas and problem-solving skills of participants while embracing the overall changes in meetings and events, the unconference is an idea that is here to stay.

Rachel DeMarte Project by Venue One Event Planner Rachel De Marte Guests don't always have time to take a leisurely lunch—or lunch at all—when they are in all-day meetings and breakout sessions. The food and beverage must come to them. Not to worry—you can still get crafty and fun! Here are creative ways to make the meal count without distracting from the meeting. 1. Food Carts Food carts are simple, fast and memorable. You can create multiple carts each with different themes, such as a Chicago-Style Hot Dog and Root Beer Float or Taco and Agua Fresca with fresh fruit Cart. Spice up your meeting with a Burger and Beer, Shaved Tenderloin Slider and Red Wine, or Bacon and Bourbon Cart. They can be rolled from table to table with ease. 2. TV Dinner Trays Play into the diner food trend and serve a hot lunch in an old school TV dinner-like tray. It’s key to feature a wide variety of foods and keep portions small. After all, you want to avoid food comas! 3. Dim Sum Dim sum can be translated to office meetings. Think of a lazy susan in the middle of the conference table with steamer baskets filled with shumai, pot stickers and buns, Chinese noodles in takeout containers, and hot tea. Chinatown comes to you! 4. Boxed Lunch Revamped Forget the paper sack of the past. Meet the sleek and modern boxed lunch of today. Fill each with gourmet sandwiches, artisanal salads, house made chips and petite desserts, accompanied with a traditional glass bottle of Coca Cola. It will remind you of the good ol’ days. These food and beverage ideas will be a welcomed addition to any meeting—big or small.

Rachel De Marte: Culinary Director of Venue One

It’s not often that you meet someone whose personality is as bright as her talent is impressive, but this is certainly the case when it comes to Rachel DeMarte. A go-to event planning, styling and catering expert, Rachel uses her reputation and successful years in the industry at her very own events company RachelDeMarte.com and as the Culinary Director of Chicago’s all-inclusive meetings, weddings and special events center Venue One.

Time to Regroup: How to Make Your 'Back to Work' Meeting a Success

Photo by Choking Sun on Flickr

Now is the optimum time to get your team together and plan for the New Year. Think about it. Before long, you'll be knee-deep in end-of-year strategies, fourth quarter planning and the run-up to Christmas (yikes). So before you and your team get snowed under, now's the time to arrange a re-grouping exercise. And the more interesting and inspirational the setting, the more likely you are to have a successful meeting that's memorable for all the right reasons.

Why should setting matter?

For regular team updates, your room at the end of the corridor might do the job. But when you're looking to fire up your team and get those creative juices flowing after the holiday lull, sometimes it's worth thinking a little bigger. You want something that's inspirational. After all, we're thinking 2014. You need to start the New Year with a bang, so why not pick out a meeting or conference setting that's motivational and gets your team in the right frame of mind - right from the start?

How to choose the right space

It's important to align your choice of meeting space with your company culture. For instance, a Fortune 500 or a highly corporate multinational might not go for a bohemian style workspace, unless you're looking to shake things up a bit. Equally, why host a meeting with young creatives or fresh-faced graduates in a stuffy corporate skyrise? There are all sorts of different look-and-feels you can go for. There's the slick city space in a corner room on the 20th floor with killer views. There are back-of-beyond retreats in rural settings with exposed beams and creaky floorboards. How about a woodland escape with a spot of raft-building thrown in? Or, you could opt for an historic place with boardroom grandeur.

Make it memorable

When planning something big - like starting the New Year - you should make your planning session memorable. And, we don't mean memorable because the CEO tripped over a loose corner of carpet. Your choice of venue should provide a setting that's conducive to good business, that fits your culture, and sticks in the minds of your employees. A meeting that's easily forgettable isn't the best way to plan for 2014 - or anything, for that matter. On that subject, why not make it an 'away day'? When you're planning something big, a room-based meeting doesn't always pack enough punch. You could tie it in with some team-building activities, which will really make your meeting a memorable one. Check out some of these suggestions for away days:
  • Team-building and collaborative activities, like a treasure hunt or bridge-building.
  • Sporting activities, like go-karting.
  • A team dinner with daytime or early-evening activities thrown in, like chocolate-making or wine-tasting.
  • A day spent volunteering, helping in the community or working at a charity.
  • An educational visit or tour, perhaps to a regional office or plant.
  • A weekend retreat to a beauty spot, mountain range, forest or coastal town, complete with team activities and planning sessions.
Bear in mind that certain activities won't appeal to everyone. For instance, while paintballing might encourage team participation, it won't appeal to dainty types who don't like mud. Equally, a spa day would send some individuals running for the hills. Also, think about a theme or a purpose. For instance, if you plan to make 2014 the year your business goes green, you could set tasks or activities based on re-using discarded materials, or recycling. The upshot? With a little thought, you can make a significant head start on 2014 and get your team fired up for the challenge. Why not choose a meeting venue that matches your aspirations - and start as you mean to go on? About the author Sue Saldibar is Managing Editor of Officing Today and aBetterOffice. Sue is a creative and tech savvy marketing consultant with 20+ years of experience, most recently in the area of internet marketing. Sue is working to build and improve upon both publications; growing readership and providing promotional and advertising opportunities along the way. Feel free to contact Sue at 949 333-2229 or ssaldibar@abcn.com.

small event spaces

Depending on what type of event you are organising, small event spaces are a dime a dozen. But although small venues aren’t hard to find, how do you ensure you make the most of the space and choose the right one? To give you a head start, consider the following points when choosing your venue.


Unlike finding a venue for 1,000 people, organising an event for 25 to 50 people gives you a much larger range of venues and styles to choose from. It’s important to remember that when choosing your venue size, a small fluctuation in the number of guests, from 50 to 75 for example, could require a change of venue. For this reason it is best to go for a venue that has the capacity to deal with your highest estimate of potential attendees. Due to the small numbers of guests being dealt with, if you don’t hit your maximum number of guests, the space should still feel busy.


If you are hosting an event that encourages people to be sociable and network, try to choose a venue that has large windows with lots of natural lighting. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a small room which is poorly lit with unnatural lighting. A room with lots of natural light will create an open and more welcoming environment. Alternatively if you are hosting a party at night, when natural light won’t be important, go for mood lighting as apposed to overhead fluorescent lighting. This will improve almost any event space!


Make sure you remove unnecessary clutter from the room. It is important to have enough furniture available for the use of all your guests, but try not to supply more than is needed. You want to ensure there is still open space available and people are not struggling to move around. An excess of tables and chairs will create the impression of a small and overcrowded event space.

Breakout Rooms

If you’re holding an event that will involve group work, networking sessions or tea and coffee breaks you may want to consider hiring more than one room to facilitate these sessions. Enabling people to get up, move about and experience a couple of different small spaces will keep the event fresh, especially if it’s an all day affair – people will appreciate new surroundings. This will also help you keep your main room clutter free which, as mentioned above, is vital for creating an open space.


If you want to create the illusion of an event space larger than you have available, while still ensuring it looks full with people, then mirrors are your friend! Strategically placing mirrors on the larger walls within your venue will open out the space and create a larger more airy feel, particularly if your venue is full of natural light.

Hopefully these tips will help you when you’re on the search for your next small event space, and ensure you get a venue that helps you host an event your guests will love!

About the Author: Jonathan Butler works for Virtual Venue Visit, an online venue finder that allows you to take virtual tours of a range of event spaces.