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Mastering Meetings: An In-depth Look at the Association/Venue Relationship

Part II | Series of III

By OSAE Member Tracy L. Vanneman, Sr. Manager-Business Development, Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP)

What does it take to make an association meeting a success? Energetic attendees and engaging speakers go a long way, but a foundational feature of the best meetings is a healthy relationship between the association and its meeting venue. Both sides have a lot to offer, and a lot to lose, when it comes to providing a memorable experience for attendees.

To further explore this unique relationship between an association and the venue with which it contracts, I sat down with Patty Kealy, CDS, Director of Global Accounts with ConferenceDirect. With 30 years of experience on all sides of the meetings equation – hotel sales, third party site selection services, and onsite association conference staff, to name a few – Patty has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in the meetings industry. Here she shares her perspective and helps us to navigate the critical relationship between association and venue.

Continued for Part 1, which can be read here.

Part 2: Meeting Planning & Execution
Q:  Association meetings, regardless of size or scope, are not only revenue opportunities for the organization but also a method through which the organization delivers value to its members and pursues its mission. With so much emphasis put on these events, what should association management professionals do to build a relationship with the event venue to help ensure the meeting’s success?

It is important to approach the situation with the belief that a venue truly wants to do a good job for you. With that said, a venue will be more prepared to deliver if you communicate not just your logistical needs, but also describe your members, explain your past good and bad experiences, and define the purpose of your meeting. For example, if 80% of your attendees are women, that is important information for the hotel to know, as the bathrooms may be very busy and require more frequent upkeep. It may seem like a small detail not worth mentioning, but the more a venue understands your needs, the easier it will be for them to execute. 

The entire staff at a venue is doing the best that they can for you, so be kind and respectful. When you are asking for things outside of the norm, or the contractual terms, be specific with the reason why. If you explain the goal of the request, the venue may be able to come up with creative options of which you were not aware. The venue team executes events every day in their facilities, so rely on their advice to help you make the best choices. When something goes wrong, treat your venue contact as a partner in finding a solution.

Q:  There are many moving parts onsite at association events, especially meetings with thousands of attendees and numerous concurrent sessions and activities. What are the most common unwelcome surprises, and how can an association management professional best work with the venue team to resolve them? 

The most common surprises seem to arise from the attendees themselves, such as medical emergencies or loss of personal property. And, inevitably, some part of the venue will fail; an elevator or escalator will break or a bathroom will be out of commission. When something like this occurs, it is best to inform the venue, ask for an estimate on time until repair, and then manage the situation through communication with attendees. These things are out of your control, so stay calm and let the venue work to resolve the situation for you and your attendees. The hotel staff are the experts on their property, and they likely want the issue resolved as quickly as you do. Trust the staff and the options they provide for resolution to any given problem. The venue meetings team is your partner to achieve excellent execution of an event.

Another common concern with large meetings is long lines at the front desk for guest room check-in. The best solution in this case is proactively informing the venue in advance of past patterns of your group’s arrival so that the hotel will staff accordingly. The hotel will appreciate the ability to be prepared and make the best first impression, while your travel-weary attendees will be pleased to get into their guest rooms with minimal hassle and wait.

As the event planner, you might think of yourself as the mayor of a town. Although you won’t be able to please everyone, you can please most by simply ensuring that all basics are covered, such as running elevators and escalators to comfortably move the crowds, well-staffed food outlets and housekeeping services to ensure basic human needs are met, etc. Your relationship with the venue staff can make a significant difference in how effective you are in identifying and meeting your attendees’ needs. But you also need to be realistic, accepting that you will never be able to please all attendees all the time.

Q:  What does every hotel event manager wish their clients would JUST STOP DOING?

The situation that venue management often finds must frustrating is when an association meeting planner wants to put a round circle into a square box; in other words, demanding that something be done a specific way, getting upset when it can’t happen, and refusing to consider alternatives when the hotel offers them. The hotel executes every day. Trust them to understand their own strengths and limitations. Keep in mind too that these alternate ideas can bring fresh perspective to an established event, resulting in new practices or processes that you may wish to implement in the future as well.

About the authors:
Patty Kealy, CDS
Director of Global Accounts, ConferenceDirect

With more than 30 years of hotel experience ranging from small independent hotels to large convention venues and Hilton National sales, Kealy's vast industry experience informs her understanding of the profit margins at hotels. This background allows her to better serve her clients, helping them find the right venues for their events while saving them money through fair negotiations that are a win-win for the client and the hotel. Celebrating her eighth year with ConferenceDirect, Kealy works from Minnesota but travels the world to serve her clients. 

Tracy L. Vanneman
Sr. Manager-Business Development, Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP)

As an association professional with 14 years of association, nonprofit and sales experience, Vanneman’s primary work is building and managing relationships with corporate partners, including development and delivery of SIOP sponsorship, exhibit and advertising opportunities. She also works in many aspects of the SIOP membership and event attendee experience, including managing the administration of the continuing education program and event planning for meetings from a few hundred to more than 5,000 attendees. In 2008, Vanneman joined the SIOP administrative office staff.

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