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ARCHIVED  March 1, 1996

Meeting expectations

Meeting planners battle the unexpected

Come springtime, thoughts turn to baseball, budding flowers, yard work ` and the company meeting.
Some companies use the gathering as a brief retreat; others retreat into rooms filled with projectors and projections. Either way, planners from the business and from the meeting center are asked to be all things to all people.
Sheri Adams, national sales administrator for the Hach Co. in Loveland, puts together Hach’s annual product-training meeting. Her chores don’t end as the four- to five-day affair plays itself out.
“What’s most stressful is feeling responsible for the meeting’s success,” she said. “You have to get people there and leaving at the right time. I do feel good when it seems to go well, but I’ve had lots of people tell me it’s gone without a hitch when actually I’ve been fighting tooth and nail.”
One helpful tool in pulling off a great meeting is getting an all-inclusive rate from the meeting facility. This April, Hach’s meeting will be at the Cheyenne Mountain Conference Center in Colorado Springs, which gave Adams one price per head.
This means all audio-visual equipment, meals, rooms and meeting space have been secured for the length of the visit. Other centers charge for each activity in the building, whether it is an additional pot of coffee or a request for a VCR suddenly needed in a seminar.
“You don’t have all these variables,” Adams said. “I deal with one person, one planner, and not someone from the banquet staff, the AV staff and the meeting staff.”
In planning an upcoming retreat, companies should obviously have extensive information about how many people are attending the meeting and what the facility needs to provide in terms of food and technical gear (satellite hookups are available at most larger conference centers and hotels).
Before getting too attached to a certain date, one should call the meeting center early to check its schedule.
“That’s the best thing to do,´ said Vicky Heitman of the McKee Conference Center in Loveland. “It’s like Murphy’s Law – everyone wants the same day. I’ve noticed it’s very seasonal and seems to follow the school year. In July and August, we might as well roll up the carpet.”
Settling on a meeting agenda and sticking to it will keep planners from reaching for the ulcer medication.
“The hardest part is getting people to commit,” Adams said, in a tone suggesting that nothing is more unnerving than some meeting committee’s last-minute curveball.
Once planners have decided which gadgets are needed for presentations and how many people require chicken or fish at the buffet table, they can put issues of recreation into the hands of the meeting center. Jim Duncan, director of marketing at the Fort Collins Marriott, believes his facility also functions as a mini chamber of commerce.
“We always know things to do in the area,” he said. “People are looking for things to do outside the hotel, and they ask things like, RHow far is it to Estes Park?’ and how they can get [Colorado] Rockies tickets.
“Depending on the planner, they may not be aware of the tours at Anheuser-Busch. And that’s something the community is good at – keeping us wired in.”
Of course, flexibility is required in keeping guests happy and focused on the reason for their trip.
“You have to be creative within the hotel,” Duncan said. “A veterans group may just want to sit around telling war stories. In the spring or summer, we can use the outdoor pavilion, set up a cash bar and bring out hors d’oeuvres, as some folks don’t want to do anything off the property.”
A planner’s hard work can still be undermined by insensitive facility staff. Adams said the challenge is to fix problems without making it obvious.
“I’ve had stuff disappear after lunch,” she said. “We had a room set up with audio-visual gear, a microphone, overhead projections and a screen. We came back, and it was gone. I was told, RThe meeting in the other room was larger, and they need it.’
“We waited 90 minutes until they brought another. When the group sees all that, it’s not so great.”
The current demand for meeting space keeps most area centers quite busy – the McKee Center counted 80,000 visitors in 1995, and requests for space at the Marriott have prompted regular improvements, including the hiring of a full-time staffer who handles requests for the house audio-visual equipment.
“We used to have to rent the equipment, and we would be at their mercy,” Duncan said. “Now we have established frequencies for broadcasting – it’s something you had not heard three to five years ago.”

Meeting planners battle the unexpected

Come springtime, thoughts turn to baseball, budding flowers, yard work ` and the company meeting.
Some companies use the gathering as a brief retreat; others retreat into rooms filled with projectors and projections. Either way, planners from the business and from the meeting center are asked to be all things to all people.
Sheri Adams, national sales administrator for the Hach Co. in Loveland, puts together Hach’s annual product-training meeting. Her chores don’t end as the four- to five-day affair plays itself out.
“What’s most stressful is feeling responsible for the meeting’s success,” she said. “You…

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