Yikes! Your boss put you in charge of planning the next big company meeting. It's an important event with executives traveling from far and wide to collaborate and exchange ideas. Everyone is counting on the event to run smoothly, especially your boss.

That's a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Where do you begin? Start right here! Before you jump in, we’ve got a few helpful tips from meeting planning professionals on how to successfully pull together an event that's professional, well executed and within budget.

Money, Money, Money
Before you do anything else, determine your budget. Pinning down limits early in the planning process helps other variables fall into place – site selection, catering options and meeting style all depend on resources available. Here's a list of items to consider:
Transportation Facility Rental Equipment Rental
Accommodation Catering Entertainment

It's not a bad idea to leave a little room in your budget for those inevitable unforeseen expenses that pop up along the way.

Choosing a Date
Have at least two dates in mind: a preferred date and a just-in-case alternate date. That way, when you start checking out available facilities, you'll be able to choose the best option based on the number of people who can attend. Alternate dates also mean you can negotiate for better prices.

Consider the weekend. Many companies take advantage of discounted fares available with a Saturday-night stay over. If cost is a primary concern, you can significantly reduce costs by planning your meeting around a weekend.

Location, Location, Location
Off site or on site? Carefully weigh the options here. While holding a meeting on site may seem like the best cost-savings option, on-site meetings at offices come with productivity-reducing distractions. Meeting attendees are more likely to run back to their offices to check e-mail, voice mail and in boxes. The flow of group thought is more easily disrupted. Subtle influences such as office politics and "organizational baggage" are often hanging in the air, affecting attendee attitude. People are refreshed at off site locations and able to truly focus on the agenda. Upfront facility expenses are frequently recovered in increased productivity.

If you prefer an off-site location, the infinite number of choices can be overwhelming. First determine:
Local or outside of city? Out of state/province? International?

Meeting Equiptment
Today's meeting-room requirements are more than four walls, a few chairs and a couple of flip charts. Meeting attendees will likely bring laptops to access and present computer-based information. You'll need a means of projecting that information for presenting. Group members will need a means to capture notes and ideas generated in the meeting. A speedy Internet connection is becoming standard. Will videoconferencing tools be required?

Pass the Buck – Hire a Meeting Planner
Outsourcing event planning can save a lot of time and headaches. To hire a planner, try Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the world's largest association of meeting professionals with more than 17,000 members in 64 countries.

Murphy's Law of Meetings
Undoubtedly, things will go wrong. With so many variables and logistics, some aspects are simply beyond your control. Who knows – your hotel may be overbooked, the caterers might not show up, or your main presenter may get re-routed through South America – the important thing is to keep your cool. You can reduce headaches by planning flexibility. Prepare yourself for bumps so that you can calmly address circumstances as they present themselves.


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