Where to meet? Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

Once a tentative schedule has been determined, corporate meeting planners must choose where the meeting or event will be held. That responsibility is often trickier than it sounds.

“The most important tip is to do your homework on possible facilities and make on-site visits,” says Joe Folk, general manager of the Professional Education and Conference Center at Kent State University’s Stark Campus.

Smart Business talked with Folk about the surprising impact that a venue can have on the success of a company event.

How, indeed, does the choice of venue affect a company event?

So many times, meeting planners think that if they find a room with tables, it’ll be a successful meeting. But the right choice of venue is paramount. From a management standpoint, it’s much easier to add nice food and beverages to a conference center than to try to convert a restaurant/ballroom into a conference center. Also, conference centers will supply event planners, which take care of all the details — making the corporate meeting planner’s job so much easier. Your choice of venue should also be adapted to the number of people attending your meeting or function. Not all venues can offer the right seating arrangements for larger events. For instance, Kent State Stark specializes in small- to medium-sized events because the facility was designed for such events. Other factors that can help determine the right site include the availability of audiovisual support, computers, customized floor plans, ergonomic seating and standardized break stations.

What should be included in the agenda for a company event?

For corporate meeting planners, it’s a pretty cut-and-dried formula. One of the first things that they need to understand is what time the facility opens in the morning. They also need to ascertain when the break station is available — here, usually a half-hour before the meeting is scheduled to begin with continuous service throughout the day. It’s important, too, for them to space out the morning break, lunch, the afternoon break and the end of the meeting. Attendees will be in a distraction-free environment for up to eight hours, but many of them might still want to stay in contact with their offices via phone or e-mail.

What other tips can you offer in-house corporate event planners?

During your on-site visit, ask for an audio-visual demonstration, because technology can enhance the presentations. Each facility is different; what one facility calls ‘high-tech’ is standard for another. Next, ask for a list of past clients to use as references, then make a couple of phone calls to see if the site lived up to its billing. You should make certain that your event planner is scheduled to be at the facility during your event. You want him or her to be available, in order to assist with any last-minute or ongoing details. You can also ask if the on-site chef and the culinary staff can cater to special dietary needs. And don’t be afraid to sit down and have lunch there, to sample the food and see how the servers treat you. Ask about other events scheduled concurrently with yours. For instance, we cater to trade shows and exhibits for businesses like The Timken Company and job fairs for organizations like the Canton Chamber of Commerce. You don’t want a huge trade show and your meetings to be scheduled at the same time because you don’t want 500 job seekers going through the building while you’re trying to conduct your meeting. Other questions to ask during your visit include: Is the staff friendly, is the facility clean and comfortable, and is the staff willing to work with you on the schedule?

Is certification important?

Corporate meeting planners should look for the IACC (International Association of Conference Centers) seal and affiliation. The IACC gives you a third-party auditing system, ensuring top-notch technology, facilities and service.

What social functions can complement educational functions?

On-site social functions include a pre-seminar breakfast and a post-seminar reception or dinner. Those give participants the opportunity to meet in a more comfortable environment for networking. The conference center’s staff generally will not take responsibility for off-site activities, but they can introduce you to personnel from the local visitor’s bureau.

What kind of post-event feedback is needed from attendees?

First, the meeting planner should ask attendees whether the event was a good use of their time. For trade shows and exhibits, it’s a good sign of a successful event if the exhibitors/vendors are willing to come back next year. Then, you should offer an appraisal of the facility to your contact person. Let him or her know if it was easy to park and get into the building, whether the food was up to expectations, whether your audiovisual needs were met. How pleasing was the room? Were the room temperature and lighting comfortable? It’s our job to deliver what we promise — to not only meet expectations but to exceed them.

JOE FOLK is general manager of the Professional Education and Conference Center at Kent State University’s Stark Campus. Reach him at (330) 244-3506 or jfolk1@kent.edu.