Where to meet?

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

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 [email protected].