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Best Practices for Event Planning
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By Chariolett M. Johnson
 
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. Hebrews 10:25 KJV

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20 KJV

Growing up in the Adventist church, I’ve noticed that we take these texts very seriously! Meetings are what we do! Having worked in the event management industry for over 19 years, I’ve noticed the same trend in other religious markets.

Another thing these markets have in common is that professional meetings are not usually planned by people with specialized training in event planning. Typically, the meeting planner is the administrative assistant, pastor, member coordinator, director, and so on. Many have planned meetings and learned lessons the hard way, while others don’t know where to start.

Our God expects us to do everything decently and in order, in addition to being good stewards of time, money, and resources. Here are some guidelines that I hope will be helpful for planning efficient, beneficial meetings where Christ is present and welcome.
Description: http://us.cdn3.123rf.com/168nwm/macchia/macchia1106/macchia110600032/9699149-idea.jpgDetermine the goals and objectives of the event. Simply answer the what, why, who, where, when and how of the event: What is the purpose/theme of event? What is the program format? Why is this event necessary? Who should attend: age, specific group, and target markets? Who are the speakers and program participants? Where should the meeting take place: city, hotel, etc.? When should it take place? What other meetings are happening that may affect this meeting’s attendance? How will this event happen (budgets, sponsors, speakers, marketing, advertising, etc.)?
Description: http://us.cdn3.123rf.com/168nwm/macchia/macchia1106/macchia110600032/9699149-idea.jpgWhat is the budget? Every meeting or event should have a budget, no matter how big or small. A budget provides a guideline for expenses and income. Every budget reflects variable and fixed costs. Variable costs are expenses that change based on the number of attendees, for example, food and beverage costs or registration materials. Fixed costs remain the same no matter the number: speaker fees and travel expenses, audio visual/sound, meeting room fees, etc. Budgets for new meetings may be more difficult to establish than meetings with history. Remember to budget for items that are not as obvious because those are the expenses that can devastate your budget in the end: charges for credit card and registration fees, postage and printing, shipping, onsite registration forms, tickets, signage, stage decorations, badges, honoraria, etc. Also, be sure to pay extra attention to the big-ticket items--audio/visual and sound services food, beverage, marketing, advertising, and promotions.

Description: http://us.cdn3.123rf.com/168nwm/macchia/macchia1106/macchia110600032/9699149-idea.jpgConsider the risks. Risk Management is an area of event planning that is often overlooked but is very important to the safety and success of the event. Determine and evaluate the risks of an event and then implement a strategy to reduce risk. For example, know the hotel’s escape plan in case of fire and create your own plan specifically for your group that falls in line with the hotel’s escape plan. All risks for events will not be uncovered in advance, but planning for whatever you think may come up facilitates a proactive versus reactive response in addressing an issue that may arise.

Description: http://us.cdn3.123rf.com/168nwm/macchia/macchia1106/macchia110600032/9699149-idea.jpg Choose your team players and support services wisely! Your team and/or support system are very important to the outcome of your event. Consider anyone who contributes to the meeting in any way as part of your team: volunteers, hotels, website/logo designer, audio/visual team, etc. It is important to communicate the goals, objectives, and budget (where applicable) to all of these team players so they can work efficiently and within your budget for the event. Get the best bid for services, but also make sure it is the best quality for the money. Take the top three options and compare apples to apples to make the right choice.
There are support services that can assist in making the best decisions and negotiations. Conventions and Visitors Bureaus in any city offer a gamut of services that are often times complimentary: sponsorships, save-the-date post cards, tickets to local attractions, etc. They have connections with quality services like housing bureaus, registration services, audio/visual companies, decorator companies, etc. Services offered vary from city to city.

Description: http://us.cdn3.123rf.com/168nwm/macchia/macchia1106/macchia110600032/9699149-idea.jpgChoosing a Venue and Contracts-The expertise of a third party planner can be incredibly useful in this area. Third-party planners can assist by researching locations based on meeting specifications and location requirements, negotiating contracts based on the budget and needs of an event that may have never been considered before, and handling hotel reservations for your attendees. A third-party planner will have insights and relationships with those in the event industry that may not be readily accessible to you. These services are normally at no cost to you, as the hotels pay a commission on the total of room nights. So, the meeting planner can benefit from a little more time for other details, while the third party planner researches locations and presents options for the hotel to consider. The planner is able to narrow down choices to maybe the top three, then the third party can arrange for the site visits –and once the final selection is made — negotiate a contract. The contract can be negotiated with everyone in mind. The attendees get the advantage of what is called “concessions” that may be included in the room rate — complimentary breakfast, parking, and in-room high speed internet. The contract can be negotiated to include upgraded rooms, staff room rates, discounts on food and beverages, and audio/visual services that help lower the bottom line for the meeting.

If all these services sound overwhelming, engage the services of a professional meeting planner. Check out the Adventist Event Planners Association website at www.aepa.co (not ‘com’) to network with other planners in the Adventist community to share questions and ideas. The “assembling of ourselves together” can be an efficient, well-planned experience, with Christ in the midst.

Chariolett M. Johnson is the meeting planner professional for the North American Division