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When is the florist arriving?

Hosting an event with more than one vendor turns into a juggling act the hours before the event.  You know it's going to be stressful, but providing information to your team and your venue contacts will greatly improve the flow of the day and efficiency of your production.   One simple document to improve communication and insights is a Vendor One Sheet.  1822154-1595582-thumbnail.jpgCreate one document listing every vendor's contact information, expected load in/load out time and a brief explanation of the service provided.

I like to distribute this document to everyone involved two days before the event. This includes the vendors, the venue management, security and most importantly to your team.  This simple document lowers chaos immensely.   Want an example? Check out "Event Planning Templates".


Data, Data, Data

If you are managing a major, overnight event you are probably using excel or access to keep everything straight.  I’ve seen people struggle with managing a rooming list, a spouse list, an activity list, a contact sheet and then have multiple versions of each list as the event nears.  

I found keeping one master spreadsheet, which may have 27 fields, helps improve accuracy (and sanity). When you need to send in a rooming list or the transportation manifest, simply copy the spreadsheet into a new document and delete all information the hotel does not need to see.  This helps protect your clients’ privacy and prevent confusion.   When you have updates to rooming or activities or flights, do so to ONE master sheet and then repeat the copy/paste/delete system to update your various vendors with the info they need.

If you go this route, I highly recommend re-saving your master spreadsheet each time you update it with a title that helps you find the most current version quickly, without erasing old versions.  One method: add the "date of update" to the end of the doc. title of the master spreadsheet each time you save. Now you can refer to older versions if needed but for the most part keep them out of the way.

Need a template to get you started?  Download Conference Management under Event Planning Templates.


It's all about the experience, simple event branding to impress

We’ve all been to the cocktail hour, meetings, or “celebrations” that take place in the same large conference hotel with beige walls and visited the buffet that you’ve seen ten times before.  When planning an event at one of these locations, or even the swankiest NY hotspot, you have a unique opportunity to create a brand experience.  Small budgets or large, this can be done with a few hours of creative thinking and some lead time.

Here are four tems every event can use to enhance “the beige wall syndrome” of hotel conference rooms. 

Colored Sugar – if you are serving drinks (and more than likely you are) think about offering colored sugar on the rim of appropriate drinks (mojitos, margaritas, lemon drops) or offering non-alcoholic slushes the color of your brand.  Most caterers can provide the coloring for you or we found our sugar daddy thru Twang (see "candy" in  Hot vendors for contact info).   

M&Ms – You can print an initial on m&ms for a birthday party or select two or three colors that represent your company or wedding colors.  Use these m&ms as favors, in a vase at a registration table, on a bar in a large bowl to add some flair or as a pillow gift tied with your branded ribbon.  (see "candy" in Hot Vendors). 

Ribbon – so this may sound so “girly” but ribbon can be branded and used on hundreds of items to remind guests this is a special event.  A few uses, tie conference notebooks with the ribbon, decorate the registration table tastefully with ribbon, always add a ribbon to the speaker gifts.  For weddings, custom ribbon can be helpful and a pretty addition to the program and favors. 

Napkins – the most inexpensive, high impact item you can buy.  Seriously, this simple thing is such a great vehicle for getting a message out to your guests – use it.  You can simply have your logo with the new client URL printed on it, share a joke if your brand wants to appear "fun", share the company’s unique drink recipe, celebrate a major milestone (one million customers).   Whatever you need to promote this year, print it on the napkins – and then count on every guest using 5/event – so order thousands – it’s easier to have to many than have to reorder.

Bon Voyage! 


The Internet is Free, right? Think Again...

If you're holding a conference at a hotel or conference center definitly negotiate a flat Internet rate.  Do you know one conference for 500 people we held would have run north of $45k in Internet fees had we not built a flat fee into the contract?  Unreal.  When you are using multiple meeting rooms,  an office and covering guests' room fees it adds up.  There is a small labor expense the hotels experiences so you do want to compensate them for "turning on" the access to meeting rooms but the going rate is far too high ($1200/meeting room/day at some hotels). 

So how much should you pay?  Many factors come into play, if you are buying out a property you have a lot of leverage.  Similarly, if you have 50% of the hotel rooms for multiple nights you can expect a deep discount.  In the example above we agreed to pay $5k for all the Internet access we could stand.    This allowed us to set up a 20 computer "email station" in the foyer,  broadband in all meeting rooms and free access in all guest rooms.

If your program is just one day, you can probably get the fees droped by 50%, but start by asking for more - this is a soft expense for the hotel.



Is this seat taken?

Place cards are a must for corporate dinners, weddings, and some dinners at your home.  It shows your guests you thought about who they will most enjoy conversing with, places your host in the center of the guests and ensures no one is left searching for a good spot like a game of hot potatoe.

You can purchase nice ivory Crane's place cards at any stationery store, create your own, or special order pre-printed placecards like you would invitations.  Typically the names are written in script (find that person with great handwriting).   Seating arrangements are communicated in one of three ways:

* Place cards can be arranged alphabetically on a large table at the entrance of the
dining room and have the table number written inside (open seating at the table).  Typical for weddings and fundraising dinners. 


* Place cards appear directly on the table indicating which seat each person should sit.  This is helpful when you need to seperate competitors or want to be sure certain executives get time with a particular client.  Good for groups under 25.

* A combination of the two: a list is printed at the entrance of the party with guests names in alphabetical order and table assignments next to their names.  When they arrive to the table the place cards are arranged indicating which seat to take.

Quick Tip:  To make your life easier, if you’re hosting a dinner at a restaurant, try to reserve a private room near your dining room to host a short (30 minute) cocktail reception before your guests are seated.  This serves two purposes:  provides a chance for your host to make the rounds without leaving his/her table and provides a buffer as guests to arrive.   Having guests in an adjacent room also allows you to rearrange place cards and remove those who cancel at the last minute.  That never happens, right?




And what company is she with?

Did you see Devil Wears Prada?  If you don’t want to memorize a book of headshots for your host, plan on printing nice nametags everyone can read, without looking like they’re reading them.    

Font sizes? If using standard 3x4 tags, I prefer Arial font size 40 for the first name, on the second line the last name in size 26 and two spaces below this, the company name in size 26.

Name tags should include the person’s first and last name and company name.  I tend to omit titles other than those who are hosting the event because titles change every other week (you may have a "not so understanding" guest because you didn’t get the memo of his promotion yesterday) and titles often are too long for the space allotted.   

Do you really need nametags? I asked this years ago to an executive I truly admire, and was told, “I expect nametags at my funeral.”   We had nametags at every event.  


Do I have to go with a Name Brand Restaurant?

When the reputation of a company is part of the equation I recommend going with higher end restaurants, not just for their cachet but because its like purchasing insurance that the level of service will be great.  The servers will be more polite, the food will come out hot, the manager will be attentive.  You will develop relationships with certain restaurant managers and come to admire the way they run their kitchen and treat your guests.  You will feel confidant hosting your company’s top events or bridal parties here because the level of service will be assured.

I was very surprised to learn that the local Wolfgang Puck restaurant offered four course dinners for $65 and $10 for the reception food/drink when you host a large dinner party.  This fit well with our budget considering many of the other restaurants began at $50/person.  Much better to go with the great restaurant when you have the option.  


Welcome, say it with a note

Nothing is classier than a handwritten welcome note.  It's a great idea to include a note card from your host in the room of every guest speaker or wedding party attendant.  Note cards are also a very friendly way to remind guests of a special reception or dinner party that takes place during a larger event.  I like to come up with some clever copy that ties into the event and have fun with the notes. 

Hand cramps? If you chose to print your notes rather than hand write them consider doing so on nice note cards, rather than 8.5x11 sheets of paper.   We have a notecard template ready to go under "Helpful Planning Templates".  The template will work on standard 3.5x5 inch cards.

If you're looking for cards, Cranes paper is typically heavy, nice quality with many classic design options.  You can buy some with a Pineapple on the front if you're hosting an event in the South (symbol of hospitality) or a saavy golfer if you're hosting a Tournament.  If you're looking to portray a more contemporary image consider Tiny Prints or Iomoi which have great designs and can be customized with your name. Or better yet, work with a designer to have cards made up with your logo. 


Little White Ball...planning a Golf Tournament

So for those of us who don’t spend Saturdays chasing the little white ball here’s a few tips for planning the golf outing for your company, reunion or wedding guests.  Every course has a pro who has produced hundreds of tournaments.  Let them share their expertise and follow their recommendations.

Tournaments can hold up to 144 players per course, however any # over 72 will create a longer event.  Your guests are paired into foursomes and if you have more than 72 golfers, you can double up the foursomes at each of the 18 holes.  Tournaments typically take 4 ½ to 5 ½ hours depending on the course, the skill level and of course how many times they stop the drink cart.  If your tournament is pressing 6+ hours you need to do all you can to speed up play – and the pro is probably very ready to do all he can to wrap it up.

Most clubs reserve Mondays for private events.  As far as tee-off time, consider the weather (mornings are always more desireable in AZ or Palm Springs) and think about the rest of the day’s events.  Do you have a gala that evening that guests are attending, preferably showered and out of the argyle socks?  Also consider time for any awards or closing remarks (20 minutes).  If this golf outing is tied to a wedding, definitely schedule it for morning, a bride doesn’t need the stress of wondering when the groomsmen are showing up.

Check out the "Event Planning Templates" section for a list of Tournament Contests you can incorporate into your next golf outing. 



Water Anyone?

Water is the most inexpensive beverage to serve....unless you are in a conference hotel.   On an average, water bottles cost $6-7 (per 8 oz . bottle!) when tax and gratuity are added.  This can come as a huge surprise to the conference planner when the final bill arrives.

It may sound silly, but you can negotiate a rate for the water in your contract (and if this event is in Arizona or Palm Springs this is a must).  I've received funny looks from conference managers, and been told they'd never heard this request before, but they didn't refuse.

So how much can you save? We held an event in Phoenix for 750 attendees, a multi-day program, and negotiated a rate of $1/bottle plus gratuity - this saved $25k.   

Additionally, you can request pitchers of water (free) in every meeting room, request these be refreshed often, and save bottled water for activities and boxed lunches.   


Do you really need a reason to have a cocktail hour?

 If you’re hosting a dinner at a restaurant, try to reserve a private room near your dining room to host a short (30 minute) cocktail reception before your guests are seated.  This serves two purposes:  provides a chance for your host to make the rounds without leaving his/her table and provides a buffer for guests to arrive.   It would be awkward if guests were seated as they arrived, all these eight tops with three people.   Having guests in an adjacent room also provides you a buffer to rearrange place cards and remove those who cancel at the last minute.  You may even need to remove a table and would not want the guests to know this was happening.

This also works very well for weddings.  In fact we held a pre-wedding reception to allow for late arrivals to blend into the crowd before the guests moved to the ceremony, and I don't think anyone minded having a glass of Veuve before sitting for the big event. 


Chocolate Rivers….

Chocolate Fountains make a great addition to any cocktail party.  This is a fun  conversation piece and encourages guests to congregate,  besides, who doesn’t love chocolate at the end of a day?  1822154-1354000-thumbnail.jpgChocolate fountains can be rented from most caterers and you can offer pretzels, marshmallows, the classic strawberries, cantaloupe, or really any fruit that guests can place on a long stick.  I do recommend renting rather than buying these machines, the only thing harder to clean could be one of those turkey deep fryers – no thank you.


Pillow Gifts - The Tooth Fairy at your event?

And what exactly is a "Pillow Gift"?  A pillow gift is a small welcome item provided to guests in their hotel room during turndown service and ties into your event via branding or in theme. 

If you're trying to promote your brand at a conference this is a unique sponsorship opportunity that has much more impact than a banner on the wall.  One of the best ideas I've seen was a pillow case with a very clever, funny tagline printed on it.  But the ink was "glow in the dark" ink so guests did not notice the "branding" until they turned off the lights.  And then, hopefully, had a big laugh.

Pillow Gifts are a really nice extra touch for your guest speakers or clients to remind them you appreciate their participation in your event.  Always include a note card expressing your gratitude along with the gift. 

Some ideas for pillow gifts: 

  • Chocolates - who doesn't love chocolate and you can either place them in a branded box, have the chocolate molded into your logo, or simply bag M&Ms that match your event colors. 
  • Lotion/Bath amenities - a company called Blue Ribbon Supply sellsAveda travel sizes at  $.40/bottle and then you can place the items in nice baskets with a card (phone # is on our vendor section)
  • Golf Balls - if there is a golf component to your event the guests probably do dream about short puts and long drives....If you go this route be sure to select a high quality golf ball - logos can be put on the best balls as easily as terrible ones.  Golfers will appreciate high quality.  You can buy these from our store if you need a source.
  • Wine - you can provide a nice bottle or 1/2 bottle with your company or wedding ribbon tied around the bottle or a basket with the wine and goodies.  You can even have custom wine for your wedding or company and it doesn't take a fortune to have your very own "label".  I found Signature Wines to be a great resource for this type of gift - their Rutherford Cab is outstanding.  ***Word of caution: make sure your company's legal team approves this prior to ordering and your executive team is on board with providing wine as a gift.  
  • Spa Robes - okay, if your budget allows this could be the ultimate pillow gift.  The brand a lot of 5 star hotels use is "Robeworks" - such nice quality and a front pocket that has a nice space for logos.
Got ideas, please add them to this thread for the other divas....

Never let them see you sweat

Seriously – on event days carry deodorant in your purse and provide spray deodorant in your speaker ready room.

Along these lines, while looks aren’t everything it helps if the one in charge takes a few moments to “put herself together” every so often during the event.  Allow yourself 90 seconds for lipstick renewal, pull up the hair, dab some powder, drink water and give yourself a big smile.  It’s amazing all a multitasking wizard can do in 90 seconds.

No matter what twist, turn, surprise comes along – there is always a solution.  Deep breaths and thinking before reacting goes a long way.  And no matter what, never let them see you sweat.  Guests should never know there is an issue.  No points for being a drama queen.   


Cocktails with a Twist

How fun is it to arrive to an event and be greeted with a clever cocktail, unique to that event and a waiter dressed the part. 

If your brand doesn’t require the typical formal black and white uniform, have some fun with the wait staff and let them be part of the client brand experience.  For very little budget, you can have the wait staff wearing a t-shirt or tie that has the name of your clever cocktail, your current ad campaign, or the theme of your party.  And if the branded item is tastefully done the wait staff love the free swag to take home.  1822154-1477874-thumbnail.jpg

Creating a cocktail (non-alcoholic and leaded) can be a lot of fun and when you engage with a creative copywriter the sky is the limit.  The clever recipe can be shared on napkins, plastic signs and coasters to add some thing more to the party conversation.  And isn’t the whole point of a cocktail party to start conversations?   

Know a great tasting, unique drink recipe? Please share your recipe and how you made it tie in with your event. Here's a list of more drink recipes.


Timing is Everything

So you’re throwing a cocktail party, be sure you’re hitting the “cocktail” hour, not the dinner hour.  As a rule of thumb, cocktail parties should begin around 5 and conclude by 7pm. Once you pass 7 it’s time to serve dinner, finger foods won’t hold even Holly Golightly.

Dinner parties typically begin around 7:00pm, with dinner being served no later than 8:00pm. Be sure you have a conversation, and preferably provide a written schedule, with your caterer or restaurant manager regarding the flow of the evening.  It’s your job to ensure guests are not kept until 11pm – discussing this ahead of time will save a lot of negotiations on site (with your host looking at a watch instead of enjoying the company).  Some restaurants are better set up for large groups, while some of the finest restaurants pride themselves on the three hour dinner. Remember, this is a corporate function, not a Valentines Dinner.  We’have hosted dinners at Thomas Keller’s fabulous restaurants and his team has always been willing to serve our guests a four course meal in 90 minutes, and guests didn't feel rushed.

Don’t expect your guests to stay at a dinner past 10pm – they have lives outside of us and you don't want to reserve hotel rooms for all those that missed the last train to Connecticut.

Where you live and who you’re targeting will always play a role in the timing.  Is your audience 20-something account executives or senior clients who want to get home to their children?  Do you live in a city where guests will have to drive home or do majority hop on a subway?  Take into consideration who you’re targeting and then be sure your plan fits with the guest’s lifestyle before preceding.  

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