The previous blogs reviewed the corporate reasons for having a conference, and how to plan and market a successful conference. There can be many business reasons why a company should consider having a conference, not least that events are an important part of the marketing mix. In this section, we will review the follow up after the conference is finished.
Review of a Conference
Whilst on-site at the end of the conference you should organise a meeting with the venue to review how well the conference has gone, particularly with reference to the services the venue has provided and where these can be improved:
Audio visual hire
Room set up and services
Food and beverage
Venue staff service such as reception, responding to requests, helpfulness etc.
Where delegates pay to attend the conference it is worthwhile doing a review of the no-shows to try and ascertain why they did not attend. This can help in determining how best to market future events and how to improve the following up of delegates in the invitation process.
Make sure that you have a feedback form or questionnaire that the delegate fills out before leaving. The evaluation could be based on each individual session or speaker if you have different companies providing the content of the programme, or it could be a general overview of the event. The evaluation should be produced in cooperation with the client so that it includes questions relating to what they would like to know, and could include subjects such as:
Ease of getting to the venue
Food & beverage
Transportation if used
Whether the delegate is likely to come to another event
What improvements can be made
Actions they plan to take
How likely are they to recommend the event to a colleague
What benefit they expect to gain from taking part
Were their objectives met
Once the questionnaire replies are received they need to be evaluated and presented in a statistical or analytical form. The results need to be combined with the information on the event from the event manager (see the first point about the Conference Review above) and a financial review of Return on Investment (ROI).
Social Event information required before the conference
When you are planning what social events you are going to do in conjunction with a conference you need to decide are they optional or part of the programme? Are they sponsored or do the delegates pay for these? Are they on-site at the conference venue or at another venue?
Once the above has been decided they you can plan what sort of event to have in the programme, what are the objectives, budget what is the theme, is it for delegates only or can partners accompany the delegate? If off site you will need to arrange a site visit to chose the appropriate venue for the event. Other arrangements will include transportation and any entertainment, decide on F&B, plus staff to manage the event.
Once the social programme has been decided and arranged then it is important to get all the information from the delegates prior to arriving onsite. A booking form should be available on the website to sign up for the event. Information required on the booking form should include:
An information sheet outlining the social event or activity, so delegates can understand what they are signing up for
Name and contact details of delegate, time and dates of activities, if bringing a partner their details also required
Dietary and or any allergies, disabilities
If activities are to be organised do they bring any equipment or require specific clothing, or are these provided?
If a drinks reception or banquet dinner is part of the programme, you might decide to send a personalised invitation
A spread sheet database should be set up to record all the information so the event manager has this data to refer to when onsite and when letting venue know of numbers
Confirmation email should be sent out to confirm booking and any relevant information the delegates needs to know about the event or activity
Relevant transportation if required needs to be booked. If the event has a late evening finish then transportation should be arranged so that delegates can leave before the end if they so wish and if coaches used then they should arrange to drop off passengers at different hotels if required .
Depending on size of conference recommend to have a manned information/hospitality desk in the delegates hotel, where delegates or partners not involved in the conference can go for information on what they can do whilst at the conference city and join any site seeing tours, activities that have been arranged.
If using a local DMC make sure all communications numbers of guests involved are up to date with regard to the partner activities, tours, lunches etc…
Make sure that staff involved in managing social events are well briefed and know exactly how many delegates and guests are involved.
The management of F&B is probably one of the more important aspects of running a conference as delegates will remember the quality of the food as well as its quantity and variety and the punctuality of service — did the food cater to their needs and was it well presented and inviting to eat? If all of this is correctly managed the delegates will certainly feel better disposed towards the event experience.
It is very important to have established a good rapport with the venue banqueting manager so that the venue can understand what is required. This is necessary both pre-event in the planning and as regular follow up. During the event daily onsite meetings should take place. Good communication is essential in order to deliver the required service, provide updates on the number of attendees, finalise room layout, choose the menu, highlight delegates with specific food requirements, and to ensure that the drinks policy is understood.
When the delegate registers it is important to find out if they have any special dietary requirements or food allergies and to gain insight into the background and culture of the delegate in case there are implications for their food and drink needs and preferences. If specific Halal meat is required it is probably best to specify that all the meat ordered should be Halal. Specific cultural requirements must be considered so that, if necessary, pork is not on the same buffet table as other vegetarian or meat offerings. Most chefs will allow for vegetarians but if more of the delegates prefer vegetarian options to the meat choices then numbers and quantities must be adjusted.
If food is served as a buffet it needs to be clearly labelled to help those with allergies. The ingredients of served dishes must be clear. Serving utensils and dishes must be kept separate where necessary.
Most venue banqueting staff will require final numbers at least four to seven days in advance; this will be the number that your bill will be based on. It is important for the event manager to keep a tally by spreadsheet or using conference management software that details which delegates will be present for which meals. This is especially true if there is a mixture of day and 24 hour delegates, and some delegates are on dinner bed and breakfast while others are on bed and breakfast only.
The event manager will need to keep good record spreadsheets on the different meals to include numbers, menu, times and types of service. All should be included in the event running order for each day of the event. This needs to be kept up to date and amended as required.
The event manager should allocate a specific person responsible for F&B at the conference. This person should liaise every day with the venue banqueting manager double checking menus and the number of delegates as well as making clear any specific dietary requirements. They should prepare a daily update of menus, the numbers of meals required and people attending. They also need to check the room set up of tables and chairs, the number of waiting staff and the food set up before each meal. Correct room sizing for each type or food service has already been discussed in On-site management of room set up in this series of blogs.
Banqueting includes tea & coffee breaks and lunch and dinner. If delegates are staying overnight it will also include bar service, room service and breakfast.
Breakfast is normally served as a buffet for fast turnaround. If possible have a private breakfast area for conference guests away from hotel residents as they will need to be served quickly before going into the conference.
Coffee and tea breaks. Make sure that soft drinks and water are available and that there are plenty of cups ready and full hot coffee thermos flasks or waiter servers for the break. Put coffee dispensers at the back of the room to draw people in and put condiments at a separate table to help reducing queues. This is more important for a large conference if all the session breaks are at the same time. Delegates like to network at the breaks and there should be plenty of time allowed for them to get their coffee as well as to find the next session room.
Lunch. A buffet is recommended as it is usually time efficient and delegates like to be able to choose either a hot dish or a salad as well as the quantity they are served. Make sure that if lunch is seated you have enough place settings for all the delegates. If the lunch is a stand up fork or finger buffet make sure that you have bar tables or places where empty plates can be left. Also ensure that there are enough buffet tables for the number of guests to stop long queues for food. Normally only soft drinks and water are served at lunch.
Drinks Reception. Decide on the beverage policy and what drinks are to be offered: this can be a package price, flat delegate fee based on a range of drinks offered, or a per bottle price with specified consumption. Make sure that you have enough drinks and canapés as the amount consumed will depend on length of the reception. Check that there are plenty of soft drinks for those people not drinking alcohol.
Dinner is often plated and menu is pre-chosen, with specific attention given to menu variety so food is different for each day and meal. Dinner tends to be more relaxed, and often alcohol is served. A good rule of thumb for quantities is half a bottle of wine per person. One point to note is that when using a waiter to serve wine consumption tends to be less than when leaving the bottles on the table. Make sure that water is available on the table.
Beverage & bar service. During the planning of the conference a decision needs to be made on what is being paid by the hosted organisation as an open bar and what is paid by the delegates, for example by way of a cash bar or payment of drinks at meal time. A drinks policy must be understood by the venue and it should be made clear who has the authority to sign off of any extra drinks, as explained in the blog on pre-planning f&b at a conference.
Good communication, and keeping everyone who needs to know informed of what is happening, is paramount.
Reference reading: John G Fisher – How to run a Successful Conference