Meeting Planning - Organizing Conventions & Conferences

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Tip: Incorporate New Emerging Technologies Into Events

Fogscreen of MPI Logo
MPI WEC Attendees Walked Through a Fogscreen of MPI Logo for Opening Reception MPI WEC 2008 attendees walked through a fogscreen of the MPI logo when first arriving at the MPI WEC 2008 welcome reception at Caesar's Las Vegas. Courtesy of MPI and

Event Planning Tips from Behind the Event at MPI WEC 2008

Meeting and event planners are always searching for new event planning tips, whether it's to use for their next meeting or to simply know what others are doing so that they may validate some of their approaches.

That's because meeting and event planners organize a lot of meetings, and the annual conference or congress is an excellent program that also requires a lot of meeting planning ideas.

With this in mind, it seems appropriate to review some of the meeting planning ideas and event planning tips that are used by one of the profession's leading associations: Meeting Professionals International (MPI) organizes numerous conventions throughout the year. The following event planning tips are based on the MPI World Education Congress that was held in Las Vegas, August 2008.

When planning a convention, meeting planners consider how to incorporate a range of emerging new technologies for the program. MPI used a fog screen.

The imagined possibilities for fog screen technology, an emerging new technology, include the projection of corporate logos, messages, and other images. Event and meeting planners should know about future technologies and how/when to use them in various programs.

As part of the MPI WEC, 2008 opening reception sponsored by Meetings by Harrah's at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, attendees walked through a fog screen of the MPI logo as they entered the opening cocktail reception. Caesar's Palace's objective was to showcase how they can change the environment of a static room, explained Reina Herschdorfer, executive director of catering/conventions and events for Caesar's Palace.

Fogscreen technology is an emerging technology that is dry, so attendees and guest will not walk through the fog and get wet.

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Tip:Event Planning Checklist to Include Pre-Event Meetings by All Parties

Executive chef and team at Caesar's for MPI WEC 2008
Caesar's Executive Chef Holds a Chef Meeting Prior to Opening Reception For the MPI WEC 2008 opening reception, executive chef held a meeting with event chefs to go over their roles and responsibilities 3 hours prior to the event. (c) 2008 Rob Hard / RH Communications, Inc.

Venues have their event planning checklist to ensure smooth activities for special events and meetings prior to the execution of a program.

As part of the event planning checklist, event and meeting planners hold a final walk-through or pre-conference ("pre-con") meeting with conference managers, including catering services. It is a time when event planners will view the production and setup progress, food and beverage, and make requests for any changes prior to the event.

The venue itself also holds meetings with its staff and individuals who are responsible for the execution of the event. The executive chef at Ceasar's Palace, Las Vegas, held his meeting with chefs who were responsible for the catering services activities at the MPI WEC 2008 opening reception.

Four stations were set up to serve six different hot items, and an ice sculpture serving bar was set up to serve seven different types of sushi.

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Tip: Convention Cocktail Receptions Should Wow the Senses

MPI WEC 2008 Welcome Reception at Ceasar's Las Vegas
Caesar's Palace Transforms Space with Imagery, Music, Food and Natural Elements Meetings by Harrahs hosted the MPI WEC 2008 opening reception at Caesar's Las Vegas. The theme of the evening was "Be," and it showcased their ability to transform a static room through technology, imagery, music, glass, steel, natural materials and food. Courtesy of MPI and

It's important for event planners to create special events -- including cocktail receptions -- that incorporate elements that engage the five senses.

The cocktail reception at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, transformed a ballroom into a space that morphed throughout the evening. With a $2 million budget, planners at Caesar's and Meetings by Harrah's, Las Vegas, worked with production, design, catering experts and others to demonstrate their ability to change any environment.

"We had 180 minutes of imagery and music that changed every three or four minutes," said Reina Herschdorfer, executive director of catering/conventions and events for Caesar's Palace. She also made the elements in the room interactive with the visuals on the screen. When rose petals were on the screen, rose petals also filled the room. It was also the case with the use of other special event elements, such as bubbles. It reinforced the idea of how nature and the abstract work together to create a psychedelic effect (one of Herschdorfer's goals).

Herschdorfer also emphasized Caesar's intent to showcase food as an event element. "Food is art. It's about the chefs and the beauty of the food," she added.

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Tip: Make Attendees and Guests Feel Unique and Special Upon Arrival

Staff at Mandalay Bay Created a Red Carpet Line to Greet MPI Attendees MPI WEC 2008 attendees were welcomed by more than 200 Mandalay Bay employees as they walked their way into the convention center and toward the opening conference session. Courtesy of Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

A red carpet line is a great way to make attendees feel unique and special as they arrive for meetings and other special events.

A red carpet line was created by the management and staff at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, to welcome attendees as they approached the opening general session.

It was apparent that the hour long cheering session was appreciated by attendees. And to create an element that pleasantly surprises event planners is a statement in itself.

Creating a red carpet line is easier than most may think. It is simply a matter of having enough individuals who are affiliated with the event to be available during the time when guests arrive. Mandalay Bay simply put the call out to various departments by email and staff were excited to participate.

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Tip: Organization Leaders Set the Stage for Meeting Agenda at Opening Remarks

Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO of MPI at WEC 2008
MPI's Bruce MacMillan Outlined the Future of Meetings at MPI WEC 2008 Bruce MacMillan, president and CEO of MPI, opened the MPI WEC 2008 conference, themed "Your Future is Showing.". (c) 2008 Rob Hard / RH Communications, Inc.

To kick off conventions, leaders are expected to deliver a message about the event's meeting agenda during opening remarks during the first general session.

When establishing the meeting agenda for a congress or conference, event and meeting planners need to use the opening general session to have leaders reinforce the objective and key messages of the program.

For MPI WEC 2008 held at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, in August 2008, MacMillan highlighted the Congress' emphasis on professional knowledge, the use of technology to enrich meetings (not replace it), and his view that the industry's future will continue to grow.

It's important to make sure that the message is appropriate for those who attend the event, and that it is targeted to the interests of those who attend -- including where they live. More than 4,500 attended MPI WEC, the largest attendance in MPI's history. MacMillan referenced MPI's global initiatives and provided examples of global trends.

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Tip: Board Leaders Should Highlight Accomplishments in Opening Sessions

MPI Chairwoman Angie Pfeiffer
MPI 2007-2008 Chairwoman Angie Pfeiffer Highlights MPI's Strategic Imperatives MPI 2007-2008 Chairwoman Angie Pfeiffer addresses MPI WEC 2008 attendees as she closes out her year of leadership for the association. Courtesy of MPI and

For annual conventions and congresses, it is important to have board leaders highlight past accomplishments and objectives.

Organization leadership is expected to highlight past accomplishments as they set the stage for the year ahead. Angie Pfieffer, 2007-2008 chairperson for MPI, highlighted strategic imperatives that were established for MPI during her tenure.

MPI redefined its strategic imperatives for the meetings industry during the previous year, and Pfeiffer highlighted the following:

  • Evolve to a global community
  • Reimagine business relationships with chapters
  • Elevate the member conversation and experience
  • Build a great organization

By presenting the organization accomplishments, it provides members and other interested parties an opportunity to understand key initiatives and objectives. It is relevant in all industries and meetings.

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Tip: Incorporate Elements of Corporate Entertainment into the Convention Agenda

Larry Luteran and Nathan Burton at MPI WEC 2008
MPI Hired Nathan Burton to Entertain Attendees and Introduce Larry Luteran New MPI 2008-2009 chairman Larry Luteran was magically introduced to MPI WEC 2008 attendees by Las Vegas magician Nathan Burton. Courtesy of MPI and

It's important for meeting planners to incorporate corporate entertainment into the convention agenda -- this helps break up formal presentations.

When planning a convention, it's important to incorporate elements of the local community into the theme whenever possible. Because the Congress was in Las Vegas, organizers behind MPI WEC 2008 had a full range of options.

The opening general session was scheduled for two hours, so to help break up the formality of presentations, local themes and entertainment were incorporated into the agenda.

Las Vegas Magician Nathan Burton entertained attendees and concluded the corporate entertainment by having 2008-2009 chairman Larry Luteran magically appear in front of the audience for his presentation.

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Tip: Opening General Sessions Should Leave Attendees Energized

Drum Cafe, MPI WEC 2008
MPI WEC 2008 Hired Drum Cafe to Excite Attendees for Congress Drum Cafe entertained attendees at the MPI WEC 2008 opening general session (closing act). Courtesy of MPI and

An effective opening general session should include a variety of speakers and entertainment to keep the attention of attendees, especially for longer sessions.

Closing remarks for the opening general session were followed by a performance by Drum Cafe, known for providing team building and interactive drumming entertainment.

Drum Cafe uses African drums and percussion to energize audiences. And, although MPI incorporated their performance, some event planners incorporate this type of performance as a hands-on experience for groups (giving attendees their drums).

Drum Cafe performed for more than an hour, while some people stayed to listen and others heard the energy from the general session room as they passed the doors through the main hallway.

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Tip: Every Convention Includes an Expo with Trade Show Booths

WEC MPI 2008 Exhibition
MPI WEC 2008 Incorporated an Exhibition of Nearly 600 Exhibitors MPI WEC 2008 Exhibition. Courtesy of MPI and

Nearly every congress or convention incorporates a trade show or exhibition hall as part of the agenda.

The expo provides an opportunity for industry suppliers and sponsors to meet with convention attendees.

Traditional expos can be viewed more like a "marketplace," if conventions and conferences limit the hours when an exhibition hall is open -- and avoid scheduling educational sessions during this time -- so that exhibitors may maximize their time with important attendees.

An expo will help underwrite the cost of the overall convention and provide operating revenue for association organizers.

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Tip: Determine Professional Development Topics by Skill and Audience Level

MPI WEC 2008 Andrea "Sid" Curtis
MPI WEC 2008 Structured Breakout Sessions by 13 Skills and 3 Levels Andrea "Sid" Curtis, art director for Freeman AV Services, co-presented with Bob Walker, vice president of creative services, AVW-TELAV, Inc., on effective use of scenic design, lighting and audio to enhance the meeting experience at MPI WEC 2008. Courtesy of MPI and

Conference organizers determine seminar topics for professional development that consider attendee skill level and development interests.

MPI determined seminar topics by audience level, including novice, intermediate and advanced. Then, MPI organized breakout sessions into 13 skill families to help attendees optimize their educational experience:

  • Analysis-process-decision
  • Business management
  • Communication
  • Education and content development
  • Financial management
  • Interpersonal relations/relationships
  • International relations
  • Marketing
  • Meetings management
  • People management
  • Project management/work planning
  • Strategy
  • Technology

MPI provided attendees with an option to schedule sessions online, categorizing sessions by skill families and audience levels.

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Tip: Fundraising Ideas Should Evolve Around Annual Meetings

Rendezvous Fundraising Event
MPI Foundation Holds Fundraising Event at House of Blues, Las Vegas More than 1,000 attended the "Rendezvous" Fundraising Event at House of Blues, Las Vegas, for MPI WEC 2008. Courtesy of MPI and

Meeting and event planners should create fundraising events as part of an annual conference or convention to maximize fundraising value.

Perhaps the best way to energize a fundraising base is to hold a special fundraising event during the annual congress or convention. After all, this is the time when people have the topics and issues of the fundraising cause top of mind.

For MPI WEC 2008, the fundraising event idea included an evening of food, beverages and live music at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas. The event also included the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau as the title sponsor, as well as several other contributing sponsors to help underwrite costs.

Advance ticket prices were set at $110 (USD), and onsite tickets were $125 (USD). More than 1,000 attendees joined the event -- about 25% of all attendees.

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Tip: Business Roundtable Discussions Offer Attendees Open Ended Topics

Cafe Conversations
Attendees Lead Workshop Facilitation Process to Discuss Industry Topics MPI WEC 2008 organized cafe conversations, round table discussions where topics and moderators are not pre-determined. Attendees are encouraged to host a discussion based on a general theme and those interested may join in. Courtesy of MPI and

Although cafe conversations may seem new to some in the events industry, these business roundtable discussions emerged from meetings in the high tech industry.

Cafe conversations are informal roundtable discussions where the topics and moderators are not pre-determined, explained Brooke Bode, director of knowledge management for MPI, Dallas. "It allows attendees to learn from their peers," Bode added.

For MPI WEC 2008, six different roundtable discussion themes were identified congress attendees to sign up and/or lead business roundtables, including:

  • The green cafe (green meetings)
  • Strategy spot cafe (meeting formats and strategic meetings)
  • Cafe Futura (future trends/technology)
  • The bridge cafe (generational/cultural differences)
  • Cafe Internationale (international meetings)
  • Cafe potpourri (miscellaneous topics)

Workshop facilitation is led by attendees, and offer attendees an alternative to the usual format of meeting and seminar sessions.

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Tip: Encourage Next Year's Convention Host to Sponsor at This Year's Convention

MPI WEC 2008 Salt Lake City Luncheon
MPI WEC 2009 Host Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau Sponsored 2008 Lunch 2009 MPI World Education host city Salt Lake City sponsored a MPI WEC 2008 lunch and promoted their city and program. (c) Rob Hard / RH Communications, Inc.

When planning a convention, the best time to ensure attendee retention for future conventions is by promoting that message during this year.

Meeting planners understand the importance of keeping attendees and/or organization members feeling that their time is well spent by attending a convention or congress. One of the goals is to make sure that attendees will return for next year's convention.

MPI WEC 2008 organizers gave prime visibility to Salt Lake City, the selected host city for MPI WEC 2009. A seated lunch was served on the final day of the convention, sponsored by the Salt Lake City Convention & Visitors Bureau. It allowed Salt Lake City tourism officials to highlight competitive strengths for their destination while encouraging attendees to want to experience next year's event.

This type of convention sponsorship was also valuable to Salt Lake City because they were able to make an informal pitch to all meeting professionals who happen to also be key decision makers in the selection of venues and destinations for numerous programs throughout the year.

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Tip: Closing Night Receptions Should Be as Memorable as Opening Receptions

Mandalay Bay beach party, MPI WEC 2008
MPI WEC 2008 Included a Beach Party at Mandalay Bay Mandalay Bay beach party at MPI WEC 2008. Courtesy of MPI and

Conventions should incorporate a closing night reception, giving attendees a chance to network and discuss topics from the event. Select a fun event.

Networking opportunities are as important as the professional education and exhibition hall elements of a convention or congress. Because most people tend to skip closing events, it's important that the closing night reception should leave attendees feeling excited and energized by the process -- if you want people to stay for it.

Event and meeting planners should identify an event or theme that is related to the destination and location where the event is held. MPI WEC 2008 held its closing night reception at The Beach at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas.

MGM Mirage and Mandalay Bay sponsored the closing night reception for MPI WEC 2008, along with the House of Blues. Event and meeting planners should create opportunities to leverage venue sponsorships to help underwrite convention special events, including the closing night receptions.

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Tip: Creative Ideas May Engage Convention Attendees for New Product Launches

CityCenter Sandcastle
MGM CityCenter Vegas Created a Sand Castle Replica for MPI Attendees CityCenter Las Vegas, by MGM Mirage, used its sponsorship of MPI WEC 2008 closing night reception at Mandalay Bay to promote its latest project. Courtesy of MGM CityCenter, Las Vegas

New product launches happen all the time at conventions. The key to a successful product launch is to creatively engage the attendees' imagination.

With hundreds of exhibitors and suppliers attending conventions and congresses, many use this as an opportunity to promote a new product launch or re-introduce attendees to their products and services.

MGM Mirage sponsored the closing night reception for MPI WEC 2008 and used the event as an opportunity to showcase the MGM CityCenter Vegas project. With a closing night reception theme around "beach party," MGM CityCenter Vegas created a sand castle replica of the project which is scheduled to open at the end of 2009.