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15 Painless Cost-Saving Ideas for Your Next Conference

Attendees at the Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals Annual Conference brainstormed these smart ideas for making the most of their meeting budgets.

Meeting professionals aren’t a shy bunch—but if you really want to get them talking, bring up the topic of cost savings. Everyone’s in the same doing-more-with-less situation and eager for new ideas to stretch the budget. An educational session at the Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals' Annual Conference provided attendees a chance to share their cost-saving strategies. Here are 15 of our favorites:

• Ask about the meals other groups on site are planning, and whether you would see a cost savings by piggybacking on their menus

• Talk to the hotel chef about designing a menu that avoids the most common allergens and takes the food preferences of your group into consideration. If your banquet menu has no gluten, nuts, eggs, milk, and shellfish, for example, you’ll save money over having to plan for a variety of different meals to meet attendees' needs. 

• Request pharma menus.” Hotels create bare-bones budget menus for pharmaceutical companies that must adhere to meal-cost caps when healthcare providers attend their meetings. Keep in mind, however, that hotels need to make a profit, too—if they’re not making money on your F&B, they’ll make it up elsewhere.  

• Don’t serve a plated dessert. Many people won’t eat it anyway. Less expensive options include dessert stations, a plate of cookies or chocolates for each table to share, or a candy station where attendees select a few favorites.

• Serve leftovers from breakfast, like fruits and muffins, during break. Some hotels will charge for re-plating the food, but there will be less cost and less waste.

• Provide water stations rather than bottled water. It’s better for the budget and the environment. If you can get a sponsor to provide water bottles, they’re sure to be highly visible.

• Two ideas for saving on your beverage costs: Don’t pre-pour and don’t refill unless people ask.

• Be strategic about your Wi-Fi. Know your Internet usage from past events and negotiate costs based on your specific needs. If you have to run a dedicated line into a meeting space, be sure to reuse that space as much as possible to get the most for your investment.

• Ask about the speakers and entertainers coming to your hotel or other hotels in the city to perform at a different event over the same dates (for the latter, the CVB can help). If there’s a fit, you'll save on travel expenses.

• Is there an in-house personality who could serve as the conference emcee? Beyond cost savings, he or she can convey an authenticity and connection with the organization that a hired speaker typically cannot.

• Follow the TED Talks. Fascinating speakers from all walks of life take to the TED stage, most of whom aren’t on the traditional speakers’ circuit and might be less expensive than a professional speaker or public figure.  

• Consider this about your spending on decor: Is it “Instagrammable”? By spending wisely on fun elements that will be photographed, you’re also investing in attendees' memories and driving social shares too.

Look into using Uber and Lyft ridesharing services to save on transportation costs. Organizers can provide attendees with a code that is valid from, for example, the meeting hotel to an off-site event, and you only pay for the rides used.

• Colorful pillows with the company or conference logo can be an inexpensive and inviting way to brand your conference space.

• Avoid string lighting. It’s labor intensive and therefore expensive. Consider lighting trees instead.

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