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Tapping into the Wisdom of the Crowd

The audience at an IMEX America 2017 session got to ask—and answer—their top meeting planning questions.

Who better to pose your burning questions to than peers who face the exact same challenges? That was the premise behind a session led by Jessie States, manager of professional development with Meeting Professionals International, during a Smart Monday session held in association with IMEX America 2017, going on this week at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Using a human spectrogram (learn more about that format here, States encouraged the meeting and hospitality professionals in the room to pose their most pressing questions to the others in the room, who eagerly provided their insights in three topic areas: negotiating, contracts and food and beverage trends.

Negotiating and Contracts

Is there any way to get out of having to use an in-house audiovisual company, or at least not to have to pay some of their seemingly exorbitant fees?

Some reported they’d had success by leveraging the power of their full meeting program across the chain, while others say the best way to go is to tackle it up front in your request for proposal. “We always put it in our RFP that we have the option to use our choice of AV company without penalty. I say up front we don’t want any gotcha fees, that I don’t want to buy the equipment, I just want to rent it for a couple of days,” said one person. Another suggested asking for a price list that delineates all costs and fees up front.

What do you do if a law is passed or there is some other political turmoil in your meeting’s host city that would make your attendees decide not to go? You can’t foresee when that will happen.

While there were several suggestions, the consensus was that this is an issue to take to your in-house attorney to draft appropriate language (and here are some ideas from an industry attorney MeetingsNet recently talked with on a similar topic.) As far as being able to predict there may be a legislative or political issue that would affect your attendance, several suggested having someone on staff monitor the local news to see what’s brewing in the months leading up to the event.

What can you do if the hotel flat-out tells you “no”?

“Ask the hotel what would make your business more valuable to them.” Maybe offering to hold it at a different time of year or a different pattern during the week would do the trick, said one person. “Let them know what your end goal is and see if you can find common ground.” Another said to ask them for the backstory behind the refusal—“Maybe they’ve been burned before.”

F&B Trending Questions

If you ask about dietary requirements in your registration materials, are you contractually obligated to accommodate every dietary request?

Generally, the audience said you probably weren’t contractually obligated to meet every need, but you should give it your best possible effort—and offer a disclaimer up front that while you will do your best, you can’t guarantee that something might creep in from the kitchen that could go against that restriction. “We label everything, but let them know that you can’t guarantee the hotel won’t make any mistakes.”

One person bundled her F&B to combine compatible restrictions, for example by making the vegetarian options also be vegan, and keeping her entire menu gluten-free. Another said she got a good response to creating separate vegan and gluten-free stations in addition to the regular buffet so those with special needs wouldn’t have to worry about cross-contamination or having to peer at all the labels to see what’s safe for them to consume.

One good suggestion was to ask that the banquet managers do a pre-meeting with all their line staff to make sure they understand all the dietary needs of your group, and what is needed to accommodate them. “You have to prepare them to be able to meet your expectations.”

What innovations are you seeing in breaks?

The crowd had a lot of fun with this one. Some examples they tossed out included:

• Build-your-own bars. It could be choosing ingredients for trail mix, or creating your own little chocolate gift box from a variety of chocolate treats.

• A dipped donut wall. One person said her break included having someone hand-dipping donuts and then hanging them on the wall for people to take down and eat. “Not healthy at all, but people loved it.”

• Avocado toast and smoothie shots

• Ice cubes that contained combinations of frozen fruit and herbs. People then poured seltzer water over the cubes for an infusion treat.

• Pre-washed infusion water bottles with fruits to infuse them with. An added benefit: Attendees could keep the bottles.

• Let exhibitors pick their own break foods. “One brought in a blender powered by a bike for smoothies.”

• Bacon everything. One person said they had a chef create an all-bacon break with everything from chocolate-covered bacon to pork belly sliders.


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