1. Don’t Go Crazy with F&B Fads
Walk in the attendees’ shoes—with a plate in one hand and a glass in the other. This means not offering food that’s difficult to eat without making a mess, or just difficult to eat, period, even if it is the latest gustatory craze. One example: Those hard-chocolate-coated deserts stuffed with delicious creamy delights, topped with swirls of various exotic syrups. They look gorgeous, but how the heck do you eat them? This editor has seen an entire table abandon these delectables after trying to attack them with butter knives and forks and being unable to break through that hard shell. What a waste of the event organizer’s money and the venue’s food, not to mention a frustration to attendees.
2. Play it Straight With Your Venue
Starting with the site selection and contract negotiation stages, share your objectives for the conference and your budget with everyone involved. The venue folks may have some great ideas they’ve seen other groups use at low or no cost. They may have relationships with local suppliers they can use to help shave costs. The catering manager and the chef will be particularly useful in coming up with ideas that will work within your budget, so talk with them early on. Be honest about your budget, and don’t limit yourself to what’s on the preset menus.
3. More Interactive Formats Also Mean Less AV
Interactive sessions not only are good for learning and engagement—they also can help save costs. A lecture requires a lot more audiovisual support than a roundtable discussion session, for example.
4. Less Labor, Lower Cost
Especially when it comes to food and beverage, an easy way to cut costs is to choose less labor-intensive items—think whole fruit instead of sliced, for example. It adds up.
5. How Close is the Venue to the Airport?
After all, even if you’re not providing a shuttle service for attendees, you still will be shuttling your staff, speakers, entertainment, and everything else you’re bringing in for the event. If your venue is an hour from the airport, those constantly moving shuttles are going to cost you.
6. Use Ambient Entertainment
Choose sites and venues that have some built-in attractions so attendees can entertain themselves, saving you the cost of providing entertainment. If your event is downtown, encourage attendees take advantage of malls, theaters, museums, and other local attractions and you can avoid the cost of cocktail receptions and entertainment.
7. Use Local Transportation
Copeland told of one recent event in Washington, D.C., where the organizers handed out passes for the Metro instead of chartering buses to transport 500 people. Yes, attendees had to walk a block to the Metro station, but they got to go where they wanted to go at a fraction of the cost to the event organizers.
8. Profit from Your Nonprofit Status
Most nonprofits go into contract negotiations thinking that they’ll be treated the same as any other type of organization. It can pay to ask the venue what benefits it can offer specifically to your organization because it is a nonprofit. Copeland said that he has been able to get lower rates at almost every venue he has contracted with as a representative of a nonprofit.
9. How Much Is Negotiable?
Just because something’s in the initial contract doesn’t mean it isn’t negotiable. The venue may include charges for Wi-Fi connections, parking, and meeting rooms, but all of these, and more, may actually be negotiable. It never hurts to ask—early and often. For example, if the in-house AV team will be handling all your AV needs, you may be able to use that to negotiate down Wi-Fi fees. Know your total expected spend, based on history, and communicate it up front so the hotel can see where it will make up for any concessions.
10. Prep Your Volunteers to Be Marketers and Managers, Not Just Extra Bodies
The more training you provide to volunteers ahead of time, the more they will be able to do for you. Whether you contact the local university’s hospitality program to find volunteers, or put out a call to your organization’s members, create and distribute job descriptions, timelines… everything you would provide a paid employee. “Really invest in your volunteers and they will invest in you,” said Copeland. “If you empower them, they can lead your event.” And save you quite a bit on staffing, time, and resources as they market your meeting through their social networks—live and online. In return, thank them for their work with reduced or free registration.