Meetings & Conventions: Being There - June 1998
How to keep them in the meeting room and out of the
casinoBetting on Meetings
| Joining the Game
or the first time, you've booked your group's
annual meeting in a popular gaming destination and, wonder of
wonders, pre-registration is up almost 50 percent over previous
years - and the meeting is still six months away.
Clearly, the promise of 24-hour casinos, dazzling nighttime
shows and lavish theme parks can be a powerful lure. Yet, consider
this: You may get them there in droves, but can you keep your
attendees inside the meeting room doors?
Following, seasoned planners share their tried-and-true tactics
for generating their own brand of excitement to keep the group from
Substance is everything
"The content of the meeting is the most important thing," says
Pleasanton, Calif.-based Bo-Vonne Ochse, executive director and
show administrator for the Northern California Bowling Proprietor's
Association. "Find a topic that will keep them there and tie in the
The secret, believes Ochse, an 18-year veteran of casino-based
meetings, is knowing what motivates your group and then packing
your itinerary with strong speakers and great educational sessions
that entice them to stay. "The strength of your program ultimately
determines whether the attendee will sit in front of a slot machine
or go to the meeting," she says.
A good tool for enticing attendees back into the meeting room
after a break, according to Ochse, is to "dangle the candy, and
leave them hanging." She advises structuring agendas with
educational sessions divided into two parts: session one, which
introduces an interesting subject, followed by a break; and then
session two, which pulls attendees back in with a how-to
conclusion. "If they want to find out how to make that knowledge
work for them, then they have to come back," explains Ochse.
Similarly, be sure general sessions are compelling. "Speakers
are critical. But you don't necessarily need the most expensive,
big-name speaker you can find," says Ochse. "Get someone who speaks
directly to your group's interest," she says.
And the winner is...
Who says the casino floor is the only place to win? Al Sardelich,
annual meeting and special events coordinator with San
Francisco-based Chevron Products Company, likes to entice attendees
with big giveaways to keep them from straying.
"It absolutely irritates me when I walk through the casino and
see our people there when I've paid $20,000 for a good guest
speaker," says Sardelich.
"Great giveaways, where you absolutely have to be present to
win, work," says Sardelich. In some cases, the freebies require
participation in a game, such as the money tunnel. "I stick them in
this glass-enclosed wind tunnel with money blowing all around. They
have 15 to 20 seconds to catch what they can. People have a lot of
fun just watching," he says. Sardelich recalls one happy attendee
who thought he hadn't caught much until he found a $100 bill
sticking to his collar.
Some of the prizes are true attention-getters; one year's big
award was a giant tanker of gasoline.
If gaming motivates your attendees, consider giveaways they can
use at the casino during designated free time. Ochse likes to offer
prize money in the form of custom-printed casino dollars that will
be accepted at the facility. Says Ochse, "They are there primarily
for the casino, so why not make it work for you?"
Give them free time
Don't lead them into temptation without allowing for some time when
it's okay to stray.
"Schedule time for gambling, especially in the evening," advises
Dallas-based independent meeting planner Sherri Cook, CMP, owner of
Sherri Cook & Associates. "And try to leave one evening
absolutely free, because there might be shows they want to
Cook schedules reception-only evenings that finish at 7:00 p.m.,
and suggests planners wrap up the final night banquet by 9:00 p.m.
"It's no use wasting money on big entertainment or a band and
lavish spreads," says Cook. "You will lose them to the casino,
anyway, and you'll end up paying for things you don't make use
To get attendees to gather for even a few precious evening
hours, offer something they won't find elsewhere. For a meeting
later this year, Cook is plotting to have her group roast an
unsuspecting attendee. "It's something new, and they will
definitely be surprised and have a good time with this," she
If you're nervous about losing your attendees the morning after
a long night free, Larry Huttinger, director of D. Lawrence
Planners, a meetings and expositions management company in Atlantic
City, N.J., suggests allowing a chunk of free time in the early
evening, say, between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., and then luring the
group back with the promise of desert, coffee and a special private
show. "You don't want to have every minute of your attendees' day
taken up, but you also don't want to overdo the evening
activities," advises Huttinger. "I also think it's important to
build in non-alcoholic functions."
"Don't bother scheduling a fancy breakfast with pricey
speakers," adds Sardelich. "You'll lose most people, especially if
they spent a late night at the gaming tables."
Sardelich also says planners shouldn't rely on the meal itself
to draw attendance. "There is a lot of cheap food at casino hotels.
Your attendees will probably think, ÔIf I miss lunch it's okay; I
can buy a hot dog and a beer for 49 cents.'" A better idea, he
says, is to invest the bulk of the budget into a strong and
compelling general session.
The meeting rooms are where?
A rule of site selecting at casino properties: Pay close attention
to the location of the meeting rooms. If your attendees have to
walk through the casino to get to the meeting, chances are you'll
lose a few lesser-willed souls along the way.
"You don't want to have your attendees walk through the hoopla
of the the hotel's casino and the entire shopping arcade to get to
the meeting facility. That's a very big distraction and something I
really take into account," says Maryta Montgomery, meetings and
travel manager for Dallas-based The Southland Corporation, parent
company of the 7-Eleven convenience store chain. She suggests
asking the hotel for a well-detailed map, identifying all facility
locations, to help you in your site selection.
To help keep attendees on a non-distracting route to the meeting
area, include this map of the property in all registration packets,
along with a clearly marked "preferred" route to seminar and
function rooms. And once on site for the event, be sure to provide
lots of visible signage. If attendees can't easily find the
meeting, they may give up and head for a room they can easily
locate - the gaming room.
Out of sight, out of mind
Too much of a good thing can be bad for meeting attendance. So,
sometimes Chevron's Sardelich likes to just whisk his attendees
away from it all. He recommends planners provide at least one
off-site, non-casino function. Getting away from the glitz and the
excitement can be a welcome respite, says Sardelich, especially for
the non-gamblers in the group.
"Off-site functions allow everyone to get out and smell the
fresh air," says Sardelich, who rented the MGM Grand Adventures
Theme Park one evening for his group of several thousand. For
smaller groups - or smaller budgets - Sardelich suggests throwing
in a day pass to an area theme park and adding free time in the
itinerary for attendees to take advantage of the savings. Says
Sardelich, "It gives them something different to look forward
If you typically tie in a trade show to your meeting, Ochse
suggests planners consider holding the event at a nearby off-site
venue, such as a convention center, and busing attendees to and
from the event. "When they have to go off property to attend the
trade show, you stand a better chance of getting them on the trade
show floor than if you stayed on property, especially if you
advertise giving away lots of great prizes," says Ochse.
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