• Avoid buzzwords or jargon that could be misunderstood, especially when dealing with suppliers outside the U.S.
• Use illustrations or diagrams to clarify logistical issues such as seating arrangements.
• Be precise about dates and the number of people, rooms and meals.
• Include seemingly minor details in contracts if the meeting would suffer without them.
No musician would ever go on stage without first making sure her musical instrument was finely tuned. Similarly, no meeting professional should sign a contract that has not been fine-tuned to address any issues that might make the difference between an outstanding event and a disastrous one.
Say you want white tablecloths, fine china and real silverware for a formal CEO dinner being held outdoors, but such expectations are not fully specified. The outcome: flimsy picnic tables, plastic forks, paper plates, and one angry and embarrassed CEO.
In other words, if it is important to the success of your event, it needs to be in the contract and well understood by both parties. What follows is some key advice to keep in mind when crafting an agreement with a hotel.
Imprecise language can cause problems. When overseas, for example, if you say something needs to be "first class" or you ask for "rack rate," such terms might mean something entirely different to the supplier. Rather than relying on buzzwords and jargon, be specific to avoid any misunderstandings.
Sometimes pictures can clarify your requirement better than words. When it comes to seating arrangements, for example, asking for a "school-room setup" might not be clear enough to suit your needs, as school rooms have evolved over the years. Better yet, attach a diagram of exactly how you want your attendees to be seated. The more demonstrative specifics you give, the more likely you are going to be satisfied.
Set a Timeline
Meetings are all about dates and time and numbers of people, rooms and meals, much of which needs to be adjusted as event planning proceeds. So while your needs might be flexible, agreements concerning them should be precise.
There should be set dates to review room block requirements and make adjustments, for example, whether up or down. Use a specific calendar date, e.g., "by Oct. 1, 2013, this will be done," which is clearer than "90 days before the event."
The same goes for time deadlines: "By 5 p.m. PST we will expect this to be done," not "48 hours before the banquet we will expect..."
If it's important to your organization, spell out your needs regarding sustainable practices. Do you prefer pitchers to bottles, or paper to plastic? Do you want your leftover food and/or flowers to be donated to a local agency? Who will be responsible for handling those requests?
Sweat the Details
Countless details regarding a meeting can seem relatively minor but could make a big difference if neglected. A tall chair set up by the podium for a presenter who needs to sit; a laser pointer to highlight information on a screen; enough electrical outlets to handle a product demonstration; linens using the company's colors -- these are the kinds of nitty-gritty details you need to specify in a contract to help your event unfold in the way you want it to.