June 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June 1998 Current Issue
June 1998 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics


Planning by Committee

How to succeed when all event decisions are put to a vote

Typically, meeting managers are decision-makers, relying on their expertise and judgement to plan a successful event. But the task takes on new challenges when decisions are made by a committee.

It's generally the association planner who has to answer to an organizing committee - often comprising members who have no knowledge of what goes into putting together an event. Some corporations, too, recruit representatives from various departments to play a role in the planning process.

Furthermore, the planner may not be the chair of the committee - or even an official member. How do you ensure success when you have so little control? Here's how to assert your planning power.

First, understand why you can't have carte blanche to do your job as you like. On the association side, it's mostly a money issue: Using volunteers saves a bundle in staffing dollars. Also, if the association is outsourcing the planning process, having members help out ensures that the group's needs are well represented during the decision-making process. In the corporate world, a planning committee gets people to buy into the process, and again relies on in-house manpower to pull off the event without bogging down the meeting planners.

The planner's role varies. On some committees, mostly in the corporate sector, she is the chairperson, with heavy vetoing power. However, divisional committees in some corporations use the meeting planning department only to get the job done once they've laid it out. With associations, often the planner will be in an advisory role. Typically, the planner will make most site decisions, while the committee will mold the content, but in some cases all decisions are put to committee vote.

The main qualities you need to organize a committee-planned event are subtlety and diplomacy. Make sure the group makes the right decisions without creating a hostile environment. First, get to know the person in charge (if it's not you).

"Long before the planning meeting, get in touch with the chairperson and start to build a relationship with her," says Rick Maurer, an Arlington, Va.-based corporate consultant who specializes in work relationships. "Position yourself with the chair so she knows you are a resource. Take her to lunch or spend a half-hour on the phone." Once you've established contact, you'll be able to voice concerns and give advice outside the committee meetings.

Let your expertise shine during the planning meetings, especially when the members are coming from around the country and don't work together regularly. This goes beyond using your influence to make sure that objectives and deadlines are met. Help the participants get to know each other, and facilitate their meshing into a good planning team. Suggest an ice-breaker to begin to build camaraderie before getting down to business.

To expand the comfort zone, contact all the committee members beforehand so they walk in feeling they know you. Help them feel a part of the planning team before they start the process. Also, be prepared to begin with a short lesson in Meetings 101 and an overview of your job. In fact, keep those notes on file and repeat the lesson each year, as new faces appear on the committee.

The only way you can make sure everything is done on schedule is to develop a time line and get people to stick to it. When dealing with a committee, how you enforce those deadlines often depends on your relationship to the organization.

For association and independent planners, handling deadline troubles usually involves presenting solutions for getting back on track, advising the committee chair of the situation and identifying the best way to bring up the subject at the next meeting. The corporate planner, however, often can fall back on company resources in a pinch. In-house divisions like A/V may be able to offer assistance.

You may know meeting planning, but committee members may be more qualified to handle certain tasks. For instance, many planners ask members to identify and track down speakers and exhibitors.

"We've learned that I'm not the best person to contact the exhibitors at first," says Washington, D.C., independent planner Elizabeth Zielinski, CMP, of the trade show she plans in conjunction with a software users' conference. "These are people the committee members already have relationships with, so it's best they contact the exhibitors first."

Back to Current Issue index
M&C Home Page
Current Issue | Events Calendar | Newsline | Incentive News | Meetings Market Report
Editorial Libraries | CVB Links | Reader Survey | Hot Dates | Contact M&C