Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June
Back to Basics
BY SARAH J.F. BRALEY
Planning by Committee
How to succeed when all event decisions are put to a
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
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.
KNOW THE REASONS
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
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
SET THE STAGE
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.
DELEGATE TO THE DELEGATES
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."
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