No matter how sizable your organization’s
meetings department, large events often require supplemental staff.
Even independent planners are reliant on a network of contractors
they pull in for larger programs.
While the “one staff member per 50 attendees” rule generally works
well as a starting point, you need to consider carefully both the
logistics and the goals of your program to achieve proper
More or Less?
Here are some factors that can require you to increase or
decrease your staffing needs.
Reduce staff. You can cut your numbers if you
have been to a property before and know it offers strong staff
support. For example, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and
other four- and five-star properties have high guest-to-staff
ratios. As savvy planners know, these properties might be expensive
up front, but often there are measurable savings in manpower, along
with the comfort of getting everything right the first time.
Increase staff. Hire more help if your staff
is very young, elderly or inexperienced.
You’ll also need more people on hand if your event is exclusive
and requires additional security.
Some staffing situations are best addressed as events within
Registration. Starting with one registration
aide per 50 attendees, calculate up by one or two people if your
registration window is less than two hours, and down by one or two
if you have a staggered registration throughout the day. For
example: Five registration aides might be needed for an event with
100 attendees arriving at the same time, whereas two to three
helpers can handle 200 attendees if they are flowing in over eight
to 10 hours.
Trade show booths. There is no pat formula
that will always work with booths. The basic rules of thumb: a
minimum of two staff people for a 10x10 booth plus one person for
every 1,000 show attendees, or one staff person for every 100
square feet of booth space.
Here are some places to look for supplemental staff.
Industry sources. Specialty firms like the
Professional Meeting Planners Network (www.pmpn.com) can offer
staffing solutions in multiple cities at one time. Consult Meeting
Professionals International (www.mpiweb.org) for other staffing suppliers.
Convention and visitor bureaus also are outstanding sources for
reasonable (and often volunteer) event staff.
Those volunteers. Be cautious with volunteers.
They can be an excellent staffing supplement and offer specific
expertise that you might not have in house, but you should never
completely rely on them. Their competence can be spotty, but more
importantly, workers’ comp does not always cover them. Be sure you
investigate the liability ramifications of staffing with volunteers
before you succumb to economic pressures.
Also, a no-show volunteer can cost you exponentially more than
a paid employee, so it is wise never to calculate volunteers into
Other sources. Corporate events can benefit
significantly by recruiting internal staff from cross-functional
departments. Politics have to be considered carefully for any
potential fallout, but typically this strategy is beneficial for
departments that don’t often work closely together.
Similarly, administrative assistants from your group or other
divisions can be effective as supplemental staff, as they have
in-depth knowledge of the organization. Be sure to allow for breaks
in their schedule so they can keep up with their other work. Their
bosses also might be on site and require “need it now” support, so
this type of distraction needs to be factored in as well.
Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM, is senior vice president of
event marketing for The Wilkinson Group in Burlingame,