by Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | May 01, 2005

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 staffing.

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.

The Specifics
Some staffing situations are best addressed as events within events.
    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.

Finding Help
Here are some places to look for supplemental staff.
    Industry sources. Specialty firms like the Professional Meeting Planners Network ( can offer staffing solutions in multiple cities at one time. Consult Meeting Professionals International ( 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 the budget.
    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, Calif.