Remember 1998, when we were desperately finding
ways to cram 500 ravenous bankers into a hotel ballroom that maxes
out at 350 theater-style? In 2004, we’re less likely to be
scrambling to find overflow tents, closed-circuit monitors and
tables set up in hallways.
Participant projections now require pure clairvoyance there’s
just no way to accurately predict who’s going to show up at events
in this economic environment. Recently, I was asked by our finance
director for more accurate 2004 projections. I did not know whether
to laugh or cry.
Planners do need to be able to turn on a dime these days. Below
is a helpful primer for scaling down.
Communicate upward, sideways and downward that attendance is
extremely hard to predict and you are best off assuming a
worst-case scenario. Your budget should consider the goals and
objectives of the event, but also a break-even number or a maximum
dollar loss the company is willing to accept.
Always keep detailed notes of your planning meetings and
decisions. Maintain records of conversations and keep them in your
program binder. Share industry reports that show national and
international trends to ensure realistic expectations. Begin and
end preliminary conversations with the event’s stakeholders with
upbeat strategic plans and contingencies that will keep liability
to a minimum.
Be sure decision-makers know the maximum dollar amount they
might lose. There is no such thing as a liability-free event.
Your room blocks should be based on your lowest projections you can
beg for rooms and space later if you need to, a problem you can
rejoice in should it occur. Your vendors (and maybe even your
management committee) will thank you.
If you will be charged for meeting rooms, always include the
highest room rental costs in your budget to cover surprises.
Ideally, if you projected a worst-case scenario, you
should have a relatively low food and beverage attrition risk or,
better yet, no F&B attrition at all.
If you do not have a flexible F&B clause and cannot
negotiate out of it get your money’s worth if numbers fall short.
Upgrade your menus and increase the level of service. Lobster can
replace chicken. Caviar replaces brie. Use Russian-style service
(where meals are plated tableside from large platters) or French
service (prepared on credenzas rolled out to the tableside). Both
are impressive and rarely an option due to high cost and space
When dealing with suppliers, such as florists and A/V companies,
inform them as soon as you can of what the real numbers are, and
get them to make adjustments.
Will your 50 guests drown in the ballroom originally set for 300?
Move them to a more appropriate room. Can’t relocate? Create a room
within a room perhaps a themed labyrinth with attractive door
separators or creative pipe and drape. Add drama, mystery, purpose.
Most important: Attendees should never know you are compensating
for a shortage of guests.
THE SILVER LINING
Planners often are held responsible for slippage the shortfall of
attendance numbers even if is it due to a hurricane. Do not
despair: Dire times inspire innovation. Embrace and cultivate the
core competencies and talent that led you to event management in
the first place. This scaled-down event could represent the best
work you have ever done.