by Janet Pickover, CMP Emeritus | May 01, 2015
The following checklist was created by Janet Pickover, CMP Emeritus ( Pickover is director of JR Associates, a meetings management consulting firm based in Princeton, N.J.

Prepare Documents In Advance

• Organization questionnaire. Determine goals and objectives of the meeting, and establish basics, such as number of people, meeting room specs, number of rooms, data/Internet needs, etc.

• Request for proposal. Be sure to include all non-negotiable issues and conditions. What are the must-haves?

• Site-inspection questionnaire. When you can't visit in person, it's crucial that this document is filled out completely and submitted to the venue. Generally 12 to 15 pages long, it should include questions about the physical building and property services: number and location of elevators and restrooms, number of bellmen on each shift, guest room amenities, retail and F&B outlets, A/V capabilities, property ownership/management, etc.

• Security/safety questionnaire. Ask for a detailed account of the venue's procedures for medical emergencies, natural disasters and personal security issues.

Get references of planners with programs of a similar size and requirements. Among questions to ask: How did hotel staff handle changes to your program? Did you encounter any noise or disruptive problems on-site?

 Ask references detailed questions about the Internet service they experienced. Find out about connectivity problems, dead zones, how quickly the hotel staff addressed any such problems, complaints from the attendees, etc. Participants today have a high expectation level of being and staying connected.

Consult user-generated reviews on Trip Advisor or similar sites, with the following caveats: A) Note the post date; a lot might have changed since those gripes or raves were posted. B) Look for patterns in the reviews, rather than isolated incidents. C) Email some of the posters for additional feedback, even if they were independent travelers.

Talk to people in the area who know the venue, especially if you are using local vendors. Ask how they like working with the property.

Network with peers. For example, consult the MeCo community or MiForum. Query fellow professional organization members; many organizations (as does M&C) have discussion groups on LinkedIn.

"Tour" the Venue
Remember that pictures posted online or in print are not always accurate depictions. For online virtual tours, look for columns, service doors, windows (or lack thereof) or obstacles that possibly could pose a problem.

Do a follow-along "site inspection" from your office with the venue salesperson, via Skype or FaceTime and/or talking through printed materials. Make sure you have a floor-space diagram and proposed meeting requirements; a completed site-inspection questionnaire, RFP and safety/security questionnaire from the venue; and a prioritized list of questions, depending on the needs of your group.

If anyone in your organization lives near the potential meeting venue, ask him or her to visit and be your eyes, ears and nose. Provide specific guidelines for things to watch out for, such as food trays left in the halls, curious smells, long lines at check-in, the noise level of the heating/cooling system and data/Internet performance.