by Debi Scholar, head, MC&E Tech, Novartis& Susan Losurdo, senior independent consultant, SNL Global Meetings & Events | August 14, 2019

From begging to end, the meeting planning process is a huge undertaking. And though planning is undoubtedly a fun, rewarding and results-driven career, there are many steps involved in reaching that end goal.

The following planning timeline and checklist is adapted from the Meeting and Event Planning Playbook: A Quick Reference Guide for Administrative Assistants and Coordinators by Debi Scholar, CTT, CBST, SSGB, GLP, GTP, CMM, head, MC&E technologies, Novartis, and Susan Losurdo, CMP, DES, LES, senior independent consultant, SNL Global Meeting & Event Management.  Here, they've fleshed out the entirety of a basic from-start-to-finish planning timeline for small to mid-size organizations. 

4-6 months before meeting:

• Identify the purpose and objectives of the meeting.
• Develop the budget.
• Identify the location and venues; send out RFPs, select and contract with venue. 
• Identify speakers, ground-transportation suppliers, entertainment and off-site activities
• Develop a preliminary agenda.
• Identity resources that can help you, and contact/acquire them for upcoming tasks.
• Establish the number of attendees, and begin collecting information on who the attendees are.
• Determine if your meeting will use a mobile application; if yes, begin development.

• Identify ways to promote the meeting.

2-3 months before meeting:

• Finalize the agenda.
• Develop the meeting-registration website.
• Send invitations; determine the registration deadline.
• Confirm speakers, meeting specifications (room setup), food and beverage, audiovisual and technology.
• Develop crisis-management plans.
• Order gifts or giveaways.
• Pay any deposits that might be required.

1-2 months before meeting:

• Secure certificates of insurance for activities that might not be covered.
• Ensure that all contracts (hotel, audiovisual, off-site activities, caterers, etc.) are signed and countersigned.
• Continually update the budget as necessary, but never delete the original budget.
• Update the number of attendees and the information on who the attendees are.
• Confirm that you have provided all details to the speakers.
• Finalize menus and room setups with the hotel and off-site caterers.
• Finalize the entertainment, off-site activities and décor, if applicable.
• Start developing collateral (brochures, registration kits, name badges, etc.).
• Obtain signage as necessary for each room.

1 month before meeting:

• Confirm attendee lists.
• Provide attendee travel information to the ground-transportation company.
• Confirm rooming lists and be sure to tell the hotel who should get the upgrades.

3 weeks before meeting:

• Finalize the meeting specifications.

2 weeks before meeting:

• Finalize the collateral, name badges, etc. 
• If you are using seating charts, prepare them. This might be for your seating at meeting tables or even at meals.
• Send emails to all parties as necessary.
• Remind speakers who will pick them up from the airport, where they are staying, any rehearsal information, what time they need to be in, whatever room they are speaking in, what time they might depart from hotel, where to find a car to take them back to airport, how to get reimbursed for expenses, etc.
• Provide your attendees with registration confirmation.
• Call or email all suppliers to ensure they do not have any questions and that everything is ready to go.
• Provide support staff with information about their roles on-site.
• Have boxes shipped to arrive 1-2 days before the meeting.
• Arrange for any guest-room deliveries of gifts or meeting materials for attendees.
• Reconfirm rooming lists with the hotel if this is the final cut-off date.
• Obtain travel manifests from travel company to arrange ground-transportation pick-up from the airport and for the return trips.

3 working days before meeting:

• Confirm food-and-beverage guarantees with the hotel.

1 day before meeting:

• Run through your checklist and confirm that nothing is missing.
• Plan for gratuities, e.g., how you will pay, etc. 
• Set up your office and registration desk.
• Arrive at the hotel to check the facility, rooms, boxes that might have been shipped, where restrooms are located, etc.
• Assemble all materials.
• Check all signage.
• Engage in any planned rehearsals.
• Monitor arrivals and departures.
• Stage any VIP meet-and-greets.
• Check on all suites.
• Be sure all amenities have been delivered. 
• Ensure that your crisis-management plans, meeting information and important phone numbers are at hand.
• Meet and brief support staff and other suppliers.

Day of meeting:

• Bring your binder, checklists, cellphone charger and whatever else you need.
• Arrive early, possibly by 6-6:30 a.m., to check on breakfast.
• If you did not meet the hotel staff yesterday, meet them today. Get their names and cellphone numbers.
• Print attendee lists alphabetically (and by table if seating is assigned) and have it ready at hand.
• Bring extra blank name badges.
• Request and review hotel reports.
• Set materials and supplies in each meeting room.
• If you have assigned seating, set up the name tents/tent cards according to seating charts.
• Check meeting rooms to confirm they are set correctly.
• Connect with speakers and VIPs.
• Continuously check food-and-beverage services.
• Monitor the agenda for break times and attendee movement.
• Secure rooms while meetings are not in session.
• Review hotel invoices from previous days.
• Distribute evaluations (paper or technology-based). Note that some organizations send evaluations out a few days after the meeting if using technology.

At meeting's end:

• Collect completed meeting evaluations.
• Collect and dispose of any confidential materials.
• Pack and ship any leftover materials, supplies, items, etc.
• Distribute hotel gratuities and thank-you notes.
• Monitor the hotel checkout.
• Manage departures.
• Conduct a preliminary bill review with the hotel to discuss all charges incurred to date.
• Conduct a "post-con" (post-conference meeting) with the hotel director to discuss service levels.

After the meeting:

• Conduct a meeting-sponsor debrief.
• Review all of the invoices, and immediately dispute any charges that you do not believe are correct.
• Pay invoices.
• Report on the metrics (forecasted budget versus actual).
• Write and send thank yous to appropriate parties.