Use lighting to fill space and provide inexpensive graphics; gobos (metal plates inserted in spotlights) can project the company logo or event theme onto the walls.
James Tidwell, master sommelier and beverage manager at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas (972-717-0700; fourseasons.com/dallas), recommends Broadbent Vinho Verde (about $10/bottle; broadbent.com), a crisp and lively white wine that is "perfect as an adult-themed substitute to a thirst-quenching lemonade," according to Tidwell. For crowds that prefer reds, Tidwell recommends Sean Minor 4 Bears Central Coast Pinot Noir 2010 (about $16/bottle; seanminorwines.com), which pairs well with barbecue.
The Single Setup Solution
If your meeting will require the use of the same A/V equipment over the course of multiple days, ask the venue for exclusive use of the conference rooms. This way, technicians will only need to set up the equipment once, and you'll save on labor bills.
Burlap table runners can add a bit of rustic charm to a dining table at a fraction of the cost of traditional linens. Burlapfabric.com's 14-inch table runners cost $12.99; discounts on bulk orders are available. (800) 238-0005; burlapfabric.com
Reality Star Power
If big-name entertainers are out of your price range consider hiring a reality-TV star. These personalities typically command lower fees than more established celebrities. The key, according to Josh Gair, CEO/founder of Orlando-based Impact Entertainment (iesagency.com), is to match the star with your group. For example, an Iron Chef winner would work for a foodie crowd, while an MTV reality-show celeb might be good choice for a younger group.
Instead of using expensive floral centerpieces, have the venue provide bread baskets with a variety of rolls and breads for each table, and display them on contrasting napkins.
When Idan Keren, CMM (oktmeeting.com), needed to reduce a clients' room count by 80 percent just a month before the conference, he found a solution that made the hotel and group happy. Rather than paying the $40,000 attrition fee, Keren personally found another group to fill the space, and the hotel dropped the fee.
Never give a "last call" for the bar. This will bump up your bar fees and might increase your liability by encouraging attendees to have "one more for the road."
Trendy lounges and bars that attract throngs of weekend crowds might be relatively empty during the week. If you’re willing to hold your event on a weeknight, you can score a major price break.
Udacity.com offers a number of online courses for free on a wide range of career-friendly topics, such as event blogging. The best part: Classes are taught by top-quality instructors. For example, a web development course is taught by Steve Huffman, co-founder of reddit.com and hipmunk.com.