25 Cost-Savers

More Tips
For advice on saving when it comes to speakers and transportation, click here.

Plenty of planners have been asked to do more with less -- most notably, less money -- but saving dollars isn't always about being frugal; sometimes it's about freeing up some cash to make another part of the program more meaningful or spectacular. The editors of M&C compiled the following tips to help you get the most out of your budget.

Décor
1.  Use "house" props. Most hotels have a prop room or closet that houses leftover decorations from previous events. Ask the convention services manager whether the property you're using has one and whether you can peruse it for elements to add to your own theme party or reception. Often these items are loaned out at no cost.

2. Let photos serve as centerpieces. For the final night gala, collect snapshots taken by the event photographer to create photo trees that double as centerpieces, recommends Kathy Miller, president of Schaumberg, Ill.-based Total Event Resources (total-event.com). This trick can cut your centerpiece bill by at least 50 percent.

3. Choose fruit over flowers. Another way to trim centerpiece costs is to display fruits or veggies creatively in clear containers, rather than using more costly floral arrangements. Think seasonal and hardy: apples and cranberries for fall or winter, while lemons, limes and oranges add colorful zest to tables or buffet displays in warmer months or climates.

4. Get creative with light. To cut back on lighting costs, use battery-operated LED panels to illuminate a room or to up-light a stage. As a bonus, colors can easily be changed with the simple push of a button. CSI Rentals (csirentals.com) is among the suppliers that rent LED panels.

Alternatively, to give rooms an elegant look without breaking the bank, use gobos -- reusable partial screens placed in front of wall or floor lights to project a distinctive shape or logo. A number of firms, such as Rosco (rosco.com), can create custom gobos for events.

5. Accent with glassware. Give table settings an upscale look by using one "accent" glass (e.g., colored or rimmed with gold); the other glassware can be standard clear pieces stocked by the hotel or caterer. Party Rental Ltd. (partyrentalltd.com), which serves the East Coast, offers a variety of glasses in rainbow hues.

6. Dress up free linens. If your venue uses a standard floor-length linen tablecloth in a color or fabric that is not to your taste, consider using the "house" linen (typically provided at no cost), and dress it up with rented shorter overlays in a color or pattern you prefer. The overlays cost less, and guests won't notice the underlying layer. Among firms that rent overlays is BBJ Linen (bbjlinen.com).

7. Repurpose the flowers. For multiday meetings, get two or more uses from floral displays by way of this tip from Honolulu-based Current Affairs (current-affairs.net): For the first day, use tall mixed floral arrangements to decorate food stations. For the next day's table décor, the same flowers can be separated, rearranged by color family and variety, or trimmed to fit short, square vases. - Lisa A. Grimaldi

F&B

8. Serve whole fruit. For breaks, provide platters of healthful whole fruits (apples, bananas, pears, plums) instead of cut fruit. No utensils are needed, and leftovers can be served again later.

9. Have a dessert party. Rather than starting an event at 6 p.m., when people will be expecting dinner, begin at 9 p.m., so you can get away with serving desserts and beverages, says Total Event Resources' Kathy Miller. Be sure the gathering is promoted as a dessert or after-dinner party, so no one is disappointed.

10. Schedule tea time. Instead of hosting a costly lunch or dinner, borrow a page from the Brits and throw a late-afternoon tea. Traditional eats are finger sandwiches, scones and tea cakes -- all much easier on the budget than full meals.

11. Pour south-of-the-border wines. Lisa A. Hopkins, CMP, director of catering and conferences at the Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa (houstonian.com), recommends South American wines. "The quality is quite good, and the price point really shows value," she says.

Look for Malbecs and Torrontés varietals from Argentina, as well as Chilean chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Other regions producing quality products are New Zealand, Australia and Spain. All offer wide ranges of good wines for $20 or less.

12. Present wine with fanfare. Jaclyn Bernstein, president and partner of Empire Force Events (empireforce.com) in New York City, says reasonably priced wines can impress when given the appropriate presentation during dinners. She advises instructing the waitstaff to show table guests the bottle and explain why it was selected for the meal (e.g., a local specialty, the chef likes the way it compliments the dish, etc.). "The guests will pay attention, and it will seem to be significant wine," says Bernstein.13. Choose high-impact noshes. At the recent National Association of Catering Executive's annual meeting, Jerry Edwards, owner of Baltimore-based Chef's Expressions, showcased affordable yet elegant cocktail bites. Among his recommendations: bruschetta (hard or toasted Italian bread covered with chopped tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and herbs), individual scallops served on forks, small beets with a dollop of goat cheese and soups in shot glasses.

14. Limit the bar. Full cocktail bars can run as much as $40 per person. To trim the bill by up to 50 percent, limit offers to a single signature cocktail, such as a mojito, along with beer and wine, water and soft drinks.

15. Shrink the cheese platter. Nadine W. Fox, principal planner and president of Seminars and Soirees, based near Charlotte, N.C., advises ordering cheese for just 40 percent of attendees, as many people avoid it due to allergies or dietary restrictions. To further trim costs, use domestic cheese instead of imported.

16. Surprise with smoothie shots. Looking to lower costs for breakfasts and breaks? Serve juices and smoothies in shot glasses (approximately 1.5 ounces) rather than in traditional 6-ounce juice glasses. The smaller glasses will prevent waste, as well as allow attendees to sample more than one tasty drink. - L.A.G.

Technology

17. Don't roam if you don't have to. If you're traveling internationally for an event, use a voice-over IP (VOIP) app on your smartphone to call the office and family back home. Vonage Mobile, Skype, Viber, KeKu, textPlus and Rebtel all have apps that run on Wi-Fi networks, offering either free or inexpensive calls. Before departing, set up a free account with at least two of the providers, in case you encounter difficulties with one.

18. Investigate free event apps. Native event apps can run $10,000-$15,000 and up. For many shows, they're a worthwhile investment, with sponsorship opportunities that can bring in at least that much revenue. But not every planner requires a custom native app. Establish your attendees' app needs and see if they might be met by free and low-cost options, such as those offered by Guidebook (guidebook.com) or twoppy (twoppy.com), which have tiered pricing levels -- beginning at free.

19. Get a mobile hotspot. These $50-per-month devices are priceless when the Internet or Wi-Fi goes down, suggests Samuel J. Smith, managing director of Minneaplis-based Interactive Meeting Technology. The hotspots allow you to connect as many as five devices (computers, tablets, smartphones) and get 4G LTE speed; most importantly,  you'll still be connected and working while your colleagues have to go find another signal.

20. Stream selectively. There's no need to capture 100 percent of your sessions to stream on the web, notes Interactive Meeting Technology's Samuel J. Smith. Analyze your virtual audience and figure out what content they need. This will help to cut down on technology production costs, while delivering the highest-value content to the largest segment of the virtual audience. Plus, such an approach leaves more money to invest in a higher-quality technical production and content.

21. Check out open-source software. Online meetings applications based on open-source software platforms can deliver big bang for little buck, notes Bellingham, Wash.-based meetings technology guru Corbin Ball. Those built using WordPress or Joomia are becoming especially popular. Ball suggests checking out Event Espresso (built using WordPress; eventespresso.com), which offers event websites with a slew of features for as little as $89.95; or redEVENT (redcomponent.com/redcomponent/redevent), which is built on the Joomia platform and provides features such as online booking, ticketing and registration for as little as free to $15 per month, depending on the options you choose.

22. Help facilitate attendee networking. Match­making functionality and networking facilitation are major trends within event mobile applications. But if those features are not part of the technology you're already using, a number of apps allow you to add networking for free. Bizzabo (bizzabo.com), for example, is free for iOS and Android devices; it suggests gatherings for conference and event attendees based on their profiles; or Yasmo Live (yasmolive.com), a currently free event app that makes scheduling straightforward, one-on-one meetings a priority.

23. Manage projects online. The technology consultants at meetingpool.net are addicted to Asana (asana.com), a free project-management tool that enables team members to collaborate, delegate, complete tasks and share information -- saving time, money and sanity.

24. Don't focus on the "likes." Rather than invest time or money exhorting followers to like your Facebook page, try to get attendees to post about your event on their personal Facebook pages, says Samuel Smith. On average, studies have shown, only 20 percent of the people who like your page will see each post that you make. But if your attendees post about your event on their own pages, your brand will reach new people. If 100 attendees post content on their timelines, 8,000 to 12,000 new people could learn about your event, says Smith. Track the feedback that comes as a result.

25. Keep it simple. When Gina Schreck and Neen James co-chaired the National Speakers Association Unconference in 2011, they marketed the event entirely over free social media channels -- including a series of self-produced videos on YouTube. "We found that more people watched the videos than read emails," recalls Schreck, president of Denver-based Synapse Connecting. - Michael J. Shapiro

For tips on cutting transportation and entertainment costs, go to: http://www.meetings-conventions.com/News/Features/More-Cost-Saving-Tips/