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Know your place in the meeting

Posted on April 11, 2007

By Rob Schron

Whether you’re a corporate, association, or independent meeting planner, you need to know one very important thing about the meeting you’ve undertaken to manage: Just exactly where you stand – or, for that matter, sit – when the actual event is taking place.

All too often, the meeting planner is left to fend for him or herself during business sessions, breakouts, and dining situations and without guidance from the top – from the people for whom you’re managing the program – and this can put you in somewhat of an awkward, or even untenable, position. 
As for business sessions, if you haven’t been advised where your company or client wants you to be, there’s no harm in asking. Should you be in the back of the conference room or immediately outside it? Do you need to be in close proximity to the event, or can you be a short distance away, checking on other rooms but within range of a walkie-talkie or cell phone? Is it necessary for you to be on site if you’re 100% -- repeat, 100% -- sure the venue itself can handle any problems that may arise? Knowing in advance where you’re expected to be can go a long way in eliminating any misunderstandings between you and the people responsible for the content of the meeting. And having it in writing isn’t a bad idea, either.

When it comes time to dine, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, a cocktail reception or dinner, here, too, you should ask for guidance. Are you on the scene in simply a supervisory capacity, or do you get to share in the experience with your group’s guests? While, in my view, you should always be on site when it comes to group dining – if nothing else than to make sure the setup is right, the wait staff is attentive and the food is what you ordered – the meeting’s hosts may feel otherwise. Know upfront what is expected of you, and if you’re not going to eat with the troops or be there to simply oversee F&B, make an arrangement with the kitchen to eat before or afterwards.

A word, or a few, about drinking: While in most cases, a company or association will assume all, or at least a share, of the responsibility for the consumption of alcohol with the venue serving it, the independent planner should always include a disclaimer in any contract drawn up for a client that acknowledges that (1) the planner be held harmless for any issues that might arise as a result of excessive alcohol consumption; and that (2) the planner not be responsible for any and all losses, damages, claims and expenses that may result from it.

And, if you’ve been invited to be on the scene during such a reception, make sure your glass contains nothing more than Poland Spring or Pelligrino!


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