Stage Managed … or how to deliver an outstanding event

Not even the events of September 11 affected the figures and the flow of business personnel heading here to conference last year. They contributed more than $260 million to our economy.
We are wooing them with an all-round package that combines the country’s natural attributes with safe and secure environment. The package, topped off with high quality facilities and fare, makes New Zealand very desirable destination, according to Conventions and Incentives New Zealand chief executive Alan Trotter.
“We’re almost Switzerland of the South Pacific – neutral, secure environment with Westminster-style government. New Zealand is boutique convention destination that’s very desirable on global basis – people look for excuses to come here,” he says.
Auckland still lacks large, dedicated convention centre but the issue is being addressed by Sky City Auckland, which is to build facility that will provide banquet seating for up to 1000 people, and the Hyatt Regency which is renovating to include new banquet room to seat 750 guests.
Both facilities are due to open in early 2003. Sky City’s Federal Street site and new convention centre will be linked to Sky City by an airbridge allowing easy access to the Sky City Hotel, entertainment centre and car park. Nicole Philips, of Sky City, says the company is currently in discussion with the Auckland City Council over joint venture and if that goes ahead the convention centre will be on an even larger scale.
Other purpose-built meeting centres, hotels, lodges, tourist organisations, professional conference organisers, airlines and tour operators throughout New Zealand are all well-positioned to accommodate the growing meetings market. Yet when it comes to organising conference or seminar the task is still one of the most challenging in business. Things can go wrong and nothing is more damaging to company’s reputation than making hash of an event. Just as there is nothing quite as career limiting as screwing up the annual conference, seminar presentation or whatever.
A minor equipment malfunction, an inappropriate speaker, down market venue, below standard refreshments, more serious budget misjudgement, or badly chosen agenda can all seriously undermine the credibility of conference.

Seek professional help
So how difficult is it to stage successful conference or seminar? Not at all if you engage professional conference organiser (PCO), says Alan Trotter. “Employing someone who is not part of your organisation to handle the entire thing is an investment that pays off handsomely. If you brief the PCO well and provide clear objective, they’ll design the event accordingly. They have the knowledge and expertise to both meet expectations and contribute added value. It’s guaranteed to take lot of heartache and worry out of the whole affair,” says Trotter.
Jan Tonkin of The Conference Company agrees. “Engaging PCO is about utilising expertise and knowledge – we know who’s who, what works, what questions to ask and we work through pro-cess in order to craft result that reflects the client’s requirements. We don’t run out template but we do have specific way of gathering information and can often add fresh elements and ideas. Many of our clients – small to large companies – come back year after year so we know what has gone before and can fit the strategy for each changing year. I liken using PCO to hiring an interior designer. You can tap into experience and extensive knowledge of the industry which saves time and money, and gives you superior product,” says Tonkin.
Whether or not you can afford to hire professional, the job of organising conference or seminar needs to be assigned to person or group that is empowered to make decisions – with clear list of expectations, the primary objective and budget. While the checklist is long and varied, experts and amateurs alike tend to follow similar steps in order to stage successful event.

Identify your objectives
The trick to delivering memorable conference is to start planning well in advance. Planning is as fundamental to success as preparing the soil is to good gardening.
First identify the objectives – what is the conference or seminar trying to achieve? Is it team-building exercise, meeting to discuss future strategy, to audit current strategy, to launch new product, or is it training session, reward or staff incentive?
Setting objectives makes it easier to identify an appropriate venue. There is little point booking an inner city conference room if the objective is to reward employees, to wow visiting delegates with unique Kiwi experience, or to provide personal challenge. Nor does it make sense to book distant venue without first checking the availability of flights.
A helpful service, which will assist in the planning stages of conference, is an online event management service run by The Edge, the multi-venue Auckland complex which incorporates The Aotea Centre, Aotea Square, The Civic and The Auckland Town Hall. The website details seven-step guide providing key milestones and time-frames from making the booking to leaving the building. Information includes all services offered by The Edge including security, food and beverages, accommodation, presentations and special event themes.
Holding conference or seminar is not cheap exercise so ensure you have identified what needs to be covered and the expectations of both the company and the attendees. Develop the conference programme around research and feedback.
Consider the dates and size of the meeting – ensure you have alternatives, and check for conflicting events – public holidays, school holidays, other major functions.
Convention Management, company that has managed more than 300 successful conferences over the past 21 years, says it will take over the administration and implementation of the event leaving your company more time to concentrate on the business or scientific programme, including invited speakers and guests.

Choose your venue
The venue has to reflect what you are trying to achieve and be within your budget constraints. Does your budget allow time and money to travel? Is plane ride to exotica possibility or will you be meeting at convenient place outside your normal office?
Greater accountability has led to need for organisers to be more accurate when it comes to counting the cost of conference. Jan Tonkin says it’s essential to be aware of every little component. “It’s no longer acceptable to just lump everything into one pot – you need to drill down and treat the conference differently to any other project. Get all the costs on spreadsheet – include things like what is the price of lost opportunities by taking staff away from their jobs. Quotes will allow more accurate budgeting process,” she says.
Does the geographic and physical location of the venue fit your requirements?
Is there easy access – airport transfers, parking (is there another function on at the same time which may affect availability). Check other transportation and charter/sightseeing services.
If flying to your destination always contact the airline’s group booking personnel – most offer conference group deals. Be flexible about flights and times – don’t expect deal on prime time services.
If you’re considering an international destination be aware of costs due to New Zealand’s low dollar value… even popping across the Tasman is expensive with 23 percent differential in the Australian and New Zealand currencies.
Accommodation requirements – does the venue have appropriate meeting rooms, sleeping accommodation or other necessary facilities? Will you want space for on-site team building activities? How near are shops, tourist activities, restaurants, cafés, leisure facilities etc for delegates and particularly those people accompanying them? What prices, packages and special rates will the venue offer?
Determine expected attendance of delegates and those accompanying them, then keep in close liaison w

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