Meeting and Conference: Good Impressions Last

Columnist Caroline Cooper from Zeal Coaching asks how good an impression are you leaving with your valued meeting and conference delegates?

You work hard enough to win your meeting and conference business, so it makes sense to leave a positive lasting impression and an incentive for them to return. A lot of effort goes into first impressions, but what sort of lasting impression are you leaving on your meeting and conference delegates?

In my line of work I see a lot of meeting and conference venues, sometimes as a mentor, but frequently also as the client or a delegate. Normally the first impression is alright, you get a warm welcome and asked at the outset if everything is okay.

But it’s what happens after this that invariably leaves you let down. So whether you’re a 5 star branded hotel or a small independent here are few things that I’ve found often get over looked

The room setup

The appearance of the room is of course important, but the first impression goes way beyond how the room looks.

Is best to use made of natural light, or is this blocked off with a dependence on artificial light (which is far more tiring on the eye, as well as wasting energy)? Where artificial lighting is a must, is this logically positioned so that delegates are not sitting in their own shadows, and there is good light on the presenters and props?

The setup of the room requires logic. I often get the impression that porters have had no training and that the room has not been checked. For example:

  • If using a projector, are there sufficient sockets for a laptop, and can these be easily reached without the presenter tripping on a lead and breaking their neck
  • Has the presenter been included in the delegate numbers and been provided with a chair, glass and water, or does the venue really expect them to stand for eight hours? (I frequently end up having to ask for an extra chair for the trainer or presenter)
  • Check the size of the table needed for the presenter; if they have notes and handout materials have you provided them with a table that is big enough to put down their notes and props, or it is taken over by the projector?
  • Is the projector lined up properly screen (and in focus), or is it so close to the screen that the image only fills a quarter of the space available, and worse still, not angled upwards so the image only shows on the bottom third of the screen.
  • If they’ve requested flip charts is there a supply of fresh paper, and do all the pens work okay and not dried out. Test them at the end of every meeting and discard those that have passed their best.
  • Consider the positioning of tables and chairs. I frequently find that the presenter is positioned so far away from the rest of the participants that you’d need to shout to be heard! When a cabaret set up is used factor in the length of the meeting; if it is an all-day meeting and delegates are required to face the front, ensure that they can do so without having to keep turning round and straining their necks.

Refreshments

Whereas the room setup will be more of a concern to the presenters than the delegates, the quality and timing of refreshments are a key factor for presenters and delegates alike.

  • Having refreshments turn up on time is critical to the smooth running of any event. Just five minutes late when you have only scheduled a 10 minute break can have a serious impact on the timetable. And this means everything being on time; clean cups, fresh milk, plenty of teabags, etc etc. I know this sounds obvious but you’ll be amazed how often the milk runs out, or everyone favours a particular flavour of tea and there isn’t enough to go round.
  • Avoid bottlenecks at coffee stations: Arrange cups, flasks and milk and sugar so you don’t get congestion all around one spot, and without having to back track. It may be logical to the venue which pot or flask is tea and which is coffee and which is hot water, but it isn’t to the delegates, so please make this blindingly obvious. (And how the coffee dispenses – pump pots, flasks with half opening lids, etc.) Hands up who has ever poured coffee (opposed to hot water) onto their teabag? And then what are we supposed to do with our tea bag once our tea is brewed? (This goes for hotel rooms too) So please provide a bowl for spent tea bags or a receptacle that doesn’t require a free hand to open it – such as a flip top bin – one hand to hold the cup, one to hold the teaspoon and another to open the bin. Hmm, doesn’t quite add up, and the result is tea dripped all over the floor or worse still on your carpet!
  • If you have more sophisticated coffee machines can they keep pace with the demand. A machine that takes just 20 seconds to brew and dispense a cup of coffee at best can only accommodate 30 people in a 10 minute period (and this doesn’t factor in people working out how to use!), so certainly won’t be suitable for a meeting with 50 delegates.
  • I don’t know about you, but I find it quite difficult to distinguish what’s in a sandwich without either opening it up or eating it. A few simple labels on buffet food can make such a difference and costs next to nothing in time and effort. And will reduce your wastage too.
  • Watch for trends. If your delegates get through more still water than sparkling (which in my experience is usually the case) match what you provide in your set up to meet the demand. Likewise for other beverages. It not only keeps your delegates happy, but again saves on wastage too.

Be responsive

Check the room temperatures and respond quickly to organisers’ requests to adjust this. The bane of my life is air conditioning. Invariably it blows too hot or too cold. Half the time I question whether it’s adds anything, particularly in a room where the windows open, but there are times when it’s needed. But nobody wants to be sat right beneath a blast of cold air, and adjusting it to suit everyone’s requirements is a fine line.

Having a system that can be turned off if required to my mind is vital. Having a system that keeps every room at the same temperature is sheer madness. If you have a room with just two people in it sitting still compared to a room with 30 people doing group activities letting off all that body heat, you’re obviously going to want them at different temperatures. So be prepared for organisers to ask for the temperature changed or for the air conditioning to be turned off altogether.

I sometimes feel as if I’ve asked for the moon when I make this request; is it too much to ask? But then please, please, respond and check that the adjustments have worked rather than going to the extreme.

What’s the last impression?

At one venue recently when we came out of our meeting at 5 pm all our lunch dishes were still there, and not a sole in sight – not very conducive to leaving a positive last impression.

And do you know what would be really memorable? Everyone wants to get off as quickly as possible, so just a few minutes of your time to help with the packing up and to get the organiser on their way just a couple of minutes earlier would always be welcome. And provides the perfect opportunity to gather that all important feedback.

I hardly ever get asked for feedback at the end of an event at a meeting or conference venue. I often feel that at the end of the day all the conference staff have knocked off and we’ve been left to it. This is such a wasted opportunity. Not only does it give valuable data, but what a great opportunity to build the relationship with the client.

You’ve worked hard enough for the business; surely you’d want to do everything in your power to leave a positive lasting impression and leave the door open for a repeat booking?

Zeal Coaching, .

About Caroline Cooper: Caroline Cooper specialises in helping hospitality businesses retain their existing customers by focusing on the customer experience and long term engagement. She has over 25 years’ experience in hospitality and is founder of Zeal Coaching and author of the Hotel Success Handbook. For more information, please visit www.zealcoaching.com.
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