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How to Plan a Conference, Meeting or Trade Show

You've been assigned the task of planning an off-site meeting or convention. Maybe this isn't part of your normal job description or it's an occasional request from your boss. Regardless, use this guide to learn how to plan a meeting, as it can be a simple and satisfying process.

1. What's the purpose of the meeting and who will be involved?
It's critical to understand this to move onto the next steps. Is this an executive retreat, board meeting, gathering of the sales team from across the country, launch of a new product, conference, etc. Will team building be part of the process?

2. Where will the meeting be held?
Naturally, it's easier to plan a meeting in the town you are based. However, don't fear traveling to an out-of-town destination, especially those used to hosting groups.

3. Choosing a destination that fits.
Will you stay in the same state where your organization is located or does going to another state or country make sense? Budget should definitely be considered along with transportation ease, how far attendees will have to travel, and the personality of the place. Beach town, mountain town, large city, medium-sized community, ritzy, authentic, state capital, rich in history, modern ... there are many options!

4. Contact local destination marketing organizations.
Convention and visitor bureaus and tourism boards are excellent resources to find out about their town's capacity to host groups, possible venues, lodging, activities and more. Oftentimes they can help with the request for proposal process and site visits.

5. Find quality suppliers & venues.
Once a destination is selected, it's now time to figure out where the meeting will take place, lodging, activities, food and beverage, transportation and more. If talented suppliers exist locally, it's always a plus to hire florists, rental companies, A/V companies, entertainers and others who know the spaces where you are gathering.
6. Consider hiring a destination management company or meeting planner.
If the task you have been assigned is too much with your already busy work load and you need help finding or filtering through the choices, an experienced destination management company (DMC) or meeting planner could be the perfect solution. Oftentimes destination contacts can help you find an area DMC or planner or look for those involved in industry organizations like Meeting Professionals International and the Association of Destination Management Executives. Plus, you'll learn from the pros how to plan a meeting.

7. Plugging into local flavor.
Instead of just sitting in meeting rooms, the attendees of today like to experience a destination through local foods served at meals, receptions held at museums and microbreweries, community service projects, and outdoor activities such as walking or bike tours, horseback riding, rafting, skiing and more. A scavenger hunt that features local landmarks is a good way to promote teamwork while experiencing a destination.

8. Technology tools needed?
There is no need to get complicated, but sometimes technology can help keep the process of planning, registering, implementing and following up under control. Many groups are using mobile apps to provide information to attendees before, during and after gatherings.

9. Follow-up and evaluation is a must.
No meeting is ever complete without checking to see if goals were accomplished and how the location and logistics worked out. Just ask attendees for their feedback.

Obviously this is a simplified version of what happens when planning an off-site meeting, but it's a starting framework to get the process rolling. Now, that you've learned how to plan a successful meeting, get started on planning that successful meeting or convention in Denver! And please check out our Conference Planning Checklist

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