Turk File

Promotional Feature: Planning all the way to the end

by Wynce Nolley

Planning a meeting or convention for any company can seem like a monumental task, and usually the bigger the event, the more tedious the planning becomes.

Planning a meeting or convention for any company can seem like a monumental task, and usually the bigger the event, the more tedious the planning becomes.

While many such events have the potential to make or break a company, they also represent an ideal opportunity to elevate a business or organization to new heights.

While this necessary task is sometimes carried off to a special events coordinator already on payroll, the reluctant job of coordinating a certain event may also be hoisted on an enthusiastic amateur assistant or outsourced to a veteran events planner. But luckily, both have numerous options and resources when planning their next event in Acadiana.

"Event planning and meeting planning doesn't happen by magic," says Marti Harrell, special project manager for Iberia Industrial Development Foundation. "It takes a lot of advanced planning, and it takes a lot of work, but the important thing is it must look like it's magic to the people who attend it."

In other words, one of the most important aspects of any successful event is that it appears absolutely seamless to those attending, even when a detail big or small falls by the wayside. Once the spell is broken, the entire event can be written off as flop.

"When you walk away from an event you know whether it was a success or not," says Harrell. "You know if the people had a good time. You know right there on the spot whether you've done a good job."

For companies and their planners looking to make sure their event in Lafayette will be significant, several free resources are available courtesy of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. According to Karen Primeaux, LCVC director of convention and sports marketing, one of the biggest and often overlooked resources is the lead generation service, where LCVC essentially performs all the legwork for a client by going out and canvassing area hotels and restaurants to determine appropriate rates and availability.

"We're like the scouts," says Primeaux. "We compile all of this data for them that we receive from our facilities, then we send it back to the client in one nice, neat little package, and then they make their selection of the hotels and meeting space from that."

LCVC also provides free name badge registration and printing, along with its extensive literature on local attractions, help in securing speakers and live entertainment from local bands and performers and, if the event expects more than 250 guests, it even provides convention service workers to aid attendees. LCVC also offers a comprehensive planning guide on its website.

Of course, even with these options available, there are a few basic requirements a planner must assess before moving forward.

"One of the things you have to look for is: what is your main room?" says Denise Giosa, a 20-year veteran freelance special events director. "The things that you're typically working with in your basic stages are looking at the size of the group, looking at your venue, breaking down exactly what your group needs as far as areas and negotiating with the facility."

Another kernel of event planning wisdom that Giosa extols is to be prepared to work every single job at the event, whether it be sound engineer or trash collector.

"When you're working with these events you have to be prepared to put on so many hats, to be able to multi-task; you have to enjoy multi-tasking, and you have to be willing to do anything you would ask someone else to do," she says.

Meeting planners should also be aware of the trends they notice for guests at other people's events, so that they can better accommodate their own guests as they plan future events.

"Meeting-goers are no longer satisfied to be attendees; they expect to be participants," says Christine Born, editor in chief of Collinson Media and Events. "As associations struggle to attract new members, especially as they reach out to younger generations, they need to create more opportunities to engage participants at conferences, conventions and trade shows."

According to Born, that means redesigning programs to include more interactive sessions like panels, workshops and interactive demonstrations.

"Even general session speakers are expected to interact more with their audience, whether in the form of question-and-answer sessions that might follow the main presentation or a speaker who is comfortable with mobile feedback," Born adds.

In fact, what facilities can offer in the way of technology is a key aspect Giosa advises any meeting planner to be wary of in choosing a venue for a particular event.

"One thing that is quite nice is that so many of the venues [here] are working hard to get their technology up to par," Giosa says. "They're adding their projectors and drop down screens and so forth and that's really nice."

It's no surprise that local venues are upgrading their facilities to 21st century standards as Lafayette strives to establish itself as the hub of the Silicon Bayou, becoming more and more attractive to those companies looking for a fresh location for their next big convention. And with those companies' conventions and sporting events bringing in an average of $100 million annually to the local economy, according to Primeaux's data from LCVC, it is becoming practically a necessity for meeting planners to make a tech-savvy and interactive presentation a high priority.

But all in all, the one thing every meeting planner should have ready in his bag of tricks is foresight.

"Really and truly, an event can be very magical, and to the untrained eye it looks like someone has literally pulled a rabbit out of the hat," says Harrell. "But it's just like how a magician trains for years for his craft to make it look like magic - that's what a good event planner will do."