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This article was prepared for the
November 7, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights
Meetings Can Be Cost Effective
The meeting planning industry has taken a hit. Even
before September 11, business was not what it had been. After that
terrible day, business declined still more, and in ways that may
the economic downturn.
Pennington company, says Meeting Planners International, an industry
group, recently called an summit to discuss the situation.
question," he says, "things have changed. There have been
a lot of cancellations, and a lot of downsizings." Meetings that
were to have drawn 300 people, he says, might now draw 250. Still,
he says there are encouraging signs. Events are now being booked for
Young says there are ways to cut the fat out of the cost of meetings,
and to get around the new reluctance to travel. He speaks on "Cost
Efficient, Effective, Meaningful Events" on Wednesday, November
14, at 7:30 a.m. at a meeting of the Princeton Chamber at the Nassau
Club. Cost: $21. Call 609-520-1776.
Young’s roots are in the restaurant industry. His family owned Don
Young’s restaurant on Olden Avenue for 15 years, and Cala’s on Scotch
Road for 18 years. He started a catering business "out of the
back door" of Cala’s 13 years ago. Soon thereafter, a friend who
worked at Scanticon (now the Doral Forrestal) told him IBM was looking
for someone to put on an event for 1,200 people.
Young took on the challenge, and when the meeting was over asked his
IBM contact if he could bid on future jobs. The answer was yes, and
the new company reeled in many more contracts. Those events led to
work for other corporations. Meeting Dimensions now does the majority
of its work for pharmaceutical and medical concerns. Communications
was another big niche for the company, but recent problems in the
industry have cut into that business.
Setting up a meeting is more than erecting tents and hiring waiters.
Young compares the business to architecture. He is in on everything
from designing a concept to finding just the right site for the
He chooses a menu, draws up an agenda, books speakers and
arranges for lighting and multimedia linkages, makes travel
sends out invitations, reserves hotel rooms, and sets up registration.
Young puts on about 50 meetings a year. Most revolve around product
launches, national meetings, and the incentive gatherings corporations
use to reward top producers. Along the way, he has picked up a wealth
of information about what an effective meeting looks like. Here is
thing is to identify measurable objectives," Young says. In his
view, nothing else comes close. "If you don’t know what you want
to do," he asks, "how will you know if you have achieved
Identify all the stakeholders, and decide what it is you want them
to get out of the meeting. Then measure results. As part of its
Young’s company will hand out surveys, conduct focus groups, and give
testing to attendees at instructional gatherings before and after
they sit through training classes.
Meetings are expensive. Companies need a way to see just what return
on investment they yield. Yet, says Young, most clients are reluctant
to spend the money to set objectives for their gatherings. This might
not be much of a problem if a company’s only event is an annual
party, but, says Young, "the more a company uses meetings and
events as a business tool to contribute to the bottom line, the more
important return on investment is."
monetary diet, and most have lots of meeting fat from which they can
cut. A night at the Ritz Carlton is $300, Young points out, while
the same bed can be had at a Holiday Inn for $50. Some companies
use the more expensive lodgings when the lower cost rooms could serve
the same purpose. Likewise, in flush times, a mansion serves as a
lovely backdrop — at $6,000 a night — but a hotel conference
room can often be had at no charge. "They make money on food and
drink," Young observes, and so many hotels will throw in the
the headlines on a regular basis, even flush corporations may feel
uneasy about making a big splash at their events. There are ways,
Young says, to make an expensive gathering look less so. "I can
spend $1,000 on special effects lighting, and everyone notices,"
Young says. Cutting that frill will make the meeting seem much more
The same is true for glittery table treatments and huge centerpieces.
They don’t cost a whole lot in the larger scheme of things, but create
a rich feel. The lesson here is that corporations aiming to look
can do so by dumping a few high visibility frills.
held big, national — or international — meetings in the good
old days (pre-September 11) may now replace one meeting in, say,
with four regional meetings in the United States, within driving
of many attendees.
5 percent that makes the difference," says Young. And so very
often, he sees companies try to get by without it. As an example,
he says a company might hold an event at the Forsgate Country Club
to reward top salespeople. The locale is lovely, the food is
and there is an afternoon of golf. Having spent perhaps $10,000 to
arrange this day, which is designed to pump up its best performers,
many companies skimp on the speaker.
Says Young: "They don’t want to pay $1,500 for a professional,
so they get someone from the company." And the whole mood of the
day is spoiled.
Six Sigma is a set of tools used in conjunction with
the Total Quality Management (TQM) style of running a department or
an organization. Its aim is to reduce errors in all sorts of business
processes to near zero. It urges companies to consider some zen-like
premises, such as "we don’t know what we don’t know." At least
six books have been written on the subject, and a plethora of websites
provide everything from Six Sigma tips of the day to information on
how to become a Six Sigma green belt or a black belt. Six Sigma: The
Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top
(Doubleday, $29.95) is a new book on the methodology, which is said
to have boosted GE’s bottom line by as much as $6.6 billion.
On Wednesday, November 14, at 5:30 p.m. Frenck Waage
Value Management speaks to the American Society for Quality on
Six Sigma to Value a Company to Sustained Profitable Growth" at
the Ramada in North Brunswick. Cost: $25. Call 609-730-9681.
Six Sigma, referring to the six points of standard deviation from
mean to a specified limit, leads organization through a five-step
of Six Sigma, include increased market share, cost reductions, and
dramatic improvements in profitability. Reducing errors and mistakes
is also a key outcome. Six Sigma promises, in fact, to go beyond
reduction, and to recreate business processes so that mistakes are
never made in the first place.
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