Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Meeting Planning for Today: Checklists & Timelines Don't Get It Done Anymore

This past week I noticed some conversation on ASAE's Collaborate from people looking for sample checklists and timelines to produce successful meetings.  I want to take another route than a checklist or timeline.  I discovered this planning route years ago. It is one that leaves no detail unturned and drives innovation in the planning process.

We used a checklist many years ago and did away with it.  What I found with checklists and timelines are that details can be left out because a checklist provides for things to always be done the same way.  It leaves out the process of innovation because a checklist makes you think you should follow it to a tee.  The checklist and timeline philosophy leads you down the path to believing that because it was done this way the last meeting, we should do it the same way this meeting.

About 19 years ago, I developed a fool proof meeting planning system that:
  • Ensures details don't fall through the cracks
  • Engages innovation throughout the entire meeting planning process
  • Builds team unity in the process
  • Involves everyone in the process
  • No matter what the size of the event, we are finished with everything a week before the event, while working no overtime.
I'm sure when I say "finished a week early, and work no overtime" you are initially in disbelief, but YES...we are done a week before the event takes place while working no overtime.

Here is what the process involves:

I have what we call a "Function Sheet" that is the central document for the system.  For each session, networking event, or gathering at an event, we create a Function Sheet that has all of the general event information at the top, including:  name of the event, date, time, location, and number of people expected.  Below this are 5 sections for AV, F & B, People Required, Resources Needed, and General Comments.

We start with our first planning meeting with a blank slate.  No timeline.  No checklist.  With everyone at the table we walk through the entire meeting by completing a Function Sheet for every event, from beginning to end.  This includes events like "Leaving the Office" and "Arriving at the Hotel".  Anytime there is a new event, a Function Sheet is required.  We discuss in detail each event, brainstorming what needs to happen to create a fun and exciting learning and social experience for attendees.  By working each event through a "playbook", you pay close attention to flow and transition.  It helps you be more intentional about attendee experience during breaks and in between sessions.  These aren't down times.  These are opportunities to touch attendees in an intentional way.

Once we have worked through every session/social event to be hosted at the event, our Director of Meetings creates the official Playbook for the meeting, which consists of all the Function Sheets.

Our planning group then goes through the entire Playbook from beginning to end every time we get together, and we play out the meeting in our head as if it's happening many times.  Most people focus only on what is left to be completed at each meeting...not us.  We move through the Playbook in full, through every event, every time we meet.  Each meeting we look at our Master To Do List which shares the task, who is to do it, and when it needs to be done by.  We review this each meeting with the Playbook to make sure that we stay on schedule.

Once we have all the AV orders, BEO's, and supplemental documents from the hotel, we add them as a supporting document behind the event Function Sheet that it is associated with.  This ensures that everyone knows the hotel's responsibility with regards to each event.  Depending on the size of the event, we will walk through the Playbook of Function Sheets several times.  For our larger events, we will work through it monthly.  When we approach 10 weeks out, we will work through it every week.

Once we are 10 days out, we go over the Playbook one last time, to make sure if there are any new ideas or elements to add.  If none, then we make no changes except in extreme circumstances, one week prior to the event.  Here is the thought process…if you have gone through your entire event, session-by-session 20 to 25 times, and you haven't thought of the "great idea" before one week prior, then it's not worthy of disrupting the entire plan for that idea.  This gets everyone really thinking early on in the process, because come a week out, it's a go and nothing changes.

Once onsite, we do a review of the book one last time, and then it's just a matter of execution.

The great thing about this system, is that when a team has mentally walked through the event in their minds 20+ times in the planning process as if it's happening, once onsite, it is like a well-oiled machine.  There is no guessing onsite, because you already have talked 20 times about how you are going to handle everything in the plan, and you have pre-thought how to handle all the unexpected issues that can arise and what to do about them.  Because you have worked through it as a team, everyone has a great understanding of what everyone else is doing as well.

I've had hotels tell me that they have never seen such a well executed event like ours...and with just 3 people doing large events.  Our BEO's are done 45 to 60 days out and we tell the hotel up front we will have our orders all in 60 days out.  This gets the hotel on our side big time because we looked organized and easy to work with.  The great thing about the plan is that our playbook is exported to a PDF, and myself and my Director of Meetings have it on our mobile devices to refer to.  No more carrying around 3 inch binders of paper!!  GOTTA LOVE IT!

Throw out the time line and checklist.  Live your event during the planning process.  The more you live it in your mind, the more you will create an amazing experience for attendees onsite...and be organized in the process.  Planning a meeting is not about working through a checklist.  It's about working a process that will give your attendees a memorable learning experience, that inspires them to make the necessary changes in their life or business to achieve their goals.


  1. This is truly a great post on corporate event planning. Keep sharing such interesting posts my friend. I have also been searching for the best corporate events Chicago venues for hosting an official event. Do you have any venue recommendations?

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