The pinnacle of conferencing excellence

The Meetings Industry Association examines the key considerations of planning a conference or event, and why an accredited venue often serves as the best choice for planners.

With over 1.3 million business events held in the UK each year, with a value of over £39 billion to the economy, meetings and events are big business. Regardless of sector, meetings and events are an effective tool for organisations to facilitate networking and team-building, run product launches, deliver essential communications and promote innovation. Organising events is a big responsibility and there are a number of things to consider to ensure you are getting it right.

Timing is crucial across many aspects of your event planning. Firstly, whilst there will be occasions when an event needs to be organised on a tight timescale, if you can allow plenty of time for planning, research and marketing, your event will benefit as a result. It is also important to consider other industry events or launches taking place, particularly annual events which typically take place at the same time every year. Doing so negates the risk of clashing with established events and therefore affecting your delegate numbers.

For the event itself, the schedule for the day should be clearly laid out and allow for networking opportunities and sufficient rest breaks. As a planner, some allowances should be considered for sessions that overrun or and issues that arise on the day.

Timely feedback is also important after the event. Whether you choose to ask all delegates or a select few for feedback after an event, do so promptly, whilst the event is fresh in their minds. If you are going to ask for feedback though, be prepared to act on it when it comes to your next event. If problems have been highlighted, work to eliminate them for next time and acknowledge and address them for those who have been affected.

Budgets can vary from the generous to the ‘shoestring’. Regardless of where yours sits, you can hold an effective and successful event. Hidden costs often represent the sting in the tail for many organisers. A good venue will have clear terms and conditions and will be transparent regarding their pricing structure. At the point of booking, ask about additional charges rather than be faced with an unwelcome surprise when you receive an invoice. When planning your budgets, factor in some contingency for things that may crop up later down the line. If you are charging delegates to attend your event, think about benchmarking against similar events and allow for ‘early bird’ rates or discounts.

Choosing the right venue is vital. When selecting the best location for your event, there are several things to consider. How accessible is the venue for your delegates? Is it close to transport links, is parking available, is it well signposted? What do the facilities cover? Is there Wi-Fi and AV support available? Think about legal obligations too – if your venue is serving food do they comply with the Allergens Act? Are there up-to-date risk assessments available and compliance with legal acts and requirements?

It can seem like an overwhelming task but there are initiatives that can help. For example, Accredited in Meetings (AIM) provides the meetings industry and its buyers with a universally recognised indicator of quality for meetings space and services.

AIM was developed by the Meetings Industry Association (mia) with the support and assistance of event professionals from various strategic partners including Visit Britain and the North West Development Agency. Launched in Spring 2007, there are over 500 AIM accredited venues and suppliers in the UK who demonstrate their commitment to quality, service and continuous improvement, all of which benefit the event buyer.

The Benefits of AIM
Essentially, AIM helps event planners to source venues they can instantly trust. But what does it mean for prospective buyers and bookers?

It means: doing business with venues that care and have integrity; delegates are well looked after and commitment to service excellence is paramount; the facilities and event spaces are fit for purpose and of high quality standard; accountability through an ethical code of conduct; knowing every element of the venue’s costs in advance; industry-approved contracts and terms and conditions; doing business with credible, legally compliant venues; standardisation of best practice; procurement boxes ticked; stress free venue selection; and total peace of mind.

Meetings Code
All AIM venues abide by the Meetings CODE which demands: Consistency; Openness; Decency; and Ethics.

AIM venues must achieve 50 grading criteria that include: the location and accessibility of the meeting rooms and facilities; the suitability of the lighting and heating in meeting rooms; the levels of security; how often the rooms are cleaned and decorated; whether the space and furniture are adequate and suitable; the provision of in-room services such as power sockets; what is supplied at no extra charge; and how transparent the published prices are.

AIM-accredited venues and suppliers must also comply with a number of legal acts, which complement the criteria, including: Health & Safety at Work and Fire Safety; The Bribery Act; Licensing Laws; Data Protection; and Disability Discrimination.

For venues and suppliers, achieving AIM means gaining an industry accreditation and receiving recognition for the management of the business. Internally, the accreditation can help them audit their processes and procedures and ensure they are offering an excellent level of service. The process also highlights any room for improvement so that they can be addressed quickly and appropriately.

In obtaining Gold accreditation, Nick Milne, conference manager at Robinson College, said: “The application process was an opportunity for us to assess, review and identify opportunities to improve how we do things. We learnt that much more already happens in the business by way of effective management and customer focus than we realised. 

“The process of preparing for AIM put everything in its place and provided an opportunity for us to ‘take stock’.  We knew that our customers were already happy with what we do but by being more formal in recording feedback about specific performance, we have been able to target those areas where we could be even better.  Everyone is focused on improving wherever we can which is a significant and important goal.”

Facilities Grading
Facilities are subjected to 46 self-assessed criteria, which again the MIA makes available for those who wish to access them. Ensuring all AIM criteria are viewable helps ensure the scheme is open, fair and transparent. The Facilities Grading criteria are verified via spot checks that are unannounced, random or following a complaint, and range from cleaning routines and provision of guest supplies, to lighting, sound, heating and ventilation systems, to redecoration schedules.

Legal compliance is a ten-point code of guidance and self-grading process. For those buyers or other interested parties who wish to see the full code, it’s available from the MIA on request. They include compliance with health and safety, Disability Discrimination Act, Data Protection Act, Trade Descriptions Act and Employers Liability Act.

AIM Higher
The AIM accreditation encourages continuous improvement through AIM Higher. Along with the standard entry-level of AIM, there are two ‘AIM Higher’ levels: AIM Silver and AIM Gold. These demonstrate compliance with a more stringent set of criteria and it is an optional step for venues and suppliers.

Venues that have been awarded AIM Higher complete a much more rigorous process, covering 50 pieces of criteria, a ten-section self-assessment, producing a portfolio of evidence in support of their application and have been visited by an independent assessor who determines whether the venue is worthy of the accreditation and, if so, whether AIM Silver or AIM Gold should be awarded. Therefore, for a venue or supplier to achieve AIM Silver or Gold is significant achievement.

Any venue that achieves AIM Silver/Gold must be re-assessed every three years. This is to encourage continuous improvement and is key to the AIM message of maintaining high standards in the MICE industry.

Therefore, choosing to do business with an AIM accredited venue means that much of the hard work has been done for you. The reassurance that legal compliance and industry approved terms and conditions have already been checked gives you time and freedom to focus on the other aspects of your event.

Finally, though perhaps most importantly, think about the people involved in your event. Choose the right speakers – you can have the best venue, great food and perfect programme, but if the speakers and facilitators aren’t right, your event may suffer. Work from recommendations or try and see the speaker in action first if you can. Always follow up with feedback and thanks. In terms of delegates, make sure they are well informed. Send out joining instructions, include maps and take note of any dietary or accessibility requirements. If delegates are looked after in the build up to and post-event as well as on the day itself, you’ve ticked one of the most important boxes.

In terms of staff, it’s important that everyone who will have contact with your guests, whether on the registration desk on arrival, serving at lunch, on the cloakroom or handing out programmes understands the event and the value of good customer service. People are at the centre of every successful meeting. Build strong relationships and keep people as your focus and you will have a firm foundation for your events.

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