Revive Your Events. Book Somewhere New.

Been there, done that? If your attendees could wear that t-shirt, perhaps it’s time for a change of wardrobe.
When it’s time to choose your next event, consider booking a new venue at a new destination.
Why? I could list plenty of reasons, but here are three: Attendance. New audiences. Profitability.
Booking the same venue year after year is like wearing the same pair of shoes so long folks start to notice. The comfy old venue might “fit like an old shoe,” but your attendees are perhaps getting bored with the familiarity and predictability. Bored attendees stop attending.
A change of venues can also offer price negotiation opportunities and ways to take advantage of the many resources a new venue can offer.
The Union of International Associations recently released their 2013 annual survey about the state of global meetings and events. Polling 830 international associations headquartered around the world, they learned the most popular venue for large association meetings is the conference and convention center; this was chosen by 44 percent of respondents.  The others split their choice evenly between hotels and university settings.
      Very often the size of the group determines the choice. Large events have spatial and other requirements favoring conference halls and exhibition centers. Hotels offer convenient services, including sleeping rooms, on premises. As for universities, they also can offer sleeping rooms – at least when classes are out – as well as a remarkable array of fascinating people and resources. Even the smallest university likely maintains an art gallery, historical exhibition and scientific displays.  Don’t overlook the faculty; some of the most popular speakers or performers I’ve booked have had university affiliations.
Next time around, consider making a change. A new venue, a new destination and new faces can rev up excitement in your program, dispensing with the “been here, done that” blahs.

Summer’s Nearly Here. Time to Enjoy the Great Outdoors.

The sun shines brightly. The scent of sunscreen wafts through the air. The thermometer reads 90 degrees F (32 degrees C).  Where’s my sunhat?!
I’ve been planning for summer all winter and spring. A hallmark of inspiria events are unique outdoor activities where people can interact more personally and see one another in new, multi-faceted perspective.
Summer opens up many opportunities for exploration, team-building and building interpersonal connections. At a meeting In Spain, we held programs on the grounds of a rented country house in Andalucia, Spain as well as within the celebrated Gaudi-designed Parque Güell.  In Istanbul,  we arranged sailing excursions and al fresco networking receptions at a nightclub on the Bosphorus. We’ve scheduled training sessions outside ancient castles, and arranged interactive programs on the beaches of Croatia.
There are physiological benefits to outdoor programming. Moderate exposure to sunlight boosts our mood and encourages optimism.  Light exercise from moving about outdoors releases endorphins, the hormone that produces a feeling of well-being.  Outdoor environments stimulate fresh thinking as well.
Schedule programs outdoors to take advantage of:

i)                   Venue variety.  Such venues as parks, waterfronts, monuments, arenas, uncovered markets and nature trails are ideal in warm weather.

ii)                 Alternative programming.  Excellent team-building, training and other programming options are possible when thermometers rise. Consider booking a nature walk, regatta, outdoor survival session, or ropes training session.

Iii) Cultural diversity.  Many venues with strong cultural or historic appeal are ideal for warm-weather exploration, including grand plazas, arenas, monuments, castles, architectural landmarks and urban parks.

Planning outdoors? Make sure you:

i)                   Schedule a back-up indoor venue, always

ii)                 Arrange for tenting, portable johns etc where needed

iii)               Complete the permitting process where applicable

iv)               Train staff in how to deal with aggressive local pedestrians

v)                 Handle outdoor-specific insurance needs, including event cancellation

Pack your sunscreen and enjoy yourselves. See you outdoors!

Walter Stugger


Am I The World’s Most Frustrated Hosted Buyer? Possibly.

Like most event industry professionals, I accept my fair share of hosted-buyer invitations. I arrive at each program anticipating a day or two spent happily learning, exploring and networking.
Instead, I leave feeling both satisfaction and frustration.
Satisfaction, because I typically depart with some useful information and a few “keeper” business cards.
Frustration, because I’ve sat through yet another round of tedious, old-fashioned sales presentations.
I’m frustrated because many people are selling at me, rather than listening to me. I’m frustrated when yet another salesperson sails right into PowerPoint. Next a map is pushed in front of me, or a glossy brochure. Speaking fast, the seller proclaims the particular destination’s excellence, offers to call me soon, and hands over trinkets and business card.

Sound familiar?
The big problem with this approach is that it doesn’t usually work. It tells rather than asks. This declaratory approach skips over the reasons I’ll choose one destination over the other. Those reasons stem – always – from the unique needs of the event itself. How do we want to engage attendees? What aspects of the destination’s history and culture will inspire? What mix of activities, entertainment and interactions will motivate? How will this destination encourage collaboration?
If you don’t know why we’re meeting, how can you assure me you’re the right place to meet?
Memo to my friends in Destination Marketing: Ask me about the events I’m planning before you propose your destination. That way we’ll both be more satisfied.


Do Your Event a Favor. Move it Somewhere Else.

Sometimes where you meet is the most important meetings and events decision you’ll make.

One of my favorite questions to ask new clients is: How is it you chose your destination city as the permanent site for your conference?

The most typical answer: Well, it’s because we always meet in that city.

Traditions are fine. I love traditions. But I have to ask, is this really a tradition? Or, rather, is the planner merely repeating what once worked, year after year?

In other words: Is the planner stuck?

If you’ve gotten stuck, let me help you get unstuck.  My solution is simple: scout for exciting new destinations and facilities.

There are three main reasons to change location.

1. Better fit. Some places are simply better accommodations than others for any given event. The facility’s layout might be more suitable, its infrastructure more advantageous, its staff more amendable. The city, the region, the Country itself might be a better fit.

2. Enhance engagement.  Familiarity breeds… boredom. Year after year at the same location, you stop experiencing the activity and merely go through the motions. Wake up your attendees so next year’s event is not a duplicate of this year’s. Try a new country, a new city, a new venue. Watch people’s faces as they walk in the door. See them look up and around, and shine with anticipation.

3. Produce cost savings. When planners chose the same venue year after year, they stop getting the same value they did when the venue had to win their business.  Scout other destinations and other venues, and give them a chance to win your business. You’ll be surprised at the savings when they have to compete for your business.

Multiculturalism: Often Discussed, Rarely Understood

Multiculturalism might be the most misunderstood concept in the business world today.

My work involves bringing people together from around the world to form purposeful, temporary communities. To accomplish this, I focus on helping people communicate effectively. Since cultural heritage shapes how we express ourselves, I observe how people communicate within various cultures. The insights help me reduce misunderstanding and expand engagement.

Here’s an example of how communication styles differ across the globe. I’ve seen experienced European negotiators walk away from a meeting with Japanese counterparts believing they were on the cusp of closing their deal; all they needed was a contract to sign. The Japanese team had never said yes; they merely had not said no.  Stating a blunt “no” is seen as impolite in Japan; many Japanese avoid the word so as not to offend. The westerners mistook the absence of no for indication of yes.

Four steps to better multicultural communications:

  • Speak precisely and avoid slang. Say “Be here at 8,” not “Get here early.” Say “I don’t like that,” not “That rubs me the wrong way.”
  • Avoid visual gestures. Thumbs-up means “A-Okay” in the U.S.; it’s a threat in the Middle East and an insult in South America.
  • Watch your body language. Showing your shoe sole is a mortal insult in many countries; standing too close (or too far away) during conversation also may be misunderstood.
  • Offer evidence that’s culturally approved. Offering numerical evidence – studies, reports and rankings – is convincing proof in some cultures; others value testimony from elders, precedent, or clergy’s approval.

Could Site Inspection Land You in Jail?

When Vanessa Williams returned from a five-day site inspection trip to Bermuda last spring,  the executive director of the National Conference of Black Mayors found herself blamed for misspending hundreds of thousands of association dollars on business trips and personal expenses. Ms. Williams was accused of making false claims about her authorization to plan a conference in that location and other alleged misdeeds. The board called for her to resign. She denied the charges and went on trial in January.
Wow! What disturbing news this must be to the many highly-ethical and scrupulous association directors, presidents and conference organizers I know and work with regularly. They must be wondering whether they too could be chastised or worse for conducting site inspections or other travel-related functions. (Let me emphasize I have never met Ms Williams, and imply no opinion about the case’s outcome.)
As for the lawsuit, I can’t help but worry about its ramifications. There is nothing fundamentally wrong, and certainly nothing illegal, with site inspection. Properly undertaken, site inspection is a proven method for ensuring optimal planning. This case should not in any way dissuade association and other nonprofit organizational leaders from booking their next flights and properly doing their jobs.
Walter’s 5 Rules for Fear-Free Site Inspections.
#1 Prepare. Rough out your program’s main activities well in advance; walk through them with a focus on infrastructure capacity and staff resources. Record time-movement data.
#2 Delegate. Minimize travel by sourcing local event planners or area DMCs.
#3 Negotiate. Record the asking price of all services you might require.
#4 Photograph. Snap pictures of your main facility, room tour and offsite venues.
#5 Follow up. Continue negotiations after you return, retaining all correspondence.

Properly executed site-inspections are essential. They help you to make the right choices. They help you to get a better understanding what a destination is about. They help you to choose the right locations and venues for your participants and in the end it helps you to safe money – as you are making the right decisions and choosing the right venues.

Site- inspections are a must for any high-profile, professionally organized and executed trip!

Never go without it!