Negotiating and Cost-saving Tips for Real Meetings

When you don’t have all the money in the world

So you’re about to organize an event. Congratulations—there are only 4,386 decisions you’ll have to make between now and then! And easily half of them are going to involve how much you can afford, what you should choose to pay for, and which “must-haves” can be accidentally-on-purpose forgotten.

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Now, you can eliminate a lot of stress simply by having all of the money in the world. That way you won’t have to compromise on anything or say no to anybody’s outlandish and crazily expensive idea. However, since that’s not the world most of us inhabit, here are a few tips I’ve picked up from meeting planners over the course of my 14 years as a keynote speaker.

Negotiate Your AV Costs Before Signing a Contract

In my experience, the cost to rent audiovisual equipment from a hotel or conference center is one of the more frustrating aspects of planning an event. You can’t have a successful event without A/V, and most venues won’t let you bring your own in, so they would seem to have you over a barrel. They want to make their money back on their equipment in roughly three rentals, which is fine for them—but that leaves plenty of room to negotiate before signing a contract.

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In the words of one event planner, “Once I sign that contract, I can’t get them to budge on anything. But if they still think I’m shopping three or four other locations and mention A/V costs as a sticking point for me, I can usually get them to come down a good bit on that part.” I don’t have an exact number for what ‘good bit’ means, but for a larger event, that could easily be in the tens of thousands.

Prioritize Drinks Over Food

Anecdotally, the amount of uneaten food at just about every conference I’ve attended is staggering. Planners always over-order, and with good reason—nobody wants to run out. You may not want to skip lunch or dinner just to save money. But several meeting planners I’ve spoken to say their attendees prefer beverages provided throughout the day rather than another cookie every couple of hours. Those micro-break snacks can be reduced or eliminated without anybody likely to complain about it. Fewer snacks also means fewer decisions about what kind of snacks to provide. You run into fewer dietary issues with drinks than food—and so it can also make for an easier planning process. Which leads to…

Appreciate the Cost of Making Decisions

This one doesn’t look like a cost. But it is. In the words of one event planner, “Committees cost time and money.” If every decision needs to be approved by a committee—even a committee of two—then each decision costs something (number of people involved X amount of time required to make the decision X hourly wage of each person involved).

Instead of sending an email about every decision, consider having infrequent meetings or compiling at-a-glance documents so that people can make decisions about several issues at the same time. The more you can consolidate your decision-making, the cheaper your event will be.

Jeff Havens is a speaker, author and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational and professional development issues. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal, and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business.

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