Ten Tips for Avoiding Operations Snafus

By Lynn McCullough Director of Meetings & Association Management, CMA Association Management | October 28, 2008

No matter how organized you are, or how much advance preparation you put into a show or how much attention to detail you apply, sometimes it is impossible to avoid the proverbial operations snafu. Or is it?

As a fellow show organizer, I follow virtually the same routine as you do when planning a meeting and it's a safe bet that we use a similar checklist. However, whether you have five years of experience or 25, when it comes to show operations, everyone can use some help avoiding simple and possibly costly mistakes. In this article, members of the Association for Convention Operations Management (ACOM) share a few seemingly obvious but often overlooked tips which you can use when planning your next event.

1. Do your site homework. "When you go on site tours of the facility, go during both busy and slow times to see how they operate during show times and how they handle pressure situations," suggests Eric Blanc, CMP, Account Executive, Exposition Services for Freeman. "The one thing you want to know is how the staff will react in a crunch. This will help give you a better idea of how they will handle your event. It will also give you a chance to see if there are any specific areas of concern that you need to address prior to your event," he adds.

2. Maximize your floor space, within fire marshal regulations. "Some facilities have a tendency to inflate their maximum capacities," observes Blanc. "Unfortunately, these maximums are often not approved by the fire marshal. That can cause challenges when trying to get fire marshal approval on sold-out shows." Don't start selling booths on a show until your floor plan has been approved by the fire marshal. "Otherwise, you may encounter problems with floor plans that utilize smaller than normal aisles or those that differ from standard sets," says Blanc. He suggests meeting in advance with a service contractor that operates on a regular basis in that particular facility. Together, you should review pre-existing floor plans that maximize space and are fire marshal approved.

3. Ensure that the space you are contracting is adequate for your show's projected growth. Now that most shows are back on a solid growth curve, you should review your space needs for the next five years. "Make sure your space will accommodate your show at its current size, as well as with any projected expansion," Blanc says. If you underestimated the size of your show for 2005, it will have a cumulative effect in future years. "You may be walking away from a 10 percent increase in revenue because you are unable to accommodate more booth space because it does not meet fire marshal regulations," he explains.

4. Use a paging microphone during set-up and tear-down. Cell phones and walkie-talkies are staples, but the good old-fashioned paging microphones are ideal for communication during set up, especially for shows that occupy more than one hall or level of the facility, advises Melinda Burnett, CMP, Convention Services Manager for the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. "They enable you to ensure that people are on and off the docks in a timely manner, and that vendors do not park where they are not supposed to. For most shows, I am on the speaker announcing that if a car is not moved off of the dock, we will issue a ticket. People have been towed. While they get annoyed, you can guarantee they won't do it again!," she explains. Paging microphones also help when there is a problem and you need to locate someone immediately.

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