Do the unexpected

Dana’s Meeting Minutes is based on the Meeting Planning Triangle. Click here for a link.


Think about the meetings you have attended (not planned). What pops up? Is it a coffee break or something that was a pleasant surprise? (Okay, I do recall a particularly awesome coffee break setup, but that’s for another time.)


Dropping in something unexpected is an easy way to enhance your attendees’ experiences.



Tip #1

The unexpected can be something you planned for all along.

  • At your opening session, don’t publicize the group you’ve hired to sing a parody song about your industry. (Check out this one about meeting planners!)

  • At the closing session don’t announce that everyone there gets a discount on next year’s meeting; or receives a valuable gift; or gets one room night paid for (use one of your comps). Word will get out and more people than ever will stay to the end next year.


Tip #2

Don’t do it for you; do it for your participants.

  • Put your preferences/tastes/desires aside. This is about them, not you. (Drat!)

  • If you don’t know your participants’ preferences, on the event survey ask, “If you could add anything to this meeting, regardless of cost, what would it be?” Even the outrageous responses can reveal the type of things they like. (Speaking of outrageous, check out the surprise speaker at PCMA’s 2017 Convening Leaders in Austin.)


Tip #3

Provide unexpected food & beverage.

  • You plan an entire convention and the only comment is about the bad meal. That irritated me until I understood that it’s a mini vacation for many and food is important. Make it special so they won’t complain.

  • As an attendee, I’m most impressed by high-end breaks and hearty breakfasts because they are unexpected. Make them customizable, fun, and/or reflective of the newest trends.

  • As a planner I do not serve chicken, iceberg lettuce with cherry tomatoes, veggie, fruit or cheese trays, cocktail meatballs or wieners, or chef-carved meats. They are expected, over-served, frequently under-consumed, and dated. Plus, I don’t want anyone to say they had rubber chicken at my meeting. The exception, of course, is if you know your participants really enjoy these options, will happily consume them, and/or hate the idea of something new (gasp!).



Let participants choose their giveaway.

Instead of distributing the same item to every participant, produce a variety of items that appeal to different members of your target audience. Display them attractively (like a boutique shop?) and invite registrants to choose what they want based on your criteria (e.g., one per person). Your sponsor(s) should be thrilled that attendees will choose items they like and will likely hang on to. Check out Pinterest for today’s popular convention giveaways.



Glean some ideas from The Meeting Magazine’s article, 2017 Food and Beverage Trends. Click here.


Tracy Stuckrath, of Thrive! Meetings & Events, provides direction for healthy convention eating. Check out her website. Her current blog, “Meeting Menu Makeovers—let’s do it!” is in honor of National Anti-Boredom Month coinciding with National Picnic Month!





Dana L. Saal, CMP, CAE, has been planning meetings for associations for more than 30 years. She recently decided that coaching meeting planners is now more fun than proofing BEOs, counting coffee cups and writing scripts. If you think a bit of coaching could improve your meeting, send a message via her website.

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