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Successful Meeting Planning: How to Handle Traffic Flow
On the following pages you’ll find time-tested meeting planning techniques and helpful tips for handling all these situations and more.
If anyone is standing in the back of the room in attendance without a seat nearby, you haven’t done your job, which is to seat everyone promptly, efficiently, and courteously. To achieve this goal, use the following strategies:
o Load the front of the room first, leaving room for VIPs and speakers.
o If there are side doors, open the front door first and allow delegates to the front seats.
o To prevent people from walking down the aisle, stand in the middle of the aisle and point where you want them to go. Don’t argue with insistent guests, however, if they decide to hit the road.
o When the front is full, close the largest front door and open the front door. Continue this process until all but the back of the room is filled.
o Apply tape or ribbon to the seats away from the speakers and closest to the back entrance or use reserved signs to maintain the integrity of this area — approximately one-tenth of the chairs in the room.
o Finally, when other seats are taken or the meeting begins, remove all tape, ribbons, and signs and save the back-most seats for latecomers. Once the session begins, be sure to place the meeting room sign by the back door.
For large groups, place one person in front of the door that remains closed and one person at the first entrance to be used, which will automatically direct the flow of traffic to the desired door. Personnel stationed in the room decide when to open the front door and communicate that decision to personnel stationed outside the room via walkie-talkie. When the next door is opened, the coordinator comes into flow and directs the delegates in the direction of opening the new door. Inside, staff members move to the new door and continue to seat people. Walkie-talkies and multiple coordinators or assistants are essential for large group movements.
o Never place open stations near meeting room doors. If unavoidable due to space constraints, close those stations and direct representatives to distant stations first.
o When setting up stations, always consider the direction people are coming from and fix the stations so that movement is away from meeting rooms.
o Manage stations so attendees don’t stop moving until they get their coffee or hot water. Keep the tea bags, sugar and cream below the coffee or hot water so that those who only need coffee can proceed without distraction. Have regular coffee first, decaffeinated and then hot water.
o Keep soda and snacks (if applicable) on a separate table. Put the items in the correct order — glasses, then ice, then soda.
o If a quick break is needed and labor costs are not an issue, coffee can be poured by a server. Once again, put down the tea bags, sugar and cream.
o Make sure there is an outlet at the downstream end — do not run the station end into a wall, escalator, or dead end. Keep stations away from restrooms.
o When moving from a normal rally session to a breakout session or vice versa, always try to find a break before the next chronological destination. If you go to breakouts away from the normal session foyer, for example, set up a coffee break in the breakout area.
o In situations where both remote breakouts and general sessions are being used, you may encounter a problem when attendees going to remote breakouts attack coffee stations reserved for general session breakouts. To solve this problem, ask the speaker to excuse the breakout session attendees first and keep the general session foyer station closed until these people leave. Then, as soon as the first group leaves the room, send the second group (those returning to the regular session) to a break just outside the room.
Meeting planners must be proactive in ensuring their event has the right space and design. Obviously, the type of cocktail party as well as the number of hors d’oeuvre stations, entertainment options and props will greatly affect the layout and flow pattern of the room. The following guidelines apply to all types of cocktail receptions.
o Do not put a bar near the door.
o Food stations should not overlap or go into bars.
o Avoid high-density bar areas — four or more bars back to back is not a good idea.
o Consider beer and wine bars at large events and outdoor events.
o Place seating away from high traffic areas and group seats together. Don’t spread it out so that traffic is forced around people sitting.
o Always create ample space for traffic in areas of function.
o For larger groups, move guests to the back of the room first without opening the bar and food station near the entrance.
Moving people to dinner
For a buffet dinner — the goal: no long lines
o Move as many people as necessary from the cocktail party to keep the buffet lines full. “Bleed” attendees away from the reception by letting people know that the buffet is open only for exits or those closest to the dinner area. (They’ll thank you and move quickly.) When the lines get shorter, repeat this process with the next group closest to the exit.
o Do not close all bars until the buffet line is full. First close the bar near the buffet.
o Always discuss your plan with the hotel staff to ensure you control the flow.
o Do not flash lights or do anything to encourage all guests to leave the reception at once.
sit down to eat —
The goal: get seated quickly so food service can begin.
There are many techniques that work.
o Close all bars at once. (Always make a “final call” before using this technique.) When the bar is closed, a tablecloth goes over the bar and the bartender steps aside.
o Make the last call, then notify the representative that dinner is served by flashing lights or playing exit music.
o In every situation, encourage people farthest from the exit doors to leave the event first to choose their seats. As they pass through the party, they notice the movement of the others and make their way to the dining room.
o When using these techniques, always be polite, not bossy. Remember that courtesy and warmth work wonders.
Seating people at food functions
Seating people at food functions is important, especially for large groups. When seating groups of several hundred or more in unassigned seats, remember these three rules:
1. Create large aisles to move people more easily through the room. The “filter through” method (no cross aisles) is a guaranteed disaster for 500 or more guests.
2. Line up banquet staff in the aisles to escort early arrivals to the far side of the room. If early arrivals sit at the tables closest to the entrance, they block the way for attendees to move back. (Note: Reserved signs on tables near the door force people to the back. Remove them when the room is full.)
3. Use as many entrances as possible, combining multiple corridors if possible.
Reserved Seat Program
Reserved seating programs require heavy use of manpower and signage for groups of 800 or more. The first challenge is getting people to enter through the right door, which cuts down on walking around the room looking for the right table number.
To achieve this goal, follow these guidelines:
o Place a large reproduction of the room layout, complete with table numbers, at eye level in the reception area.
o Hang a sign above each ballroom door that displays the table numbers that can be found by entering through that particular door.
o Position staff members outside each door with a list of seating assignments.
o You can also color code each part of the room (including balloons, tablecloths or banners) and stick a corresponding color sticker on each participant’s name badge. This trick will direct them to the right area. Numbers are needed to help them find the correct table.
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