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Using Unskilled People to Plan Meetings? Beware of the Hidden Costs

By: Get News

Dianne Devitt is on a mission to keep companies from losing thousands-sometimes hundreds of thousands-of dollars and more importantly, credibility, on meetings and events.

Usually this happens when the person in charge of planning the meeting-often an executive assistant or administrative assistant-has little or no professional experience doing so. Take the software company admin who signed a hotel contract for a meeting a year out, unaware that the contract included a cancellation clause with a fee that increased incrementally the closer it got to the meeting. When she was forced to cancel a month before the date, her employer was hit with a whopping $100,000 in damages.

If she had been trained to know which clauses to look for in the contract and the proper language to protect her company, the whole situation could have been averted.

When tasked with planning an event, the most competent, dependable and efficient executive assistant, or team member in advertising, marketing, public relations, corpcom, assumes an immense amount of responsibility and the lack of training increases the likelihood the meeting or event will not achieve the intended objectives and goals.

That's why Devitt, a veteran of the industry, who has spent the past 30 plus years teaching students from around the world as an adjunct professor at the Tisch Center of Hospitality and Tourism at New York University, has created a certificate program. "The Certificate was designed with the realization that there are so many untrained people responsible for meetings and events, resulting in escalated spending, decreased return and increased risk," states Devitt. As an additional benefit, it generates a broader awareness of the industry and the value meetings and events have in business for "occasional" part-time planners or planners who need a re-fresh. To support this educational training concept, major industry sponsors are involved in the program. Devitt was also recognized by the industry governing body, the Events Industry Council, as a preferred educational provider with approval given to the course.

"If you're given the responsibility for a meeting, you should take it very seriously," Devitt said. "I do believe that most EAs and part-time people who are put in this role are more concerned than their bosses realize. In many cases, the boss may not understand the complexity of the task and the litigious nature of this business. This is not just a dinner in your living room. There are so many decisions that are all cost-related, and they are asking people to make them without fully understanding the complexities of our industry."

Many companies leave money on the table when choosing the venue or hotel for their meeting by not sharing information about the value of their business. Meeting history and data-details like the spending patterns of attendees at previous meetings-can be used to negotiate lower rates. Or a company could bundle a group of meetings at the same property or hotel chain to save money. "The person who plans an occasional meeting typically won't know they can do this."

What Could Go Wrong, Will

The list of potential disasters caused by an untrained meeting planner is a long one.

The most behind-the-curtain details, like glitchy audiovisual or poor connectivity, can ruin a meeting's most important on-stage moments. Not inquiring about food allergies or relying on a hotel's menus without questioning the ingredients could land an attendee in the hospital. Understanding technology choices and their purpose is daunting to even the most experienced planner.

These days, staffing is an issue. Few know that there are firms that specialize in providing trained staff for the various roles at a meeting, like registration. I've had people get sick, even die, during a meeting," Devitt said. "The show must go on."

And then there's the most important task of all: ensuring the safety of the people who attend. Group gatherings are at risk for everything from a bomb threat to an active shooter. Yet few occasional meeting planners ever bother to meet with their venue's director of security. "I always start by saying, 'What could go wrong?' There's a standard protocol and chain of command that's respected and deferred to not only when things are going right but most especially when things are going wrong," said Devitt, whose knowledge of risk management runs deep, having grown up the daughter of a New York City Detective.

Strategy vs. Logistics

Most business school grads have never had a course on the impact of meetings and their intrinsic value as a communication tool. "This is a multibillion-dollar communication tool that is an important part of the marketing mix," Devitt said. "Post-pandemic, business events have been proven to be the number one vehicle for reaching and reuniting with clients and employees, aside from brand impact and messaging. Just as CEOs are mandating that employees return to the office for the sake of connection and collaboration, it's the same with in-person meetings. And who's responsible for it and how it's planned is tantamount to the outcome." These very same executives and management may have expectations of their administrative staff and/or minimally staffed meeting department to plan and produce an event without fully understanding the strategy behind the investment.

Skilled meeting planners are strategic advisors, not order-takers. They're the ones who will ask meeting owners and stakeholders to consider the hard questions, like whether they even need to hold the meeting at all. If they do, they work to identify solid objectives and measurable goals. They are skilled in meeting architecture and experience design, and are responsible for sourcing, contracting, negotiating and, ultimately, ROI-not just logistics. These are all the skills that Devitt's new certificate teaches.

"In the instances where I have had the chance to sit down with members of the C-Suite and explain the power and the possibilities that evolve with a well-planned meeting, I know I have opened some eyes. One time, I was invited to meet with a CEO to plan a one-day conference and reception, and by the time I left, it was a three-day meeting with sponsor opportunities for 7 different events. We ended up bringing that company a million dollars in sponsorships."

Devitt's Certificate in the Business of Meetings and Events program recently launched. For more information, please visit

Available for Media Interviews.

Contact: Jo Allison
Phone: 917-207-1039

Or, Contact Dianne Devitt directly.


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Contact Person: Jo Allison
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