There’s an adage among meeting professionals that booking your meeting consists of three elements: rates, dates and space. Among those three, you likely can have two of your top choices and will have to compromise on the third. That means if you want to meet over prime dates and you know you will use a lot of meeting space, you are going to pay higher rates. If you need to meet on certain dates and with more affordable rates, you will have to compromise on the locations and amount of space that might be available to you.
We make the planning decisions that we do in order both to appeal to our attendees and support the strategy of the meeting host. Whether it’s to market potential attendance or to facilitate the needs of a set group of attendees, the goal remains the same. That is, to greet our audience in their prime zone of both comfort and availability, and to remove as many logistical barriers to attendance as possible.
Rates, dates and space play a big part in this. For example, you aren’t going to choose an expensive, high-end facility if your target audience is comprised of low-budget charitable organizations, and you’re unlikely to select a facility with many stairs or uneven walking surfaces if you know your group has mobility challenges. These are the decisions we make as meeting professionals in order to be sensitive to the needs of our groups, and also to help support our brands by creating environments conducive to the unique learning and communication needs of those we are hoping to attract.
But I have found that many organizations are not as careful about choosing the appropriate dates for their groups. I believe that date selection is just as important a branding issue as other elements of meeting design. If you are insensitive to choosing meeting dates that conflict with the needs of your attendees, then you are showing you have not prioritized those needs.
Sometimes those priorities are acceptable; other times not. For example, if you are hosting a Christian group, it’s not important to avoid the Jewish high holidays. But if you were hosting a group of young families with children, you might want to avoid meeting over Halloween in the United States. If your meeting is in the U.S. but has Canadian attendance, you have to avoid Columbus Day, which is also known as Thanksgiving in Canada. It’s foolish not to anticipate these influences on attendance, and contrary to your own interests as a meeting sponsor.
Admittedly, it can be a huge task to find the ideal dates for a meeting, and accommodating a diverse group is even more challenging. The number of religious and cultural observances on a world calendar leaves practically no dates untouched. More, there are some cultural observances that suggest not meeting over those dates, such as Christmas or Yom Kippur, and others that may require accommodations but not rescheduling, such as Ramadan or Palm Sunday. That leaves the meeting professional to determine what matters to their own group, and what the decision says about the event and its sponsors.
And that is key: What does it say about your organization if you book a meeting date that conflicts with a cultural observance? It probably says that you believe the holiday in question doesn’t matter to the people you will have at your meeting. Or, worse, that those affected are unwelcome.
One industry organization has taken the position that if a calendar event is not recognized by a bank holiday, then it’s an appropriate date to consider for a meeting. I disagree with this notion, because I find it hard to believe that the same group would dismiss criticism if they met on dates of major cultural observances, like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. And even international organizations seem driven by North American preferences, because there are often meetings held in the U.S. on dates that are bank holidays elsewhere.
There is no rule of thumb other than to know your group. But I suggest it’s also important to consider this as part of a branding or membership strategy, because the implications of your decisions enter those areas.
What are your methods and priorities for finding the right dates for a meeting? How do you regard cultural observances in those decisions? I’d love to hear your stories. Please post in the comments below, or via email to LizontheBiz@gmail.com.