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Successful Meeting Planning: How to Handle Traffic Flow
On the following pages, you’ll find proven meeting planning techniques and helpful tips on how to handle all of these scenarios and more.
If any attendee is standing in the back of the room with no seats nearby, then you haven’t done your job, which is to get everyone seated in a quick, efficient, and courteous manner. To achieve this goal, use the following strategies:
o Fill the front of the room first, set aside seats for VIPs and speakers.
o If there is a side door, open the far front door first and direct delegates to the front seats.
o To prevent people from going down the aisle, stand in the middle of the aisle and point where you would like them to go. However, don’t argue with persistent guests if they decide to move down the aisle.
o As the front is charging, close the frontmost door and open the next door. Continue this process until all but the back of the room is filled.
o Tape or tape the seats farthest from the speaker and closest to the back entrance or use reserved signs to maintain the integrity of this area — about one-tenth of the chairs in the room.
o Finally, after the rest of the seats are taken or the meeting has started, remove all tapes, ribbons and signs and save the last seats for latecomers. Be sure to post the meeting room signs by the back door after the session begins.
For larger groups, place one person in front of the door that will remain closed and one person at the entrance that will be used first, which will automatically direct traffic to the desired door. Staff members in the room decide when to open the next door and communicate this decision via walkie-talkie to staff members outside the room. When the next door opens, the coordinator enters the flow and directs the delegates to the new door. Inside, the staff members make their way to a new door and continue to possess people. Walkie-talkies and many coordinators or assistants are essential for the movement of large groups.
o Never have open stations near meeting room doors. If this is unavoidable due to space limitations, keep those stations closed and direct delegates to the most distant stations first.
o When setting up stations, always consider the direction people are coming from and set up stations so that movement takes place away from the meeting rooms.
o Arrange the seats so that the participants do not stop moving until they have had coffee or hot water. Place the tea bags, sugar and cream immediately downstream of the coffee or hot water so that those who only need coffee can pass through the line without interruption. First put regular coffee, second decaffeinated, and finally warm water.
o Place juices and snacks (if applicable) on separate tables. Arrange the objects in the correct order — glasses, then ice, then juice.
o If a quick break is needed and labor costs are not an issue, coffee can be served by servers. Leave the tea bags, sugar and cream downstream again.
o Make sure the end of the stream has an exit — don’t screw the end of the station into a wall, escalator, or dead end. Keep stations away from toilets.
o When going from a general meeting session to group sessions or vice versa, always try to locate the break before the next chronological destination. If, for example, you are going to areas that are far from the lobby of the general meeting, place the coffee break in the rest area.
o In a situation where both remote breakouts and a general session are used, you could have problems when participants going to remote breakouts attack the coffee station reserved for the general session. To solve this problem, have the speaker account for the special session participants first, and have the general session lobby be closed until these people have passed. Then, as soon as the first group leaves the room, send the second group (those returning to the general session) to take a break at the front of the room.
Meeting organizers need to be proactive in ensuring their events have the right space and design. Obviously, the type of cocktail party, as well as the number of hors d’oeuvres seats, entertainment options, and props greatly affect the layout design and flow of the room. The following guidelines apply to all types of cocktail receptions.
o Do not place bars close to doors.
o Food stations should not overlap or run into bars.
o Avoid areas with high density bars — four or more bars side by side is not a good idea.
o Consider beer and wine bars at large events and outdoor events.
o Place seats away from high traffic areas and group them together. Do not spread it so that traffic flows around those who are sitting.
o Always create ample spaces for traffic to move between functional areas.
o For large groups, move guests to the back of the room first by not opening the bars and food stations closest to the entrance until most attendees have entered.
Moving people to dinner
For a buffet dinner — Goal: No long lines
o Move only as many people as necessary from the cocktail party to keep the buffet lines full. Keep attendees away from the reception by telling only those closest to the exit or dining area that the buffet is open. (They’ll probably thank you and leave 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 finished. Close the bars closest to the buffet first.
o Always discuss your plan with hotel staff to ensure you control the flow.
o Never flash lights or do anything that would encourage all guests to leave the reception at the same time.
For sit-down dinners —
The goal: to be seated quickly so that the food service can begin.
There are several techniques that work.
o Close all lanes at the same time. (Always make a “last call” before using this technique.) When the bar is closed, the tablecloth goes over the bar and the bartender steps aside.
o Make the last call and then signal to delegates that dinner is served by flashing lights or playing exit music.
o In each scenario, encourage the people farthest from the exit doors to leave the event first so they can choose seats. As they pass through the party, others will notice the movement and will also head towards the dining room.
o When using these techniques, always be polite, not dictatorial. Remember that kindness and warmth work wonders.
Accommodating people at a food event
Seating people at food events is critical, especially for larger groups. Keep these three rules in mind when placing groups of several hundred or more in unassigned spaces:
1. Establish larger passages for easier movement of the masses through the room. The “filtering” method (no cross aisles) is a guaranteed disaster for 500 or more guests.
2. Line up banquet staff in aisles to direct early arrivals to more distant parts of the room. If early arrivals sit at the tables closest to the entrance, they block the aisles needed to move attendees to the back. (Note: the reserved signs on the tables closest to the door force people to retreat to the back. Remove them as the room fills.)
3. Use as many entrances as possible, combined with multiple corridors if possible.
Reserved seat events
Reserved seating events require heavy use of manpower and signs for groups of 800 or more. The first challenge is getting people to enter the correct door, which cuts down on wandering around the room looking for the correct table numbers.
To achieve this goal, follow these guidelines:
o Place large reproductions of the room layout, complete with table numbers, at eye level in the reception area.
o Hang a sign above each ballroom door with the table numbers that can be found by entering that particular door.
o Post staff members outside each door with a list of seating arrangements.
o You can also color-code each part of the room (with balloons, tablecloths or signs) and stick a sticker of the appropriate color on each participant’s name badge. This tactic will direct them to the right area. The numbers are then essential to help them find the right table.
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