The kind of meeting room I really don't want (courtesy Malmaison Hotels and Brasseries on Flickr CC)I’m not a professional meeting planner and don’t particularly want to become one, but since joining the National Board of Directors for the AWC (Association for Women in Communications) I’ve found myself on a team that is researching venues and options for a possible event.

It seems as though a lot of people I know have unexpectedly found themselves in the event planning business, pulling together conferences because it’s fun and professionally rewarding….and because sometimes, if you don’t volunteer to do it, it won’t happen.

Liz Strauss brought her blog’s online community together offline for the first SOBCon in 2007, Becky McCray organized the first State of NOW/140 Conference SmallTown in 2010 and my teacher husband Chris Fancher ran the first EdCamp Manor education unconference in 2011.

The takeaway for places that host meetings is that anyone can become a meeting planner these days, rather like anyone can be an online publisher.

People like me may not have experience in the business, but we have definite ideas of what we want and don’t want.

My Two Concerns As A Meeting Planner

Now that the planning shoe is on my foot, here’s what I’m looking for….

1)  Cheap. Cheap. Cheap.  We are steering clear of hotels and “going indie” to keep costs low.

The sense is that with hotels, you can get a good deal for rooms (conference and attendee rooms) but then you’ll fork over for every other little expense after that, including extension cords.

May not always be true, but that’s the perception among many.

The true value of a conference is the people who attend, not how fancy a hotel can get plating up a rubber chicken lunch with a green bean side.  Expensive food and beverage costs will eat us alive, so yes, we’ll take a decent box lunch in lieu of “the usual” meals.

Whenever I start freaking out about whether this meeting will come together, I tell myself that if all else fails, I will sit in a hotel room with a pitcher of margaritas and we’ll have a conference with whoever shows up.

I know that it will be great. Seriously.

2)  Free wireless internet access. Conferences these days are not only happening within the four walls of the host venue; they are being shared continuously, worldwide, through the social web via laptops and smartphones.

An entire community has formed around BlogWorld and New Media Expo, for example, and the chatter keeps going year-round. Community members both at the event and watching it from afar expect to be able to communicate continuously.

WiFi is becoming a major sticking point as more and more meetings have people live-blogging, live-tweeting and otherwise wanting to be online. Host hotels charge through the nose for it, in your room and in the conference venue, and it’s often crappy to boot.

People are tired of putting up with that – WiFi is now the number one hotel amenity that people want, and the sooner conference venues wake up to this insatiable demand, the better.

What Does a Cheapo, Connected Conference Look Like?

For our tentative event, we might….

….use available space on an urban college campus near public transportation, have at least part of the event be an unconference in barcamp/podcamp style, get a sponsor to provide some sort of simple/box lunch and have attendees get their own hotels.

We want people to be able to fly in and out easily, get to the hotel and the venue on public transportation and spend a minimal amount on food.  Get there, get settled and get on with communicating and connecting.

We want attendees to walk away saying, “Wow, I met so many interesting people and learned a lot, plus it didn’t cost me much, either. No frills, but who cares – it was great!”

We’ve broken the code that “great” does NOT necessarily mean “expensive.”

What can you, the meeting venue, do for people like us?

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