While the economy is picking up and businesses are loosening their belts a bit when it comes to business travel, tight budgets for meetings and events are still very much the norm.  Meeting planners are continuously faced with tough decisions that will make or break the budget they have to work with, so it’s important to know in what areas a planner can successfully scrimp and save, and in what areas cost-cutting might be detrimental.

We’ve identified three areas of cost-cutting that, if done right, will have a minimum effect on the outcome of your conference, but a maximum effect on your overall budget.

Décor.  Do you really need tabletop centerpieces at your meals?   Yes, of course, you say.  Well, consider your group.  Flowers are very expensive.  Arlene Sheff, CMP and former senior meeting and event planner for The Boeing Company, says that at most of her events, the men she planned for did not notice the décor.  Instead of spending money on floral centerpieces, she preferred a more functional centerpiece such as “fancy” bread baskets or dessert platters.  Incorporating the centerpieces into the meal was much more cost-effective.

Take advantage of local talent.  Looking for a high-profile person or celebrity to be your keynote speaker or simply to entertain your guests?  Make sure to mine your own backyard.  Recently the Sacramento CVB worked with the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA) in securing two celebrities to entertain conference attendees.  Both celebrities were from Sacramento, which saved the conference from having to pay travel and accommodation costs.

Conference Materials.   While you don’t want to drop your printed conference materials altogether, small changes here can lead to big savings.  For instance, moving some of your information and material online can often be a win-win for both planner and attendee.  Eighty percent of attendees have smartphones, so utilizing mobile applications (apps) makes a lot of sense.  It is convenient for the attendee, is eco-friendly and can reduce your printing costs.   While developing an app specifically for your conference costs money, it is often still less expensive than producing the same information in print.

In what areas is cost-cutting not recommended?  AV and lighting.  Jenise Fryatt, co-owner and marketing director of Icon Presentations AV in Palm Springs, says that quality lighting and sound are essential to your conference.  If your audience cannot see or hear the speakers, then “there is no point in having the event at all.”  The best way to monitor whether your AV and lighting was successful?  Receiving no feedback.  That’s right.  Attendees generally only notice AV when it is bad.  So, consider yourself lucky if attendees have not commented on your AV service.