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Kicking off a New Year to a New Season!

Author: Debbie Harding, Manager, Conferences and Accommodation, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus

Happy New Year! As we begin the New Year, it becomes crystal clear very early on that things are already kicking off for the conference season, only a few short months away.  You may think that it’s way too early to start planning for conference season on January 6th!  Not the case.  We are already setting up meetings with housing, maintenance, residence life, conferences, and housekeeping to begin planning our transition from housing to conference season.  When are students moving out?  How much time do we have to clean and set?  How many students are staying over summer? What are the maintenance projects? We are looking at our groups and planning staffing needs. We are putting together our job posting for student guest service agents to be posted by late January. We are fine tuning revisions to training modules and procedures. And so much more!

Planning for conference season can be just as complicated and critical as planning the actual conferences!  It takes a tremendous effort to make sure that our student residences are ship shape for all of our conference and accommodation guests. The best way to do this is to make sure that our organization is prepared on all levels for the season ahead.  We are extremely fortunate to have a fantastic cohesive team that works together to make this happen smoothly.  We also have the benefit of experience!  Because of our critical evaluation each season, we are better prepared for next season. Starting now just makes it that much smoother for later.

We welcome the New Year because it gets us excited for what’s to come!  Our focus is turned to the future and all that it will bring!  So, here’s to a fantastic 2014 to all of our CUCCOA colleagues and success for the coming year!

Debbie Harding, Manager, Conferences and Accommodation, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus
Telephone: 888-318-8666
Email: debra.harding@ubc.ca

Food Will Make or Break the Client Experience

Author: Melani Lane, Manager, Residence/Conference Operations, Dalhousie Agricultrual Campus

After many years of experience and thousands of clients later, I still maintain that no matter how organized and efficient we are, if the food service is poor, the client will say the overall experience was bad.

An old residence room and a fantastic buffet breakfast, a meeting room further away than the clients wants with a beautifully catered lunch and a projector malfunction in a room filled with the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls – the client will smile and say “what a great conference”.

All the behind the scenes scrambling, coordinating and negotiating on behalf of our client is important. However, equally important is the relationship we have with our Campus Food provider. We have been blessed with a food service manager who works as part of our team. Our clients are her clients and we all need to make them happy. We have older dorm style rooms, our equipment may inexplicably malfunction and sometimes we have to place a client further away then they want for a meeting. However, we know we can always count on our food service folks to pull out all the stops and provide a wonderful food experience.  We keep files on favorite meeting space, preferred residence, special technical requirements and our food service folks keep files on favorite meal item, special desserts and so on.

 I know that our behind the scenes attention to the hundreds of little details are so important to a successful client experience. However, ask a client when they are checking out how they enjoyed their stay  — and so many will say something like “great, the lemon squares are delicious”, not “great, I appreciated that someone spent 2 hours putting up all that extra signage”. Seriously, does it really matter which member of the team gets credit? Isn’t it simply important that the client has a great experience? So, hats off to Campus Food Providers – I am so happy they are on my team.

Melani Lane, Manager, Residence/Conference Operations, Dalhousie Agricultrual Campus
Telephone: 902-893-6671
Email: melani.lane@dal.ca

Remember to Keep Learning and Developing

Author: Maaike Ammerlaan, Conference Sales and Services Manager, University of  British Columbia, Okanagan campus

It is that time of year again where we look back at our summer season and make plans for the next year. And sometimes it is hard to come up with new ideas and initiatives to grow our business. Hard to stay fresh, motivated and focussed.

We had the privilege of hosting Chris Hadfield, the Canadian “singing astronaut” through our Distinguished Speakers Series at UBC Okanagan campus. The event (which was free to attend) sold out within an hour and live feeds were set-up to lecture theaters around campus to accommodate all the people that would like to see and hear him speak, even if they could not be in the same room with him.

Being so interesting, having so much accomplished and still being so humble and personable was what most people took away from the event. He had to train hard (25 years in total and 5 years just to be able to be in space for 6 months), but he told the kids that were present that when you have a dream, to stick with it and work hard to get there. Find your passion and go for it.

Interesting people, like Chris Hadfield, inspire you, make you think about what you are doing, make you focus again on what you are passionate about and give you the courage to make changes if needed.   As we reflect on our conference season, about what went well and where we can improve, we should maybe reflect on ourselves as well. What is it I am good at, what do I do best? Where can I improve in my work and as a person? Am I using my energy in the right way or should I take the time to regroup and refocus?  

We are working in an environment where learning and development are key, and that is what makes our jobs so interesting. Let’s not forget to check in with our selves once in a while and make sure we keep learning and developing. Try to be that interesting person that is focussed and passionate about what he/she is doing and go for it.

Maaike Ammerlaan, Conference Sales and Services Manager, University of  British Columbia, Okanagan campus
Telephone: 250-807-9804
Email: maaike.ammerlaan@ubc.ca

Killing with Kindness

Author: Rebecca Eyers, Manager, Residence Life & Conference Services, Nipissing University, Muskoka Residence Complex

A phrase we use around our office often is “kill them with kindness”, although I feel blessed that we have many incredible clients, staff, as well as campus and community partners, I think we can all agree that we have days or people that can make our jobs a little more challenging.

Although I have accepted that we can’t please everyone (although we still try), it is important that we always have that warm, inviting, can-do attitude. In a customer service role it is tough sometimes to stay positive as we deal with the good, the bad and the ugly.  Every so often one of my staff will come to me about something a client said or a campus partner did that is really bothering them. After we talk out the situation, I always like to think of the situation from the other person’s point of view so we can learn something from the situation. I always understand how my staff is feeling but I remind them of the nature of our job, the importance of letting things go and encourage them to continue to “kill them with kindness”.

Some of you reading this may be thinking, it’s not the simple or straight forward, but I say why not? I am a firm believer that “what goes around comes around” and one thing I pride myself in doing and challenge my staff to embrace is to “kill them with kindness”. Now I ask you, what is it that you do or say to help get yourself or your staff back on a positive note?

Rebecca Eyers, Manager, Residence Life & Conference Services, Nipissing University, Muskoka Residence Complex
P: 705-645-6999 ext. 7299
E: rebeccae@nipissingu.ca

Busy, Busy, Busy

Author: Susan Labentsoff, Director, Marketing & Communications, Meeting, Event and Conference Services (MECS) & Ancillary Services, Simon Fraser University

I read an interesting article the other day that was posted on LinkedIn and was published by the Harvard Business Review.  The article was entitled “Please Stop Complaining about How Busy You Are” by Meredith Fineman.

It got me thinking about what being ‘busy’ really means. It seems nowadays whenever you ask someone how they are, one of the most common responses is “Busy!”  Are we really that much busier than we were before?  Are there more expectations?  Are we forced to do more with less?  I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that it seems that we’re all on this treadmill of being so busy – and to what end?

I’ve always had the philosophy that if you’re too busy on a regular basis, either your workload is unbalanced or your time management skills need some work.  Sure, we all have times in our work life that are busier that others – different seasons, budget time, special projects, etc. but overall if you find yourself working long hours and never seeming to get caught up, there is something out of whack.

 I recently hear a commercial on the radio for a bank promoting being “good busy” not just busy and it struck me as something we should really take a closer look at.  What does “good busy” mean?  To me it means prioritizing tasks and responsibilities, doing the important things first and not getting caught up in things that don’t matter.  Probably easier said than done, but I think the first step is to at least acknowledge there is a difference between being busy and being good busy. 

In my role at SFU Meeting, Events and Conferences my main responsibility is to generate revenue for the organization.  To be good busy, everything I do should be related to that end goal.  Everything the sales managers do should be related to that goal.  What is your main responsibility? What is your goal?  Is everything you do related to achieving that goal?  If not, perhaps you have to ask yourself, am what I’m doing right now going to help me in realizing what I’m meant to do?

I’m not saying this is easy, especially when it seems like we’ve been programmed to be so busy all the time.  But give it try, you might surprise yourself on how much time you spend on things that just aren’t good busy!

Susan Labentsoff, Director, Marketing & Communications, Meeting, Event and Conference Services (MECS) & Ancillary Services, Simon Fraser University
Telephone: 778-782-7903
Email: slabentsoff@sfu.ca

Why Do We Do This?

Author: Debbie Harding, Conference Sales and Services Manager, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus

As we’re well into our conference and accommodation season in mid June (already!), we have experienced a whole array of things as a result of our “busy” season!

Personally, it’s all been really fantastic thus far, knock on wood!  We’ve had the privilege of having some extraordinary groups stay with us and are expecting lots more in the coming weeks.  However, this does not come without its challenges and pressures; meeting and exceeding the needs and expectations of our clients and balancing the resources of the large network of people we work with on campus.  It’s our job to make sure everyone is happy! Right? Right!  And through the hard work, patience, and sometimes pulling your hair out, it all seems to work out!

Why do we do it?  What is the main motivation that drives us to work so hard to make everything work out to the best of our ability?  I’m sure there are long psychological lists that can answer this question.  And without question, we are professionals and want the best for our clients and guests. But for me, I try not to lose sight of my motivation, which in the end, is for our students.

This becomes very clear during convocation.  This year we had four of our very own Guest Service Agents walk up to the podium to receive evidence of their hard work and dedication.  What a wonderful moment!  Students come from all over the country and world to study and live at UBC’s Okanagan campus.  They work hard to be able to afford to come to University. I like to believe that what we do in the summer with conference and accommodation hopefully makes it a little easier for students to live on campus and experience this brief, unique, and exciting time of their lives.

Maybe we’re not changing the world and sometimes we feel like we are running in circles, but I can guarantee that if we can help students in any way to experience living on campus, we’ve certainly succeeded in helping to change their lives.

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Meeting Planning 101

Author: Debbie Harding, Conference Sales & Services Manager

I think we’ve all been responsible for coordinating an office meeting, most likely in the adjacent boardroom with work colleagues.  We’re pretty comfortable with an agenda, inviting attendees (usually electronically) and even assigning responsibility for minutes.

Things start getting complicated when we’re responsible for organizing a larger meeting, workshop, or conference.  Perhaps outside stakeholders are invited or a speaker is invited to present at the meeting.  We must organize breaks, lunch, maybe a reception, and most importantly the agenda. Now we’re talking!

Where to begin!  Sometimes just the thought of all the details can be overwhelming.  There are some initial questions that will help get you started in the right direction.

1.      Who is the target audience? What topics are important to the audience? Are there industry questions that should be addressed, trends that are affecting your business, or do you have something important to share with stakeholders?

2.      What is the intention of the meeting or workshop? What do you want participants to leave with?  Drilling this down to the most important factor will keep you focused on what is important. There can be several topics, but at the end of the day, are they cohesive in getting the overall message across?

3.      How do you deliver the information you want your audience to have?  Are there experts within the ranks that can present valuable information?  Would it be advantageous to bring in speakers? Does your budget allow for such an expense?

4.      One word, budget!  What is your budget?  Will you be hosting this event from an internal organizational budget? Will you be charging guests to supplement your budget? Are there sponsors?  Sometimes you don’t know what the budget is, because you don’t know the costs.  Research, make phone calls, ask questions.  Like our conference services staff, there are people who can help you with creating a budget.

5.      Location and timing.  This is critical in your decision making process.  There are several things to consider:

  • What venue makes sense in terms of size and seating, technology, central location to your guests, unique or standard venue, and always, cost?  Ask about policy, contracts, cancellations, payments, every venue has their own important policies you should be aware of!
  • Timing is critical.  Make sure you are not overlapping important deadlines for your industry.  You wouldn’t want to organize a Tax Conference for tax professionals for the weekend of April 6th!  Book your venue well in advance to make sure your dates are solid. It’s not fun having to communicate new dates to guests!
  • Does the venue offer professional catering services?  Will you need to arrange food service on your own? You don’t want to be in the thick of things during the meeting and worrying about picking up food for you guests!

These questions may intimidate you a little bit, but having answered these questions you are building the foundation for your important meeting, workshop or conference.

For professional meeting planning and logistical coordination, contact UBC Conferences & Accommodation services at any time!

Debbie Harding, Conference Sales & Services Manager

UBC Conferences and Accommodations

E: debra.harding@ubc.ca; T: 250-807-9358

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