Douglas O’Neill: To book meetings like a pro you need a proper policy

26 July 2016
Douglas O'NeillManaging Director and OwnerInntel

Putting an actual cost to both external and internal meetings will encourage travellers to think about value

Buyers often can’t imagine that companies can provide a service they can’t do for themselves. Many don’t have the luxury for something like meetings management and there are businesses that can help them to define and implement a meetings policy, which is something they can’t do without.

Professional meetings management companies work with all manner of clients from small businesses to vast corporates across industry and service sectors. And while they will all want different levels of service, their requirements are nearly always formalised in a tailored meetings policy.

The meetings policy

Meetings management companies work with new clients to identify the choices they want to make in a range of cases such as the class of hotels they will book, the room rates they will pay, the travel methods and meal allowances they will approve. They also help with selecting venues (by type and price band), the authorisation process for any additional spending and more.

Many of the stipulations the clients make in their meetings policy will depend on additional criteria such as the staff ranking of the attendees or the purpose of the meeting. A quarterly board meeting will have a higher budget allocation than a weekly target setting meeting, for example.

All of the selections are then formalised in the client’s individual corporate meetings policy. When the management company is subsequently asked to book accommodation, travel, meetings or event space it will have to be in line with the stated policy.

To some extent, every company’s meetings policy is just a variation on the same theme because the individual differences depend on the company’s available budget, their particular priorities and where they have set the bars.

How to create your own

If you apply the same discipline to creating your own meetings policy you will be able to enjoy many of the insights and savings that an external meetings company could offer you. However the benefits will depend how all-encompassing your policy is and how strictly you adhere to it.

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Meeting room credit poba-240Consider internal meeting spaces alongside others ©poba/iStock

A truly robust meetings policy would cover both external and internal meetings which I refer to as ‘integrated space management’.

Your internal meeting rooms are either a valuable asset or a waste of space depending on how you’re using them. Therefore internal meeting space needs to be considered alongside the other external options during the planning stage to ensure the right meetings are held in-house.

If you want the internal and external options considered for all meeting planning you will need to agree on clear criteria for each. A blanket statement such as ‘use internal space over external space’ is too vague and could lead to internal space being over-subscribed.

A more sensible selection process could involve looking at the number of people at the meeting, the starting location of those people, the corporate ranking of the attendees, the nature of the meeting, the length of the meeting or any combination of these and other variables.

You will also need to decide who will have ownership of the internal space (with responsibility for managing and tracking the bookings) and identify a suitable paper or technology-based system to assist them.

It is worth pointing out here that people will only see your internal booking system as important if you treat it as important so decide carefully where in your organisation to position it. Is it something that the reception desk can handle or a job for the executive administration team?

Be as detailed as possible

The value of the meetings policy will be measured by the level of detail you have gone into. So spend time thinking it through and getting it right. Here are some of the factors to consider.


This may not be an obvious first point but if business-sensitive information leaks out it could be devastating for your company.

By having an all-encompassing meetings policy that highlights the need for confidentiality you will be reminding your employees not to discuss your trade secrets at impromptu meetings in the local Starbucks but in an appropriately secure internal room or external venue.

Internal costs

Internal meeting space is not ‘free' but companies rarely attribute costs to them in their planning.

If you intend to manage your meeting costs by putting in the limits for external costs (venue hire, room rates, catering allowances) then work out an alternative figure for the internal meeting room option to have as a comparison. This could be calculated as the amount those few square metres of space are costing you as a company each day along with the refreshments you usually serve from the staffroom reserves, for example.

Having these figures to hand, and putting an actual cost against internal meetings, will encourage staff to value their internal meeting space as a resource and emphasise the savings that are being achieved when the internal room is chosen over an external venue. If an external venue is the preferred option budget holders will be reminded how much extra they are paying to take the meeting off site while the internal meeting space stands empty.

Another advantage of having these costs available is that if you ever decide to hire out your under-used internal meeting space you will be able to track the income you achieve against the amount it is costing to keep the space available (on ‘standby’) rather than in active use for other things.

Policing the policy

You will also need to decide how the policy will be policed to avoid abuse and when it can be over-ruled to avoid embarrassment. Consider the possible exceptions to the new rules. For example, if a senior manager decides to hold a meeting for 10 members of staff off-site, will he have the freedom to do so despite the policy statement that ‘internal meetings of fewer than 12 people must be held on site’?

Preferred programme conflicts

Here we need to throw in a word of caution.

If you are using a meetings management company it is likely that they have put together a preferred programme for you – a shortlist of hotels and venues that have agreed to give you preferential rates in exchange for an assured number of bookings over the year. Alternatively, you may have negotiated your own special rates directly.

Once you start making better use of your internal meeting space there is a risk that you will not meet the business levels you agreed on with the external venues. Therefore check whether this is likely to happen and, if it is, what measures you need to take to ensure you do not sacrifice a greater saving to achieve a smaller one.

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