Don’t Let This Happen To Your Meeting

Before I get to the funny stuff, I want to suggest the concept of meetings ROI, or return on investment.  Many meeting industry professionals have tried to formulate an accurate way to calculate the financial return of holding a face-to-face meeting and often they are disappointed by the results.  It’s not because they don’t try hard.  They do.  But there are so many benefits to getting the team together which are difficult to measure in a spreadsheet.

Perhaps the most important element is achieving effectiveness.  If you have ever attended a conference or an off-site meeting, you know what I am talking about.  There is an energy and a level of connection with other colleagues, members, associates, customers, vendors and even friends which cannot be captured on a conference call, a webinar, or even a gathering in the company conference room.  It’s the little interactions which build connections between humans and allow you to look forward to speaking on the phone with that vendor the next time there is a problem to resolve.  You aren’t just another problem on that person’s to-do list, you are a friend who needs help, and you will get better results for your team and your employer.

When we meet in person and spend time focused on a task, an idea, a problem or a decision, we tend to get results which matter.  While you are thinking about that positive experience at a conference or off-site where you put a face and a laugh to someone who was previously just an email address and a voice, take a few minutes to watch this funny video which perfectly simulates how ineffective some meeting alternatives can be.

Team Retreats: Re-Posted from “Venture Energy”

Following is a blog post from a fellow Atlanta area entrepreneur Johnson Cook.  The advice is good and relevant to any team.  Naturally, a larger team may not fit into one house.  VenueQuest clients who utilize team retreats have found that hotel and resort locations more than 1 hour from their home base, but less than 3 hours are ideal.  It’s just far enough that everyone can step out of their daily grind, but close enough to not be inconvenient.  And if you really want to emphasize the team building, charter a large motor coach or luxury mini-coach to take everyone there and back together.  You can use that time on the road for productivity and continued discussion.


Team Retreats

by Johnson Cook, September 6, 2013,

In my last company, we had a distributed management team. 6 team members across 3 states. It took us a while to figure it out, but we eventually found a healthy cadence of huddles, team meetings, and everyone’s favorite: retreats.

Team retreats are awesome.   We ended up scheduling quarterly management team retreats. Occasionally these would be schedule during the 2-3 days before a Board meeting, so we could prepare and strategize for the next quarter, then use the Board meeting as a presentation/finale for the output of the retreat. Most often, however, these retreats weren’t anchored by another event and we would just go find somewhere quiet to get several days of focus on the company. Here are some ideas and lessons learned about retreats for startups looking to do these.

Always Plan a Detailed Agenda in Advance
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.   Any retreat where you don’t have a detailed agenda will go sideways.  People are traveling and having fun so often it is way too easy to throw structure and planned activities out the window.   It’s critical to discuss the agenda 2-4 weeks before the retreat and have the entire time on the same page.  If everyone has input to the agenda (at least the high level), it has a better chance of success.    You also can play around with which team member plans the agenda. You might trade this off to share ownership of the schedule and planned activities among the team.

Balance The Work vs. Play Time
This is a best practice for EO retreats and it translates well to team retreats. As you plan the agenda, decide in advance what breakdown of work vs. play time you want to build into the retreat. Assume you have a 10 hour day to plan. Decide what percentage of time will fall into which categories. Generally, we found a 50/50 or 60/40 (work/play) was the most productive.  You will find that being together away from the office yields the most productive work time you will find. It’s intense and exhausting. Trying to work all day without fun excursions isn’t fun and the productivity will tank fast.

Stay Together
We always liked to rent a house or a cabin and stay together. (Another lesson learned from EO.)  Going back to hotel rooms at the end of the night is an energy killer. We all still had our own rooms and private/quiet space, but there’s a different vibe when you are sleeping under the same roof and are responsible for taking care of the facility as a team.

Format Idea: Single topic per day or Half day
One of the formats that worked well for us was to avoid dealing with the little “piddly-sh*t” that you deal with every day at the office and take LARGE chunks of time (3-4 hours) and focusing on a single deep dive subject.  Whether it was a new product launch, a new market, or even a single big problem, like culture issues. We found these deep dives to be very healthy. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the attention span to imagine spending 4 hours talking about a single subject, but some topics are important enough to justify this intense focus… like culture.

Format Idea: Innovation Retreat
A few times over the years, we planned these “innovation retreats.” On these retreats, we intentionally agreed to not discuss current problems and fires and only think ahead. Blue sky sessions. Product brainstorming.  How to better serve clients or help them accomplish their mission. We usually came away with 2-3 big ideas to monitor and 1 big idea to actually tackle over the coming quarter. It was powerful and energizing to pull our head out of the grind and find something that is visible forward motion.

Format Idea: Pre-Planned Exercises Like Start, Stop, Continue
One exercise we did that worked well was to have each team member write down and bring 3 lists to the retreat. A list of things the company should START doing, a list we should STOP doing, and a list of things we should CONTINUE doing.   Each team member presented their list and they were discussed. Tons of action items came from these meetings any time we did them.

Format Idea: Core Values Only
In the early days of our company, we realized that we didn’t have a clean set of written core values or a clear understanding of our WHY.   One of the most painfully frustrating, yet equally rewarding retreats was the one where we agreed to discuss nothing the entire time but our core values. Given how important these are to your culture and ultimately determine your success, I don’t think this is a bad idea. Really taking time to debate and process core values was useful for us.

Team retreats are awesome, and I could write 100 more posts about these. In the early days of a startup, obviously you can take the whole company, but as you grow, this normally becomes financially impossible.  Still, remember to have some all-hands events when and where you can.


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Air Travel Etiquette

Here at VenueQuest, business is brisk.  Our clients are booking hotels for department meetings, managers meetings, board meetings, annual conferences and incentive trips.  And a new survey released this month indicates that 84% of Americans intend to take a vacation away from their home area this year.

That is way up from the usual 50-70% of people desiring to travel away from home.  These two facts tell me that the skies are more crowded than ever.  Here are some tips for flying and visiting airports.  I’m not saying these guidelines will make flying pleasant, but maybe, just maybe it could be a little better.

  1. While waiting in line at the security checkpoint, empty your pockets into a small zippered pocket in your carry-on or jacket.  This avoids the fumbling around at the beginning and end of the conveyor belt as you sift through keys, coins, chap stick, boarding pass, pens, receipts, cell phones, watches, and other small personal objects.
  2. Here in Atlanta, there is a Starbucks right next to the main security checkpoint.  No matter how early your flight is, resist the urge to grab a coffee or bottle of water in the terminal, because you WILL have to leave it behind at the security checkpoint and trying to talk your way through with your Grande Machiato will only slow down the line.
  3. Use the bathroom before you get on the plane.  This is especially true if you have a window seat or middle seat.
  4. As you enter the plane, hold your carry-on bags low and in front of you.  A pulled wheely suitcase is going to bang into peoples knees and a bag over your shoulder is definitely going to drag across the side of everyones face who is seated in an aisle seat.
  5. Be understanding of children.  Most travel writers would use this topic to advise parents to keep their children in check.  That is important, but it is also important to understand that even little kids in diapers pay full fare to get on a plane.  There is no such thing as a child fare in the airline industry.  Everyone has to learn, and everyone is entitled to their own fears.  So, however bad you think it is to sit near a crying child, keep in mind that the child is probably in actual physical pain from the pressure on their tiny ears, and their parent is likely on the verge of an anxiety attack by being being at the crossroads of humiliation, despair and helplessness.
If you are feeling a little despair when you look at your to-do list and see that you need to find a hotel for your company’s next off-site, board meeting, or quarterly conference, just give VenueQuest a call.  All we do is locate the perfect hotels and the perfect price for our customers.

Get started right here.


Rachel Mirves Joins the VenueQuest Team

Rachel Mirves Photo

Rachel Mirves, VenueQuest Global Account Manager

Rachel Mirves, a Michigan based, 15-year veteran of multi property hotel sales has joined VenueQuest Global Meetings & Travel of Alpharetta, Georgia as a Global Account Manager.  Rachel has spent much of her career with Marriott International, where she earned President’s and Chairman’s Awards for excellence in servicing the needs of clients in diverse market segments including corporate, government, sports and entertainment.

“I am excited to transition from sales to consulting where I can help VenueQuest clients place their meetings in the perfect venue, regardless of what name is on the front of the building.”  Recently, she was responsible for Group Sales for 150+ Marriott Hotels, including 8 brands, in 10 Midwestern states.  At VenueQuest, a hotel site selection firm also known as a third party or meeting brokerage, Rachel will have a nationwide client base and be tasked with placing client bookings in small and large hotels and resorts anywhere in the world.

Rachel Mirves is a graduate of Michigan State University, with a B.A. in Hospitality Business, Her passion for quality travel and customer service led her to VenueQuest.

Daniel Gennari, President of VenueQuest Global Meetings & Travel, and also an alumnus of The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State said, “I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome Rachel to the team.  Hotel site selection is a logical next step in the career of a hospitality sales professional.  As a third party, this role opens the door to truly helping customers plan successful meetings and not just selling them something.   She has always been a professional when we have crossed paths professionally and it is simply icing on the cake to reunite with a classmate from MSU.”

Contact her at or on Twitter @RachelMirves.


America the Beautiful

First of all, a thank you to several of you who took a moment to reply to my last post about cooking popcorn on the stove.  That story definitely resonated with people in a number of ways and it was fun to read your stories and share your memories of cooking popcorn on stoves, in kettles and in air poppers.

Everyone knows the song America the Beautiful…well okay, at least the majority of people in America know the song.  But do you know the history of the song.  The year was 1893 and Ms. Katharine Lee Bates, a 33 year old English teacher from Massachusetts set out on a long train trip to teach a summer class in Colorado.  During the trip, her train left the storied New England coastline and made visits to Chicago where she viewed exciting “new” skyscrapers, then traveled across the Great Plains and finally during her stay in Colorado, she hiked to the very top of Pikes Peak.  It was there on top of that mountain, looking west into the incredible range of the Rocky Mountains, and east across a vast expanse of the flat plains, that some of the words started coming to her.

She began writing the poem that would become America the Beautiful as soon as she got back to her hotel room, and it was published two years later on July 4.  In the decades that followed, the poem was adapted to music and gained the adoration of Americans from sea to shining sea.

Interestingly, despite the popularity of the song, Ms. Bates never sought royalties from the repeated publication or performance of the song.

The lyrics are ringing in my ears because as this message reaches your inbox, I will be departing on my own journey into the Rocky Mountains.  I am taking a little winter trip with my son to have some fun skiing and also to look at a handful of hotels and resorts in the Rockies.  Colorado is an obvious and extremely popular destination for winter meetings and conferences, but did you know there are incredible group meeting deals to be found in the mountains during summer.  When you are in your office in Florida, Texas, DC or wherever and you are trying to think of where to hold your meeting in July that won’t be extremely hot and uncomfortable, think about the high country in Colorado.   VenueQuest can help you sort out which resorts are the best fit for your team and show you how to have memorable team building activities that you can’t find in most other places.

Tips For Writing New Years Resolutions

Re-post of the VenueQuest newsletter 1/2/2013 – I predict this could be the most un-read newsletter I will send this year.  The timing stinks because many of you are off this week. And, what is more predictable or cliche on January 2 than a newsletter about New Years Resolutions, ugh!

But I am writing it anyway, because for the topic of New Years Resolutions, the timing is fantastic.  I used to set the same goals every year…get in shape, make more money, blah blah blah.  Until I realized how quickly those broad resolutions could be forgotten because I had no follow through.  In 2008, I set some strict guidelines to get very serious about my New Years Resolutions and I have built on it each year since then.  The first year with specific goals did not go even close to what I had envisioned though.

I was carrying some credit card debt from a recent interstate move, and I had been suffering on and off from a variety of annoying health symptoms including itchy legs, coughing, fatigue, etc.  My personal resolutions going into 2009 were to eliminate my credit card debt, and find a small practice doctor who could work with me to solve all my “little” health problems.  By January 9, I had found the single practice doctor, and after a series of scans and tests, he told me I had Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma and I would be going into chemotherapy right away.  I did not get out of debt that year!

Fast forward, I am healthy again, and I still write down my resolutions.  I used to type them up in big bold fonts and print a copy which would be taped to the wall next to my desk so that I could cross them off as I completed goals.  I love checking something off a list.  Since discovering Evernote, I have replaced my taped up list with an Evernote “note.”  If you are not familiar with Evernote, Google it.  I have yet to meet any users who can say they would be better off without it.

So, without further delay, these are my suggestions and tips for writing New Years Resolutions:
1. Write them down…someplace permanent…that you will see on a regular basis.  Writing them is not enough.   I turn to my computer, type them up in Word with big bold fonts and then print it out.  Next I tape that sheet right next to my desk.

2. Be specific.  There is a little room for ambiguity, but avoid “Get in shape.”  Instead, try “Plan 20 minutes of exercise three times per week (or whatever is realistic for you).  One of my goals for 2012 was to send 10 email newsletters…For anyone counting, yes, this is #9.

3.  Make time to review your list periodically.   Schedule a meeting on your calendar in three months, and give yourself a review.  It will be interesting for you to discover what remains important and what you feel less strongly about.  If you really want to get serious about this, invite another participant to your meeting who can hold you accountable to your goals.

4.  It’s never to late to make a commitment.  If you formalize your list of resolutions, then it becomes a living thing and it can grow.  As the motivation and circumstances strike, you can add to the list.  Setting goals is not just for January 1.

Here are some of my other resolutions for 2013:

1. Grow the VenueQuest Facebook page by 200 new Likes.  Currently at 63, so I need to be at 263 by next December.  Anyone care to help me get started with this one???
Like us on Facebook

2. Hire a new employee.  VenueQuest is growing and we need help.  I am hoping to find the right person for the job in the first quarter of 2013.

I will schedule my review meeting for March 20 and I will let you know how I am doing with this list.  Happy New Year.