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5 Conference Planning Tips to Cut Costs

Image via Maxim Blinkov/

Budget cuts and tightened regulations in the wake of high-profile cases of excessive conference spending have combined to put the squeeze on federal off-site gatherings this year.

However, the U.S. Chief Financial Officers Council shared guidance recently indicating that government travel is, by no means, forbidden. “As each agency reviews its travel and conference-related activities, it is critical for each agency to continue to recognize the important role that mission-related travel and conferences can often play in Government operations,” according to the May 28 Controller Alert from the council.  

For government officials scrambling to re-evaluate travel plans for their important meetings and conferences, several tips can help them discover ways to economize in the planning process, without losing quality and effectiveness.

1. Clearly define the purpose of the meeting at the outset.

The more compelling the case for the gathering, the more likely it will receive approval.

For instance, the Controller Alert indicates that collaborations among government scientists with industry and academic colleagues to drive innovation could be one approved purpose. Meetings for specific program reviews and oversight boards, law enforcement trainings and international engagements are among other reasons for meeting in person.

If the conference is a training event, the learning objectives and mission or job performance outcomes should be included in the written justification.

2. Focus primarily on far-reaching and/or timely issues that will have major impact.

While government employees might consider many subjects worthy of discussing face-to-face, it is important to find the subject matter that is likely to have the largest impact after a face-to-face meeting.

For example, a law or ruling that millions of Americans need to comply with when it goes into effect on July 1, 2014 would be a compelling reason for government officials from around the country to convene in early 2014 to discuss how that should be communicated, and to prepare for implementation.

3. Secure commitments from key personnel before selecting the date for the meeting.

With financial constraints, it is no longer possible to justify having a meeting without the people who bring the most expertise to the table, whose knowledge and insights will advance discussions and teach others.

An effective meeting requires firm commitments from the pivotal people in their field, for the topic being covered—whether it is a rocket scientist for a NASA session, specific medical researchers for the National Cancer Institute or the CFO for a budget session.

4. Create an actionable agenda via a collaborative document, indicating which participants will pay for each component of the meeting.

This step will ensure that each government agency involved can provide funding according to the appropriate policies. In this way, the agenda becomes a tool for sharing expenses and reducing the burden of the meeting’s cost on any one agency.

One agency could be responsible for underwriting the cost of audiovisual services, for example, while another covers the expenses of meals or refreshments during breaks.

5. Review your list of invitees to ensure that only participants who will play an active role are included.

Successful meetings thrive on involved participants. In the past, it was possible to include invitees who traveled to a meeting but never said a word.

As government gatherings are being pared down, and all costs evaluated, it is crucial to include only invitees who are likely to engage with one another in discussion and collaboration. Silent participants expecting an “observer only” status can be excluded from the list, especially in smaller meetings.

With the 30 percent budget cuts for travel, and requirements that meetings budgeted at $100,000 or more be published, government executives will find ways to refine meeting planning into a fine art. The result might be fewer meetings, and smaller, less costly meetings, but at the end of the day, it might mean more fantastic meetings. That is an outcome everyone would welcome.

Goran Gligorovic is executive vice president of Omega World Travel, a global travel management company. Based in Fairfax, Virginia, Omega services government, corporate, meeting, and leisure clients throughout the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia.  

Image via Maxim Blinkov/

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