Ask the Right Questions. Get the Right Answers.
How does a meeting planner who takes pride in topping her previous annual meeting year after year outdo herself? She takes to the sea.
At least, that’s what Crissy Tallman, Director of Conventions and Continuing Education at Florida Dental Association, did for the FDA’s 2022 convention, held at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee in late June.
Tallman didn’t need to literally take delegates to the ocean to give them the same expansive, joyous feeling of the sea. The theme of the Friday night celebration was “Sea Vibes,” complete with a mechanical shark ride, a 54-foot inflatable octopus DJ booth, and catering options such as “Poseidon’s Power Greens Salad Bar” (and, of course, seafood).
The festivities are part of the draw for attendees—as was the venue itself. “For our dentists, so much of this is bleisure—it’s business and leisure,” Tallman says. “So having a property that affords both of these things, that’s really important.” Gaylord Palms’ swimming pool, shuttles, and activity centers were part of why she partnered with the site. “They bring their teams, everything from the hygienist, the front office, the assistants. It’s kind of their reward for sticking with it and putting in the hard work.” Attendees get some continuing education credits from the event—and some leisure.
A Longtime Partnership Leads to Collaboration—and Devotion
Gaylord Palms has seen the FDA through multiple iterations of its annual convention. Part of that is simple logistics: The central Florida location means that it’s within a five-hour drive of most attendees, and the Orlando airport is less than a 30-minute ride away, making it a strong choice for a state association’s convention. Plus, the property has flexible meeting spaces, accommodating everything from a 1,000-person general session to a 15-person hands-on workshop.
But the driving factor that keeps the FDA returning to Gaylord Palms isn’t the geography. It’s the year-over-year learnings that the team accumulates through their continued collaboration (just one of the benefits of a multiyear meeting agreement).
“Gaylord really sets itself apart from some of the other hotels that I’ve worked with,” Tallman says. “They truly become your partner.”
After the convention is done, she sits down with the Gaylord Palms team and pours over survey results from the meeting. “That has really created such a synergy and teamwork,” Tallman says. She says she relies on the Gaylord team’s institutional knowledge to fix minor pain points for future meetings, and the Gaylord team comes to know Tallman’s preferences, allowing them to more effectively present to her ways to make her ideas come to life.
Successful Venue-Planner Relationships Begin With Discovery
In a series of meetings before each event, Gaylord Palms team members work with meeting planners to walk the property, offer vendor suggestions, share diagrams, explain what’s available, and otherwise share what’s possible.
Spending a lot of time in discovery mode with meeting planners is one key to the venue’s success. When a meeting planner has an idea, even an extravagant one—say, Tallman’s vision for a 54-foot inflatable octopus DJ—the venue brainstorms ways to make it possible. If the idea itself isn’t actually feasible due to safety or financial reasons, the team works to find the “why” behind an idea and make that “why” happen. Among the questions planners can expect to be asked at Gaylord Palms or any other Marriott Bonvoy venue:
● What are you trying to accomplish with this idea?
● What’s most important to you about this idea?
● How does this meet your larger goals for this event?
Through this process, “both parties understand the expectation,” as Tallman puts it. Venues not only find ways to realistically execute on planners’ ideas, but they can also identify spots for nuanced improvements. One example: The catering team took artwork from the FDA’s registration materials and used it in their dessert selection.
Serving the Same Boss: The Attendee
Venue-planner partnerships are inherently compatible, because they’re both working toward the same goal: creating an unforgettable experience for attendees.
“I think there is an innate need for people to be around other people who do what they do,” Tallman says. “They need to have a safe space where they feel like they can celebrate successes as well as commiserate about things that perhaps don’t go so well, but they need that home and that familiarity that comes with having a meeting like we have.”
Similarly, venues may be contracted by their clients—but they serve the attendees’ needs. “Our job is to maintain the attendee experience,” says Wendy Earley, Senior Event Manager at Marriott International. “We know that our attendees are the most important thing to the client themselves, so when we take care of our clients, they can also focus on the attendee.”