We sat down with Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) Beth Bentley, director/Conferences for the American Lighting Association (ALA) to learn the ins and outs of organizing the annual gathering.
enLIGHTenment Magazine: How and when do you decide where the conference will be?
Beth Bentley: We typically look three to four years ahead of where we’d like to host a conference. I’ve been in the meeting planning industry for 16 years and have made many contacts [at resorts]. If I can get in on the ground floor of a property [which often means a great deal], I will. We try to locate the conferences in turn across the country -West, Central, East – to make the location fair and relatively easy for everyone to access. We’ve done research among our members and have a long-range planning committee in place. We’ve learned that our members like to be in warm climates and they prefer a resort atmosphere. Las Vegas has also proven to be a very popular venue for our group.
EM: What is the greatest challenge in putting together each conference?
BB: Definitely finding great speakers is a challenge. Someone might tell me about a topic that interests them as a business owner, but it’s hard to find a public speaker with expertise in that particular subject and who falls under our budget guidelines. We’ve also made it a requirement that the speakers talk with a sampling of our membership ahead of time so they can better understand our industry’s perspective when tailoring their sessions.
EM: What exactly goes into the registration fee?
BB: First of all, Dick Upton raises approximately $150,000 a year in sponsorships to help bring the costs down for attendees. After that’s calculated, the registration fee covers the cost of the speakers, meeting spaces, food, and the time of the resort’s administration staff who are on-hand during our conference – and that includes everything from the dining services to the AV team for each session. Several years ago, we cut out one night of the conference to help save attendees’ time out of their offices plus contain costs.
EM: What’s one aspect about your job that attendees might not know about?
BB: I do my due diligence and spend 24 hours after the conference going over the bill – I have everything itemized in a notebook just for the conference expenses – and making sure it’s clean. I question every penny. I have even negotiated the final bill, making sure every expense that we are charged is accurate and agreed upon. I do this because I care; the conference is my baby.
The 2013 ALA Conference will be held September 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines in Lost Pines, Texas, just outside of Austin. For more information visit www.americanlightingassoc.com