Your association wants, no, needs to get an annual conference or regional meeting organized.  Where do you even start to start?  You have to find a venue, arrange catering, make sure meeting or workshop spaces are set up and properly equipped and don’t forget getting members registered, invoiced and directed. Wait! Programs, we need programs!  This is becoming a major headache already – you need help.

            Finding a professional meeting planner is not as difficult or intimidating as it may at first seem, and certainly less frightening than tackling the full meeting job yourself.  Even though you probably don’t want to just pick up the phone book or sign on to Craig’s list and select a name at random, there are resources available to you for finding just the right planner for your association. As with most professions and services, referrals can be invaluable in locating just the right individual or company to guide your association all the way to a great, attention-getting, moneymaking meeting.

            A good place to start is the Professional Convention Management Association (www.pcma.org).  The PCMA’s vision is to be “the leading organization for meeting and event professionals” and all 6,000+ members in North America agree to abide by a standard code of ethics.  Their website is also rich with useful information and articles to help you locate the right professional for you.

            Another option is to use a “job board” style site, like www.conventionplanit.com, where planners can list their services and organizations can post their needs.  Browsing is free and you can search by location, venue type or professional. 

            If your organization is part of a larger group, with local or national affiliates, you can get referrals from them, or from association management professionals, who often employ meeting professionals on behalf of their clients.  The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) can assist in finding a management company in your area that would be happy to assist you with a reference to a good planner.  You can reach them through their website at www.asaenet.org.

            If you already have a location picked, venues like hotels and conference centers in the area can assist you in finding a planner suited to the style, culture and needs of your association.  The meeting director at the hotel has most likely worked with several area planners and can make a recommendation based on that experience. The local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) may also be able to help, as one of their functions is to bring meetings and conventions to the area.

            If you prefer the do-it-yourself approach, a great many professionals offer their services on-line.  Key “professional meeting planners” into your favorite search engine and start shopping!