You have been recruited to organize a meeting for your bank or bankers association. What do you do next?

Having spoken to every state association in the nation and hundreds of banks, maybe I can give you a few practical hints.

When?

Picking the date can be crucial. Watch out for religious holidays. Look at the calendars of banking meetings that show when other meetings which may conflict with yours are being held.

If it is a meeting of several days, remember that people prefer to start on Monday or end on Friday so they can add a weekend to the trip-especially if it is at an attractive location.

One exception: Because airfares are so much higher without a Saturday night stay, many groups, such as the Independent Bankers Association of America, are starting their meetings on Sunday.

Where?

This can be a hornet's nest.

I remember when the Ohio Bankers used to go to Toledo every fifth year, even though they felt other cities to be more attractive. "They count on the income, and we have to help keep all out cities vibrant," the association's chief executive officer explained to me.

A key to picking the hotel is how willing and anxious then management is to have you. Don Geyer, the arrangements manager at the old U.S. League of Savings Institutions, told me that when he was in San Francisco looking for a convention hotel he got a call from the Hilton.

"Mr. Geyer, why aren't you considering us?"

"Because you don't have a room that seats 3,000."

"Can you spare half an hour tomorrow morning? If so, our limo will pick you up at 8:30."

They took Don Geyer to the Hilton, and the ballroom was set up for 3,000 people. They had worked all night to set it up just to show him. He decided that if they wanted the meeting that badly, they would do a great job for the league. And they did.

Speakers

Every group has a budget. But you will be amazed how many good speakers, from institutions and government agencies, come for free.

The question is: If you use a speaker from, say, a brokerage firm that is trying to get new business, will his or her talk be valuable or largely be a commercial?

This is especially an issue when prospective speakers are financial planners, who often spend their time touting their special investments instead of giving a broad, useful picture.

Usually the best way of getting speakers is word of mouth from other bankers who have had good results.

What about elected officials? They can be cheap or free, and exciting. But they can cancel at the last minute if some important issue comes up.

Agents

Speaker agents can always get you big names, but they are expensive. They usually take the fee the speaker wants and tack on a third. (I had one who took 75% of the fee and gave me 25%).

Their other real value is that if your speaker cancels, they must find you another at the last minute, if necessary-a kind of insurance policy.

But agents are not mandatory.

I was on a program with Barry Goldwater just after his run for the presidency.

"How did you get him?" I asked my host.

"I dialed 602 and his number, and he said, 'Hello.'"

Helping Hand

Once you book a speaker, show them some personal care. Make sure about the hotel arrangements. Meet the plane.

Let your speaker know about the audience and anything special. (I talked at the Alaska Bankers Association and was not told that one of the two mikes was for live radio coverage of my talk-Jewish jokes and all.)

And don't drop your speaker right after the talk. I remember talking to 2,500 people in Kansas City and 10 minutes later standing alone in the street trying to hail a cab.

Final Points

Make sure the public address system works.

Don't serve drinks until the formal program is over, unless the speech is secondary to the social function.

Make sure the speakers stop on time. Letting one ramble on is unfair to the next. (I've been cut from 45 minutes to 10 minutes just before going on.)

Finally, try your best to make sure the speakers don't just read a text. If they have one, distribute it-and let them talk informally or give a quick summary and then take questions.

The only good part of booking speakers who read their talk is that you will never be asked to be a speaker chairman again.

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