Take Your Meetings Back to School

By: Jeff Waddle

A quick course in planning a meeting on a university campus.

Looking for a unique location for your next meeting? A university—with its charm, history, and interesting architecture as well as its access to top-notch professors and high-tech resources—could be a perfect setting.

While summer months are generally the best season for campus meetings, many universities can host some functions year-round. Whatever date you're considering, it's wise to plan well ahead and be aware of special events like football weekends.

"We book up fast, so plan on starting communication with us one and a half to two years before your event," says Troy Bristow, assistant director of sales and marketing for Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. The school can only book residential conferences from May to July but can host special events during spring break and the holidays.

"For any campus I suggest you go see the site and know exactly what you're getting and make sure that [you] understand it's different from a convention center," says Kimberly Araya, director of conference and event services for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, who suggests you book at least a year in advance. "Also, be aware that on a football weekend in the Big Ten, you can have 50,000 to 100,000 people on campus."

Because major universities can be complex bureaucracies, planners should look to colleges that offer one-stop services, says Deborah Blom, executive director of the Association of Collegiate Conference and Event Directors-International (ACCED-I).

A one-stop shop "certainly simplifies a planner's work, so if they need to arrange parking or use of the recreation center, for example, the conference and events office will make the arrangements for them," she says. ACCED-I's website lists universities certified by the association as a one-stop operation.

Odyssey of the Mind, a nonprofit educational program, holds its annual competitions on college campuses. International Director Sammy Micklus agrees that groups considering holding a campus event should make sure the college has a dedicated conference services department.

"Regular staff will not be invested in your event the way conference staff will be," he says. "Your guests must feel like your event is for them. A good university host will do just that."

Jeff Waddle is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer. Email: [email protected]