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Tool # 1: Negotiating Contracts with Sites, Suppliers, and Exhibitors

It’s important to proceed on the assumption that everything is negotiable until you’re told otherwise. It’s not unusual in all kinds of circumstances for suppliers or contractors or renters to give discounts for bulk (i.e., the more you buy or rent, the lower the cost per item), for certainty (knowing that they can sell or rent at least a given number of items), for timeliness (knowing a set number of days or weeks or months beforehand how many items you will take), for the sake of getting repeat business (in order to host or serve your conference again this year, or to guarantee that you’ll work with them again next year), or to get your business for the first time.


If your conference is at a hotel or similar site, there will be a number of areas to be negotiated.

  • Reserved hotel rooms. First, you’ll need to determine how many rooms you think you’ll need. In general, the more rooms you want reserved, the better the rate you should be able to bargain for. Hotels want to have as many rooms occupied as possible, and are willing to offer reduced prices in return for guarantees of occupancy.
  • The key word here is “guarantees,” however. Most hotels’ standard contracts include charges for rooms that aren’t taken after a certain date. (Those charges are removed if the rooms are eventually booked by conference attendees.) You might negotiate both the rates you’ll pay for unbooked rooms and the cutoff dates after which the rooms are free to be given to non-conference guests. In general, if the rooms are taken by others, you won’t be obligated to pay for them, since the hotel will have lost nothing by holding them for the conference. You might be able to agree with the hotel that once it reaches a certain point of occupancy during the conference (say 75%), regardless of whether rooms are occupied by conference participants or by others, you’ll have no obligation to pay for unbooked rooms or cancellations.
  • Space. Will the site absolutely guarantee you the use of the spaces you want for the times and dates you want them? Does that include specific non-traditional spaces (swimming pool or workout room for a physical therapy conference, for instance)? Are there restrictions on the use of outdoor space? Are there specific places where people can relax and talk? What are the arrangements for dealing with a larger-than-expected number of people on a given day? Will the site set up rooms in particular ways (chairs in a circle, chairs stacked at the edges, conference table, small tables) as requested?
  • Food. The hotel will know how much they need per person for such things as breakfast and lunch buffets, and will have standard prices per person as well. Again, there may be better rates for larger groups, or there may not – even standard prices may be negotiable if they want your business. Some points of negotiation:
    • The minimum number of meals you’ll pay for, the number of extra meals you can expect for the same price if there are more people than you expect, and what you’ll pay for extras above that.
    • Exactly what you’ll get for what you’re paying (you may be able to get something fancier than the standard sandwich fixings, for instance, but it may cost more).
    • What kinds of arrangements you can make for special needs – vegetarian and vegan meals, kosher and halal meals, meals with no wheat or no nuts or nut-based oils or sauces (some people are so allergic to peanuts, for instance, that they can go into shock even in an enclosed space where other people are eating peanuts).
    • What kinds of substitutions you may be able to make.
    • At what times and where food will be served.
    • Whether there will be some things – coffee, snacks – available all day.
    • What will be available, if anything, in each session room.
    • How many people can be accommodated at a time in each room where food is being served.
    • Traffic flow for any buffets (How many lines will there be, for instance? Nothing throws conference timing off – and annoys participants – more than block-long lines for food.).

You should try to cover everything you can think of, so that there will be absolutely no surprises during the conference. You should also know the individual you should contact if you have a problem, and make sure that she will be on site during the whole of your conference, so that problems can be reported and cleared up immediately.

  • Computers, audio-visual and other equipment. Will the site supply these, or will you have to supply your own? In either case, will the site supply power cords and assistance with connections and set-up, or is that completely the conference’s responsibility? If the site does supply the equipment, does it also supply people to run it if necessary? Does it supply technical assistance and maintenance throughout the conference? Is the site responsible for equipment damage? (i.e., if a participant trips on a power cord and pulls down a projector, breaking it, whose insurance pays? If it’s yours, you have to make sure that you have the proper coverage.)
  • Materials. What will the site provide? Easels? Newsprint? Markers? Pens/pencils and paper? Whiteboards?
  • Other services. Can the site supply such services as copying at competitive rates? Will it move furniture, rearrange spaces, post signage, and perform other such functions during the course of the conference as part of the contract? What kind of troubleshooting will it do, and who is the individual responsible on site? (Again, you want to make sure there is a specific person to contact on site when something goes wrong.)

Contractors and suppliers

The list here could be very short or very long, depending on the nature and size of the conference and what kind of site you’re dealing with. Caterers, computer software or hardware suppliers, equipment rental companies, general rental firms (for furniture, tents, dishes, etc.) – all of these and others might be negotiated with.


The questions and arrangements for caterers would be very similar to those for food prepared by a site, but there are other considerations involved as well:

  • What kinds of facilities are available at the site for food preparation? If they’re inadequate or nonexistent, the caterers may have to bring already-prepared food with them, which may involve extra equipment (hot boxes, microwaves, etc.) that you’ll need to supply – probably through rental – or pay extra for, if the caterers bring their own.
  • How much time will be involved in food preparation, serving, and cleanup? You may be able to negotiate a set rate for the whole conference, but if not, the caterers will charge for their time as well as for the food.
  • Caterers are less likely to have set buffet menus or dinner menus than conference facilities. You’ll have to choose the food you want, and pay accordingly (and just as in a restaurant, steak is more expensive than chicken salad).
  • Will the caterer supply tables and chairs, dishes, silverware, tablecloths, etc., or will all that have to be rented separately?

Computer and electronic equipment rental

Again, the questions to resolve are similar to those you’d negotiate with a conference facility, but there are some others as well.

  • Will the rental agency deliver and pick up the equipment, or do you have to do it?
  • Will there be a technical advisor on site to connect, troubleshoot, maintain, and, if necessary, run equipment?
  • Does the rental include everything necessary to set up the equipment (power cords and strips, extensions, all peripherals, etc.)?
  • Is the equipment insured by the renter, or are you responsible for theft or damage?
  • Is there a guarantee that you’ll get exactly what you ask for – the brand, the software, the size, etc., that you specified?
  • Is there a discount if you rent more than a certain number of items (or can you negotiate one)?

General rental

As with everything else here, assume that you can negotiate on any of these points (although not necessarily that you’ll be able to get what you want).

  • Will the rental agency deliver and pick up for the price of rental (this is especially relevant if the rented item is large – a tent for an outdoor event, for instance).
  • Is there an extra charge if delivery is more than a certain number of miles away?
  • Will the rental agency set up large items – there’s that tent again – at no extra charge?
  • What is the set-up charge, if there is one?
  • Is there a discount – or can you negotiate one – if you rent a certain number of items, or if your total bill exceeds a certain amount?
  • Whose insurance is responsible for breakage or damage?
  • Can you change, without a penalty, the number of items rented shortly before the delivery?


Exhibitors are the commercial enterprises – textbook publishers, drug companies, medical equipment manufacturers, software developers, etc. – who will pay for the privilege of exhibiting and selling their wares at your conference. You might charge the same set fee for each exhibitor, and give each the same amount of space; or you might charge by the size of the space. (You can charge a certain amount per square foot, for instance, or a certain amount for each space of a given size, with exhibitors having the option of taking two or three spaces together to make one larger one.) Some other areas you might negotiate with exhibitors:

  • How aggressive they’re allowed to be. They might be limited to distributing catalogues and other information, for instance, rather than actually selling items.
  • Whether they can have free samples, catalogues, or other items included in registration packets (and whether they pay extra for that).
  • What kinds of demonstrations they can put up. A film or video on a large screen may detract from the displays of other exhibitors, and make it difficult to convince them to attend another conference put on by the same organizers.
  • Whether you or the facility will set up tables and other necessities for them, or whether they’re responsible for those themselves.
  • Whether they can buy meals and hotel rooms at the conference rate (there’s no reason why not), and attend conference sessions.
  • Whether they’ll offer anything over and above their fees to the conference. Often, an exhibitor will sponsor a cocktail hour, continental breakfast, a seminar, a speaker, or some other event or part of the conference, in return for recognition and the good will and advertising it brings.
  • If they’re presenting a session, do they get presenter privileges, if there are any?
  • What are the set-up and take-down times?

Another possible contract here might be with a corporate sponsor. A corporation or corporate foundation that has an interest in your work, or that is willing to subsidize a conference simply for the good will and advertising they can gain, might be willing to pay for some aspect of the conference, or even to underwrite a major part of it. Some good possibilities are meal sponsorship – those continental breakfasts – or coffee breaks (perhaps a coffee processor or supplier), or an honorarium and expenses for a well-known keynote speaker.

You should have contracts with all of these facilities and people, unless your conference is so small and local that it’s just not necessary. Please see Chapter 9, Section 9, Understanding and Writing Contracts and Memoranda of Agreement, for information on drafting contracts.

Tool # 2: Sample Registration Forms

Registration forms can be used for a number of purposes. If they’re sent out far enough ahead, for instance, they may include a short questionnaire about presentation topics registrants would like to see. They may include membership forms (if you join, you can partake of the reduced conference fees for members of the sponsoring organization), or ask participants to make choices for each session (if all the presentations have already been scheduled).

In general, you’ll need participants’ names and contact information (address, phone/fax, e-mail), the days they plan to attend, and the meals they want (and if you’re offering meals, whether you’re charging for them or not). If your conference has a number of presentations meeting at the same time, and if you’ve already booked them, you’ll want to know who’s planning to attend what, so that you can put presentations into the right sized rooms. Below are a sample registration form for a large, multi-session conference with simultaneous presentations, and one for a small local conference. (These forms assume that you’ve included conference information, descriptions of presentations and field trips, information about the conference location, directions, etc..)

A large conference might ask for lower fees from students, may have scholarships for those unable to afford the fees, and/or may make special arrangements for low-income community people to attend the conference free of charge or nearly so.

1. For a large, multi-session conference:



Phone: Work __________________ Home _________________

Fax_______________________ E-mail____________________


Register before March 10, 20__, and subtract $25.00 from your total.

Days attending:

Members Non-members

Monday welcome and plenary session ____$ 25.00 ____$ 35.00

Tuesday ____ 110.00 ____ 125.00

Wednesday ____ 110.00 ____ 125.00

Thursday ____ 110.00 ____ 125.00

Whole conference ____ 300.00 ____ 385.00

Total enclosed for conference: $ ____ $ ____

You may want to add a membership form for your organization here. If the annual membership fee is less than, or not much more than $85.00, people can join and essentially come out even on the conference. If you’re trying to boost membership, this is one way to approach it.

Meals: (Continental breakfast on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday compliments of XYZ Corporation)

Monday welcoming dinner (circle preference) ____$20.00

Chicken Vegetarian Beef

Tuesday lunch ____$10.00

Wednesday lunch ____$10.00

Thursday lunch ____$10.00

Wednesday awards dinner (circle preference) ____$20.00

Chicken Vegetarian Fish Beef

Special diet requirements_______________________________

Total enclosed for meals: $________

Field trips:

Trip to Program X (includes lunch), Tuesday ____$ 25.00

Trip to Facility Y (includes lunch and dinner), Tuesday ____$ 45.00

Trip to Conservation Area C (includes two lunches, dinner, and

breakfast, as well as overnight lodging), Thursday/Friday ____$150.00

Total enclosed for field trips: $_________

Fun trips and events:

Baseball game (includes lunch and admission), Tuesday ____$ 35.00

Evening at Symphony (includes dinner and admission), Wednesday ____ 75.00

City tour, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday ____ 20.00

Theater evening (includes late dinner and admission), Wednesday ____ 75.00

Total for fun trips and events: $_________

Grand Total (all conference expenses): $_________

Method of payment:

Check made out to sponsoring organization enclosed______

Visa__, Mastercard__, or Amex__: Card number__________________ Exp. date_____

Organizational voucher #___________________________

Contact us at 123-456-7890, or go to our website, for further information.

Here is where you’d add a page with the line-up of sessions for people to check off their choices, if you’re including that as part of pre-conference registration.

If the conference is at a hotel, or if you’ve made arrangements with one or more hotels to hold rooms for conference participants at special rates, you’d probably include a separate form for lodging here as well. The form and payment might go back to you, or they might go directly to the hotel (the preferable choice, since it means less work for the conference organizers). Another alternative is for participants to contact the hotel directly and identify themselves by a code number or simply by stating that they are attending the conference.

For a small local conference:



Phone: Work __________________ Home _________________

Fax____________________ E-mail_______________________


Conference fee: $25.00 (Please make checks out to [sponsoring organization])

Check enclosed___

I will pay at the door___

Conference fee includes lunch. Vegetarian and vegan options will be available. If you have other dietary needs, please let us know here______________________________.

Please return this form by March 10, 2005. Call 123-456-7890 to arrange car pooling or to get more information. You can also check our website,, where we’ll be posting more conference details.

Unless you’re scheduling multiple choices for sessions, this is probably all you need. If space is limited, the form should say that. If the fee is low, there’s probably no point in taking anything off for early registration. Letting potential participants know that “Space is limited” will probably be enough to get people registering early.

Tool # 3: Sample “Call for Presenters” Form

Call for Presenters for the Powell State Health Alliance Annual Conference

Powell State 2005 “Health Access for All”

May 4, 5, 6, and 7, 20__

The Powell State Health Alliance Annual Conference regularly draws over 800 people to Powell Hall in the state capital. This year’s conference focuses on the challenges and opportunities afforded by the effort to provide every individual and family in the state with high-quality health care, regardless of their ability to pay. The Conference Committee is seeking presentations in three areas:

  1. Programs that work: Profiles of health care programs at the community, state, and national levels that actually provide affordable health care to everyone, particularly those who lack health insurance and who customarily only seek health care in dire circumstances.
  2. Thinking outside the box: Unconventional ideas for delivering health care to underserved populations.
  3. What we can do: Information about successful advocacy efforts, how to conduct an advocacy effort, capacity-building for advocacy, etc..

The Coalition is particularly interested in presentations that involve participants in discussion, role plays, and activities, and in presentations that are based in real-world experiences. Most conference participants will be health professionals and paraprofessionals, community activists, human service workers who serve disadvantaged populations, and interested citizens. Proposals are due by Feb. 1, 2005.

Name of principal presenter________________________________________________


Phone_____________________ Fax________________ E-mail___________________

Other presenter(s)________________________________________________________


Brief biographical information (two or three sentences) for each presenter:

Presenter 1:__________________________________________________________



Presenter 2:__________________________________________________________



Other presenters:______________________________________________________






Please summarize your proposed presentation below in 100 words or less.



Preferred day of presentation:

Preferred time (morning or afternoon):

A maximum of two presenters may attend the conference and receive meals without fee on the day of the presentation. Exceptions may be made where presenters are from disadvantaged populations. Please contact the conference organizers at 123-456-7890 for more information.

Return this form to the Powell State Health Alliance, 24 Main St., #304, Powellville, Anystate 01234. You can also submit it by fax (123-456-7899) or fill it out on-line at

Tool # 4: Contents of a typical conference registration packet

Conference packets should be handed to people as they check in. Many conferences, if the funds are available, print the conference name and date, and the name of the sponsoring organization on the outside of the folder or binder the packet comes in.

Packet contents for a large conference:

  • General welcome – perhaps words from the organization president.
  • Conference schedule, including the time and place of each presentation (often laid out in grid form so that participants can see which presentations are being given at the same time), meal, and special event.
  • Identification badge.
  • Descriptions of each presentation, with short biographies of the presenters.
  • Descriptions of field trips, with sign-up information, times, and dates.
  • Descriptions of fun trips and events, with sign-up information, times, and dates.
  • Brief information about people receiving awards
  • Organizational business – proposed bylaw changes, slate of officers, new and continuing board members, etc..
  • Map of the conference facility.

The above pieces are sometimes printed in a single conference booklet, so that the information is easily available in one place.

  • Tickets for meals and any special events the individual participant has signed up for
  • Any information or bulletins the organization wants to distribute to all conference-goers

MCAE, the Mass. Coalition for Adult Education, often includes advocacy information in its conference packets, for example, as well as articles on topics of interest (technology in adult basic education, new studies on learning disabilities), and information or position papers on issues of concern to the field (adult education teacher certification, ADA regulations).

  • Pencil or pen and blank paper
  • Evaluation forms for each presentation and for the conference as a whole.
  • General and sightseeing information about the conference location
  • Street and road maps of the area
  • Lists of tourist sites, restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, music venues, etc.
  • A list of conference participants, with their work affiliations

While the above inclusions are for a typical large-conference packet, many might be just as relevant to a small local conference. Local information and maps would obviously not be necessary, and the conference facility probably wouldn’t be big enough to require a map, for instance. But reprints or copies of articles might certainly be useful, as would a schedule of the conference day, and a pencil and blank paper.

Tool # 5: Sample evaluation forms

1. Presentation evaluation form.

Name (optional)__________________________________________________________

Name of Workshop________________________________________________________


Please circle the number that best represents your response.

1=Strongly Disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Neutral or Don't Know, 4=Agree, 5=Strongly Agree

1. The presenter knew the material well. 1 2 3 4 5

2. The presentation was clear and well-organized. 1 2 3 4 5

3. Materials were appropriate and helpful. 1 2 3 4 5

4. Questions were welcomed and addressed. 1 2 3 4 5

5. Activities were relevant and useful. 1 2 3 4 5

6. The quality of this presentation was high. 1 2 3 4 5

7. I would attend another presentation by this presenter. 1 2 3 4 5










2. Conference evaluation form.

Name (optional)__________________________________________________________

Please circle the number that best represents your response.

1=Strongly Negative, 2=Negative, 3=Neutral, 4=Positive, 5=Strongly Positive

Please rate the following:

1. The overall quality of this conference.      1 2 3 4 5

2. The usefulness of the conference topic.   1 2 3 4 5

3. The overall quality of presentations.         1 2 3 4 5

4. The conference facility.                              1 2 3 4 5

5. The level of organization.                           1 2 3 4 5

6. The choices of keynote and other speakers.1 2 3 4 5

7. The quality and serving of meals.               1 2 3 4 5

8. The amount of networking and social time. 1 2 3 4 5

9. (If applicable) The quality of field trips. 1 2 3 4 5

10. (If applicable) The quality of fun trips and events. 1 2 3 4 5

11. The helpfulness and competence of conference staff. 1 2 3 4 5

11. What did you like best or find most useful about the conference?




12. What did you like least about the conference? _____________________




13. What changes would you make to improve the conference?




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