Monday, December 31, 2018

The Best Winter Team-Building Experiences That Break the Ice

This article was published on December 24, 2018 in PrevueMeetings.

Wintertime is here, and if you have an upcoming program in a colder weather environment, you may need to skip the lake kayaking or the ocean surfing for your team-building events.
Team building should be an integral part of your programs, as it gets your attendees working, laughing and talking together while having fun. So, don’t let the winter months stop you from providing your attendees with unique experiences, unforgettable memories and memorable learnings.
Instead, check out these five winter team-building experiences that I’ve had personal success with in the past:

Wine Blending

This unique and memorable experience allows attendees to be a winemaker, circa 1800, complete with the outfit—a long wool coat and top hat. The experience takes place deep in the wine caves of a historic Sonoma, Calif., winery, called Buena Vista. Attendees create an eclectic blend and then choose their favorite to bottle, cork and add a personalized label before departing with their magical elixir. The winery keeps your “recipe” on file and you can order more bottles as you like.
Why I love this: It’s an unforgettable twist on the wine country experience. Why wine taste when you can make the wine yourself? The opportunity to create your own label is also invaluable for brand awareness.

Glass Blowing

You don’t have to go to Murano, Italy, to blow glass. Many cities, such as Asheville, N.C., have artist districts with working glass-blowing studios. Attendees can learn the basics of flame working and glass blowing, and even take their creation home with them. It gets hot in the studio, so it’s the perfect winter activity.
Why I love this: Guaranteed, not many of your attendees have experienced this art form first-hand. I love giving attendees that “first-time ever” experience, and this is one they’ll remember it forever. The team at North Carolina Glass Center is dedicated to educate and exploration—perfect for team-building.

Coffee Tasting

When in Colombia (the country), coffee tasting is king. At San Alberto in Cartagena, Colombia, this unforgettable sensory experience is a must. Attendees will awaken their tact, eyesight, taste and sense of smell while learning all about Colombian coffee—often considered the best in the world. Of course, other parts of the world like Hawaii offer coffee tasting experiences.
Why I love this: The Coffee Baptism class in Colombia is taught by a coffee sommelier, and identifying the smells is a lot tougher than you think. The various brewing devices and how they affect the taste is fascinating. Plus, it’s a local experience that is sure to change the way attendees select and consume coffee. And, don’t forget, a bag of coffee beans makes the perfect takeaway gift.

Cooking Class With a Famous Chef and Author

Cooking is a great way to break the ice. Whether your attendees are preparing a full lunch or dinner with small teams making each course or competing for the best salsa award, you cannot go wrong. The Santa Fe Cooking School of Cooking Salsa Making Contest can be done at their venue—or they will come to you! And, yes, you can make salsa at the hotel pool. Teams work together to produce yummy salsas with assistance from chefs. It’s a great way for the group to work together (and be competitive, too), and get comfortable in the kitchen. The best part is eating the salsas and selecting a winner.
Why I love this: You’d be surprised how many people are not comfortable in the kitchen. This team-building experience encourages group bonding, communication and fosters camaraderie while cooking up fun in a kitchen. And everyone loves food as well as a signed cookbook from the chef.


Nothing illustrates teamwork like mushing. This unique team-building experience takes our attendees out of the hotel ballroom and into the wild. Attendees bond with each other and with the dogs—creating a unique atmosphere. Whether attendees are mushing on the Continental Divide in Alberta, Canada, or mushing with past Iditarod champion sled dogs in Willow, Alaska, this team-building experience is sure to be well-received and remembered.
Why I love this: Dog-sledding is the perfect analogy for teamwork. And again, how many of your attendees have mushed? Giving them that unforgettable first-time experience will be a lifetime memory.
These are just a few of the programs I’ve successfully implemented for my clients’ programs, but what are your favorite wintertime team-building experiences? Comment below or Tweet me @acannistraci to share your tips!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

How Remote Workers Can Minimize Distractions

This article was published on on December 6, 2018.

Working from home allows tremendous flexibility and is a total work life balance game changer. It does, however, come with a few challenges. Distractions ranks pretty high on that list.

Minimizing distraction starts with setting boundaries for yourself and for your family and friends. While you might have flexibility with your working hours, it’s important to set dedicated work hours and communicate those hours to your internal team, clients, family and friends.  Stick to those hours—if not you will find yourself working 24/7 and getting burned out… or not working at all and not having a job.
I’ve found that having dedicated office space in my home is helpful in setting boundaries as well. When I’m in that area of my home, I’m working. The door is usually closed, as this signals to my family that I’m unavailable. They know that when the door is closed, they need to knock (or just leave me alone.) I often only close the door to focus when I’m on a call or deep in numbers or writing. Other times, I’ll leave it open, and my family knows I’m open for a break.
Taking breaks is key. If you are finding yourself becoming distracted, you may just need a break. A break can mean walking to the kitchen for a coffee, or wandering outside to get the mail, or taking a 15-minute stroll around the neighborhood. Whatever works for you is what matters. Take a real break for lunch. Do not eat lunch at your desk. Take snack breaks. Take water breaks.

Oftentimes, I hit the local coffee shop or the beach to work. A change of scenery is what I need to refocus and jump start my creativity. When I’m at home, I easily get distracted by household chores. Getting out of my home often helps me to focus on work and only work. Calendaring helps also.
I have a master calendar that reflects my life—it includes both work and personal. I have time blocked off to drop off/pick up my daughter at Montessori School, go to doctors appointments, and attend meetings. I even block gym time, lunch time, and break times. I live by my calendar, and those little ding dong reminders keep me on track and distraction-free.
Since I do work from home, I regularly receive FedEx and UPS deliveries that I must sign, however, the added distractions of sales people knocking and interrupting my work day became too much. I invested in an inexpensive “No Solicitation” sign for my front door, and now if I hear a knock, I know I need to answer it.
There’s a lot of construction happening in my neighborhood currently, and that means loud noise. I’m thankful that I invested in a pair of good wireless headphones not only for the video calls, but to block out noise when I need silence to concentrate.
It’s hard to concentrate when you have a cluttered desk. Knick-knacks, receipts, junk mail, Post-It notes, and bills on your desk are total distractions. Take a few minutes each evening before you sign off for the day to clean, straighten, and organize your desk. Simply clearing away the clutter from the day will help you end your day and separate work time from “going home” time. You’ll also feel great when you log on the next morning, and you have a neat and orderly clean slate in which to start.
I usually start my day reviewing my to-do list for the day and my calendar. Knowing how my day looks and what I need to accomplish helps me focus and minimize distractions. I schedule out the tasks that need to be completed for the day around my standing appointments. My work is deadline heavy. There’s always a hotel contract due, a client byline due, award submission or speaking engagement deadline, or a timely social media post. I always start with those deadline sensitive deliverables and go from there. If there are a few admin or “mindless” tasks, I’ll knock them out of the way first –it always feels good to cross off a few line items straight away. What’s your best advice or tip for overcoming distractions when you work from home? Tweet us @acannistraci to share your tips!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

RFPs: The Foundation for a Successful Meeting

There are many factors to consider when creating RFPs for hotels and venues. Before you can go to contract, here are a few questions to address:

1. What are the goals and objectives of your program?
Communicating the metrics that the success of the program will be based is key. It’s important the venue understands what needs to happen and how they can be a partner in achieving those goals.

2. What’s the history of your program?
Where was your program last year? (Destination and venue) How many attendees? Past budget? Biggest success? Biggest challenge? Communicating past history will help ensure future success.

3. Who are the stakeholders?
Who has a say in the budget? Goals? Destination? It’s highly recommended that all stakeholders have buy-in and agree.

4. What’s the time frame to make a decision?
Hotels and venues rarely hold rooms and meeting space until a contract is signed. The sweet room rate and first choice meeting space can disappear overnight. It’s important to move quickly when you find the right fit.

For more tips on creating RFPs visit

Monday, October 15, 2018

Straight from the horse's mouth

If you hear something “(straight) from the horse's mouth", you hear it from the person who has direct personal knowledge of it.  Your customers are the best source of trust and enthusiasm in your brand, products, services. Does your marketing toolbox include testimonials? It should.

Correctly using testimonials is an art. Too fake and fluffy—you run the risk of not being taken seriously. Prospects can see straight through fake testimonials. Also, a short and sweet testimonial (such as, “I love this service!”) recommends your brand, but doesn’t say much else as to why potential customers should choose your brand. Ask your customers to elaborate on why they love your brand, and what sets your brand apart. 

Request that your best customers provide testimonials with details that definitively describe key and unique benefits of your brand. Customers should focus on addressing a pain points that your services resolve. Testimonials should answer the question of why someone should use your brand.

What are your best tips for curating testimonials?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Is Your Venue Safe?

The world is changing and so must meeting planners. If the past year has been any indication, no place is exempt from risk. Think beyond terrorism. Think about hurricanes, volcanoes, shooters, and military coups — anything that puts your attendees at risk. Today, meetings and events come with a specific set of risks. The factors in determining hotel safety alone are numerous.

The big question you should be asking your meeting planner: Have you assessed the venue from a risk standpoint?

Your planner should conduct proper due diligence when sourcing a location and venue. Then they should develop a customized risk assessment questionnaire to be completed by the venue ahead of contract signature.

The top 8 factors in determining venue safety are:

1. Hard-wired smoke detectors.
These are more reliable as they are connected to a power supply and will sound indefinitely until turned off. They have battery backups to ensure they continue in the event the power supply is cut.

2. Adequate emergency lighting.
Does the venue have a generator? Does it auto turn on? You certainly don’t want attendees using their cell phone lights in the dark!

3. Locking devices on windows and doors.
Do the windows and doors open outward? If so they can be difficult to barricade. Does the venue have active-shooter denial devices? If not, will they add and train staff to use?

4. Emergency operations plan.
The venue should have a plan for all types of hazards — fire, hurricane, earthquake, terrorism. The plan should among many things, clearly marked evacuation routes, and the locations of fire extinguishers. Ask them to share their plan.

5. Readily available AEDs, and a list of staff trained in first aid and CPR.
You’d be shocked at the number of hotels that respond with “no first aid/CPR training.” I recently received the response, “We usually just call 911 and they arrive pretty quick.” (Scary.)

6. Security training.
Who on staff is trained to recognize threats? Will those people be onsite for your event? Who is the go-to person to report suspicious activity?

7. Food terrorism.Does the kitchen have procedures to combat food terrorism? What’s their procedure for vetting kitchen staff and food?

8. Recent threats?
This should be the first thing you ask — have there been any recent (and define recent) threats to the venue?

Bottom line: work with an experienced planner. If you need assistance assessing the safety and risk preparedness of a venue, andgreat can help! We invite you to contact us today.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Integrating health and wellness into your events

Published in Prevue Magazine:

Healthy is happy. When you eat healthy and train, you feel better. You think clearer, you’re less stressed, and you look better. As a figure competitor and an event professional, I work to incorporate a healthy lifestyle into all my meetings and events. It’s super hard to be healthy when you are flying and traveling—I know. So I work with my suppliers to ensure my clients have healthy food options and fun fitness options integrated into their programs. Here are my tips for integrating wellness into programs:

Review banquet menus BEFORE a contract is signed. Most planners review banquet menus only after the contract is signed. If you’re not reviewing menus prior, you are missing out on key negotiating factors, as well as missing out on an opportunity to ensure a truly healthy and custom F&B experience.  And if you review menus after the contract is signed, you’re missing out on huge cost savings for your clients. (Cost saving Tip: Ask for current year pricing or at least a 10% discount on future menus for your program.) Ask for Chef’s custom suggestions based on the budget and demographics of your group. Discuss ways to limit waste and save money, while you’re at it. Remember, not everyone will participate in every meal. Monitoring the headcount at your events will assist in planning future events. 

Always ask for locally grown foods. Give attendees a local experience—starting with the food. You would not visit Nashville and not have hot chicken, or Philadelphia without eating a cheese steak. Ask Chef to use local ingredients and prepare local dishes. Be mindful of added sugars, and salt. (see below) By serving only local foods, you’ll support the local farmers and the local economy. And let’s be honest-fresh local food just tastes better.

Provide Chef a list of all dietary restrictions.  As a non-dairy human, and strict eater, I’m more sensitive and in tune to foods that contain dairy than most people—note: dairy is in more prepared foods than you think! Request that all food items be labeled GF, DF, Vegan. And Vegetarian. You’re attendees will thank you.

Request carafes of ice water vs bottled waters. In leiu of costly and non-environmentally friendly bottled water, I request carafes of ice water. STAY HYDRATED. Humans should drink at least one gallon of water per day. And when spending time in a desert environment or high altitude, water consumption is more important than ever. Stay hydrated. 

Let your Chef know that any added sugar is not acceptable. As a competitive figure competitor I do not eat foods with added sugar. Did you know that there are 57+ different terms for sugar? Anything pre-packaged usually means processed and therefore sugar added (and other ingredients you cannot pronounce.) Superfoods are not new but they are good for you.  Skip the donuts and plan a fun make your own bag of mixed plain raw nuts, berries, and cocoa, and shredded unsweetened coconut. Trust me—it will be a hit. And if you plan to do smoothies—remember your dairy-free and vegan attendees and have coconut and soy milk options too (labeled, of course.)

Don’t rush meals. I’m Sicilian—meals are a time to enjoy food, enjoy conversations, and relax and unwind. While you certainly can’t schedule three hours lunches, you can provide a bit more time for attendees to enjoy, and digest.

Incorporate the power of play. As infants and toddlers we learned through play. Why stop learning (playing) when you’re five? Interactive breaks are a great opportunity to introduce play. Or why not start the day with some play? Starting the day with a wellness activity is a great way to not only start the day healthy but another opportunity for attendees to bond, network, and Instagram your event. Yoga, local hiking, drumming, and spinning are all activities that work well. These activities are also a great opportunity for sponsor to get exposure. For example, I have this great MGM cool dry towel I received at a 6am wellness activity spinning class at a conference years ago. I still use it weekly for my Sprint and RPM classes. I participated in a FAM in Vancouver and received a Lululemon yoga mat. It was probably one of the top relevant and high-perceived value welcome gifts I’ve received. I lugged that mat back to California and use it daily.  

Don’t forget the power of scent. Essential oils are not hippie dippy—they are real. And so are their natural powers. Want attendees to relax and receive a well rested night of sleep—room drop a small vial of lavender essential oil at turndown. Want attendees to stay awake, diffuse wild orange or peppermint into the meeting room to boost engagement and attention. Offer an essential oil bar during a break. Have attendees smell several scents to see which resonates best with them at that moment. Offer them to take a small sample with them.

What are your favorite tips for integrating health and wellness into your events?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Event Management Services Defined

Events, meetings, and conferences bring a team together, they energize actions and expand world views. Planning and managing events, meeting, and conferences is also a ton of work!

Whether it’s a company retreat, industry conference or a VIP summit we integrate logistics and meeting content to achieve a focused event with maximum impact. We find, select, negotiate, coordinate, plan, manage, promote, create, transport, staff, direct, reconcile, measure, and track.

We can do it all for you or just provide select services as an extension of your team.
Do you need help managing your next meeting or event?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Bottom Line On Professional Courtesy

It’s 2018 and the business world is constantly changing. People no longer walk around the office and talk to colleagues (many companies are distributed and workers are remote), and communication has become impersonal and technology-driven.

In my observation, people do not return messages in a timely manner (if ever), they send endless emails to communicate, and sometimes they become crickets. Professional courtesy seems to have fallen by the wayside. To see whether you have strayed from the basics professional courtesies, answer these five questions:

1. Are you reachable?
2. Do you welcome in-person visits with partners (or video chats if remote)?
3. Do you use the telephone/video chat to call people?
4. Do you answer the phone/video chat when it rings?
5. Do you return voicemails, Slacks, texts, email messages within 24 hours?

What’s your biggest professional courtesy pet peeve?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

4 reasons you should NOT outsource your event to your office manager

Do you think outsourcing your event and meeting planning to your office manger, virtual assistant, or executive assistant will save you a whole lot of time and hassle? Think again.  Likely your office manager will likely be “winging it.” She doesn’t know the ins and outs of the meeting planning world. You will end up spending more time, paying more money, and be more involved than you really ever cared to be. 

Sadly, in many small and medium businesses the task of planning the company retreat or board meeting or conference is often assigned to office managers, receptionists, VAs and even sales professionals. This is a huge mistake as
you are pulling their time, concentration and energy away from performing their own set of important tasks. Plus, you are creating a level of expectation and responsibility that, in all fairness, does not live under the scope of their job description. Contrary to popular belief, everyone is not a meeting professional.

A meeting professional knows what to do and what not to do and is 100% focused on your meeting or event. Professional meeting planners are masters of juggling details, people and priorities. They don’t get frazzled. They just go on with the show!

Still not convinced?  Here are four reasons to hire a professional:

1.    Office managers do not have supplier relationships.
Professional meeting planners have built deep relationships with suppliers. Once you tell your planner the basic essentials like goals, date, budget, number of people, she can get to work straight away for you. And I really do mean straight away. With just the minimum parameters, she’ll be able to rattle off at least a half dozens perfect hidden gems that she will send RFPs. She’ll spend minimal time researching because she knows the properties. And, did you know that most site selection services are complimentary. So you won’t be paying a dime to hire a professional planner to source and negotiate the perfect venue, for a great rate.

2.    Office managers do not know the intricacies of destinations.
Professional meeting planners know that if you want to your event in Napa, for example, you best stay away from the month of October. All suppliers have windows they need to fill, and a professional planner will find those windows and negotiate the best rates, concessions, and deliver you a cost savings report. (all complimentary, btw) A professional planner also likely has relationships with third-party vendors in most major cities, and can leverage those relationships to get you the best bang for your buck. The work closely with CVBs to review the calendar so to avoid such conflicts as city-wides.

3.    Office managers do not know the questions to ask.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Negotiating contracts is a very important part of meeting planning. Your office manager probably doesn’t know what attrition is or to ask for more than 10%. Professional meeting planners know all the questions to ask and to be sure certain clauses are included in the contract. These clauses are things as a CEO you aren’t even aware of or thinking about.

4.    Office managers are not meeting planners.
Did you know that the position of meeting planner made the Forbes list for the top 5 most stressful jobs in 2017? Meeting planning requires expertise in communications, preparation, management, logistics, marketing and crisis management too. Because, with events, last-minute problems and emergencies happen — all the time. A professional meeting planner does more than plan your event or meeting—she focuses on the branding, marketing, reputation and future success of your business.

Meeting planning is one of the most stressful jobs around, however, professional meeting planners know how to handle the stress — and deliver memorable experiences. Dumping that degree of stress onto an individual not equipped to handle it with grace under fire is simply bad for your event or meeting — and quite frankly, bad for your business.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

5 Tips for an Engaging Gifting Experience

This article was first printed in Prevue Magazine on July 11, 2018.

Corporate gifting is an opportunity to connect with clients, strengthen relationships and provide an experience—and it takes on many shapes.

At one end of the spectrum, you have the (boring, non-creative, no choice) old-school room drop with a branded goodie bag filled with a few sponsored snacks, and at the opposite spectrum you have a custom corporate gifting experience that’s focused on selection, choice and brands.
Planners are definitely using gifting more now than ever. Many companies are realizing that a fabulous trip in a beautiful destination is only a part of the experience. Corporate gifting now tends to be a bigger part of the memorable experience and companies are recognizing this and the attendees are wanting (and expecting) more.

The meetings and events industry is skewed towards the female gender, and Associated Luxury Hotels International (ALHI) never ceases to impress with its lady-friendly corporate gifts such as lipgloss with mirror and OPI-branded nail polish in ALHI Red. At a horse race event, Preferred Hotels partnered with a hat company to allow attendees to select a hat or fascinator to go with their outfit. Impact GPS partnered with Maui Jim for its Los Angels event a few weeks ago to provide a custom sunglass fitting experience. Attendees were able to try on about eight different pairs of sunglasses, see how they fit, seek professional fitting advice and walk away with a free pair of Maui Jims sunglasses.
A meeting planner veteran noted, “I always give gifts as a reminder of the key takeaways of that meeting. If it is an incentive meeting, it is a reminder of the fun that was had and a talking point for when they see you in the shirt, sunglasses etc. It leads to a discussion: Where did you get those glasses?”
andgreat has personally commissioned custom belt buckles for a VIP client event in Austin, Texas. We mailed the buckles ahead of time as an event teaser, and then brought the artist onsite with leather straps for a complete custom belt fitting experience. Not only was it a memorable experience, it tied into the unique destination.
Here are my top five tips for corporate gifting:

Check Corporate Policies

Many companies—especially in the pharmaceutical world—cannot participate in corporate gifting as they pay their attendees an honorarium. A pharma planner noted that corporate gifting is still relevant but gets harder and harder with parameters being put into place by companies.

Determine Wants

Knowing your audience will help narrow and focus your selection. If you know your attendees are mostly female, for example, have a heavier selection of lady-friendly products. If you audience is a mixed bag, you can’t go wrong with a selection of high-end male, female and unisex sunglasses, running shoes or sandals.

Get Creative 

Corporate gifting that reflects the city or destination you are hosting your event is a great starting point. Tying the corporate gifting to the event destination lends to the overall experience. If you’re meeting in a colder mountain destination, a branded Patagonia fleece makes sense. If you’re meeting at a beach resort, consider offering a sandals experience.

Quality Over Quantity

Branded “junk” is self-serving and comes across as such. No one wants branded stress balls. And at the end of the day, your corporate gifting reflects your brand and your reputation. Do you want to be associated with junk?

Find a Trusted Partner

Find a partner that will be with you every step of the way and has experience with corporate gifting. While Maui Jim pioneered the onsite experiential gifting concept over 17 years ago, there are other vendors that offer a wider range of products and brands. Global Gifting partners with high-end brands that manufacturer everything from sandals to electronics, for example.
What’s the coolest corporate gift you’ve received?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

My Top 5 Meeting Planning Tips

1.     Customize the way you communicate with each specific client.
Some of my clients love email, others prefer I pick up the phone.  Several prefer to communicate via Slack or other tech platforms. Knowing the preferred method of communication is key and helps alleviate stress on both sides.

2.     Have a detailed agenda.
With that being said, any planner will tell you that something will always go wrong. So while you should have a detailed run of show in place (and a backup plan), it’s equally important to think on your feet and continuously assess and adjust as needed.

3.     Site inspection. Site inspection.
It’s imperative that you conduct a site inspection to not only see the venue, but to walk through the agenda of your event.  It’s key to be able to see how far, for example, the sleeping rooms are from the breakfast, and how many minutes will it take to walk from the general session to the breakouts. Becoming intimately familiar with the property and building a rapport with staff before everyone arrives will make for a smoother event.

4.     Leverage ideas from other events.
I was staying at a hotel a few weeks ago and decided to meander through the meeting space (It’s what planners do when they are on holiday...we can’t help ourselves.) I saw the coolest snack break: a donut wall. I knew immediately I had to replicate this for one of my events. I mean, who doesn’t love donuts?! And a wall of donuts is totally Instagram-able.

5.    Be VERY specific when communicating the details of the event.
Everyone may understand that the event starts at 5pm, but do they understand that they need to book a flight that arrives no later than 3pm in order to make it to the event by 5pm?  Most attendees do not take into consideration the tiny details like ground transfers, and distance of venue from airport. It’s your job as the planner to communicate those nitty gtritty details.