Organising large-scale MICE events is a tricky process, but it’s also an opportunity to engage staff and give them a chance to work outside their job scope. Akankasha Dewan speaks with leaders from the National University of Singapore about their experiences organising a recent off-site conference.
It is undeniable Singapore has become one of the most popular places in the world for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) events.
The island nation’s solid infrastructure, efficiency, vibrant business ecosystem, knowledge networks and strategic location in Asia are often identified as factors contributing to its popularity as a MICE location. In fact, Singapore was named Asia’s top convention city for the 12th year in a row this year by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA).
“The quality of food [in Singapore] is always very good,” says Oliver Chen, deputy director of education and industry relations at the Risk Management Institute (RMI), National University of Singapore (NUS). “This is especially compared to non-Asian countries which usually only have cold sandwiches for lunch.
“The service in Singapore at hotels is also usually very attentive, and that is much appreciated by foreign visitors.”
Suan Ng, senior manager of human resources and finance at NUS, agrees adding that MICE venues in Singapore are “well-connected, with sound infrastructure to tailor for different configurations”.
NUS’ annual RMI conference
Chen and his team host a RMI conference every year, which is targeted towards the region’s financial industry.
“The aim is to bring together financial industry practitioners, regulators and academics to share their ideas and gain from each other’s experience,” Chen says.
This year, NUS held its eighth annual RMI conference at the Pan Pacific Hotel Singapore.
“The conference was held over two days. The first day was a policy forum where the speakers were from the financial industry. The second day was a scientific programme where academics presented their recent research,” Chen says.
“Many of the academics also attended the first day as well and many practitioners returned to attend the second day event, so there was a good cross-fertilisation of ideas. In total, we had nearly 300 people in attendance.”
When taking into consideration the top priorities when planning for such a conference, both Chen and Ng agree deciding on the venue is the most important first step.
“Since we have many financial industry practitioners who are accustomed to a high-level of service and quality, choosing an appropriate venue is quite important for us,” Chen says.
“Besides the service and food quality, the type of space is quite important.”
This includes deciphering if the venue in question has the right size and number of rooms, and if it is able to cater to different numbers of people who show up on the day of the event.
“We ended up choosing Pan Pacific Hotel because the ballrooms were the right size for us, and because they were very flexible in letting us choose what types of rooms we wanted. The level of service was excellent and the food was very good,” Chen says.
Ng agrees, adding that elements such as the “event format and target audience” should also be taken into consideration before deciding on “the suitability of a venue”.
She also shed light on what HR teams can do in their capacity to assist event teams in planning such conferences, highlighting the need to step in and fill gaps in talent acquisition and development, where possible.
“Manpower needs should be discussed and to render support where necessary.”
Leveraging on the opportunity to learn and grow
Such help is integral for organisations such as NUS, which does not actively engage external vendors to organise large-scale events for it.
Instead, the onus falls on management teams (with the help of HR) themselves to conceptualise the conference, decide on the agenda and speakers, and handle all logistical elements of the event.
“We’re probably quite unique in that we don’t outsource the event management of such a large event,” Chen says.
But interestingly, the team at NUS views the organisation of such events as an opportunity to go beyond their current job scopes and instead leverage on the chance to learn new skills and bring out their hidden potential.
“We feel that it provides our staff an opportunity to do something a bit different from their usual desk-bound jobs, and also it’s a chance for them to take pride in their work since most do not usually interact directly with external parties,” he says.
The need for clear communication
The main problem, however, with relying on internal forces to plan such events, is to overcome the lack of experience needed to execute processes. This is where, Chen implies, direct and clear communication becomes integral within the team.
“My advice to people planning such an event is to make sure that every staff understands the level of quality that is expected of them,” he says.
While preparing for the RMI conference, Chen delves into how he documented all required roles and responsibilities into a PowerPoint presentation a week in advance of the conference.
“These slides have details that specific roles should be thinking of so that everybody has an idea about the level of detail that is expected.
“New staff members come out of the presentation understanding what needs to be done and have a greater appreciation of the scale and quality required. Staff members who have previously worked in the event have a reminder of the different details.”
He adds the presentation is updated every year based on what went wrong and what worked well. Through this reflective process, Chen and his team believe they are getting more efficient at planning and executing the conference.
Overcoming external challenges
Such careful planning and allocation of tasks doesn’t necessarily dictate, however, that his team is not exposed to various external challenges and difficulties that are encountered at the venue itself.
“One area for improvement is on the audio/visual systems,” Chen says.
“This year at Pan Pacific Hotel there weren’t any issues, but previously at other hotels it was quite common to encounter problems in hearing the speakers, or have problems relating to the projector, etc.
“Also, temperature control is often an issue. What we’ve done is to station staff to monitor the room temperature and then alert the hotel staff when it is too hot or too cold.”
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