Posts Tagged ‘Simon Fraser University’

The All Important Bag of Tricks

Posted on: May 19th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Dana Beaton (Problem solver extraordinaire), Assistant Director, SFU Conference and Guest Accommodations, Simon Fraser University

Like moms, wedding planners, and superheroes everywhere, every college and university conference professional has their bag of tricks full of items they’ve come to rely on for solving common (and not so common) problems.  Here’s some of the key items in mine…

Black sharpies… handy in any number of situations.  Scuffed black dress shoe?  Last minute signage?  Misspelled name tag?

Spare shoes.. a must,  have multiple pairs if you can.  Have spare shoes in your office, car, bag – whatever.  Have them ready for when the shoes you wore for fashion become too much for your poor feet,  for when you step in a puddle when out directing traffic, or to dress up an outfit for the one day you come dressed ultra-casual to work and a client shows up for an unscheduled meeting.

Snacks… can solve many problems. As the organizer you are generally the last person to eat or…the first person to skip the meal to deal with a crisis.  A snack from your supply stash might be the only thing to come between you and a full breakdown.

Cords… extension cords,  power bars, Ethernet cords,  USB cords, power cords… you name it, have one tucked away just in case.

A multiyear calendar… the calendar on a smart phone is handy to see a single date or a short date range, but that paper 10 year at-a-glance calendar is way handy when it comes to putting days, weeks and months into context.  Somehow being able to show it on paper in black and white brings home the proximity of a date in a way a digital calendar never will, no matter how many emoji’s we can fit on the screen.

Sticky notes… in a rainbow of colors.  Use them to amend to-do lists, jot down random thoughts in the middle of a meeting so they don’t distract you from the topic at hand, and to label boxes, files and people (they make handy name tags in a pinch).

Tape measure… because size often does matter. Will that table fit?  Is the doorway wide enough for a client in a wheelchair?  While I think I’m pretty good at eyeballing it, sometimes you actually do need an accurate measurement. 

Like Mary Poppin’s carpet bag, my bag of tricks is bottomless with new items popping out almost daily to deal with the unusual circumstances that are the day to day reality of my chosen career.  Now if only I could find a way to make the bag change colors to coordinate with each event’s colors…

Dana Beaton, Assistant Director, SFU Conference and Guest Accommodations, Dept of Residence and Housing,  Simon Fraser University
Telephone: 778-782-4330

“What do you do the rest of the year?”

Posted on: January 20th, 2014 by Michael Lepage No Comments

 Author: Katelyn Narain, Group Sales & Services Coordinator, Simon Fraser University

“What do you do the rest of the year?” is a question I receive A LOT (and I’m sure fellow CUCCOA members can relate).  While it is fairly easy for clients, partners, and co-workers to understand what we do during conference season, it is the rest of the year that leaves them stumped.  After all, the summer is our “busy season”, so what does that make the rest of the year?

Conference season typically runs from May through August and is the time of year when our campuses are filled with groups of all types and sizes. We spend our days working with group contacts, supervising student staff, preparing meeting space, inspecting accommodations, and ensuring that events run flawlessly from start to finish. 

As the Group Sales & Services Coordinator at Simon Fraser University, my September through April is filled with everything that makes conference season a success. From nourishing relationships with existing clients to seeking new conference business to looking at policies and procedures  and making changes for the better, my days are filled with a variety of tasks (and grunt work) that allows conference season to happen. My days consist of sales calls, meetings, marketing initiatives, staff training, and yes, some days going through files that haven’t been touched in months.  Contract templates are reviewed, rates and budgets are set, staff is hired, and proposals are sent.  Often I spend more time during these months communicating with clients than with co-workers. It’s important to make the most of our “off-season” to ensure that when groups start arriving in May we are 110% ready to make their time at SFU an experience they won’t forget.

Although others may never fully understand all the work that goes into “the rest of the year”, for me conference season is never really over. The gears switch slightly, but in the end, everything we do, year round, is to create a successful conference season for our clients.

Katelyn Narain, Group Sales & Services Coordinator, Simon Fraser University
Telephone: 778-782-3228

The Balancing Act

Posted on: June 3rd, 2013 by Michael Lepage No Comments

Author: Dana Beaton, Assistant Director, Conference & Guest Accommodations, Simon Fraser University

The life of a Conference/Events/Guest Accommodations manager at a post-secondary institution is a constant balancing act. We balance the priorities of a variety of client groups, internal administrative units and our own department.  We are a revenue generating entity in a student services unit.  We are a client and customer service focused entity in a unit focused on facilitating the campus experience for students and faculty.   We are a unit that welcomes external clientele in an area that focuses on primarily internal matters.  On many campuses we are like the 2nd cousin twice removed that showed up without warning at the family reunion…we don’t quite belong but our plate spinning and balancing act is the hit of the festivities.  Because we don’t quite belong it often falls to us to be the problem solvers, the option detectives and the acrobat in the balancing act.

Our campus is on a tri-semester system meaning students are living in residence and attending classes year round.  Classroom space can be hard to find, as can theatre, recreation and dining space.  The times when classroom space is readily available are times when the rest of campus is focused on maintenance, renovations and time off.    Budget considerations weigh heavy but so does the need to train staff, clean rooms, inspect rooms, fix what is broken and prepare our offices, staff and buildings to give guests to campus the welcome they deserve.

The student culture pervades campus and the needs of the student population trumps the wants of Groups and Guests – after all the university is in the business of educating students first and foremost.  Students are our core reason d’etre.  We find balance through creativity and patience.  We suggest alternatives.  We think outside the box.  We remind our directors, chairs and deans that bringing in conference groups fits with the University mission to “Engage the World”.  We endeavor to show that bringing in conference, sport, youth, and religious groups can be looked at as a recruitment tool for exposing the greater community to the University.

Our Residences are divided into Student buildings and Conference buildings and we do our best to keep the two populations, with their often conflicting needs, separate.  A group of 100 summer camp kids do not mix well with students writing midterm exams.  Our summer student population is fairly predictable which allows us to predict the space that is left over for Conference & Guest Accommodations.  If the summer student population grows, the space available for Conference & Guest Accommodations shrinks.  If space goes off line for renovations, the student population must still be accommodated and the space available for summer conferences shrinks.  We find balance by challenging our facilities personnel to plan renovations 2 or 3 terms in advance.  We find balance by contracting groups for a type of room, not a specific building or room block.

Our Dining Hall is a shared space with a seating capacity of 300.  It is here that we find our balancing skills most tested this season.  Almost 300 students on “all you care to eat” meal   to one facility.  Then you mix in youth camps of 150 and 200 (in the same week) plus walk in business.  Now feed everyone!  We find balance by reminding all stakeholders that both meal plan students and conference groups are paying customers with contracts for meals.  We find balance by refocusing on the core purpose of a dining hall which is to provide meals to paying customers and reminding stakeholders that the use of a dining hall as community “hang out” space, while desirable, should be secondary to feeding paying customers.

As conference professionals at post-secondary institutions we become adept at such balancing acts.  We thrive on them.  We find fulfillment in them, because we know that when we are successful it’s a winning proposition for our clients, our department, our community, and our university.

Dana Beaton, Assistant Director, Conference & Guest Accommodations, Simon Fraser University
Telephone: 778-782-4330

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