<p>TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The speaker didn’t arrive? The bookings aren’t going to fill the number of rooms you promised the hotel? Episodes like this sound like a convention planner’s nightmare, but they’ve never alarmed Corrine Henningsen. For more than 15 years she has served as director of conventions and conferences for the Florida Credit Union League. This year’s annual Florida Credit Union League conference May 30-June 1 in Orlando was Henningsen’s last, as she retires June 7. She’s seen a lot of changes over the years. The list of credit union meetings grows every year, so vying for attendees increases. That’s especially true in Florida, Henningsen notes, because the state is such a popular meeting site. “There are so many attractions here. People can combine a meeting with a vacation. A lot of northern states are having their meetings in Florida. That has given us competition,” she says. “A big issue too is room rates. What is expensive for Floridians is inexpensive for people who live in the North. Normally hotel costs (there) are much higher, and of course their salaries are much higher too,” Henningsen adds. Technology, she continues, has also brought changes. For example, today many attendees sign up for the conference and book rooms through the Internet. Job turnover is still another issue she kept in mind when planning a meeting agenda. “People constantly need training because jobs turnover so quickly. There’s a lot of competition for employees here in Florida because of attractions such as theme parks that hire at a higher wage than credit unions can pay,” Henningsen says. Enough to worry about? That doesn’t end the list. At one time, she recalls, hotel arrangements used to be pretty much a gentlemen’s agreement. Now there are attrition charges she never saw before. Hotels, skittish about lost bookings especially after Sept. 11, want a guarantee a certain number of rooms will be filled. Contracts with speakers are also changing. Many are now asking for 50% of their fee in advance. Again, they’re nervous about meetings being cancelled. On the positive side, “When you have professional speakers, if anything goes wrong in a meeting, they are able to adjust. The same with a meeting planner. You always have Plan B ready to go so there are no big catastrophes. I have been fortunate each convention has run smoothly. There have always been little glitches, but nothing has been noticeable because Plan B has always gone into effect,” Henningsen says. What is Henningsen’s Plan B? When Henningsen is in charge, she’s already eyed the roster of convention attendees to see if there’s someone who could fill in for the missing speaker. She’s also poised to negotiate with the hotel and suggest if they’ll waive the minimum room guarantee, she’ll schedule a future meeting at the hotel. In fact, if she were speaking to a credit union seminar on planning a meeting, that would be her key piece of advice – always have a Plan B. “If something goes wrong, and you haven’t already planned for it, you’re asking for a disaster,” Henningsen warns. “For example, when I’m at a convention I always notice people who have registered I could call on as a speaker if I suddenly needed one. Among credit union professionals there are some very good speakers. I always have that kind of Plan B in case a speaker can’t make it.” Another point she would stress is everything is negotiable. The only way to find out is by asking. For example, perhaps the hotel has allowed a certain number of comp rooms and you need a few more. Ask. The worst thing the hotel can do is say no. This approach also works when lining up speakers. Perhaps the fee for Speaker X is beyond your budget. Ask anyway. They may be happy to combine a vacation with a speaking engagement in Florida. Or they may be in the area anyway, and it may be easy for them to add your convention to their schedule. “I’m learning all the time. When you’re dealing with people, it’s a constant learning experience. In this job you have to remain flexible. I’m very fortunate in that the jobs I’ve held have always involved travel and people. It has made life extremely interesting,” Henningsen says. Henningsen was born and educated in England, lived in Germany and Spain, and traveled many times around the world as a flight attendant for British Airways before meeting her husband, a U. S. Air Force pilot, while skiing in Switzerland. Prior to serving at the Florida League, she was director of sales and marketing for a large hotel on the Gulf coast. She is a Certified Hotel Administrator and Certified Meeting Professional. As for her plans after retirement, “I love to play golf,” Henningsen declares. “Meeting planning can be a very stressful job, and playing golf removed all the stress. Every day I would play nine holes of golf before going home. Not only was it good exercise, but it cleared the day from my mind so I didn’t take my problems home.” Her grandchildren also rank high on her agenda. She enjoys going to their soccer games and T-ball games. In fact, her grandchildren live on the same street she does and the golf course is only three minutes away. She’s also looking forward to traveling, including a trip to England to visit her brother. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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