Communications is the core purpose of all meeting and this must be kept in mind when developing the meeting or event. Whether the meeting is set up for interaction and networking or involves a lot of lectures by an industry expert, a schedule to accomplish the various components of the conference is critical for all involved.
The meeting plan, also called the critical path or timelines, is in fact, the to do list for everyone involved in the development of the meeting. It outlines roles and each person's responsibilities, and how they affect other duties involved in the planning process. The critical path/meeting plan is crucial to the success of the meeting.
You, as the meeting planner may be very aware of all that is involved and needs to be done but others involved with program components may not. Does the individual handling the awards program know when the winners need to be provided to ensure their plaques are ready, or to ensure you have time to obtain a video, a picture or a quote that must be provided to your technical crew? Does your CEO know when you need to have your Chair or President’s speech so it can be incorporated into the visuals for presentation at the AGM or Opening of your conference? It is a group effort and while you may be intuitively aware of deadlines, but others are not.
In short, the critical path is a flow chart that outlines:
What need to be done = the task: When it will happen = start date (not always included): When it must be completed = completion date: and, Who will do it= person, department or group responsible
Where does the information come from?
Some is based in meeting history. Much comes from the meeting objectives – especially the lower level or sub objectives. The critical path coordinates and puts into practice all the logistics identified in objective development.
A good meeting plan or critical path has 4 components: Date path – start and end dates; who will handle this, who's responsibility to ensure this activity is completed; A description of the activity to be done; and a cross reference for concurrent and interrelated activities when possible.
The path can be set up in a couple of different ways. It can be set up strictly on chronological order. It can also be set up by functional areas and then ordered chronologically within the various functions. These functions might include: Program details; Financial; Facilities; Marketing; Registration; Contracts; Print; Promotions and many more as well.
Personally, I think if you chunk it into functional areas, it is easier to follow, but this is an individual preference.
Regardless of how you develop your critical path, it is a crucial part of the planning process to be shared with everyone involved and reviewed on a regular basis. This ensures everyone knows the expectations for the meeting.