AEA Newsletter: February 2016

Message from the Executive Director - Negotiating the Right Space for AEA’s Conferences

Denise_Roosendaal_111811_144.jpgFrom Denise Roosendaal, AEA Executive Director, and Sydney Vranna, AEA Events Services Manager

The following is the final part of a two-part series on how the AEA management team finds and negotiates the conference space for our annual conference.

The AEA Management Team enjoys serving AEA's members and the conference attendees. In conversations with members over the past several years, we have noticed a real interest in how the conference sites are chosen and how arrangements with the hotels are negotiated or managed. I have teamed up with AEA's events services manager, Sydney Vranna, to outline the factors that are considered when negotiating with a conference venue for the AEA conference. In the December 2015 article, we discussed the many factors that go into identifying an acceptable space for the AEA annual conference (size, location, local amenities, etc.). This article focuses on the factors that go into negotiating the space costs with the identified hotel. Once a host venue is chosen, the staff begins the process of negotiating the overall contract commitment.

Most hotels offer the meeting space as complimentary in exchange for a contract that includes a specific combination of the following:

  • Amount of overall catering spend
  • Number of sleeping (guest) rooms over the course of the conference dates
  • Expected level of additional spending at the hotel

AEA’s overall food and beverage (F&B) budget typically runs at about $300,000 for the conference and professional development workshops. We typically use about 100,000 square feet of meeting space over the course of seven days. While the food at a conference venue can seem expensive compared to what you can purchase in a restaurant, the F&B minimum of our contract allows us complimentary meeting space and usually labor for room setups. If we were to purchase the 100,000 square feet in meeting space, it would cost approximately $500,000. Therefore, the more credits for F&B related events (e.g., TIG meeting costs, awards luncheon, external reception costs) we can accumulate and can be applied to our contracted minimum amount during the course of the conference, the better. The hotel also figures into its formula the amount of money spent on food by the conference attendees staying at the hotel.

We typically contract for 4,600 guest room nights over the course of six nights with the peak nights being Wednesday and Thursday at 1,200 guest rooms. In the case of the Chicago Hyatt, this was approximately 60 percent of the entire hotel (with final pickup, AEA ended up filling 72 percent of the hotel sleeping rooms on peak night). We search for overflow hotels when the headquarter hotel block requirement is close to being filled. This practice allows us to be reasonably confident that we can meet our contractual obligations without paying an attrition fee, which can be quite expensive.

Because of the relationships the AEA management team has built with a variety of hotel brands, along with the potential future buying power, we have negotiated highly attractive contract terms with low room rates, lower commitment for food and beverage minimums, and hotel commissions (unrelated to sleeping room rates), which varies between properties but can sometimes be a significant cost offset for the association. In the case of the Hyatt these terms were negotiated primarily based on the 30,000 guest room nights that the association management company booked with the Hyatt brand in one year.

Other negotiable terms of the conference venue contract include:

  • Conference Wi-Fi – this rate can vary widely between properties (as low as $5,000 and as high as $30,000 for the length of the conference). These costs determine whether or not we can provide complimentary Wi-Fi in all of the meeting area. Often, the hotel will already provide complimentary Wi-Fi in the lobby area. 
  • A/V costs – sometimes these costs are included in the conference location contract (dependent upon the rules of the location) and sometimes an outside vendor is hired. The factors include whether or not the state of the conference location is unionized and what the comparable labor rates are within that geographic region.
  • Electrical costs – sometimes it costs additional dollars for electricity in venues.

In addition, the hotel contracts are typically completed years in advance of holding the conference. While a certain amount of growth is assumed, the financial risks and obligations of overestimating a hotel space (meeting space, food and beverage, and sleeping rooms) can result in financial harm to the organization. Therefore, growth rates are configured fairly conservatively and based on assumptions about the geographic locale or overall economy. The conference location for 2017 and 2021 has been selected as Washington, D.C.

As you can see, there are many variables that go into negotiating the hotel contract for the AEA conferences. Each hotel is different, placing different priorities on different aspects with a fairly wide variety of pricing approaches.

I welcome feedback on this article. Please send your comments to


Diversity - Call for Applications: 2016 AEA International Travel Awards 

Zachary Grays.jpg

From Zachary Grays, AEA Headquarters

AEA and International and Cross-Cultural Evaluation (ICCE) TIG are pleased to accept applications from international evaluation professionals from emerging countries and countries in transition to participate in this year's round of international travel awards. Thanks to generous donations from attendees at Evaluation 2015 during the annual silent auction and individual contributions, AEA will be able to award five international travel awards this year. 

Awarded annually, the international travel awards are given to international evaluators to help curtail the cost of traveling abroad to attend the annual conference and for the opportunity to highlight the evaluation work they conduct in their home countries.

In order to qualify for an AEA international travel award, applicants must meet all of the following criteria:   

  • Have not previously participated in AEA conferences;
  • Demonstrate good fluency in English, being able to make a professional presentation and sustain a discussion in English (applicants may be interviewed by one of the International and Cross-Cultural TIG co-chairs as part of the selection process);
  • Submit a complete individual application (group applications will not be accepted), including cover letter, budget, curriculum vitae or résumé, and two letters of reference. No application will be considered without all of these elements;
  • Be a citizen of, and both reside and practice evaluation in, an emerging country or country in transition for at least two years (U.S. citizens or those with dual citizenship between the U.S. and a second country are not eligible; for a list of countries considered to be emerging or in transition, click here);
  • Propose to present at the Evaluation 2016 conference and have at least one proposal accepted. Applicants must submit one of the following presentation types: panel, paper, multipaper, roundtable, or think tank. Submissions submitted as an eligible session type but are recommended to be presented as non-eligible session types will not be considered for these awards.  

The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, March 15, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone in the United States (EST). All completed application material should be sent to Veronica Olazabal at  

Do you know someone who would make a great addition to the prestigious roster of conference presenters? Don't miss this opportunity to spread the word to your colleagues across the globe about these travel awards. It is the great pleasure of the association to present these awards as not only an opportunity to attend the conference but to continue to build upon the international bonds and work done during the International Year of Evaluation.

Learn more about this year's international travel awards


Potent Presentations Initiative – #Eval16 Proposal Pointers: Start with the Message!

Sheila Robinson-RS 2.pngFrom Sheila B. Robinson, Potent Presentations Initiative Coordinator 

Is this the year for your most Potent Presentation? AEA is now accepting proposals for Evaluation 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. Will your presentation be on the program?

Now is the time to revisit the message tools on our p2i Tools page. Message is “the mindful planning of a structured presentation” and where you will spend the majority of your time planning a presentation. Your message should be clear, organized, and memorable to your audience. Our messaging model handout features handy guidelines for the portion of your presentation that should be spent on each of the building blocks of your message – background, bottom line, explanation, the “so what,” and call to action.

Our own association members have acknowledged the importance of messaging, as evidenced by these comments from the Evaluation 2015 post-conference survey:

I like presentations with clarity of message (clear takeaways) and audience engagement.

Less irrelevant background info – get to the point!!

... this is an absolutely core skill (creating clarity and meaning) that every evaluator needs to have…

… I've seen many presentations that closely follow the guidance on slide design, but then forget to follow the guidance on message and delivery.

p2i Feb 16_RS 2.pngIn 7 Tips For Proposals, Pitches, and Presentations, author Tom Harnish laments the lack of a clear message in presentations: “Most people scrape together some data, put it in some chronological or hierarchical order, shovel the material onto PowerPoint slides, and then drone through the presentation as if the power of the slides will make their point.”

Garr Reynolds, best-selling author and speaker on presentations offers this advice on messaging:

“… What are the most important parts of your topic for the audience to take away from your, say, 50-minute presentation? Remember, even if you’ve been asked to share information, rarely is the mere transfer of information a satisfactory objective from the point of view of the audience. After all, the audience could always just read your book (or article, handout, etc.)…”

“… Presentation structure is paramount. Without it, your wonderful style, delivery, and great supporting visuals will fall flat. If you took the time in the first step to outline your ideas and set them up in a logical fashion, then your thinking should be very clear. … If your ideas are not clear first, it will be impossible to design the proper structure later when you create visuals and/or supporting documents.”

Do you have any tips, tricks, or helpful advice for structuring your presentation message? Write to me at with your ideas, and I’ll consider sharing them in a future newsletter article!

Image by Cornerhouse via Flickr


Policy Watch - President's FY 2017 Budget Evaluation Guidance

Cheryl Oros.jpgFrom Cheryl Oros, Consultant to the Evaluation Policy Task Force (EPTF)

Every year the president sends Congress a proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The president’s 2016 budget contains ongoing efforts to better integrate evidence and evaluation into the federal budget as well as management, operational, and policy decisions and to increase access to federal data for such efforts. The president’s fiscal year 2017 budget, released February 9, continues the trend set over the past few years to improve efforts to build agency evaluation evidence-building capacity and develop tools to help agencies better communicate what works. Chapter seven of the FY 2017 Budget Analytical Perspectives volume, titled “Building the Capacity to Produce and Use Evidence,” discusses the role of evidence in decision-making, articulates important principles and practices of agencies with strong evaluation functions, and highlights efforts to build the capacity to produce and use evidence – particularly through the use of administrative data and the establishment of centralized evaluation functions.

The budget guidance encourages “learning agenda” approaches in which agencies collaboratively identify the critical questions that, when answered, will help their programs work more effectively and develop a plan to answer those questions using the most appropriate tools (see pg. 72). Among the key components are that agencies:

  • Identify the most important questions that need to be answered in order to improve program implementation and performance. These questions should reflect the interests and needs of a large group of stakeholders, including program office staff and leadership, agency and administrative leadership, program partners at state and local levels, and researchers, as well as legislative requirements and congressional interests.
  • Identify the most appropriate tools and methods (e.g., evaluations, research, analytics, and/or performance measures) to answer each question.
  • Implement studies, evaluations, and analysis using the most rigorous methods appropriate to the context.

For those of you working in or with a federal agency, we are interested in hearing from you about related evaluation efforts, including those stimulated by earlier OMB guidance. To send me your thoughts or set up a discussion, please contact me at


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