Meeting Planning Companies: Experience Counts

 Why 1Meeting planning companies come in many shapes and sizes; from mega-size companies to one-person shops.  The huge companies can provide everything from meeting planning to rebate programs while the small shops offer great pricing but can often only offer the basics of travel and logistical planning.  If you need help with your meeting, how do you know which one to pick?  There seems to be a planning company for every need and each one says they are the best at what they offer.

How can you be sure they can deliver on their promises?

For my money, I’m going with the company that has the most experienced staff.  Anyone can purchase commodities like rooms, food and AV; but can they get the best value for your money?  An experienced senior planner can.  They know the going rates, what hotels are willing to give away and how to negotiate an advantageous contract.

Experienced planners also have a better understanding of communication strategies, adult learning, risk mitigation and the latest trends in hospitality.  Using their extensive industry relationships, they know what suppliers are hungry and will offer deals and who will not.  They know the newest properties and hottest destinations.

But the value of experience doesn’t end there.  The greatest value of experience is during on-site operations.  Meetings are complex events with many moving parts; from transportation to workshops to F&B.  When everything happens according to plan, anyone can operate a meeting.  But that’s not real life.  Most meeting plans require fine-tuning and adjustments as the plan encounters unexpected changes and attendee dynamics.  Sometimes the challenges are simple and easy to handle.  Other times, they can be very complex and difficult to manage; like severe weather, infrastructure failure or wide-spread illness. That’s when you need a planner with the training, experience and resources to address the issue and make sure your attendees are safe and secure.

When you are looking to hold an effective meeting that provides the greatest value to your attendees and your company, look for meeting planning companies with the most experienced staff.  They will save you time and money while insuring that regardless of what happens, your attendees will have the best experience possible.

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Meeting Planning Companies

 

Equinox LogoMeeting planning companies offer distinct advantages over independent planners or internal planners, yet many corporations are wary of third-party planning companies. While a few of their concerns may be legitimate based on previous experience with national brands, there are numerous small companies that provide a broader range of services than are available from an individual planner.

Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that full-service companies are more expensive than independents or internal planners. While in some cases it’s true, it really depends on the company’s structure and business model. Some models require a large staff of specialized individuals and the infrastructure to support them. Staff salaries and infrastructure are expensive and their pricing reflects it. Other companies provide experienced project leadership and engage specialists based on workload and the specific needs of their projects. Their business model allows them to provide a great deal of expertise at a very competitive rate.

So, how does that model differ from how an independent or internal planner works?

While it’s true that most independents have a group of individuals that they collaborate with regularly, availability can be an issue, especially during the busy season. In addition, those collaborators may be spread out across the country and are usually working on multiple projects at any given time; challenging their ability to communicate effectively.

Meeting planning companies are a group of individuals who work together on many projects each year. They have standard processes, a common vocabulary and an understanding of how each member works. Communication is often as easy as walking to the next office or cubical. If project demands require someone to be out of the office, there is still a communication “shorthand” that comes from working together on a daily basis.

Finally, the planners at third-party companies share a common vision, purpose and goals. There is no competition for billable hours or personal recognition; each employee puts the success of the project, and by extension the company, before their individual needs. Their goal is company success and profitability to pay their salary and advance their careers.

There are many talented individuals in the industry; including internal planners, independent planners and planners who work at meeting planning companies. Determining which kind is best for your needs has to be determined by the number and type of events you hold. If you have needs that require a broad range of services and expertise, I encourage you to consider a meeting planning company. You’ll be surprised at how affordable they really are.

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Professional Meeting Planner Certifications

cmp-logoProfessional Meeting Planners have a variety of industry certifications available, depending on their area of experience and expertise.  CMP, CMM, CTSM, CSEP and CGMP are the most common, although there are others, depending on each association’s unique niche.  Given the recent controversy over changes to both the CMP and CMM programs, a quick review of event planning certifications may be helpful.

What Are They?

Most certification programs are created to designate those professionals who have achieved a high level of competency and experience in an industry.  The sponsoring organization creates criteria for application and knowledge standards required for gaining the designation.  Typically, the criteria include professional experience, years of service and continuing education credits.  After a period of study, applicants’ knowledge is measured, usually through a rigorous test.  Once awarded, many certifications require continuing education to maintain the designation over an extended period of time.

Why Do they Matter?

Professional Meeting Planners that have gained industry certification are typically the most experienced and knowledgeable individuals in the industry.  The certification proves that they possess a high level of expertise and stay current on industry changes and best practices.  As a result, when companies hire a CMP or CSEP, they are selecting a trained professional who will provide the highest level of service and the greatest return on investment.

What Are the Most Common Designations?

Certified Meeting Professional

The CMP program is administered by the Convention Industry Council, a collaboration of 33 meeting, convention, and exhibition industry associations.  To earn the CMP designation, the meeting professional must have a minimum of five years professional experience (recently changed from ten years), demonstrate their knowledge in the field and pass a rigorous exam. Those who hold the CMP designation are considered the leading experts in the meetings, conventions and exhibitions industry.

Through the CMP program, individuals who are employed in meeting management pursue continuing education, increase their industry involvement, and gain industry-wide recognition.

CMM – Certificate in Meeting Management

Jointly administered by MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) the updated CMM Designation Program delivers one global standard of excellence for business management and leadership skills in the events industry.

The CMM program is an intensive curriculum that offers insight and guidance from university professors associated with renowned business schools. The program covers critical skills for meeting managers, including risk mitigation, business analytics and compliance and strategic negotiation.  The CMM study program concludes with a final project in which applicants address a real-life challenge they face in their current professional role.  Applicants must have five years of professional experience (recently changed from ten years) and prove significant financial oversight.

CTSM – Certified Trade Show Marketer

CTSM (Certified Trade Show Marketer) is the only university-affiliated professional certification program in the exhibit marketing industry.  First and foremost the CTSM program trains candidates in trade show and event marketing.  Candidates are required to complete a curriculum of 28 sessions which equals 42 hours of classroom study.

All candidates must be currently working in the field of trade show or event marketing. They demonstrate their application of knowledge gained through the program by means of a Candidate Portfolio.  Candidates also complete a three-hour comprehensive exam which tests them on the basic knowledge skills required of trade show marketers.

CSEP – Certified Special Events Professional

The Certified Special Events Professional (CSEP)® designation recognizes event professionals who have successfully demonstrated the knowledge, skills and ability essential to plan and execute all components of a special event.

The International Special Events Society (ISES) endorses and administers the CSEP program for those who meet established standards.  To qualify, candidates for the CSEP exam must have a minimum of three (3) years of full-time professional employment in the special events industry.  The CSEP is a four and one-half (4.5) hour computer-based examination.  The exam consists of two (2) parts: a 100 multiple-choice question portion and a written portion, both based on the CSEP Content Outline.

CGMP – Certified Government Meeting Professional

The Certified Government Meeting Professional designation (CGMP) is designed for planners and suppliers whose work is governed by the rules and regulations of the federal government.  Individuals who have earned their CGMP have obtained the highest designation available that is specifically for government meeting professionals.

The CGMP course teaches recognized industry practices cited in the Convention Industry Council (CIC) Manual.  In addition, the course materials include government-specific instruction, including ethics, Federal budget and appropriations, acquisition and contracting, Federal travel regulations, RFPs, risk management and protocol.

If you are looking for a Professional Meeting Planner to help you with your next event, consider a certified planner.  The letters ensure that they have the knowledge and experience you need to maximize the return on your investment.

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Stop The Insanity!

Speaker“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”– Albert Einstein

It’s a badly overused quote, but it’s very appropriate to the meetings industry today.  Why?  Because the majority of planners are using the same format we used when I entered the industry over 26 years ago.

You know the format …

  • Day One – Welcome reception
  • Day Two – General session (opening video and two hours of speakers), workshops and an evening theme party
  • Day Three – Workshops, afternoon golf and an awards event
  • Four – Closing session (with a keynote speaker and “Happy Faces” module)

Of course, we’ve “innovated” over the years.  We’ve swapped the theme party and awards nights, replaced golf with CSR projects, shortened presentations (but added more speakers), used live talent instead of an opening video, gone for walks; the list goes on and on.  We’ve also tried using technology to hold teleconferences, virtual meetings, webcasts, hybrid meetings and even virtual trade shows, but quickly learned that none of them are as effective as face-to-face meetings.  So we end up defaulting to the same old format.

Why do we do it?  For several reasons:

  • It’s easy, familiar and predictable
  • There’s very little risk
  • Most decisions can be made by mid-level managers
  • They can be planned by internal staff regardless of experience level
  • Budgeting can be based on the previous year

The problem with this time-tested format is that it’s no longer effective.  The internet and advances in technology have changed the business world and, more importantly, have changed our audiences.  Today’s audiences communicate, interact and learn differently.  They grew up with technology and instant access to information and data.  Their personal interactions and communication skills are based on social media.  They think in bullet points and don’t have the attention span for a 20 minute presentation.  They learn interactively and at their own personal pace.  In short, they learn what they want, when they want and quickly lose interest if the information isn’t relevant to them.

As an industry and as individual planners, we need to change our default meeting model and design meetings that connect with today’s audience.

  • Meetings have to become more interactive and attendee-focused
  • We must find ways to identify what the audience wants to know and deliver it in short bursts of information
  • Content needs to be available on-line, allowing attendees to learn at their own pace
  • Meetings must be more interactive, allowing attendees to participate in the discussion and to learn from each other
  • We have to be willing to answer the tough questions and be accountable for our policies, products and actions

Most importantly, we need to be authentic.  Today’s audiences have no patience for incomplete information, spin, hyperbole, or corporate double-talk.  They want the whole truth, both the good and the bad, so they can make decisions based on the whole picture.  In short, we need to approach each meeting as a custom, attendee-centric event that focuses on the needs of the audience rather than planning expediency.

The greatest challenge for planners is to convince the C-Suite that the old model isn’t effective and your meeting has to change.  Today’s C-Suite leaders are extremely risk adverse and budget conscious so any type of change will be questioned.  To get approval, planners will have to establish their strategic credentials and make a business case for the change of format.  Those that are successful will be rewarded with the opportunity to engage their creative and strategic brain to design a truly effective meeting.

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Strategic Meeting Planners: An Essential Part of Your Team

Equinox LogoExperienced professionals add value in every field of endeavor, but especially so in the field of meeting and event planning. More than the go-to people for logistics, strategic planners bring a level of knowledge and experience that turns a meeting into a powerful strategic tool for your business. That’s why a strategic meeting planner is an essential member of your marketing team.

The Top 10 Reasons to Hire a Strategic Meeting Planner

  1. Strategic Meeting Planners save you money, and not just by negotiating better rates. In a world of cost-justified expenditures, it’s not how much you spend but how well you spend it. Strategic planning ensures that you get the most return for your investment.
  2. Strategic Meeting Planners integrate your key messages. From the chairman’s speech to the themed gift items, your company’s message is imparted through multiple channels.
  3. Strategic Meeting Planners know how to get the job done right.
  4. Strategic Meeting Planners help you coordinate and implement fresh ideas. Many companies get locked into routines or politics. Having an outside expert help you plan your event can avoid the entanglements of corporate politics or “we’ve always done it this way” mantras and break free from tired routines.
  5. Strategic Meeting Planners are experts in their field, and know and understand the nuances of a successful meeting. Whether it’s ensuring that keynote and breakout sessions underscore the meeting’s theme and messages or coordinating multiple locations, meeting planners have the talent, experience and skill to handle it.
  6. Strategic Meeting Planners negotiate on your behalf. Given the volume of business they do with various companies in the industry, they can negotiate more effectively than you can independently.
  7. Those in the industry know the trends, and can incorporate the latest concepts in meeting planning into your event. Perhaps it’s the latest theories in adult education, or perhaps it’s the latest technology for knowledge assessment and retention. Strategic Meeting Planners know the industry trends and can incorporate them appropriately into your event.
  8. Strategic Meeting Planners provide experienced staff. Their staff knows and understands what it takes to run a successful event and has the time (and stamina) to handle registrations and more. Why tie up your staff to do these functions when experienced professionals can do them faster and more effectively?
  9. Strategic Meeting Planners handle disputes so you don’t have to. No one likes conflict, yet with many meetings, something unforeseen happens. A hotel’s air conditioning breaks down. A vendor overcharges for beverages. The list goes on and on. Why take the hassles on yourself when your professional meeting planning firm can do it for you?
  10. Attendees will be more honest with an outside company than with you. If your attendees are your employees, they’ll be more forthright answering surveys or participating in feedback sessions if these are facilitated by an outside firm. Who wants to complain with their boss in the room? Meeting planners offer neutral facilitation that leads to true problem-solving.

Equinox Creative can help you plan an effective meeting, conference or event. Call us at (952) 893-1293 to learn how we can add value to your next strategic event.

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Maximize Your Meeting Budget: A Checklist

checklistWhen it’s time to plan your company’s annual sales meeting or other educational meeting, large or small, it’s important to get the most bang for your buck.  Yet, many managers are cautious about their meeting and event budgets since the meeting scandals over the past couple of years hit the national news.  And rightly so. Every penny spent on your meeting or event should be used to accomplish a specific, measurable goal.

Does that surprise you?  It shouldn’t.  The focus on meeting and event ROI is the difference between hiring a logistical planner and working with a strategic meeting designer.  Both should be capable of handling the logistical details, but only a strategic meeting designer offers the business acumen and insight to help your company achieve its strategic vision and goals within a specific budget.

Checklist

Ask yourself:

1. Are all the stakeholders in agreement about the strategic goals of the meeting?

You can’t quantify your goals if you can’t agree on them.  Make sure that key leaders within your company share the same vision for the meeting and you have consensus on your goals.

2. Have you written the goals down?

Heads nod around the conference table and everyone is in agreement on the goals for the meeting.  Later, when the conference plan is circulated, everyone is at loggerheads again.  Why?  Because no one wrote down the goals the leadership team agreed upon.  Write them down and distribute to all committee members!

3. Are your goals manageable?

Too many goals are unmanageable.  Ideally, have no more than three or four goals for your meeting.  More than that and you are probably trying to accomplish too much or your vision for the meeting isn’t focused enough.  You may need to go back to the drawing board to winnow down the goals.

4. Do the goals support the company’s overall strategy?

Your conference or event goals should support the company’s overall business strategy.  If they don’t, there is misalignment between your meeting and your business; a major problem that must be corrected before you proceed.

5. Have you developed key messages to relate throughout the meeting?

Once the goals are in place, developing key messages to achieve each goal should be easy.  If not, review your goals to ensure they are clear and specific.

How Are These Questions Related to Budgets?

At first glance, you may question how these five tasks relate to a conference, meeting or event budget.  After all, what does agreeing upon the vision and goals a meeting have to do with saving money on lodging, food and beverages?

  • If you agree on the vision, goals and key messages, you can design an effective format and agenda focused specifically on achieving your goals
  • The meeting format determines your choices of venue, entertainment, and activities
  • A focused agenda eliminates activities and expenditures that don’t further your goals
  • Focus and purpose leads to clear choices about who needs to attend and who doesn’t; reducing expenditures on unnecessary attendees
  • Finally, clear goals can be measured.  After the meeting, you can measure the investment you made on the meeting and the return on your investment

Equinox Creative can help you plan strategic meetings, conferences and events with an eye on the ROI.  Call us at 952-893-1293 to discuss your strategic meeting planning needs.

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Why Hire a Professional Event Planner?

Meeting PlanningSomewhere in corporate America today, an administrative assistant’s workload just got heavier thanks to someone’s bright idea. “I know, let’s save money this year and have an Admin plan our corporate meeting!”

Your admin is probably quite capable of booking meeting space, securing equipment and purchasing food and beverages. However, planning an effective meeting is more than a shopping trip to a local hotel. Booking the meeting room and handling meeting logistics is just one small step among many steps that create meetings with lasting impact.

Professional event planners understand there’s more to planning than making sure there’s enough coffee and cookies for the 3 p.m. snack break. Their goal is to ensure that your meeting aligns with your company’s strategic objectives. Every activity at the meeting or event, no matter how big or how small, should help your company achieve its business goals and provide a return on your investment (ROI).

Professional Event Planners Align Meetings with Strategic Objectives

Meeting professionals are, first and foremost, strategic business managers. A good planner understands budgets, sales and marketing goals, and business objectives. They work alongside your senior staff to set realistic goals, outline the vision, and determine the best activities and events to help your company achieve its goal. The result is a powerful experience for participants. Strategic meetings and events reset the existing paradigm and inspire positive change that aligns with your goals.

Tap Into Their Network

People who have been active in their profession for many years tend to develop extensive networks of contacts. Meeting and event planners often have long-standing relationships with vendors, consultants and freelancers who can add value without straining your budget. Professionals know how to maximize purchasing power. By working with a professional meeting and event planner, you can tap into their network and enhance your meetings through their existing relationships. It saves time and money.

Professionals can also custom-design solutions. This is especially useful when you have an unusual or unique request. It may be difficult for someone outside of the industry to know where to go to fulfill such a request, but professional meeting planners can usually create solutions with ease. It’s the ease that comes with experience.

The Right Person for the Job

You wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix an electrical outlet or a mechanic to perform surgery, so why ask your administrative assistant to plan the company’s annual sales meeting, or the company-hosted industry conference? The administrative assistant’s skill set is vastly different from a meeting and event planner. Instead of squashing a square peg into a round hole, why not put the right people in the right jobs?

A professional meeting and event planner can help you achieve your meeting objectives smoothly and efficiently. You’ll save time and money while creating a more effective event. Instead of adding yet one more task onto your admin’s plate this year, give Equinox Creative a call@ 952-893-1293.

 

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Minimalist Meetings (And Why You Should Consider One)

Meeting PlanningThe other day, a colleague remarked to me that a recent presentation she’d given to a small group had gone extremely well — in fact, better than expected.  What surprised her wasn’t the high level of audience interest and participation but the fact that she was able to achieve that high level of engagement without the usual bells and whistles.

The meeting room where she presented lacked a projector; and, caught without a backup plan, she was forced to present without modern technology.  The result, she said, was an interesting, spirited discussion that had participants asking great questions that opened up new avenues of thought for the meeting.  It was as if by removing the fancy presentation and animated graphics, she had removed the distractions.

My friend had experienced what I like to call minimalist meetings.

Minimalist Meetings

A minimalist meeting is one in which little or no technology is used to facilitate the meeting.  Instead of PowerPoint slides, the presenter speaks from notes or conversationally, without notes.  All cell phones, smart phones, tablets and electronic devices are switched off or left outside of the meeting room.  And that’s it.  No gadgets, no fancy technology, no bells and whistles…just good old-fashioned conversation.

Minimalist Meetings Encourage the Exchange of Ideas

Technology offers many benefits, but it also has some drawbacks.  It can be used to entertain and inform, but many times, it lacks the human interaction that is so vital to the exchange of energy that needs to accompany the exchange of ideas.

As my colleague noted in the anecdote I shared at the beginning of this post, the energy level in the room during her minimalist meeting was actually higher than in similar meetings in which she had been able to rely on her projected presentation.

Because there were no slides to distract the audience, the audience had to listen to her instead of staring at the screen at the front of the room.  Because my colleague wasn’t constantly pointing to slides, she was able to make more frequent eye-contact with the attendees, another technique to keep people engaged in the conversation rather than passively staring at a screen.  And because she wasn’t tied down to a clicker, pointer or computer to move the slides ahead, she could circulate throughout the room, getting to know the attendees and answering questions more easily.  The entire presentation bubbled with energy and enthusiasm.

Why Minimalist Meetings Work

Minimalist meetings work because once the distraction of technology is removed, there’s nothing left to focus on but the concepts presented.  Whether the meeting is intended as an information-sharing event, problem-solving sessions, or a training seminar, without the distraction of technology, the participants can focus, share and interact as people are meant to do, without the buzz, beep and ring tones of modern life.  The result is energy, enthusiasm, and often a better meeting experience for all.

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Stop Wasting Time and Money on Corporate Meetings & Accomplish Something!

Strategic MeetingsA brash statement from someone who makes his living designing corporate meetings, but I’m tired of watching companies hemorrhage money on useless corporate events.  When meetings are poorly planned and executed, they waste precious time and resources.  Worse, they provide no value so employees try to avoid attending whenever possible.  In most companies, it’s like pulling teeth to get people to attend. 

Corporate meetings can and should be opportunities for growth and engines of change, not an endless string of conference rooms, bad PowerPoint, and circular discussions.  There has to be something better.

There is.  It’s called a strategic meeting, and it’s an entirely different beast from those pointless meetings that plague so many companies.

Strategic Meetings: What Are They?

Strategic meetings are meetings that are aligned with your business goals and objectives.  They’re meetings that are held with a stated purpose, and every aspect of the meeting drives towards achieving that purpose.  Strategic meetings provide a measurable return on investment (ROI).

Strategic Meetings Are Game Changers

One of the hallmarks of strategic meetings is their ability to be game-changers.  When your employees participate in strategic meetings, they know that things won’t be the same by the end of the meeting.

Instead of feel-good goals like motivating the staff or increasing teamwork, a strategic meeting sets a quantifiable goal to improve sales by X or Y percent.  The detailed steps to achieve the goals are included so that all participants know, understand and act on the materials presented.  It’s a far cry from the circular conversation and feel-good jargon of the past.

Why You Need Strategic Meetings

Because strategic meetings are from the start intended to accomplish goals, they save both time and money.  They produce measurable business results that translate into bottom-line profits for your company.

So take those anemic feel-good meetings and turn them into profitable engines for your company.  Talk to Equinox Creative today about strategic meeting planning.  You will be surprised at the impact strategic meetings make on productivity, profits, and morale.

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Strategic Meeting Planning: Format Follows Function

Equinox LogoStrategic meeting planning requires a willingness to forget about last year’s meeting.  Too often companies begin the planning process by pulling out the agenda from the previous year and changing the date and venue.  From there, the agenda gets updated with the new theme, presentations and workshop topics, resulting in a meeting that looks very similar to the previous year.  As a result, the meeting becomes familiar, predictable … and ineffective.

These formulaic meetings are a tremendous waste of resources and a major disservice to both the company and the audience.

Today’s business moves at an amazing rate of speed.  The economy is volatile and technology is changing the way everyone does business, resulting in changes in customer demand, markets and the competitive landscape.  To be successful, companies must be nimble and adapt to changing conditions faster than ever before.  Five-year plans have been replaced by six-month strategies and quarterly initiatives.  In this environment, what worked well last year is probably not going to work this year.

Audiences are changing as well.  They are young, connected and more technology-based.  Many of them learn differently and prefer interactivity, social connection and short bursts of information vs. long, one-way presentations.  They want ownership and demand that their voices be heard.  Given these multi-generational demographics, the boomer-style meetings of five years ago simply don’t connect with most of today’s audiences.

It’s time for our meeting archetype to change.

Strategically designed meetings start with the end in mind.  Whether you refer to goals, objectives, initiatives or outcomes, it’s imperative to define what you want to happen as a result of the meeting and the metrics you will use to measure your success.  Keep in mind that your outcomes need to be specific, achievable, realistic and measurable.  If your results can’t be measured, they aren’t specific enough to form the basis of a truly effective meeting.

Once you know where you are going, you can begin designing a path to get there.  Remember, there are many meeting formats and presentation styles that don’t require PowerPoint or a lectern.  In fact, some of the most engaging and effective formats are quite unconventional; using interactivity and creativity to make them effective and memorable.

As you add content to your meeting design, remember that regardless of format or presentation style, you are telling your audience a story with a very specific ending.  Every element of your meeting, from presentations to activities, provides an opportunity to add detail to that story.  The more detail you add, the more effective your story; especially when the detail is not delivered through one-way presentations.  The best storytelling involves the audience by using multiple characters, different voices and colorful settings to engage their imagination.

Who knows, your CEO might become the next J.K. Rowling.

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