Amid today’s challenging climate of economic uncertainty, more and more discussion about meetings and events is taking place in the corporate boardroom, where senior management teams are assessing the value those meetings bring to their business. For a professional meeting planner, knowing how to prove the value of tangible and intangible returns on a stakeholder’s investment is an enviable skill. Establishing the inherent value of meetings and how they tie in to corporate objectives is a critical component of the planning process, giving you the power to leverage that information with senior management and helping to justify their meetings investment.
This is something I learned first-hand when a government client pulled the plug on a major conference. We were only six months out from the conference when I got the call. My contact advised me that senior management was apprehensive because a fall election was imminent and they were nervous about how new leadership may view the expenditure. So, we cancelled everything, costing our client’s department thousands of dollars.
We asked our client if we could be given the opportunity to meet with them and their senior management to discuss minimizing the risk of moving forward, but we were never given that opportunity. That’s when I learned that I should have taken the time to sit down with our client to discuss strategic value from the very beginning. That would have been the time to analyze the value their conference would bring to their department and stakeholders. Had that analysis been in place, we could have used that information to explore the possibility that the benefits of proceeding with the conference may have greatly outweighed the associated risks. We may have saved the conference.
Developing your role
As investment in meetings and events is placed on corporate agendas, professional planners are presented with new opportunities for growth and development. The focus on meetings brings greater recognition for the work you deliver. It provides you with a platform to further your role in the development and delivery of your company’s meetings portfolio.
This is your time. It is your time to step forward and deliver the expertise your meeting stakeholders require. You must approach the delivery of meetings from the perspective of senior management and your stakeholders. By focusing on this perspective you can become a greater asset to your organization. You can increase your ability to deliver more effective meeting programs. You can build a better business case for the meetings you manage and increase your ability to obtain the support of your executives and stakeholders.
A strategic perspective
To start building a business case, you must begin to understand meetings from a strategic perspective. Historically, meetings are approached as a cost of doing business, with a strong focus on program delivery and the necessary logistics. Stakeholders and meeting planners look for ways to reduce costs through program reduction and increased efficiencies in logistical coordination.
“In addition to making meetings more efficient at the aggregate level, there is another part of the equation that must also be considered, and that is meeting effectiveness,” writes Mary Boone, President of Boone Associates in her briefing paper, “The Case for Meetings and Events: Four Elements of Strategic Value.”
A quest for effectiveness will challenge you to give greater consideration to your meeting objectives and to designing a meeting that will help you to achieve them. You will also need to ensure that your overall portfolio of meetings supports corporate objectives. This will bring the additional need to determine a set of metrics to measure the performance of your meetings.
The recent recession can be credited for bringing the value of meetings into question and to the forefront. Meetings now have greater relevance to corporate executives and stakeholders. They are demanding efficiencies as well as assurances of effectiveness and measurement of the value in holding the meetings they sponsor. This has created the opportunity for greater dialogue between meeting planners and stakeholders, which in most cases includes senior management. This has placed a significantly increased responsibility on the shoulders of meeting planners.
“Meeting professionals need to present a clear, comprehensive business case to key stakeholders about how to achieve strategic value,” writes Boone. “If they do this presentation well, they will get the resources they need to transform their organizations through effective use of meetings.”
Boone suggests that strategic value for meetings and events consists of four elements: portfolio management, meeting design, advanced logistics and measurement.
In portfolio management, you must question how well your meetings collectively support your company’s strategy and objectives. However, meetings not only need to be expertly planned, they need to be expertly designed. The foundation of effective meeting design is establishing goals and objectives early on. Those objectives must be clearly grounded in your overall corporate objectives. Meeting planning, on the other hand is the nuts and bolts of venues, transportation, accommodation; it’s the infrastructure that makes your meeting or event work.
Meeting planning has traditionally focused on building the infrastructure, and building it well. “Meeting design is the purposeful shaping of the form and content of a meeting to achieve desired results. It incorporates methods and technologies that connect, inform, and engage a broad range of relevant stakeholders before, during, and after the meeting,” states Boone.
Once you have effectively designed the meeting, you can indulge in advanced logistics. With advanced logistics, decisions regarding logistics are made keeping the strategic requirements of your meeting design in mind.
Your planning team will now understand the logistics and how their delivery will fit into the meeting design. Preference must also be given to the procurement of suppliers that will best support the meeting design, over long-established relationships that may not be able to deliver to the same level in supporting the design.
Measurement and evaluation
Effective meeting delivery requires planners to measure and evaluate their meeting’s performance, keeping continuous improvement in mind.
“A strategic meeting management initiative, without the ability to demonstrate meeting effectiveness, isn’t very strategic.” says Todd Hanson, CPIM, CRP, President and Founder of ROI of Engagement.
“In order to manage the non-tactical elements of meetings, namely meeting design and meeting effectiveness, you want to measure results. You measure it to manage it with the ultimate goal being continuous improvement,” notes Hanson.
You need to take the time to learn how to effectively measure and evaluate meetings. There are, arguably, many methods for doing so, from simple measures to more advanced methods for calculating ROI.
“ROI (return on investment) is the ultimate measure, no doubt. But if an organization isn’t experienced and completely dedicated to a measurement discipline, I recommend that organizations just get started.” states Hanson, “When designed properly, simple post-event questionnaires that measure reaction/satisfaction and learning can provide loads of valuable information.”
Once you have identified a set of metrics for measuring your meeting and have collected and analyzed the data, it is vital that you report the results back to your stakeholders. This should include an action plan for implementing changes for improvement. This will strengthen their support to continue with your meeting programs and enhance the potential for increasing resources they allot to you for future meetings.
What should this strategic approach to meetings mean to you? If strategic value is not already on your radar, where should you go from here? Here are some steps to get you started:
- Get connected to your industry. When we connect with other planners we can learn from each other. Much can be said of the value in sharing best practices. We all face the same issues. Get involved in your local chapter of an industry association; most hold monthly events. Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) are the largest professional associations for corporate planners.
- Pursue industry certifications that focus on the strategic value of meetings and events. Two of the leading certifications are Certification in Meeting Management (CMM) administered by MPI and Strategic Meetings Management Certification (SMMC) administered by the Global Business Travel Association. You may also consider ROI certification through the ROI Institute.
- Professional development and education are incredibly important. Become an avid reader of industry books and magazines. You may also consider taking industry-related courses from your local college or university. The Event Leadership Institute is a fantastic online resource of short videos by leading minds in our industry. MPI recently released its Business Value of Meetings (BVOM) Toolkit to support planners in proving the value in meetings.
- Get started and practice. You do not need to be an expert to implement change. Start taking small steps to begin to make your meetings more effective. As you learn and develop your understanding of strategic value you will find yourself designing more effective meetings.
Whether you are managing just a few meetings or are a seasoned professional managing many, you need to consider the impact your meetings have on your company. If you can do so, you will be prepared to defend the value of the meetings you deliver. This is especially important as we face the economic uncertainties of our future.
About the author
Brent Taylor, CMP, CMM is a Managing Partner at Timewise Event Management Inc. based in Edmonton, Alberta. He is very passionate about the meetings industry and believes strongly in education, professional development and setting industry standards. Connect with Brent online at www.twitter.com/brentjtaylor and www.linkedin.com/in/brentjtaylor.