The Quest for Continuous Meeting Improvement

Every business seeks to hire and retain exceptional talent. Organizations that demonstrate that they care for their people are making an investment in their future. 

We’ve all heard it many times over. For meeting professionals to bring the greatest value to their organization, they’ve got to be strategic. The path leading to the executive table varies greatly from organization to organization.

One thing is for certain, though: If you are bogged down with tactical planning, reporting what happened at your conference, or showing your value through coffee cup counting, you’re never going to demonstrate your value as a strategic thinker.

 If you want to move up the ladder, increase value to your employer, and bump up your salary, try applying a few of these principles:

1. Add recommendations to your post-con data.
Once a major event is complete, it’s critical to do a proper wrap up. Include all of the normal data points, such as number of people who attended the Tuesday lunch, but also make specific recommendations for next year. Many associations are guilty of doing things because they’ve done them that way for years and are risk adverse when it comes to trying new things. Help your organization push the envelope.

2. Communicate with leading indicators.
Most executives and board members prefer the view from 30,000-foot level. They also don’t like surprises and want to learn about good or bad news as early as possible. Think hard about ways to meet those expectations by providing weekly or bi-weekly milestone attainment and pace reports for registration, exhibit sales, and hotel room pick-up. These reports should benchmark how things are going to rate versus the previous year and versus budget or goal. They should include a short explanation from you to facilitate understanding about how the numbers should be viewed. Focus on the big picture and skip the minor details.

3. Think revenue versus expense.
Good planners keep detailed records of their expense savings and cost avoidance successes and share them with their direct supervisor. That’s a great way to demonstrate the value of your planning and negotiating efforts versus your compensation … a personal ROI calculation. But keep in mind that you bring greater value to your organization when you are able to demonstrate how your efforts resulted in top-line revenue growth instead of just expense savings. For corporations, this could mean delivering meetings that have a positive business outcome or boost morale as a direct result of the content and overall event.

4. Take it up a notch.
Work on sharpening your professional saw. If you want to move up the ladder, you will likely need to work longer and harder than those around you. It’s amazing how much you can learn from listservs, blogs, and Web sites. Seek greater knowledge on adult education principles. Sharpen your sales and marketing skills. Take the initiative to research other associations or shows to monitor and benchmark against yours. Nearly every association publishes its advance program and registration brochure on the Web. How are they marketing their events?

5. Think “segmentation.”
It is as competitive as ever to get attendees to your event. Instead of promoting to the masses, give your marketing a laser focus. One of the best ways to do that is to segment your potential attendees or members into three to five primary buckets and deliver messaging that speaks directly to what benefits or value will be realized for each primary segment.

6. Simplify.
When all is said and done, you want to make it as easy and painless as possible to do business with you. Many registration processes are way more complicated than they need to be. Find ways to streamline the process for attendees. Make it easy to buy. Stop marketing to those who have registered. Customers that have already made the buying decision can take offense to organizations that do not acknowledge that purchase.

Your Take Away
Take your seat at the executive table without leaving your desk by putting the Web to work for you.

A. Set aside time each day or week to skim the industry blogs and join a listserv.
You’ll be amazed by how much you can learn.

B. Get a black belt in advance searching on Google.
Most associations publish their preliminary program and registration brochure on the Web. Who are their keynote speakers? How much are they charging for exhibits or registration? What sponsorship packages are they trying to sell? Are they doing anything new? You may even be able to find a competitor’s strategic plan and financials buried on its Web site.

Visit Center for Applied Research for a succinct overview on how to think strategically at your organization.

This post was originally published in Convene. It was reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2010 www.pcma.org.

What tips would you add to the list to continually improve your meeting planning and experience process?

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