R&D. Those three characters can strike fear in some and dread in others.
Your annual meeting is just one touchstone in a portfolio of customer touchpoints. Like any gadget, service, or software, the annual meeting fills a need and provides solutions to customers. Usually it generates revenue for the organizing company.
And like any good product or service, a successful annual meeting requires research and development (R&D) to thrive. Yet R&D is often over looked by most meeting professionals.
Six Research Tactics For Improvement
Here are six research tactics that are critical to your meeting improvement. Without them, your changes for improvement may be useless and in vain.
1. Competitive Analysis
When was the last time you prepared an in-depth comparative analysis of your annual conference with five top competitive events?
Who are your competitors? How big are their events? What are their estimated financials? Number of exhibitors? Fees for registration and exhibit space? Sponsorship packages? Session topics? Which exhibitors and speakers overlap each event?
Who from your organization is attending competitive events each year? It’s important that you identify ways to differentiate your event from other industry events.
2. Industry Research
Staff should continually analyze the industry for trends and hot issues. The team should read industry publications, blogs and regularly attend industry Webinars. They should monitor economic trends, technology advances and government regulations and standards. From this industry research, secure speakers and topics that are leading the industry.
3. Onsite Observation
Who on your team is charged with observing the conference and watching for patterns and trends? Do you hire an outside team to attend each part of the conference, take notes and share their observations with you?
You need to find people to act like anthropologists uncovering what people are doing, where they are going, where they are congregating and how to make things easier for them. You probably can’t do this yourself as you are too busy overseeing the logistics of the event.
4. Focus Groups
Onsite focus groups offer another layer to attendee feedback by fostering discussion and analysis. They can provide an opportunity to test new ideas, discover attendee’s expectations and marketing preferences, and get additional feedback.
Although not as statistically significant as event evaluations and surveys, focus groups allow staff to dig deeper into attendee’s opinions.
What type of demographic information are you collecting during the registration process?
Do you know how may first timers are coming? Do you know what your repeat attendance is?
Looking at your data before the event can help you customize the experience for some attendees. Comparing the data from year to year identifies patterns and trends for future planning.
Many organizations have abandoned evaluations after each conference session at in the name of green meetings. Detailed evaluations completed at the end of each session are critical to improving future speakers and sessions. Asking one or two questions about a speaker a week after the event is not enough.
During the event, secure random chosen attendees to complete a detailed survey. Post-conference surveys, one for attendees, one for exhibitors, one for sponsors and one for press, are vital as well.
Regardless the survey, leave about 30% of your survey open ended so attendees can fill in their own answers with more candid responses.
To grow and develop your annual meeting, you need a robust research strategy. Using these six tactics, you can continually improve your conference through R&D.
Which meeting research techniques does your organization use? What tips have you learned using meeting research?