Why Meeting is good for Business
Experts say a good meeting or event is about sharing a message
by Alberta Venture Staff
Illustration: Kyle Metcalf
This year, this is your plan: you’re organizing a meeting or conference outside your office. Not just another meeting but a special one. A good one. But why? The biggest reason is a meeting, conference or corporate retreat can be a win for all involved. “It’s a great opportunity for people to bond and create a dialogue, discussion and discovery amongst themselves,” says Joann Chatterton, conference planner with E=mc2 Events in Calgary. But beyond the soft-skill stuff, the experts say a good meeting, conference or event is about sharing a message, one that your company or organization wants to spread internally, externally or even to use as a way to extend the brand. So think of it like this: a meeting is the message. And that message has real value.
Still, is that message worth the considerable cost? After all, meetings, conferences or special events are expensive. Sending your people to them is expensive, too. Unsurprisingly, the 2008 economic downturn led to budgets being slashed for such things with unprecedented zeal. A 2010 study by Visa, for example, found that in 2009 global business-travel spending fell by 8.8 per cent compared with 2008, the largest single-year drop aside from the 2001 recession and 9/11.
The remnant of the lean years is the need to justify every dollar spent on meetings, conferences, events or business travel. The new curveball is the online meeting. Travel and event budgets are under even more scrutiny today in the age of webinars, video-presence technology and webcasts. Bean counters will ask if the increased cost of getting together in person is worth it. Luckily, the evidence says it is. A 2010 study by global research firm Oxford Economics, for example, found that business travel, to allow people to meet face-to-face, provided companies with $12.50 in added revenues and $3.80 in new profits for every dollar spent on it. Put another way, the study found that if a company eliminated all business travel, its profits would fall by 17 per cent – in just one year. A 2010 paper by research firm Maritz argued that face-to-face communication is the preferred approach when your desired outcomes are to capture attention around a new idea, accelerate collaboration or performance (or heal wounds?), and, the biggie, to build human networks and relationships.
This is your plan, then: you’re putting together a meeting, conference or corporate retreat this year. It’s not going to cost you money. Well it is, but here’s how to look at it: this meeting is going to create a lot of value. But to get that value, you’ve got to do it right. We’ve assembled the experts to answer your biggest question: how?
Step by Step
Illustration: Kyle Metcalf
1. Why are you meeting?
Meetings, conferences and events are valuable for companies and organizations. But they’re only valuable when they’re focused and address what you want them to do. “I consider meetings a particular form of communication,” says Mike van der Vijver, an event planner in Italy and co-author of Into the Heart of Meetings. That communication, van der Vijver says, is unique because it always has an objective: a meeting wants to get something done. Knowing exactly what your meeting, conference or event is trying to achieve, then, is vital to plan it, to make it attractive for attendees, to make it worth the investment and make the outcomes measurable. “The better the organizer clarifies the reasons why he [or she] wants to hold the meeting, the easier it becomes to design a program that will actually achieve those objectives,” van der Vijver says.
2. What’s your objective?
Your meeting needs a strong objective. But how do you find it? Start with discovery, says Chatterton. Discovery means talking out your ideas and goals, and deciding on what really matters. Chatterton says she talks with her clients about their corporate culture or what outcomes they want to see from a meeting, conference or event. But she goes one further in the discovery phase, by interviewing potential participants with pre-event surveys. These allow her to assess attendee goals for the meeting, she says. Once that’s all known, designing the meeting, conference or event’s program falls into place. “The design of the program aligns with what we find in that discovery phase and surveys,” Chatterton says. “We build our messaging and delivery so that it fulfills those needs.”
3. What’s your call to action?
Ramona McVicker, with Big Shoe Marketing in Edmonton, calls a meeting’s objective its ‘call to action.’ Finding it, she says, makes all the next steps easier. “If you factor in what you want the call to action to be at the end of the meeting or conference, and you start thinking about that in every piece of collateral that crosses a person’s desk, from the invitation to the thank you for attending, it makes a big difference on the return on investment.”
EXPERT: Jane Moran
IDEA: Use neuroscience to crystallize your objective
Jane Moran, strategist with Noesis Learning in Calgary, applies neuroscience research to make corporate leaders, and their meetings, better. When creating a meeting’s objective, Moran says, it’s critical to think of your attendees’ prefrontal cortices. No, really. We use our prefrontal cortex, Moran says, when confronting problems. But the prefrontal cortex is often referred to as the “Goldilocks” of the brain, she says, because it wants everything to be just right. “If there’s too much data, too many words, it just gets overloaded and doesn’t know which part of all of the data to interact with.”
That applies to your meeting, too. Crystallizing the objective is vital, Moran says. How do you do it? Moran says the best approach is to create a meeting objective using the three S’s – succinct, specific and shining.
EXPERT: Kevin Burns
IDEA: Disengaged attendees are telling you that your meeting stinks
Kevin Burns has seen a lot of bad meetings, and a lot of disinterested people forced to endure them. His advice? “Number one, what’s the reason for the meeting,” says Burns, a consultant from Calgary who specializes in safety meetings. Those meetings tend to be compulsory, but the lessons Burns has learned from running them apply to all. “Is it really necessary to have the meeting in the first place?” Burns says you should ask. Webinars and other communications tools have made costs associated with bringing people together in one place look large. But costs extend to time and interest, too. “There’s a big kind of shift in what meetings will have to be in the near future,” Burns says. “Shorten it up, have lots more discussion and get rid of the question-and-answer periods.” Yes, he says that. “God, I hate question-and-answer periods. It’s like driving a car at 60 miles per hour straight into a brick wall.”
FIND YOUR OBJECTIVE
Helps planning, builds value and measurement metrics, boosts attendance, pumps participation, makes you a corporate hero
Discovery and the call to action
A strong objective is the best arrow in the quiver for potential attendees to get money from their organization to attend your meeting, conference or event. The objective will inform the program, the issues and the speakers. Make it all clear, concise and striking, and you stand a better chance of more attendees. And that’s good business
YOUR NEXT STEP
Designing your program
Travel Ammo Budget
Here’s the value proposition you give your boss or the bean counters: a meeting puts faces in front of yours. A 2009 Forbes Insights study polled the opinions of 760 business executives about the value of face-to-face interaction versus other options – such as virtual meetings, webinars or even email chats. Result? While more than 30 per cent reported that their travel had been limited by the 2008 downturn, more than eight out of 10 said they preferred face-to-face interaction to the alternatives. Executives who said they preferred face-to-face meetings were asked why. Responses included 85 per cent who said personal meetings built stronger, more meaningful relationships, and 75 per cent who said they increased the opportunity to bond with colleagues and potential clients.
3 Tips for Holding a Greener Meeting
You can easily green your meeting or event. But what’s your big goal? Reducing your meeting’s carbon footprint? Recycling all the Evian bottles? Composting all the banana peels? Knowing your goal will help you shape your approach. But here are three tips all the same.
Offer both luxury and green transport information to your participants. Some will ditch the Town Car from the airport for the light-rail transit and shuttle link to the hotel. Want an ultra-green meeting? Consider buying carbon offsets.
Hold your meeting or event where your attendees will sleep. If you must separate the two, find a venue that’s walkable from the hotel. Simple.
Bottled water is more expensive than gasoline, mister, not to mention an awful polluter. Invest the money in reusable conference water bottles and provide water in carafes for attendees.