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by Keith Allen, CMP | July 01, 2005

Anyone who has ever planned a meeting knows that collapse-into-your-chair feeling that comes when the last attendee leaves and the event ends without incident. But this is no time to sit still. One of the most important stages of the meeting the follow-up is about to begin.
    Finishing strong has never been more important to meeting planners than it is today. Marketing activities are under the microscope, and such scrutiny is not going away. Return on investment might seem like all the rage, but it’s much more than a  passing fad. Indeed, the need for meeting planners to prove their worth to show real business results from their efforts grows greater by the day.
    Making that final push is no easy feat, but this post-meeting advice might ease the way.

Don’t Let Time Lapse
Huddle first. Before everyone scurries to the airport, meet with your team, key hotel personnel and vendors. No event is perfect, yet no event fails to teach. A formal debrief, in which you gather and offer feedback to those who helped plan and execute the meeting, allows you to build on what worked or learn from failure. What went smoothly? What didn’t? When did the attendees head for the doors? Asking these simple questions and archiving the answers can prove to be an invaluable investment of time. 
    Crunch the numbers right away. When calculating ROI, job one is to understand the costs. And it’s important to understand them sooner rather than later before the information gets cold and that next big project takes your attention.
    Many venues provide invoices one or two days after the meeting. Some give daily debriefs to help planners track expenses against budgets as the event unfolds. Understanding this information while it’s fresh is the key to explaining it to your boss or client.
    Analyze the feedback. With the advent of electronic surveys, out went the excuse that gathering feedback is not worth the time, effort or expense. But unfortunately, while most planners do conduct post-meeting surveys, too few carry out the most important part of the exercise: analyzing the feedback and documenting the conclusions. Whether it’s quantitative or qualitative information, recording the results is a key first step to demonstrating success.

Give thanks
Be generous with thank-yous. The value of personalized follow-up cannot be understated. Hand-written thank-you notes should be sent to all those involved in pulling off the event. If at all possible, also send personal thank-you notes to attendees.
    Go in person. A little post-meeting networking can yield benefits for months or years to come. A brief visit to the client who hired you or the executive whose event you ran can set the stage for future success.

Share the results
Be prepared. Digesting the event with your boss or client is perhaps the most important step of all. Go in armed with a blend of qualitative and quantitative data. Because executives deal in numbers, a mix of statistics, ratings and other numerical measures often strikes a chord with top brass. At the same time, testimonials from attendees are an excellent way to complement hard numbers; they personalize the statistics, allowing you to flesh out a story of how goals were met.
    Now, collapse. Proving meeting results can be arduous, and the most difficult part can be in finding the energy to make that final push. But if you can muster the will to finish strong, collapsing into that easy chair is all the more rewarding.

Keith Allen, CMP, is a Crowne Meetings Director with the Irvine-Orange County Airport Crown Plaza in Irvine, Calif.