by Louann Cashill | September 01, 2011

Is formal, executive support at your organization a work in progress? Perhaps it's tentative. Or worse, maybe your senior executives are hesitant to back your strategic meetings management program initiatives.

The reality is that few organizations have much, if any, focus on meetings and events, because they typically are budgeted across individual departments, divisions and business units. Capturing data on meetings spend and volume, attendee information and return on investment -- regardless of how significant it might be to you --is not a core business objective and often is considered somewhat irrelevant.

But even if that is the case, you can -- and should -- move forward toward elevating your meetings initiatives through effective strategy. How to proceed without a mandate? The following advice is excerpted from a forthcoming book from StarCite and Easton Studio Press, Strategic Meetings Management Handbook: From Theory to Practice.

Gather data Data is the holy grail in creating an overall awareness of your SMMP. Among other key criteria, credible data will support a framework for the components of an SMMP that offer the most immediate opportunities.

First, gather the data to provide a compelling business case for adopting your strategic meetings strategy. Keep in mind that what might be important to one organization or executive team might be relatively unimportant for another. Influential findings might come from the following sources.

• Canceled hotel contracts that involve paid damages;

• Contracts and agreements signed by unauthorized signatories or third parties on the company's behalf;

• Overlapping meetings held in the same location during the same time frame;

• Invoices that are not auditable and lack supporting documentation;

• Lack of consolidation of meetings suppliers used across business units, and

• Meetings paid for with personal credit cards or department purchasing cards.

The list is endless -- and so is your opportunity to leverage your findings and build the foundation of your business case. Remember, your goal is not to embarrass any of your colleagues, but only to bring visibility to unmanaged activity and lost opportunities.

Budget wisely Once you have historical data (at least six months to a year), use it to forecast future meetings spend. During annual budget planning time, this information can bring insight and credibility to the SMMP process. Provide the appropriate stakeholders these figures:

• Estimated meeting spend based on objectives;

• Estimated meeting volume and attendance;

• Opportunities to combine meetings and reduce overlapping or redundant meetings;

• Best practices to reduce the cost of the stakeholder's meetings (e.g., using second-tier cities, being flexible in dates or location, and using preferred suppliers).

This is the type of strategic initiative that demonstrates alignment and relevance to stakeholders and executives. Furthermore, it positions you as a critical problem-solver within your organization.