Three Steps to Smarter Meetings

Marketing blogger Jeffrey Slater believes that marketers tend to immerse themselves in working on tactical executions before they've fully agreed on what problem they're trying to solve.

In the events management field, I think we're all guilty of this -- event planners, session speakers, product managers, training managers, content developers and their C-suite leaders, too. It's human nature to spring into action too quickly.

The end result of skimpy strategic planning is what I'll generously call the Not-Very-Smart meeting. Event goals are undefined, so it's hard to get the right people there. For those who attend, there's an aimless array of sessions, with speakers offering solutions in search of undefined problems.

In contrast, a smart meeting is meticulously designed from the outset to produce value for both attendees and the sponsor. What are a smart event's characteristics?

• The event has been strategically planned.

• It directly serves the interests of a carefully targeted audience.

• It offers attendees the two things they value most: learning and networking opportunities.

• It has achievable, measurable goals aligned with the sponsoring organization's goals.

• By focusing on outcomes, it gives management built-in benchmarks for justifying the cost.

Here are the three high-level steps for smarter meetings:

1. Plan the strategy ahead of the tactics. As suggested in the opening, start by building internal consensus on who the target audience is and what problem the event helps them solve. Every proposed event should have a planning document -- much like a business plan. Then, put the proposed event's plan through a rigorous approval process.

Before management can approve the event, the event owner must show that it has realistic, measurable goals. Only then can you proceed intelligently with developing effective tactics for pre-event promotions, session planning and content development.

2. Start connecting activities to outcomes. If you can't measure and report the event's outcomes, management has only one yardstick to evaluate: the event's costs.

For every event, there are significant opportunities to mine data and gain insights on the target audience. Use RFID tracking, smartphone applications, social media monitoring, mobile polls and other techniques to measure each attendee's level of engagement, focus and sentiment.

Tracking data from attendees will reveal invaluable, actionable business information. Use this information -- along with post-event data -- to measure event outcomes. Use these results to document the event's value and to apply lessons learned to future events.

3. Use technology throughout the event life cycle. When technology is appropriately woven into the process of planning, executing and measuring every event, good things happen.

Your staff and colleagues will learn that putting on an event is like launching a mini-business. To find out if the business has been successful, you'll have to measure results.

As you start tracking outcomes, you'll spot trends earlier. You'll gain visibility into the effectiveness of each event and the entire event's portfolio. You'll find exciting new ways to boost attendee engagement and send them home with memorable experiences.

Plus, you'll apply lessons learned from past events and start focusing the event's budget on what is working well, and tweak what isn't working. And you'll get better at targeting the right audiences and giving them the quality experience they expect before, during and after an event.

That's a simplified overview of how to make smarter events, with better experiences for attendees and better results for the sponsoring organization. What steps are you taking for smarter meetings?

Casey Cote is chief executive officer of Omnience, which provides marketing event management and technology solutions. Casey shares his thoughts on popular topics in the meetings industry on the company's ROI Blog.