You Will Not Forget ROI
Kristin Foldvik, CMP
Senior Global Program and Events Manager, Blackbaud, Inc.
I'm seeing a trend [in the way meetings are evolving] toward really interactive conferences. People's attention spans are definitely much shorter, they have phone calls to make, they still have to keep up with work. So I think changing the formats of [sessions] in general is what we have to do, involving more discussions, Q&As, and using technology, such as when people use their smartphones to do instant polls.
From an attendee and learning experience, I think face-to-face meetings are still important. Again, I think it goes back to the interaction that people still crave and still want, being able to talk to their peers and see what's happening in other areas. In our case, from a company perspective, we have offices across the world and we're just facing this now — trying to work with IT to find a solution to where we can have team meetings that are live-streamed or virtual solutions for those team meetings. We're on the cusp of something big changing as far as our company meetings. But I think for our user conference, the interaction piece will still be important, because we focus on nonprofit technology. That world, I think, will still crave that interaction.
I think meeting planners are being asked to look at the strategic piece a lot more — strategic plans, ROI skills. I also have a master's degree [in business]. So any type of business skills are definitely important in helping meeting planners stay current. For me, it's been, what's our start-to-finish [plan], helping develop the marketing pieces, and then being able to go to [leadership] and have a conversation about what's the importance of the meeting, what's the ROI, and cost per attendee. And even have that conversation on future locations and future growth, and how to present that to them so that they understand it from my world but also from their world on a financial line. Within the two years I've been here at Blackbaud, I've definitely had to — I wouldn't say let go, but reduce the amount of time I've spent on logistics and spend more time on the strategic goal-planning and messaging.
For our annual user conference, we're looking at [whether we] should continue these big meetings or should we be taking this on a road trip and doing it on a smaller scale regionally. Because people don't necessarily have the funds and the time to be away on travel for three or four days — and what becomes five or six really in this reality of today trying to get to destinations sometimes.
I think the other big trend is creating memorable events. We still have to figure out how in this world of keeping budgets low, creating that ROI, creating that strategic messaging, and still getting the attendee the learning experience — how do we still give them that wow factor that they will remember?
You Will Crowdsource Your Content
Phil Cavanagh, CMM
Vice President of Global Events and Trade Shows, Monster Worldwide, Inc.
No “I” in team as meetings become more collaborative, the management and strategy around them almost need to become more centralized. In the past, we've always talked about the benefits of centralized meetings management and decentralized meetings management, the benefit of some autonomy, but now as meetings become more and more collaborative and more and more experiential, the shift has changed to where you need a centralized oversight of how that strategy takes place. I think we still get too caught up with logistics and lose sight of the potential of the strategy.
Attendees control the outcome Attendees no longer think of themselves as attendees, they think of themselves as participants. With that comes crowd-sourcing of content. Pre-setting an agenda may or may not be the case anymore, because you want that feedback ahead of time and you want people to feel that the content is meaningful to them. Event designers need to develop outcome models. What we're trying to do is still get to the objectives of a meeting, but make it meaningful. In the past, we were always able to come up with a measurement to track ROI, but now moving forward, we need to be able to forecast ROI. What are the outcomes we're looking to create from a meeting, and how do we allow participants to collaborate in the development of the content?
Brand your meetings In the past, the sales meeting was the sales meeting, the sales incentive trip was the sales incentive trip. Now all of those seem to mean more. It's not so much what we say they are or what we define them as; it's what the participants define them as. As brands have realized that brand identity is important, meetings and conferences need to maintain an identity of their own. It's not so much what we say the identity is, it's what the participants feel about the identity. People want to align themselves with brands and experiences that are responsible.
Your new skill set Basic skills are still a strong, needed foundation. All the principles that we had in the past — strategy, logistics, procurement, the legal impact, and a global awareness — are still a baseline for entry. But beyond that, event professionals need to become a trusted adviser moving forward. The onus is on the event folks to make sure the event channel is being used. Are there live experiences or road shows or collaborative meetings that need to happen that aren't being considered? What's the architecture of that experience? The exciting part is that it's always new. It's constantly evolving.
How to develop those skills I would say part of it is continuously working on your connectivity skills. So, what is your personal network like? Do you have, as a meeting professional, as a planner, people you can reach out to? Are there people you can reach out to benchmark against others in your industry, or what other industries are doing? I think everyone's gotten a lot better in the last few years at creating personal networks — who they know and what industries and keeping in touch. Moving forward, a bigger skill would be maintaining and growing those networking opportunities.
You Will Use Technology All the Time
Founder and Director, Meetings Technology Expo
What every professional should know As business communication continues trending towards increasingly digital interaction, general writing skills will become even more essential in order to sell, market, and network. The ability to convey appropriate messages via email, social-media channels, and marketing materials maybe the only form of communication available, so you need to be concise and have something worth reading.
Meetings, tomorrow and the day after Our industry will see a much higher technology adoption rate regardless of the industry sector, and thereby planners will need to become significantly more tech-savvy. Ironically, technology seems to flourish in tougher economic times, when event professionals are charged with doing more with less — that is the perfect segue into adopting new tools and technologies. Social-media integration will also continue to play an ever-expanding role in our industry and will constitute a sizable chunk of event marketing. I also see events becoming better in general as planners are given the tools to harness data on attendee behavior, patterns, likes, and dislikes.
Get hands-on to hone your skills If your team currently has technology in place for registration, housing, attendee tracking, mobile applications, etc., ask your manager to see how they function on the back and front end. Understanding the importance of why the tech solution is in place and then seeing it in action will garner a better appreciation for the event that you're helping to create. If technology is lacking in your events, investigate solutions! Sit in on webinars, attend a conference, and educate yourself