Corporate Meeting Planning – Trend Cycles

400-06172676Corporate meeting planning has gone through a number of permutations over the last decade, but has anything truly changed? I’ve been pondering this question for a while and have finally reached a firm conclusion.

Yes, but not really.

Having spent over 26 years planning corporate meetings, I’ve observed many cycles of change in the industry. These cycles come and go, usually lasting two or three years before things swing back to the other extreme. For example:

  • In-house planners give way to outsourcing and a return to core competencies
  • Creative or technical WOW is replaced by a greater focus on content
  • Resort hotels lose out to urban or airport properties
  • Budget-conscious events get more expensive by adding food and beverage upgrades, amenities and attendee gifts

This is just a partial list but you get the idea. It seems the more things change, the closer we get to where we began. As a result, what may seem like a major change in the industry is often just another swing in a cycle. Currently we are in a no-frills, do-it-yourself cycle where cost control is more important than the efficacy of the event; but, it will swing around when the need for innovation and growth replaces maintaining share price as the driver of corporate America.

To me, the most interesting cycle to observe, and the one that has the most impact on my business, is the corporate leadership cycle. The more challenging the economic and business environment becomes, the greater the focus on self-reliant leaders who manage by edict and resist input from the people around them. Then, when business improves or the marketplace demands innovation, these dominant leaders are replaced by managers who welcome input and manage by consensus.

But the biggest change in corporate meeting planning isn’t part of a cycle and many companies haven’t a clue to its significance. Corporate audiences have changed dramatically; and how we communicate with them has to change as well. The whole model of adult education has evolved to accommodate the generational differences in the learning process and meeting formats must change to remain effective.

As an old planning dog, I’ve had to learn some new tricks. It is incumbent on me to stay at the forefront of industry knowledge, techniques and best practices so I can provide the greatest value to my clients.

That’s something that will never change.

 

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Stop The Insanity!

Speaker“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”– Albert Einstein

It’s a badly overused quote, but it’s very appropriate to the meetings industry today.  Why?  Because the majority of planners are using the same format we used when I entered the industry over 26 years ago.

You know the format …

  • Day One – Welcome reception
  • Day Two – General session (opening video and two hours of speakers), workshops and an evening theme party
  • Day Three – Workshops, afternoon golf and an awards event
  • Four – Closing session (with a keynote speaker and “Happy Faces” module)

Of course, we’ve “innovated” over the years.  We’ve swapped the theme party and awards nights, replaced golf with CSR projects, shortened presentations (but added more speakers), used live talent instead of an opening video, gone for walks; the list goes on and on.  We’ve also tried using technology to hold teleconferences, virtual meetings, webcasts, hybrid meetings and even virtual trade shows, but quickly learned that none of them are as effective as face-to-face meetings.  So we end up defaulting to the same old format.

Why do we do it?  For several reasons:

  • It’s easy, familiar and predictable
  • There’s very little risk
  • Most decisions can be made by mid-level managers
  • They can be planned by internal staff regardless of experience level
  • Budgeting can be based on the previous year

The problem with this time-tested format is that it’s no longer effective.  The internet and advances in technology have changed the business world and, more importantly, have changed our audiences.  Today’s audiences communicate, interact and learn differently.  They grew up with technology and instant access to information and data.  Their personal interactions and communication skills are based on social media.  They think in bullet points and don’t have the attention span for a 20 minute presentation.  They learn interactively and at their own personal pace.  In short, they learn what they want, when they want and quickly lose interest if the information isn’t relevant to them.

As an industry and as individual planners, we need to change our default meeting model and design meetings that connect with today’s audience.

  • Meetings have to become more interactive and attendee-focused
  • We must find ways to identify what the audience wants to know and deliver it in short bursts of information
  • Content needs to be available on-line, allowing attendees to learn at their own pace
  • Meetings must be more interactive, allowing attendees to participate in the discussion and to learn from each other
  • We have to be willing to answer the tough questions and be accountable for our policies, products and actions

Most importantly, we need to be authentic.  Today’s audiences have no patience for incomplete information, spin, hyperbole, or corporate double-talk.  They want the whole truth, both the good and the bad, so they can make decisions based on the whole picture.  In short, we need to approach each meeting as a custom, attendee-centric event that focuses on the needs of the audience rather than planning expediency.

The greatest challenge for planners is to convince the C-Suite that the old model isn’t effective and your meeting has to change.  Today’s C-Suite leaders are extremely risk adverse and budget conscious so any type of change will be questioned.  To get approval, planners will have to establish their strategic credentials and make a business case for the change of format.  Those that are successful will be rewarded with the opportunity to engage their creative and strategic brain to design a truly effective meeting.

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Why Your Employees Don’t Care!

dear-boss-i-quitThe employment culture has changed and many companies have been blindsided.  Today’s employees, especially the post-boomers, are less driven by compensation and job security.  Money’s important but it’s not what determines whether they stay or go.

Today’s employees seek job satisfaction – an intangible that encompasses a number of difficult-to-measure elements and is strongly influenced by their personal value systems.  They want their work to have meaning … to contribute to society and people’s quality of life.  They want freedom to work in their own way – unrestricted by corporate formality and structures.  They want to feel empowered – that they have some element of control over their work and environment.  Most importantly, they want to feel valued – that their contribution is important to the company and its customers.

It’s a communications problem

Faced with employee apathy, declining production and high turnover rates; many companies search for answers using exit interviews, surveys and various employee or management councils.  While these methodologies collect data and may lead to insight and change over the long run, they won’t make a difference if a turnover wave hits your company.

For many small to mid-size companies, the best solution lies in face-to-face communication with their employees through an employee or sales meeting.  Not the kind of meeting where they explain the company vision and bore them with financial data, but rather a less formal meeting that encourages interactivity and two-way discussion.  This format encourages the free exchange of ideas; providing honest feedback to management and allowing the employees to feel their input is important to the company.  It builds a sense of shared community and encourages emotional buy-in by the employee.  It also provides management insight into both the ideas and needs of their employees.  The payoff is the employee feels empowered; that his or her voice is being heard and their opinion matters.

While interactive communication won’t eliminate turnover or make everyone a superstar, it will increase employee loyalty and productivity.  Whether they are management, field sales or cube farmers, everyone wants to feel good about their job and the company they work for.  It’s up to you to provide the opportunity.

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Grow Your Business

Grow Your Business

The Vernal Equinox has arrived once again, signaling the change of seasons in Minnesota.

Just like the seasons, every business changes and the pace of that change is happening at an alarming rate. What drove your bottom line yesterday probably won’t work today.

For example, many companies have spent the last few years concentrating on streamling processes and reducing expenses in an effort to increase profitability and maintain share price. Today that strategy no longer works. You can only streamline or cut so far before it begins to impact product quality and customer service; a bad recipe for long term stability.

Forward-looking companies are focused on growth. They see the economic climate is slowly improving and understand that it’s a great time to gain new customers and market share from competitors who are still in “ride it out” mode. However, growth in this economy requires a whole different strategy than it did a few years ago.

Customers have changed and they now expect customized products and services that meet their specific needs. They demand personalized service and expect to be treated like they are your most important customer, regardless of who they are talking to.

Growth in today’s marketplace cannot be accomplished by a top-down strategy. It requires a cohesive effort by everyone in the company, from the CEO to accounting, aligned to a strategic plan to meet the needs of the customer. Where strategic initiatives were once the guiding force for the executive committee and a few select managers, they now must define the culture and behavior of the entire company.

So how do smart companies drive this huge shift in culture and create a company that instantly responds to market changes? By learning to communicate strategically through all levels of the company so that everyone not only understands the strategy, but believes that it benefits them on a personal level. Employees don’t change in response to an email from the President or because their company introduces a clever tag line. People only change when their beliefs change as the result of new information and a personal benefit.

If your company is ready to grow, give Equinox Creative a call. We’re experts at strategic communication that drives change, resulting in bottom-line growth and increased profitablity.

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The New Normal

normalWhile attending a recent industry event, I overheard someone asking the ubiquitous question, “How’s business?”  I found their friend’s answer confusing.  “It seems to be picking up, but I’ll be glad when things return to normal.”

Normal?  What normal are they talking about?  The free-spending extravagance of the early 90s? … the post-911 “It can’t look expensive” normal? … or maybe it was the pre-recession “Let’s celebrate” normal they were talking about.  Over the past two decades, defining “normal” has been a real challenge and, once again, people are asking when things will return to normal.

The reality is that today’s meetings and events are the new normal.

 The New Normal

The good news is that today’s meetings are more effective than ever before.  The impact of the economy on budgets, staffing levels, venue selection and content development has simplified meeting planning and forced the elimination of superfluous elements that don’t support the primary reason for a meeting – face to face communication.  As a result, today’s meetings are focused on outcomes and their value is measured by their impact on a company’s business.

How do you know if your meetings align with this changed paradigm?  The new normal can be clearly defined by a few trends that will continue for at least the next few years:

 Meetings Are Strategic Tools

Corporate expenditures will continue to be cost-justified.  As a result, meetings must be clearly aligned to corporate business strategies and demonstrate a return on investment.  Regardless of how a company measures event ROI, meetings must demonstrate how they forward corporate strategic initiatives or they will become targets for elimination.

In turn, meeting planners must be able to work with senior management to clearly identify communication strategies and measurable outcomes to justify their existence.  Those that define themselves as strategic drivers will find a new level of respect and value to their accomplishments.

 The Audience Rules

Meeting attendees have evolved and meetings must adapt to connect with them.  They are no longer willing to be passive observers that are told what to think and believe.  They demand that meeting content and activities are relevant to their business and that their opinions are heard.  Meeting experiences must be designed around collaborative, two-way communication or the audience will tune out or simply not attend.

Today’s meetings must also support a whole different form of personal communication.  The alphabet soup attendees (X, Y, Millennial, etc.) require information in short visual bursts rather than long-winded talking heads waxing poetic about the future.  They require internet bandwidth, comfortable seating and direct communication that gets directly to the point.

 Social Media is Social Business

Anyone who thinks social media has no role in business is not paying attention.  Webinars, virtual groups, Twitter, Linked In and YouTube have become staples of marketing and business communication.  Today’s meetings must integrate these communication tools if they want to fully engage today’s audiences.

I recently worked on an IBM/Lotus show and its entire focus was on Social Business.  Wireless internet access was available free of charge, all sessions were webcast live and available for download after the event, tweets were displayed live throughout the conference and there were special seating areas for industry bloggers at every business session.  As a result, the attendees I spoke with were engaged and very impressed by their conference experience.

Time is a Valuable Commodity

In our fast-paced world, time has become attendees’ most valuable commodity.  As a result, they want to get in, do the work and get out as quickly as possible.  Meetings that offer irrelevant content or have too many social activities waste their time.  Meetings over weekends interfere with their personal time.  Either way, they simply won’t attend.  Worse, if it’s a mandatory meeting that isn’t valuable they’ll be de-motivated and resent the company.

According to MPI, “FutureWatch 2011 results show that the tides of the meeting industry have shifted, and there will be no return to yesterday’s events.”  If that’s what you are waiting for, it’s time to embrace the present and educate yourself on the new normal.  It will definitely be good for business.

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