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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Strategic Meeting Planners: An Essential Part of Your Team

Equinox LogoExperienced professionals add value in every field of endeavor, but especially so in the field of meeting and event planning. More than the go-to people for logistics, strategic planners bring a level of knowledge and experience that turns a meeting into a powerful strategic tool for your business. That’s why a strategic meeting planner is an essential member of your marketing team.

The Top 10 Reasons to Hire a Strategic Meeting Planner

  1. Strategic Meeting Planners save you money, and not just by negotiating better rates. In a world of cost-justified expenditures, it’s not how much you spend but how well you spend it. Strategic planning ensures that you get the most return for your investment.
  2. Strategic Meeting Planners integrate your key messages. From the chairman’s speech to the themed gift items, your company’s message is imparted through multiple channels.
  3. Strategic Meeting Planners know how to get the job done right.
  4. Strategic Meeting Planners help you coordinate and implement fresh ideas. Many companies get locked into routines or politics. Having an outside expert help you plan your event can avoid the entanglements of corporate politics or “we’ve always done it this way” mantras and break free from tired routines.
  5. Strategic Meeting Planners are experts in their field, and know and understand the nuances of a successful meeting. Whether it’s ensuring that keynote and breakout sessions underscore the meeting’s theme and messages or coordinating multiple locations, meeting planners have the talent, experience and skill to handle it.
  6. Strategic Meeting Planners negotiate on your behalf. Given the volume of business they do with various companies in the industry, they can negotiate more effectively than you can independently.
  7. Those in the industry know the trends, and can incorporate the latest concepts in meeting planning into your event. Perhaps it’s the latest theories in adult education, or perhaps it’s the latest technology for knowledge assessment and retention. Strategic Meeting Planners know the industry trends and can incorporate them appropriately into your event.
  8. Strategic Meeting Planners provide experienced staff. Their staff knows and understands what it takes to run a successful event and has the time (and stamina) to handle registrations and more. Why tie up your staff to do these functions when experienced professionals can do them faster and more effectively?
  9. Strategic Meeting Planners handle disputes so you don’t have to. No one likes conflict, yet with many meetings, something unforeseen happens. A hotel’s air conditioning breaks down. A vendor overcharges for beverages. The list goes on and on. Why take the hassles on yourself when your professional meeting planning firm can do it for you?
  10. Attendees will be more honest with an outside company than with you. If your attendees are your employees, they’ll be more forthright answering surveys or participating in feedback sessions if these are facilitated by an outside firm. Who wants to complain with their boss in the room? Meeting planners offer neutral facilitation that leads to true problem-solving.

Equinox Creative can help you plan an effective meeting, conference or event. Call us at (952) 893-1293 to learn how we can add value to your next strategic event.

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Maximize Your Meeting Budget: A Checklist

checklistWhen it’s time to plan your company’s annual sales meeting or other educational meeting, large or small, it’s important to get the most bang for your buck.  Yet, many managers are cautious about their meeting and event budgets since the meeting scandals over the past couple of years hit the national news.  And rightly so. Every penny spent on your meeting or event should be used to accomplish a specific, measurable goal.

Does that surprise you?  It shouldn’t.  The focus on meeting and event ROI is the difference between hiring a logistical planner and working with a strategic meeting designer.  Both should be capable of handling the logistical details, but only a strategic meeting designer offers the business acumen and insight to help your company achieve its strategic vision and goals within a specific budget.


Ask yourself:

1. Are all the stakeholders in agreement about the strategic goals of the meeting?

You can’t quantify your goals if you can’t agree on them.  Make sure that key leaders within your company share the same vision for the meeting and you have consensus on your goals.

2. Have you written the goals down?

Heads nod around the conference table and everyone is in agreement on the goals for the meeting.  Later, when the conference plan is circulated, everyone is at loggerheads again.  Why?  Because no one wrote down the goals the leadership team agreed upon.  Write them down and distribute to all committee members!

3. Are your goals manageable?

Too many goals are unmanageable.  Ideally, have no more than three or four goals for your meeting.  More than that and you are probably trying to accomplish too much or your vision for the meeting isn’t focused enough.  You may need to go back to the drawing board to winnow down the goals.

4. Do the goals support the company’s overall strategy?

Your conference or event goals should support the company’s overall business strategy.  If they don’t, there is misalignment between your meeting and your business; a major problem that must be corrected before you proceed.

5. Have you developed key messages to relate throughout the meeting?

Once the goals are in place, developing key messages to achieve each goal should be easy.  If not, review your goals to ensure they are clear and specific.

How Are These Questions Related to Budgets?

At first glance, you may question how these five tasks relate to a conference, meeting or event budget.  After all, what does agreeing upon the vision and goals a meeting have to do with saving money on lodging, food and beverages?

  • If you agree on the vision, goals and key messages, you can design an effective format and agenda focused specifically on achieving your goals
  • The meeting format determines your choices of venue, entertainment, and activities
  • A focused agenda eliminates activities and expenditures that don’t further your goals
  • Focus and purpose leads to clear choices about who needs to attend and who doesn’t; reducing expenditures on unnecessary attendees
  • Finally, clear goals can be measured.  After the meeting, you can measure the investment you made on the meeting and the return on your investment

Equinox Creative can help you plan strategic meetings, conferences and events with an eye on the ROI.  Call us at 952-893-1293 to discuss your strategic meeting planning needs.

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Why Hire a Professional Event Planner?

Meeting PlanningSomewhere in corporate America today, an administrative assistant’s workload just got heavier thanks to someone’s bright idea. “I know, let’s save money this year and have an Admin plan our corporate meeting!”

Your admin is probably quite capable of booking meeting space, securing equipment and purchasing food and beverages. However, planning an effective meeting is more than a shopping trip to a local hotel. Booking the meeting room and handling meeting logistics is just one small step among many steps that create meetings with lasting impact.

Professional event planners understand there’s more to planning than making sure there’s enough coffee and cookies for the 3 p.m. snack break. Their goal is to ensure that your meeting aligns with your company’s strategic objectives. Every activity at the meeting or event, no matter how big or how small, should help your company achieve its business goals and provide a return on your investment (ROI).

Professional Event Planners Align Meetings with Strategic Objectives

Meeting professionals are, first and foremost, strategic business managers. A good planner understands budgets, sales and marketing goals, and business objectives. They work alongside your senior staff to set realistic goals, outline the vision, and determine the best activities and events to help your company achieve its goal. The result is a powerful experience for participants. Strategic meetings and events reset the existing paradigm and inspire positive change that aligns with your goals.

Tap Into Their Network

People who have been active in their profession for many years tend to develop extensive networks of contacts. Meeting and event planners often have long-standing relationships with vendors, consultants and freelancers who can add value without straining your budget. Professionals know how to maximize purchasing power. By working with a professional meeting and event planner, you can tap into their network and enhance your meetings through their existing relationships. It saves time and money.

Professionals can also custom-design solutions. This is especially useful when you have an unusual or unique request. It may be difficult for someone outside of the industry to know where to go to fulfill such a request, but professional meeting planners can usually create solutions with ease. It’s the ease that comes with experience.

The Right Person for the Job

You wouldn’t hire a plumber to fix an electrical outlet or a mechanic to perform surgery, so why ask your administrative assistant to plan the company’s annual sales meeting, or the company-hosted industry conference? The administrative assistant’s skill set is vastly different from a meeting and event planner. Instead of squashing a square peg into a round hole, why not put the right people in the right jobs?

A professional meeting and event planner can help you achieve your meeting objectives smoothly and efficiently. You’ll save time and money while creating a more effective event. Instead of adding yet one more task onto your admin’s plate this year, give Equinox Creative a call@ 952-893-1293.


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Minimalist Meetings (And Why You Should Consider One)

Meeting PlanningThe other day, a colleague remarked to me that a recent presentation she’d given to a small group had gone extremely well — in fact, better than expected.  What surprised her wasn’t the high level of audience interest and participation but the fact that she was able to achieve that high level of engagement without the usual bells and whistles.

The meeting room where she presented lacked a projector; and, caught without a backup plan, she was forced to present without modern technology.  The result, she said, was an interesting, spirited discussion that had participants asking great questions that opened up new avenues of thought for the meeting.  It was as if by removing the fancy presentation and animated graphics, she had removed the distractions.

My friend had experienced what I like to call minimalist meetings.

Minimalist Meetings

A minimalist meeting is one in which little or no technology is used to facilitate the meeting.  Instead of PowerPoint slides, the presenter speaks from notes or conversationally, without notes.  All cell phones, smart phones, tablets and electronic devices are switched off or left outside of the meeting room.  And that’s it.  No gadgets, no fancy technology, no bells and whistles…just good old-fashioned conversation.

Minimalist Meetings Encourage the Exchange of Ideas

Technology offers many benefits, but it also has some drawbacks.  It can be used to entertain and inform, but many times, it lacks the human interaction that is so vital to the exchange of energy that needs to accompany the exchange of ideas.

As my colleague noted in the anecdote I shared at the beginning of this post, the energy level in the room during her minimalist meeting was actually higher than in similar meetings in which she had been able to rely on her projected presentation.

Because there were no slides to distract the audience, the audience had to listen to her instead of staring at the screen at the front of the room.  Because my colleague wasn’t constantly pointing to slides, she was able to make more frequent eye-contact with the attendees, another technique to keep people engaged in the conversation rather than passively staring at a screen.  And because she wasn’t tied down to a clicker, pointer or computer to move the slides ahead, she could circulate throughout the room, getting to know the attendees and answering questions more easily.  The entire presentation bubbled with energy and enthusiasm.

Why Minimalist Meetings Work

Minimalist meetings work because once the distraction of technology is removed, there’s nothing left to focus on but the concepts presented.  Whether the meeting is intended as an information-sharing event, problem-solving sessions, or a training seminar, without the distraction of technology, the participants can focus, share and interact as people are meant to do, without the buzz, beep and ring tones of modern life.  The result is energy, enthusiasm, and often a better meeting experience for all.

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Stop Wasting Time and Money on Corporate Meetings & Accomplish Something!

Strategic MeetingsA brash statement from someone who makes his living designing corporate meetings, but I’m tired of watching companies hemorrhage money on useless corporate events.  When meetings are poorly planned and executed, they waste precious time and resources.  Worse, they provide no value so employees try to avoid attending whenever possible.  In most companies, it’s like pulling teeth to get people to attend. 

Corporate meetings can and should be opportunities for growth and engines of change, not an endless string of conference rooms, bad PowerPoint, and circular discussions.  There has to be something better.

There is.  It’s called a strategic meeting, and it’s an entirely different beast from those pointless meetings that plague so many companies.

Strategic Meetings: What Are They?

Strategic meetings are meetings that are aligned with your business goals and objectives.  They’re meetings that are held with a stated purpose, and every aspect of the meeting drives towards achieving that purpose.  Strategic meetings provide a measurable return on investment (ROI).

Strategic Meetings Are Game Changers

One of the hallmarks of strategic meetings is their ability to be game-changers.  When your employees participate in strategic meetings, they know that things won’t be the same by the end of the meeting.

Instead of feel-good goals like motivating the staff or increasing teamwork, a strategic meeting sets a quantifiable goal to improve sales by X or Y percent.  The detailed steps to achieve the goals are included so that all participants know, understand and act on the materials presented.  It’s a far cry from the circular conversation and feel-good jargon of the past.

Why You Need Strategic Meetings

Because strategic meetings are from the start intended to accomplish goals, they save both time and money.  They produce measurable business results that translate into bottom-line profits for your company.

So take those anemic feel-good meetings and turn them into profitable engines for your company.  Talk to Equinox Creative today about strategic meeting planning.  You will be surprised at the impact strategic meetings make on productivity, profits, and morale.

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Strategic Meeting Planning: Format Follows Function

Equinox LogoStrategic meeting planning requires a willingness to forget about last year’s meeting.  Too often companies begin the planning process by pulling out the agenda from the previous year and changing the date and venue.  From there, the agenda gets updated with the new theme, presentations and workshop topics, resulting in a meeting that looks very similar to the previous year.  As a result, the meeting becomes familiar, predictable … and ineffective.

These formulaic meetings are a tremendous waste of resources and a major disservice to both the company and the audience.

Today’s business moves at an amazing rate of speed.  The economy is volatile and technology is changing the way everyone does business, resulting in changes in customer demand, markets and the competitive landscape.  To be successful, companies must be nimble and adapt to changing conditions faster than ever before.  Five-year plans have been replaced by six-month strategies and quarterly initiatives.  In this environment, what worked well last year is probably not going to work this year.

Audiences are changing as well.  They are young, connected and more technology-based.  Many of them learn differently and prefer interactivity, social connection and short bursts of information vs. long, one-way presentations.  They want ownership and demand that their voices be heard.  Given these multi-generational demographics, the boomer-style meetings of five years ago simply don’t connect with most of today’s audiences.

It’s time for our meeting archetype to change.

Strategically designed meetings start with the end in mind.  Whether you refer to goals, objectives, initiatives or outcomes, it’s imperative to define what you want to happen as a result of the meeting and the metrics you will use to measure your success.  Keep in mind that your outcomes need to be specific, achievable, realistic and measurable.  If your results can’t be measured, they aren’t specific enough to form the basis of a truly effective meeting.

Once you know where you are going, you can begin designing a path to get there.  Remember, there are many meeting formats and presentation styles that don’t require PowerPoint or a lectern.  In fact, some of the most engaging and effective formats are quite unconventional; using interactivity and creativity to make them effective and memorable.

As you add content to your meeting design, remember that regardless of format or presentation style, you are telling your audience a story with a very specific ending.  Every element of your meeting, from presentations to activities, provides an opportunity to add detail to that story.  The more detail you add, the more effective your story; especially when the detail is not delivered through one-way presentations.  The best storytelling involves the audience by using multiple characters, different voices and colorful settings to engage their imagination.

Who knows, your CEO might become the next J.K. Rowling.

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Strategic Meetings: Building Consensus

Strategic MeetingsStrategic meetings require everyone involved in developing both the format and content to work toward the same goals.  The challenge in today’s “management by consensus” corporate environment is to find agreement without falling into one of two outcome-killing traps.  The first is creating so many objectives that they compete with each other, leaving the audience confused about what you want them to do.  The second is creating objectives and messages that are so watered down that they become meaningless.

As you approach creating objectives and key messages with a group of senior managers, it’s important to remember that they are all strong personalities with very specific goals and challenges for their area of responsibility.  In many cases, their compensation is tied to achieving their goals so they will fight to protect their territory.  There are also political dynamics to consider where there is power, ambition and ego involved.

Given those constraints, these are the steps I recommend to give you the best chance of achieving consensus on meaningful, achievable outcomes and messaging:

Know Your Stakeholders

Never walk into a meeting unprepared; which in this case means a little research to learn two important things.

The first is to find out who will be in the room and what their roles are in the group dynamic.  In any management team there are thought leaders and followers.  The leaders are the people who actually make the decisions.  They are typically the people who sit quietly and hear everyone’s position and then weigh-in late in the discussion.  You can tell who they are because everyone stops talking when they speak.  In most cases, once the leaders state their position, the followers quickly fall in line behind them.

The second is to find out is what’s important to each person in the room.  Every stakeholder has objectives they want to achieve at the event, and usually there is one that is most important to them.  Knowing in advance what each person’s priority is can be very helpful in the give and take of building consensus.  Like all negotiations, if you can give them a win on that priority, they are probably willing to give on other issues.

Find a Friend

The best way to get the information you need is to find an insider to help you understand the dynamics of the group.  They can give you vital insight and will often provide support or nudge the conversation in the direction you need during the discussion.

Personally, I find it pretty easy to spot a mentor.  They are the person that greets you warmly, is truly interested in what you do and introduces you to people who are important to your success.  If you can’t identify who your mentor is, ask your client contact or a department admin.  They always know who is supportive and who isn’t.

Give Them a Starting Point

It may seem presumptuous, but I find it helps to give decision-makers something to react to.  I usually provide a list of outcomes and key messages to begin the discussion based on my knowledge of their business.  My suggestions might not survive the discussion, but they provide a valuable framework and catalyst to start the conversation.

Listen Carefully

Once the discussion gets started, stop talking and listen to what is being said.  Realistically, the leaders don’t really care about your thoughts and, by listening, you will gain amazing insight into their business and event expectations.  The only time I speak is to ask for clarification or to parrot back a key point.  Patience and quiet leadership are required at this point in the process.

Find Your Moment

If you are watching and listening, there will be a moment when you can end the discussion and finalize your outcomes and key messages.  The two clues I look for are repetition and loss of interest.  When the discussion stops progressing and people begin to repeat themselves, it’s time to finalize the deliverables.  The other thing to watch for is when the leaders lose interest and start looking at their watch or checking their email on their smartphone or tablet.

By this point in the discussion, you should have a list of three or four ideas that everyone agrees with, even if they have argued over semantics.  Seize the moment and lay out the key points you’ve heard for their approval.  If you’ve paid attention and your timing is right, the group will approve your outcomes and key messages without further discussion.

Building consensus doesn’t have to be a prolonged process if you can get all the decision-makers in the room at the same time.  If you prepare properly and listen carefully, you can usually leave the room with consensus after less than an hour.

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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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