Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Role of Meetings in Corporate Strategy - MPI Webinar

On May 15, Ken Kirsh and the boys at Pfizer gave a great little webinar on how to connect meetings to corporate strategy. Top take-aways for me:
  1. Become a Meeting Consultant - ask about business issues & propose solutions
  2. Define Objectives - a happy coincidence that is was also my last post
  3. Measure Results - work with executives to define metrics that matter
  4. Multi-Modal Meetings - do your presentations online, meetings are for interaction! (Also a passion of mine)

Below you'll find my notes on the discussion.

The talk started with Doug Amann telling planners to focus on driving efficiency. Especially in this economy, find the places in your planning process that take the most time, and focus your streamlining efforts there.

Technology can play a role in driving down costs. Use technology when it will support the kind of meeting you want to have. You need to understand all of the technology options out there so that you can provide the right solution for each challenge that your clients or executives present to you.

Now, how can you align your events with the corporate strategy? Ask the executive behind the event what the motivations are behind the meeting. Listen to the words the executives use. Are they focused on innovation? On efficiency? On compliance? Tailor your messages and your solutions to the business challenges surrounding the particular meeting you're involved with.
Measuring Return on Investment is the nirvana of the planning world. It's more often simpler to measure "return on objectives". This does require a lot of time and effort up front to define (with the executives) what measurable, concrete objectives they might have for the meeting. And when you think you're done with the meeting, you're not -- you need to be diligent about measuring results long after the euphoria of the event has faded.

Tom White, also of Pfizer, talked about the "Return on Innovation" - he is normally asked to provide that "something different" or "something extra" to take meetings over the top. He recommends that planners ask three questions. First, what kinds of conversations drive the most value for a company? Internal department discussions? Cross-functional discussions? Conversations with customers? The company should invest in meetings that support the most impactful conversations. Second, how does this meeting make our business faster or more efficient? Maybe you SHOULDN'T wait until the annual meeting for a big discussion or announcement. Don't let meetings slow you down, either. Third, what should be done outside the meeting (before and especially after) to leverage the value of the meeting itself?
Tom discussed three different meeting formats. The traditional "broadcast" meeting involves one person giving a presentation to many people. Technology today is very effective at this kind of interaction -- put it on a DVD or a webinar! Many clients want this kind of meeting, but it's our job as planners to help them think differently.

The second format is a more linear meeting. This kind of meeting normally involves different departments working together to solve particular issues and challenges. These meetings tend to be highly engineered.

Finally, there are the "networking meetings". These meetings are the most difficult to manage, but they can create the most value. Doug said something like "If we're going to invest the time and resources to bring people together, let's maximize the interaction!" (As an aside, this is exactly the focus of Illumination Galleries) The best take-aways from meetings normally happen in the "water cooler conversations", not in the lecture halls. Let's build meetings that focus on those conversations!

The speakers then gave some recommendations on Going the Extra Mile, Managing Cash, and Partner Alignment.
Finally, the speakers wrapped up by emphasizing the new role and skills that are being required of meeting planners. Become a meeting consultant. Learn about the challenges your clients are experiencing, outside of the meeting. Develop new solutions that reflect your new understanding of the client's business. And communicate with executives using language (and data) that matters to them!

Here is the complete marker board. Click on this to see the larger image:

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Best Seat in the House

You've probably been too busy running conferences and events to watch the behavior of your attendees very closely. Have you noticed how different they are in different environments? Have you noticed when they are engaged and passionate versus when they are quiet and passive?

At Illumination Galleries, we have observed human behavior in all kinds of collaborative environments. We can help you pack the biggest punch into an area of your conferences that our industry has largely ignored. Want to kick it up a notch? Answer the following question:

Where is all of the real action at a conference?
Is it in the plenary during the keynotes? Is it in the breakout sessions? Is it in the lobby outside the meeting rooms? Or is the bar the place to be?

If you answered "The bar!!!" with multiple exclamation points, then you might not want to show this piece to your supervisor. But to be fair, the bar, the lounge, the cocktail reception and the official networking events are all very important venues at a conference. Building relationships is a critical objective for most meeting attendees. Relationships require time for conversations to happen. And sometimes a little liquid courage helps to grease the wheels as well. The "bar" (to include any of the social locations listed above) is the place for social interactions to occur. Some negotiations take place here, but the bar is the stage for building relationships.

The plenary is another universe altogether. The plenary is set up to "broadcast messages" -- from one talking head to many listeners. These plenaries can have more or less energy, more or less interactivity, and more or less entertainment, but the primary function is for a few people (usually in the front) to share their ideas with the dozens or hundreds or thousands of others sitting in the audience. Executives and academics really like this space. This is the world of traditional education, where the expert talks and the little people absorb. Great speakers can make this environment transformational for people in the audience, but there just aren't that many great speakers out there. And for attendees, the more passive ones will like this space too -- this is where they can be most "entertained" with the minimal amount of effort on their part.

The breakout sessions tend to be where more detailed content gets shared, and where attendees get to have some interactions with the experts. These smaller-format sessions tend to be more hands-on, and much more interactive. For people who have come to a conference to learn a skill or best practice, the breakout session is where the most vital interactions will take place. Usually people get to attend sessions that they are interested in, so the audience is normally more focused and engaged. Great collaboration is possible here.

So that leaves us the lobby -- that nebulous "between" space that connects all of the different conference venues. This is where the registration table is normally found. You'll find snack stations and an endless supply of coffee. There might even be some informational or promotional displays here. It may seem a little strange that this area is often described as the most important part of a conference. Why is this area special? What makes this space useful? What can we do to make it even better?

The lobby belongs to the community of attendees. It is the Commons. The speakers own the plenary. The facilitators own the breakouts. The bar is pandemonium. The Commons is a different story. No one is in charge of it, so everyone can use it however they like. It is quiet enough to have important conversations, but generally active enough that you don't feel like you're bothering others (or that others are listening in). It is the central hub of the community, so anyone that you would want to see will walk through there on the way to or from somewhere -- this is where chance encounters and reunions happen, full of laughter and delight.

And this is where new ideas come flooding in like the tide. When people leave the plenary, fresh from a motivational speaker or a dynamic executive presentation, they pour into the Commons to share their ideas. When they return from a variety of exciting breakout sessions, they meet here to share ideas, compare notes and tell each other what they missed in the other sessions. These regular floods of new ideas and new energy keep the Commons at the center of the community of attendees.

This is where connections are made. This is where ideas pop. This is where insight happens. If you want to make a conference sizzle, transform the Commons into THE place to be!

This area gets the least amount of design attention of any venue at a conference, yet this is where the most important conversations are taking place. This is where people are most themselves, are most passionate, are most engaged. This is where the real value of a conference is forged for many attendees. The speakers, the breakouts, and the entertainment all provide fantastic ingredients, but it is here in the Commons that it all comes together to build new connections, new relationships, and new plans for the future.

We created Illumination Galleries to turbocharge the Commons. We decided bring the design brilliance of an opening session to the conference venue where attendees find the greatest value. We create a powerful experience of the meeting's content, of making connections, of building relationships and of producing results. Come visit the website and we'll show you how.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Designed Meetings

Hallelujah! It is fantastic to discover like minds out there. Mary Boone of Boone Associates just published a fantastic paper on making meetings strategic. From this link, you can download the full PDF of the paper. I highly recommend it.

She talks about several key shifts in meetings. The first is a shift from evaluating meetings based on "efficiency" alone, to evaluating them on both "effectiveness" and "efficiency". Look at how your meetings are impacting your company's strategy and performance, not just how much they cost.

The second key concept is to evaluate all of your organization's meetings as a portfolio -- this includes offsites, trainings, retreats, conferences, kick-offs, and any other gathering that you organize. What are the different components of your meeting portfolio, and how does each component contribute to the strategy of the company? This allows executives to make intelligent choices about where to invest their resources, rather than just cutting items that arbitrarily look "too expensive".

Finally, meeting design vs. meeting planning:

"The problem to date has been that many individual meetings may be expertly planned, but not expertly designed. There is a real and significant difference in these two concepts.

"Meeting design is the purposeful shaping of the form and content of a meeting to achieve desired results. Meeting design incorporates methods and technologies that connect, inform, and engage a broad range of relevant stakeholders before, during, and after the meeting. Good design helps meeting owners establish clear objectives and desired outcomes, integrate the meeting with other communication activities, maximize interactivity, and create a significant return on investment." (emphasis mine)

She goes on to distinguish meeting design from both planning and instructional design.

As we design Illumination Galleries for clients, we focus on precisely these elements -- connections and interactions to achieve results. We base our Galleries on our 20+ years of experience designing and facilitating corporate collaborative sessions to solve strategic challenges. When we looked at the larger world of "meetings", we saw a huge opportunity to make these investments of people, time and resources vastly more productive. We constantly seek out new tools and methods to connect people, to engage them, and to help them collaborate to create real results in these sessions. Otherwise, what's the point, really, of getting all of those people together?

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