Clearing preconceived notions and digging in for the new business reality: Best practices and recommendations from the Meeting Industry Leadership 2011 RISE Awards winner.
Tight budgets of the past few years have been the bane of many meeting professionals. But for Maarten Vanneste, CMM, they’ve been a source of inspiration.
Even before meeting planners faced growing pressure to deliver a greater ROI from their gatherings, Vanneste—the founder of Abbit Meeting Support, a 12-person company near Antwerp in Belgium—made improving ROI a personal call to action. In his much-discussed 2008 book Meeting Architecture: A Manifesto, Vanneste urges colleagues to rethink the way they plan meetings—to deliver more value—and offers a system, dubbed meeting architecture, for turning gatherings into catalysts for innovation and change.
“It’s only when people meet that stuff happens,” said Vanneste, winner of MPI’s 2011 RISE Awards for Meeting Industry Leadership. “It was when Einstein was challenged by other scientists at meetings that he came to his ultimate work.”
Written on 10 consecutive Fridays, Meeting Architecture reflects a decade’s worth of thinking about how the maturing meeting industry can move forward in the future, Vanneste says. His perspective, heavily focused on the sharing of information at meetings and events, reflects his longstanding involvement in doing so through audiovisual production. Over time, he noticed more meeting professionals, including those working in hotels, reevaluating the content side of their events.
“I could see that the hospitality industry itself was shifting,” he said. “People started to realize that a meeting obviously creates value in the venue and the destination where it takes place.”
Here are some of Vanneste’s best practices for running a meeting that packs more punch for attendees—and still passes muster with procurement departments. (For more of his thoughts, see his blog at http://maartenvanneste.blogspot.com).
Content is King
At a time when many companies and organizations want to quantify the ROI of meetings, conferences and events they run or pay for employees to attend, focusing on the information that’s delivered to attendees—and how it’s conveyed—is more important than ever, Vanneste says.
“If you want to create value, that’s a big chunk of it,” he said.
Other aspects of the meeting, such as finding the ideal venue, are important, too, but they have to support the delivery of the content, he contends.
Don’t Overcomplicate the Process
Meeting architecture relies on a relatively straightforward and simple set of steps, Vanneste says. Planners need to identify objectives, design the meeting based on them, execute the meeting based on the design and then assess the results.
“It’s out of the objectives that you will generate ROI,” he said.
Focus on Participants’ Goals Above All
Meeting architecture requires an intense focus on the mission of a meeting in the planning stages, before any speakers have been lined up or hotels selected, Vanneste says.
“Spend more time talking only about objectives,” he advised. “Don’t design yet. Once you find out what your participants’ needs are, then you design based on those needs.”
Do Your Homework
Sometimes, pinning down a meeting’s objectives requires a fair amount of research, Vanneste says. There may be several groups of delegates with different reasons for attending a meeting that all need to be considered.
Planners may need to have multiple conversations with organizers, survey attendees or do other legwork to get the focus right.
“It’s serious business, identifying those objectives,” he said.
Don’t Get Stuck in the Past
Even if your event is best known for, say, keynote speeches, you may have to break with that formula if participants’ needs have changed. Before you plan next year’s event, consult with attendees, Vanneste suggests.
“What is important for them?” he asked. “Is it doing business with other members? Then maybe you have to do less of the keynote stuff.”
Do More With Less
Meeting architecture will naturally support the goal of many organizations to run meetings economically, Vanneste says. Focusing on attendees’ key objectives will make it easier to pare away nonessential elements. While improving the delivery of information may involve an investment in technology, other aspects of meeting architecture don’t add to overhead.
“If you change the layout of a room, going from chairs to a round table with chairs, there is no additional cost,” he said. “It’s a matter of going back to school a little bit and rethinking the way we do things.”
To foster the growth of meeting architecture, Vanneste is leading an initiative to create an industry-wide certification program in the discipline. A willingness by planners, organizers and suppliers to rethink the way meetings are planned is essential to the future of the industry.
“It’s only when we do the best possible job that we’ll keep growing and thriving,” Vanneste said.
The rewards of smart meeting architecture, he says, justify the effort.
“When you bring people together, you influence that group,” he said. “You are an instigator for change. You are part of the driving force for innovation.” One+
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