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Do Your Delegates Have the Meeting Planning Mindset?

Meeting Planning Mindest

I have been fortunate to study the outcomes of meetings for more than 1,300 participants in Europe and the U.S. Now with my doctorate completed and a new title to add to my name, I will be sharing more of this new knowledge with the meeting industry.

As a passionate advocate for meetings for many years, it seemed timely that the meeting industry gained scientific evidence to demonstrate its value and to support design decisions. However, aside from the outcomes and experience I measured in the study, a big factor in success went beyond the design of the meetings to the mindsets and behaviors of delegates themselves.

In my research, four delegate types stood out as having the most impact on successful or unsuccessful meeting outcomes. I hope this new knowledge will help planners advise businesses on how to secure better outcomes for future performance but will also help identify some strategies planners can use at events to better manage some of these behavioral types. Can you spot your delegate types from what I discovered?

The Delegate Types

The Wanderer has no particular plan or purpose to direct their activities. They dip in and out of sessions, check in with the office, with their social media and their emails. They are distracted but present. At trade shows they often spend the majority of their time visiting exhibitor stands for no apparent reason. They act alone, they have no agenda. And unsurprisingly, they achieve little for their business.

The Socialite treats the meeting like a vacation destination. They live and breathe this new world. They quickly detach from their home base to join this new community. They attend all the social events. They make friends or reconnect with old friends easily. They seek new and stimulating environments. They share their experiences with their online social networks, highlighting friends they have met to enhance their social status. They get a lot out of your meeting on a personal level, but need help to translate the gains into business returns.

The Observer is rooted to their home ground. While present physically, they are back in the office mentally. They are self-conscious of their actions and risk averse—all too aware of potential conflicts of interest and potential competitors. They watch sessions with a raised eyebrow and often fold their arms as they “see what happens” rather than taking part. They do not fully engage in sessions and tend to compare people, places and tasks with their home turf. They may note down items of interest but usually with question marks at the end of the notes.

The Explorer, like the Observer, keeps one foot in your meeting destination and one foot in their home ground. They collect artifacts that their home audience will find interesting and they share the insights on their social networks to help make their business look good. They plan a route to get the most out of your meeting. They hone in on new topics as long as they see the connection with its relevance back home. They look for new perspectives that they will aim to combine with their current practices.

Managing Your Delegate Types

Of all the meeting types, the Socialite and the Explorer are the most likely to enjoy their meeting experiences. Their motivations tend to be pro-social, so they begin with a meeting mindset and, providing you create a great meeting, they will be positive and tell others about it too. If you fail to meet their expectations, they will be the most critical and loud.

The Explorer

The Explorer is the most likely to produce better outcomes for business. They combine new knowledge, find new solutions and focus on application of what they learn from the meeting to the business. They appreciate new and relevant content over anything else. To strengthen the outcomes for Explorers, you can do the following.

  • Guide them to the new content they desire.

  • Follow up with them. Explorers will be the most likely to provide excellent case studies of the business value of meetings.

The challenge is converting your behavioral types to become more like Explorers. Here is how you can help all your delegates maximize the outcomes for their business.

The Socialite

The Socialite can create great networking opportunities but they can present a riskier option for businesses as their tendency to “live” in the meeting space means that they could be indiscrete with company information or feel attracted to moving on to new jobs or opportunities. Their need to socialize may also mean that they substitute a focus on business needs with their own needs to be popular. Control is key to maximize the benefits for the Socialite. Here are four ways to help the Socialite make the most of your next meeting.

  • Use meeting networkers to guide them towards useful contacts.

  • Encourage businesses to pre-arrange meetings for socialites so that their social skills can be harnessed for business advantages.

  • While the freedom to schmooze is important to the Socialite, some form of structure within networking will help guide the right kinds of conversation to take place.

  • Encourage the use of apps to keep the focus on contacts made and the likely business follow-up.

The Wanderer

The Wanderer and the Observer are less socially oriented. They have the potential to bring much to the business but they will require more attention in order to engage. You can help the Wanderers in the following ways.

  • Use meeting buddies to help them select and structure content and networking.

  • Ask businesses to provide attendees with a purpose, a set of objectives to achieve and a focus.

  • At registration, ask the Wanderers what they aim to get out of the event. Suggest some good objectives that are tailored to their business or refer them to a buddy.

  • Speakers should make a point of asking attendees what they got out of sessions as a reminder that they should be getting something out of being there!

The Observer

The Observer is the most challenging to adapt as their behaviors are primarily led by a reluctance to be at a meeting. Their lack of engagement can disrupt sessions, so Observers present the biggest danger to others and to meeting success. Here are ways to help them.

  • Invite them to speak and to lead the conversation based on what they do.

  • Emphasize the relevance of the content to their home ground and highlight that the content has the power to help their business.

  • Make them feel their opinion is important and praise them for their input.

  • Invite them to welcome drinks and ask questions and share so you can better understand their home ground, which will help to make them comfortable and more willing to share.

The behaviors of your delegates reveal their innermost mindsets. Not all of your delegates have an ideal meeting mindset—some of your delegates loathe the very idea of meetings! When thinking of your next meeting, consider the behavioral types and what to look for. In the hyper-competitive world of meetings, understanding social psychology and managing behaviors will increasingly replace the traditional logistic decisions and organizational skills of choosing venues, layouts and content. Right now, if you want to make your meeting valuable to businesses, managing different delegate types needs to be a core part of the meetings you design.


About the Author

Jackie Mulligan
Jackie Mulligan

Jackie has been involved with MPI for many years as a researcher, speaker and chapter leader. She led her own doctoral research on the role of meetings in stimulating creativity, examining design, experience and meeting outcomes. She co-owns and directs events for Game Republic, and her startup ShopAppy.com is a digital platform for independent retailers and franchises to boost local economies and communities. Contact her at jackie@shopappy.com