5 Steps to Smarter Meetings

About last week's blog, I have a confession to make, in a minute.

Some of the following five steps to smarter meetings will be 'old hat' to some; others will be known to but not practiced by many; and some will be new to your meeting planning process.

1. Establish goals and objectives. That is, determine why the meeting should be held. Organizations too often decide to hold meetings because they've always done so at the same time each year and even design the agenda/format on past meetings without considering what's new and needed. Without knowing why the meeting will be held, you can move forward but you may not achieve the desired results.

2. Determine audience/participant demographics. Make no assumptions about your potential audience even if you are doing the same meeting year after year. [Of course you'll start with step 1 so the meeting will change!]

Gender and gender identity, age, abilities, parental and/or care-giver and marital or partnership status, race, national origin, sexual orientation, religious or no religious preference or practice, geographic location, are a good start to learn. Knowing helps inform selection of destination and site, program content, design and speakers, entertainment, time of year and/or specific dates, activities, and food and beverage, among other factors.

3. Create a program, even a preliminary one. It's very difficult to develop an RFP or RFQ (request for proposal or request for quote) without a program outline. Venue sales and marketing personnel have a tough time advising if they have "space" for a meeting if they don't know what the program (and room block) will be.

In the development of the program, consider the content delivery systems, room sets and alternative room sets, audio, visual, and technology needs, and optimum numbers of participants. My friend and colleague, Jeff Hurt, writes great blogs about meeting design. Friend and colleague Paul Radde has a great book called "Seating Matters" (in the "books" section on his page) that will help you consider how to set rooms for maximum audience advantage.   

4. Develop a detailed destination and venue RFP or RFQ. With information gleaned from steps 1, 2, and 3 you can create a far better RFP/RFQ. Venues need details to provide a proposal; your organization needs to receive even more information to effectively evaluate where the meeting may be held. One example of an RFP is at the Convention Industry Council's APEX site. Add your own questions such as those about safety and security, taxes and potential increase in taxes, staff and staffing (using the audience demographics and program needs), and all the questions that will ensure you get more than is usually on a venue's web site.

5. Be specific rather than generic which leads to my confession: Last week, as it has been for eons, planners, in various electronic industry communities, asked questions such as "I need a motivational speaker - can anyone recommend one?" or "Should I hold a meeting in San Diego or San Francisco?" or "What's your favorite restaurant in DC?" Each time I see questions like those, I cringe. 

How can appropriate recommendations for any service, venue, destination, speaker, etc., be made without knowing the audience, budget, program goals and objectives, history, and so much more? Who cares about my favorite DC restaurant* if it doesn't have private dining space that your group requires?

Remarkably no one offered suggestions here nor were there requests for more information.  In other discussion groups, where the blog link was posted, recommendations were made without asking any questions.

Let's get smarter about planning meetings, requesting information, and responding to requests. Let's ask the right questions (try Q-storming™) and be deliberate in planning. We'll have smarter meetings, well-planned. 

* I have lots of favorite DC restaurants: Bistro d'Oc, CURE, Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, and Lebanese Taverna among them. And my full ethics disclosure: I get nothing for mentioning them, Paul Radde's book, or Jeff Hurt's blog.

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