By Ira Kerns
When designed right, large group
meetings are powerful, transformational experiences.
They can dramatically change people's feelings, opinions,
intentions and behaviors. National sales meetings,
dealer meetings, franchisee and employee meetings,
even recognition events, are a one-time opportunity
to make a powerful impact on the way people think,
feel and behave when it really counts, after the meeting
back on the job and in the marketplace. For example:
A national dealer meeting increased
a GuideStar client's annual sales by ten percent when 98% of the
dealers signed up for a new annual purchase agreement
at the meeting conducted by this copier company.
A national dealer meeting for a GuideStar client in the automotive industry
transformed a disaffected, frustrated dealer
network into one that was rededicated and motivated
to support the brand by increasing their inventory
investment by 108%. In addition, 31% of the dealers
did not reduce their purchase of cars at all, as they
said they would on the pre-meeting survey. For the
Audi factory, these two post-meeting shifts represented
tens of millions of dollars in auto sales they would
not have had if it weren't for the meeting's impact.
- A national sales meeting for
a division of a major health care company motivated the
sales force to achieve 95% of their retail shelf
space goals for a new product launch within 45 days
of the meeting, half the targeted time.
- An employee tele-conference
for a telecommunications company increased employees' confidence
and belief in the company's future by 48% and increased
their confidence in their personal futures by 110%.
- A national sales conference
for a division of a major corporate credit card and corporate travel management company produced a 71%
increase in those who were very confident of meeting
or exceeding their sales objectives and a 340% increase
in those who were confident the organization was
moving in the right direction. The meeting achieved
the highest attendee satisfaction levels on record
with 89% of the attendees saying the meeting was
effective in increasing their ability to compete
and in providing a highly motivational experience.
- A real estate company decided to
reinvest in its "Chairman's Circle" instead
of scrapping it when they found out how valuable
it was as an educational experience for their top
- A 10-city series of independent
broker conferences for another client resulted in 52% of
the 3,500 broker principals placing new business
with them worth almost $60,000,000 in new premium
Many companies have streamlined
and "re-engineered" their business operations
but have done comparatively little to redesign their
organization's communications and their large group
meeting process to achieve similar dramatic increases
in customer value and return on investment.
Companies invest hundreds of thousands,
often millions of dollars, days of their most valuable
peoples' time and energy in attending large meetings
and months of key executives' preparation. Yet, even
with stakes this high and so much invested, many meetings
fall far short of the mark, never realizing their
potential and rarely changing the way people feel,
think and behave.
Many large group meetings become
lost opportunities because they are not designed to
address or satisfy the important relevant concerns,
critical issues and needs of the participants, and
very often as a result, do not deliver measurable,
strategic results which move the organization ahead.
Listen to the voice of the
customer - The most common mistake meeting managers
make is to produce a "speaker-driven" event
instead of a "customer-responsive" event.
It is certainly understandable why this happens. Most
of the time, with corporate meetings, the small group
of executive speakers is the same people who control
the meeting budget. Meeting makers focus on satisfying
their clients' needs first, and predictably, the most
satisfied people at the meeting are often the executive
presenters. They got exactly what they wanted; well
polished, well rehearsed speeches with well-produced
speech support visuals. They made their points well,
and they looked good.
But, whether the hundreds, or
thousands, of meeting attendees had their important
needs met, whether they had a highly satisfying, highly
valuable experience and whether the organization achieved
a high return on its meeting investment are very different
and much more significant questions than whether or
not the speakers were personally satisfied with their
Very often, meeting makers do
not genuinely seek or respond to the fundamental,
relevant and important needs of their meeting participants.
As a result, many meetings are fatally flawed from
the beginning and cannot fulfill their potential to
powerfully connect with and move people to new feelings,
thoughts and behaviors and do not deliver a high return
on the meeting investment.
On the other hand, when meeting
designers conduct full and legitimate pre-event research
with their prospective meeting attendees' using professional
meeting attendee research methods and standards, they
can acquire a very clear picture of what is necessary
to build a highly relevant, satisfying meeting for
attendees and one which will deliver a high Return
On Event (ROE) for the organization.
It is absolutely essential
that people participating in this kind of research
fully trust the researcher to protect their confidentiality.
Companies often use outside research specialists like
GuideStar Research who can guarantee absolute confidentiality
and anonymity to the people being interviewed and
surveyed. By developing what Kerns describes as a
"cocoon of trust" during interviews and
focus group sessions, outside research specialists
often produce very open, candid, gut-level, real-world
information and insights.
For example, at a division of
a corporate credit card and corporate travel management company, meeting executives were prepared
to duplicate a successful, celebratory national sales
meeting format from the prior year with singers, dancers,
sets and costumes, etc., however, confidential tele-focus
group research and survey findings clearly showed
that the field sales force was not in a mood to celebrate
as they had been facing growing competitive threats,
a downtrend economy and trying to find their footing
through two internal reorganizations.
These weary warriors wanted a
very different style of meeting, one which addressed
their issues and concerns, gave them straight answers
up close and personal from their leadership, which
instilled confidence and trust that their new leadership
had the strategies and competitive commitment to move
the division in the right direction and was providing
them with the tools to meet the competition head on
A Vice President at the client company
put it this way, "I think anyone who goes into
a meeting like this and doesn't do a pre-conference
survey is flying blind. You can sit here at headquarters
and think you know what people really want or what
they're like and what the issues are out there, but
if you don't go out and confirm that you do know,
you could run into problems. The productivity process
gave us an idea of which issues were the major issues
from the attendees' point of view, which were really
hot and which were not."
By focusing with precision on
the known essentials, a meeting's budget can be targeted
to achieve the greatest impact on attendees' feelings,
perceptions and behaviors while, at the same time,
reducing costs by eliminating extraneous, gratuitous
The MPP is a proven,
for both designing meetings, which deliver powerful,
measurable results, and for accurately, scientifically
measuring post-meeting results. It was developed to
meet the special needs of both meeting attendees and
meeting managers, and has been utilized in a variety
of businesses to dramatically change peoples' understandings,
perceptions, attitudes, abilities, intentions and
behaviors through the meeting medium.
The MPP is based on a set of beliefs:
- Organizations deserve a measurable
return on their meeting investment.
- Meetings should be viewed as
powerful, experiential instruments for communications
- A large group meeting experience,
when designed with precision using measurable objectives,
can affect a specific set of attendees' personal
dimensions; peoples' understanding, perceptions,
attitudes, abilities, intentions and behaviors.
- Meetings are most effective
when they are responsive to and satisfy the real
needs of both groups of customers of the meeting
experience, the attendee participants and the organization's
- Meetings, which address and
satisfy attendees' most important needs, issues
and preferences are able to connect with attendees
at deep personal levels and affect their feelings,
opinions, intentions and behaviors.
- A meeting's effects can
be precisely measured using proven MPP research
- Pre-meeting qualitative
"pulse" research - Confidential, in-depth
telephone interviews with attendees and tele-focus
group sessions with peer groups of attendee segments
are conducted by meeting research professionals.
Pulse research is accomplished quickly and inexpensively
using pre-established sets of MPP questions and
methods to identify and define prospective attendees'
interests, business concerns and issues and their
needs, desires, suggestions and preferences for
Though the findings of this qualitative research
are often enough to provide meeting managers with
the information they need to design a high-performance
meeting, most of the time, a pre-event attendee
survey is also conducted.
- Pre-meeting quantitative
research - Pre-meeting surveys are designed
to confirm and refine what has been learned in the
qualitative research and, most importantly, to provide
a baseline of information about attendees' attitudes,
perceptions, intentions, behaviors, etc. which will
be used after the meeting to compare with the findings
of a post-meeting survey to develop the Return On
MPP, confidential, baseline surveys usually contain
45-65 multiple-choice plus 5-6 open- ended questions
and often utilize tele-communications for rapid,
cost-efficient data collection. One low cost method
is the FxTele-Survey.
Questionnaires are faxed back directly into PC's
with software programmed to read and extract the
data thus eliminating weeks of questionnaire mailback
and data entry time and costs.
Another method is the 800# Tele-Survey which offers
respondents the convenience of using the buttons
on their telephone keypads anytime 24-hours a day
during the survey period, to "touch-tone"
in their responses. People's responses to multiple-choice
questions are instantly digitized. Their spoken
responses to open-ended questions are recorded and
transcribed. Snapshot reports can be ready for review
within 24-48 hours of the survey period.
- Meeting design - measurable
objectives and essentials first - Using the
research findings, measurable objectives are developed
and organized by the core dimensions; understandings,
attitudes, perceptions, abilities, needs and concerns,
intentions and behaviors. These are prioritized,
and then meeting strategies are developed to accomplish
the most important objectives in each category.
By approaching the meeting design this way, from
the "inside out", and focusing first on
what is known to be essential, the trap of imposing
superfluous, cliché themes and irrelevant
agenda items is avoided.
After the core meeting experiences have been designed,
then the rest of the agenda can be filled in to
address peoples' additional needs and preferences
with an eye towards how these can support and enrich
the core meeting experiences. The meeting theme
and style will emerge naturally from this process
and should be allowed to emerge rather than be imposed
This design process also assures that the meeting
budget will be allocated to the most important objectives
first so that the meeting investment is leveraged
to achieve a maximum Return On Event (ROE/ROI).
- In-meeting feedback
- During the meeting, especially multi-day events,
feedback from attendees can help meeting makers
respond to attendees' needs and concerns which have
surfaced during the course of the meeting. This
feedback can be gathered through a variety of means;
suggestion and question cards, voice-mail, ARS,
meal function table discussions, networking teams,
PC-based kiosks, pre-planned debriefing meetings
with small groups of selected attendees, etc.
- Post-meeting qualitative
"pulse" research - A series of confidential
interviews and/or tele-focus group sessions are
often used to identify and define attendees' satisfactions
and dissatisfactions with their meeting experience,
their perceptions, attitudes, intentions and behaviors
in key areas of concern and interest to management
and their suggestions for improving future meetings.
- Post-meeting quantitative
research - A tracking survey is conducted within
several weeks of the meeting with benchmark questions
to measure attendees' satisfaction levels with various
aspects of the meeting, shifts in their understanding,
attitudes, perceptions, abilities, intentions and
behaviors and to learn about their suggestions for
Tracking research conducted 3-6 months after a meeting
can determine sustained results in peoples' understanding,
attitudes, intentions and behaviors as well as the
value of the meeting's contribution to peoples'
success in achieving their business objectives.
This extended research often involves customers,
managers, service personnel and others within the
meeting attendees' circle of influence and engagement.
- Return On Event (ROE)
- By comparing findings on pre-meeting and post-meeting
benchmark questions, the Return On Event (ROE) is
calculated, both on individual attitudes and perceptions
and across the range of questions to determine the
overall meeting ROE.
Return On Investment (ROI) - This is a specific
financial measure which is applied in situations
where valid quantitative information, such as sales
or distribution figures, customer complaint ratios,
etc. are available and can be linked directly to
Post-event, meeting managers know exactly how well
their meeting performed, precisely what results
it produced and what specific actions to take in
following through to reinforce strengths, address
areas of weakness and plan future meetings.
As one client from a major corporate credit card and corporate travel management company said, "I
think the real value of using the MPP in both 1992
and 1993 was that after looking at the 1992 post-meeting
survey findings, we could see whether or not we
moved the needle in certain areas, and the '92 data
gave us a benchmark to use as a gauge for the 1993
meeting. Post-conference, the MPP tells us what
we did right and what we did wrong in the meeting
and what people will look for in the next meeting.
That's very important information."
Some research is much
better than no research - Although the
MPP is a process, each of the individual pre- and
post-event research services offers significant stand
alone benefits and is often employed individually.
Pre-event research can be extremely valuable in assisting
meeting designers and organizational leaders to understand
the critical needs, desires and expectations of attendees,
while post-event research provides both an understanding
of what was accomplished and guidance for follow through.
For example, a national sales meeting post-event survey
for a leading diagnostics health care company examined
the effectiveness of a series of technical product
and sales training workshops. The company had invested
a significant portion of their meeting budget in audience
response systems to be used extensively in the workshops.
Among other things they wanted to assess was the value
of ARS as an educational tool at meetings. Questions
on the survey provided answers from each segment of
the sales force. In this case, the application of
ARS received very high marks.
In another instance, a post-event survey showed that
dealers had nominal interest, low confidence of success
and little commitment to a new business strategy the
manufacturer's leadership thought they had communicated
well about and had gained dealers' commitment to at
the meeting. Findings showed that the seminar on the
new business strategy had been poorly conducted, and
the dealers perceived that the company wasn't serious
or committed to the strategy.
Discovering the truth of the situation
within weeks of the meeting, the company's president
quickly held a series of regional telephone conferences
with the dealers to address the dealers' misperceptions
and attitudes and was able to re-energize the strategy
and move it forward with only a few weeks lost.
In another situation, pre-meeting
focus groups and a survey prior to a national sales
meeting for a very successful, market leader in the
health care industry showed an extremely high degree
of personal stress and frustration throughout the
national sales organization due to abnormally high
(average 60+ hours per week) work loads over many
months. Management had already designed an intensive
2-day, 8-hours a day training meeting at a resort
site in Arizona. Wrong!
The meeting was redesigned with
training time and topics cut back and replaced with
networking, R&R and informal discussion opportunities
with management. The redesign provided attendees with
a much-needed respite from their intense job stress.
The balanced agenda and relaxed meeting style gave
the entire organization a much needed "time out"
and provided the opportunity to step back, look at
the business and personal issues and to talk candidly
about how things might be changed.
The result was that attendee satisfaction
and ROEs on this event were very high with a 147%
ROE on the sales force's satisfaction that their leadership
understands what people are experiencing and feeling
about their jobs, a 90% ROE on satisfaction that the
company is a unified team working together, 69% ROE
on satisfaction with recognition, 62% ROE on confidence
in achieving sales goals, 56% ROE on satisfaction
with morale in the work group and a 45% ROE on satisfaction
with organizational support. (ROE represents the total
percentage shift on a question from pre-meeting to
The MPP is low-cost meeting
insurance - MPP
service costs average about 2%-3% of a company's total
meeting investment. This comparatively modest cost
assures that the remaining 98% of the meeting budget
will be spent effectively and that a high ROE/ROI
will be achieved and precisely measured.
In summary, large group
meetings can deliver significantly higher attendee
satisfaction and a greater Return On Event for the
organization than many companies realize. By employing
the Meeting Productivity Process, or some of its individual
elements, to assure more efficient meeting designs,
ones which are responsive to and satisfy their meeting
stakeholders' most important needs, objectives, and
preferences, organizations can dramatically improve
the return on their Total Meeting Investment.