Essentials elements to be taken into account
Organizing a meeting seems, from the outset, to be a relatively simple task to accomplish and something that, in many cases, does not require the help of professionals. It is only necessary to choose a date, find an interesting place with the necessary conditions, set up a program of speakers according to the theme and make meals available on the day of the event. But is this enough to organize a successful event? Are these the key ingredients for attracting the right people? Will the event remain in the memory of the participants or will it just be “the same old, same old”? How will the event bring about effective changes in the lives of those who participate? In this article we will explore this theme and the formula for organizing a memorable event.
Planning versus coordination
We believe that you will agree with us if we say that in order to organize memorable and simultaneously successful events it is essential, on the one hand, to have the ability to structure an attractive program of events and, on the other hand, to be able to coordinate all the resources involved in this process (human, technical, logistical, etc.) in an impeccable fashion. Simply put, it is necessary to master the planning and organization of the event itself.
However, it is common for these two components to be confused, but, in fact, they are quite distinct and at the same time complementary. The planning of an event involves, in a first stage, the in-depth knowledge of the objectives of the event, available budget, basic ideas such as the desired theme or location, and based on this information, it evolves to the conceptual part, that is, to the called meeting design or meeting architecture. At this stage, attributes such as creativity, leadership and communication are central to good performance.
The coordination of the event involves assembling a giant puzzle, where the pieces are all parts involved in it, such as transport, accommodation, audiovisuals, reception teams, catering service, signage, among many others. The ultimate goal is to make all these components interconnect in a harmonious and complementary way. In the coordination phase, skills such as multitasking, organizational skills, technical knowledge in various areas, versatility and compliance with deadlines are key success factors.
There is a phrase, the author of which we do not know, which says the following:
“The coordination of an event is like building a house; the planning of an event is to make that house a home”.
Based on these assumptions, we can say that the organization of an event involves different areas of knowledge and requires a great effort from the organizer to be able to respond to the countless requests that it entails, being therefore a full time job.
If this topic interests you and you would like to know a little more about the art of designing events, as well as getting to know the strategies to create an event that no one will forget, follow us on the next lines.
Meeting architecture in the organization of events
There are events that promise a lot: excellent design and communication, organized in an extraordinary place, excellent catering service, but in the end leave us with a feeling of emptiness, a feeling that we could have made better use of those two days of participation.
It may have been because one had no access to any really new learning, because one was unable to establish interesting contacts or simply because of the traditional session formats, which are no longer what one is looking for …
This is where the concept of Meeting Architecture comes in. It’s a relatively recent term coined by belgian Maarten Vanneste, president of the Meeting Design Institute. According to Vanneste, the meeting industry has come a long way since the late 1990s, where the logistics of hospitality and the satisfaction of the participants were the focus and decisive factors in the business of meetings. Nowadays, expectations regarding this type of business are very high, with tighter budgets, a need for quick response, the need to create value, participant satisfaction and return on investment. Thus, very demanding.
Meeting Architecture can be defined as the task of designing the event experience, its content, format and context, in order to facilitate the desired reinforcement or change in the participant’s behavior and thus provide greater value for the interested parties.
The Meeting Architecture process has four main stages: identification of objectives, design of the meeting, execution of the design and evaluation of the result.
Identifying the objectives of the meeting
The ultimate goal of any meeting is to create value for all stakeholders in the meeting. To this end, it will be essential to know the participants and their objectives very well, as it will be through them, and through their behavior that we will generate actions that will have an impact on our target market. It is therefore essential to establish detailed objectives for the participant’s behavior as a result of the meeting.
The process of knowing the participants’ motivations is the first step. We must “get into” the mind of our audience, in order to understand why they are participating – what their goals and motivations are. This perception is crucial for the creation of more personalized experiences and to provide a better experience.
Diligent moments of true learning and knowledge are also paramount, supported by credible, accredited and innovative speakers. However, the way to do it is crucial for this new knowledge to be retained in a lasting and transformational way. Teaching strategies based essentially on visual content, the use of narratives or game formats, the so-called edutainment, are the ones that guarantee a greater retention of information.
This concept consists of the production of educational content, technological solutions or teaching methods that use entertainment values. The use of entertainment in the educational process has the purpose of making the learning journey more immersive, interactive and fun. This practice, in addition to attracting and capturing the attention of audiences, improves their attitude towards the moment of learning, increases motivation and, consequently, the ability to acquire new knowledge.
Finally, Networking, which consists of creating mechanisms that allow the expansion of the network of contacts, the creation of business relationships, the promotion of business opportunities, the sharing of information and the discovery of new partners. This network of contacts can be promoted through technological applications, but also through meeting formats that encourage this interactivity.
As the participants are the focus, the meeting architect wants to provide you with information, networking and motivation before, during and after the meeting or event. These are the activities that will have an impact on the participants and lead them to act and, consequently, will lead to a change in their behavior in such a way that it will create value for the participants of the event, which invariably includes the client himself.
The experience of the event can generally be extended beyond the start of the physical meeting itself. In particular with the Millennial generation, the meeting begins in a virtual context in blogs, wikis, online communities, social networks, in a kind of “warm up” for the event itself, making it more effective and valuable. After the event, there are also many opportunities to continue the learning, networking and motivation processes. Otherwise, let’s see:
After the meeting we can provide webcasts of some presentations, allowing additional or complementary learning, we can send a file with the participants’ contacts to promote greater networking, and share a gallery of photos and videos of the best moments, allowing us to communicate and continue the emotion of the event experience.
How are we going to motivate stakeholders? How are we going to promote the so-called “engagement”?What sort of learning experience will we provide to the participants? How will the knowledge change behavior and thus be aligned with our goals? What networking opportunities will we promote?
These are just some of the issues that we need to explore in order to identify clear objectives in each of these three areas, so that we can move on to the design of the meeting or event.
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Guide for event planning
The design of the meeting
With our objectives well defined, we are then in a position to start the creative process of the event.
According to Vanneste, there are five categories of tools that we have at our disposal for the design phase of the event. Let’s get to know them:
Conceptual: in this area, we talk about meeting formats, session formats and presentation techniques. Open space is the meeting format, brainstorm is the session format and Ignite is the presentation technique (by clicking on the link you can learn more about this technique).
Human: this is where all human resources come in, such as meeting designers, technicians, photographers, creative directors, actors, facilitators, moderators, masters of ceremonies, among many others who are normally called for this business area.
Artistic: we can talk about music, dance, copywriting, acting, we can talk about group activities, like making a painting or directing a choir, for example.
Techniques: audiovisuals, decoration, internet networks, or simply props, paper and pen, physical program of the event, are all examples of technical tools.
Technological: tools such as mobile applications, hybrid technology, social media, voting system, software, etc.
The more tools we know and feel comfortable with implementing, the more likely we are to be able to create more targeted events for a particular goal, for an exclusive group, or based on a specific budget.
Let’s look into some practical cases! If we want to involve the participant with our goals even before the event, how about promoting an online brainstorming about the topics that they would like to see discussed during an open discussion session that we will include in the event’s program? We will create in the participants the feeling that their opinions are important, as well as being more aligned with their goals. In this way, we will also be motivating participation and creating greater interest!
On the other hand, the organization may define that the plenary sessions, instead of the traditional powerpoint presentation method, will have an interview format, with a presenter who will guide the conversation in a more appealing way.
Depending on the objectives of the event, identified in the previous phase, we will build the meeting.
The execution of the design
At this stage of the process, our attention is merely focused on logistic issues. In an initial phase, all the necessary tasks to be performed are listed, partners and suppliers are selected, decisions are made according to surprise factors that may arise, plans are adapted according to certain unforeseen restrictions. The project manager’s main function is to ensure that all tasks identified in the event’s design process are put into practice within the stipulated timings, with the latter being the person most responsible for ensuring the quality and risk management of the entire process.
Here are some suggestions for a better execution of the design:
- The preparation of the budget is one of the critical points of success of any event, as its financial base will be directly related to the results. Channel a larger share of the budget to the critical points of success of the event, consult the history of previous editions (if applicable) for a more reliable projection, explore the option of raising sponsorships, guarantee the cash flow, consider a margin for unforeseen events. These are some of the strategies to ensure a budget without slippage.
- Create a task schedule: this document will function as a roadbook, that is, in it we will identify all the tasks to be performed, organized by date, with indication of the responsible person and the deadline to finish it. This type of document allows you to design all tasks throughout the various stages of the organization process, while distributing tasks in such a way that the team members are not overloaded.
- Organize on-site inspection visits with the suppliers involved in a timely manner. This is a strategy that makes all the difference, both in the identification of problems and in the search for solutions. There is a saying that says “we are always learning and we die without knowing it” and it couldn’t be more right. In particular, when it comes to very technical issues, we must always count on the opinion of experts who, in many cases, already have experience in certain subjects or can simply “see ahead”. The humility of learning from those who know is also a very valuable virtue in this business.
- Make a careful selection of suppliers. Sometimes, budgetary limitations lead us to make a selection of suppliers based on the final cost of their services, sometimes leading to less positive outcomes. The negotiation of proposals in this process is essential, so we can agree on service upgrades (in order to enhance our event), commissions or even get back to preferred partners in order to obtain a benefit that can be immediate or projected in future events, for example.
If these four criteria are met, you are well on our way for the event being on the right track for success.
Result evaluation: the ROI (Return On Investment) Methodology
We believe that most events, most likely, would generate twice the amount with exactly the same budget. Those who plan events know the planning and logistical execution processes backwards, but often find it difficult to justify the importance that their meetings and events play in the company’s strategy and the resulting return.
In general, events are seen as expenses and not so much as an investment as a way to achieve a certain global objective, whether monetary or non-monetary. But this perception can change if we measure their value.
Studies indicate that more than 500 billion dollars are spent on events around the world, whether in the form of participation in third party events, either as organizers or as exhibitors. This huge investment pushes companies towards a need to want to know what the return on that investment is and how they do it? In the context of events, in general, the metrics used are Direct Marketing, Social Network results, revenue generated through registrations and sponsorships, the number of participants and their satisfaction and, finally, the number of leads generated.
However, it is not exactly these results that provide us with relevant data to assess the impact on business and ROI, nor do they isolate the impact of the event from other activities that companies carry out. The ROI Methodology, developed by Dr. Jack Phillips at the ROI Institute (USA), proved to be an accurate, credible and viable tool to translate all projects and training programs into financial results, in any type of organization.
This methodology has been adopted and is used in more than 50 countries, being internationally recognized as the leading approach in the evaluation of return on investment.
Planning and Measurement
One of the main applications of the ROI Methodology is to plan events and meetings in order to achieve the best possible return. If we fail at this point it means that the event will not be exploited to its full potential. It feels like we’re going back to the beginning of this same article, right? But the truth is that initially this method was created as an assessment tool, but, in the meantime, it has evolved into a planning model. And, in fact, we all agree that in order to measure results there must be very clear and measurable objectives, otherwise the measurement has no meaning. How can we know if the results are positive or negative if we do not define the objectives?
The six levels of objectives and evaluation
The ROI Methodology defines objectives and measures results at six levels, from 0 to 5. The definition of objectives begins with the contextualization of our event and how it is interconnected with the company’s global strategy. This exercise almost always helps to determine who our audience is (level 0) and what the final outcome of the event is (level 4).
The essential question at this stage is “how can our target audience’s behavior change to generate the desired impact as a result?” Answering this question, we determine the behavioral objectives (level 3) and knowing them, the following question is: “what cognitive change, that is, learning experience, will lead to the desired behavior change?”. This brings us to level 2, learning objectives. Finally, different learning objectives will influence the choice of the learning environment, the format and content of the meeting (level 1).
The objectives at each of the six levels become measurable by defining clear success criteria – KPI’s (key performance indicators) – in the early planning stages. KPI’s determine what data needs to be collected to measure achievement of objectives at each level.
At level 5, we find the results of the event, that is, the return or profit we obtained, or, ultimately, its contribution to the mission of the promoting entity or added value to its shareholders.
The evaluation sequence works in reverse order, starting at Level 0 and proceeding step by step to the top of the pyramid, as shown in the diagram above. There is a close interconnection between all levels, with an indirect effect if one is not carefully designed to serve the objective of the next level.
The measurement should be carried out at each level of objectives for an in-depth analysis. And at each stage there are different tools to measure the established objectives, as illustrated in the figure below:
This methodology has been a valuable tool in the corporate context, but not exclusively. It makes it possible to measure the results of meetings and events, and the finance and purchasing departments have a growing interest in this methodology, as they have a greater need to justify these investments, which represent a considerable share of the expenses in many companies.
This article is nothing more than the roadbook that we use at The House of Events in the projects we embrace and in the challenges that are daily launched by our customers. It is a careful, time-consuming and thorough process that reveals our resilience, rigor and passion for what we do. This is a learning experience acquired over the past 20 years of activity, which converges with the latest strategic trends in planning events and meetings.
We hope that this reading has contributed to a better perception of the business of events and to make known the corporate identity of The House of Events.
Graduated in Tourism Management from the School of Hospitality in Porto, she has 15 years of professional experience in the area of events, having been the focus of her work in the area of management and coordination of congresses and conferences and corporate events.
HAMSO, Elling; Event ROI Institut. The Event ROI Methodology Whitepaper. https://eventroi.org/the-event-roi-methodology/ Acesso em 15 de fevereiro de 2021
VANNESTE, Maarten; HAMSO, Elling; SPERSTAD, Janet. Meeting Architecture, The Manifesto. The Meeting Design Institute. https://www.meetingdesigninstitute.org/paper Acesso em 27 de janeiro de 2021.
VANNESTE, Maarten; Meeting Design Toolbox for physical, online and hybrid conferences. The Meeting Design Institute. https://www.meetingdesigninstitute.org/catalogue Acesso em 13 de janeiro de 2021.