I attended a very large industry event in January, the Professional Convention Management Association's annual meeting in Nashville. But it was at a small break-out session where I learned more about a small meeting's worth than I'd learned in my nearly 20 years in the meetings industry.

Jim Daggett, CAE, CMP, founder and owner of JR Daggett & Associates, Chicago, an independent meeting management firm, led a session about meeting ROI (return on investment). Jim is not only an excellent instructor, but he just “gets it.” By that I mean he is one of the few major proponents of getting meeting professionals to be more strategic than tactical. “Leave the logistics to others,” he says, “so that you can become the meeting strategist and expert in your organization.”

The meetings industry has advocated strategy over tactics for years. What is Daggett now proposing that's any different?

The bottom line is that you need to measure your meeting's (and therefore your own) effectiveness in quantifiable ways. Daggett is in the process of writing a book about the ROI and value of meetings, especially the measurement factor. He's coined the term “MeetingMatrixSM:” it deals with the measurements directly related to business strategies, which collectively document the effectiveness of People-to-People interactionsSM (including any group communication such as face-to-face, webcasting, etc.).

By focusing on the strategic outcomes of meetings, “meeting managers will become truly irreplaceable,” Daggett says.

Herewith are my top 10 take-aways from that session, which can make your small — or even very large — meeting more worthwhile.

  1. According to Daggett, small is the meeting of the future. “The future of meetings is not a lot of 300- or 400-person general sessions. The future will include many smaller meetings. I challenge you to give me three to four ‘aha's you've ever taken away from a large general session.”
  2. Companies are looking at their core competencies, and saying “We're not in the meetings business, so let's outsource our meeting functions.” That's good news for independent meeting management firms, says Daggett, but it's also an opportunity for those left in-house to become meeting strategists by translating the company's culture, goals, and objectives and communicating the big-picture needs of the meeting's audience to the contractors.
  3. No one teaches people to be good facilitators! If a facilitator isn't good, even small roundtable discussions are wasted.
  4. Every one of your meetings should have a business plan: Why are we doing this? How much is all of this worth? “Obviously 9/11 proved that a lot of meetings weren't essential,” says Daggett. “If they were strategically vital, why were so many corporate meetings canceled?”
  5. Acknowledge your stakeholders (anyone who derives benefit from the meeting or event), and the reasons for their attendance, whatever they may be. Each stakeholder has a different set of objectives.
  6. Let's talk like businesspeople. We need to go back to upper management after our meetings with facts, not anecdotes.
  7. Focus groups are the No. 1 measurement tool for meetings. Whether you need to do a needs assessment before a meeting, or do an evaluation after an event, a focus group of 12 to 20 people is crucial. Don't ask what topics they want to hear about; ask them what their biggest challenges are in their jobs. You can't ask open-ended questions and get a quality response in three minutes, as post-meeting written evaluations too often do.
  8. Get into computerized attendee management systems, and quit calling them registration systems.
  9. We have to position ourselves as “People-to-People” experts, says Daggett. “Even if only six people meet in a conference room, we should be the ‘go-to’ authority to demonstrate how to do it right.”
  10. Most people think of ROI as being measured in hard dollars, but we need to consider “soft” dollars as well. For instance, opportunity costs are a forgone conclusion, but they need to be specifically measured to show the true cost of the meeting: What do you give up when you go to a meeting? What about the tremendous amount of “catch up” time when you get back? What about the loss of family time? How much is all of this worth?