When Michael Burke, CMP, manager, conference & travel services, The Hanover Insurance Group, and Jennifer Squeglia, CMP, RLC Events, began designing a detailed best-practices study for senior-level meeting managers back in July 2008, many companies were facing challenges that have become all too familiar in the industry: flat budgets, big expectations, and the need to continually streamline processes and procedures. By the time the survey was followed up with a face-to-face focus group in late January, the financial crisis and recession had created even more compelling reasons to share best practices. “Nearly everyone we surveyed has a strategic voice at their company. The question is: How can they use it to find solutions in these challenging times?” says Squeglia, who conducted the survey via telephone interviews and served as facilitator at the January gathering.

The group of seven industry veterans met for a day of conversation in a room at The Hanover's Worcester, Mass., offices, set up in a comfortable living-room-style arrangement. There was not a BlackBerry in sight as they discussed the new economic realities and shared ideas on topics that ranged from recognition programs for lower-tier qualifiers to working with procurement to tracking return on investment.

The takeaways were invaluable, says Squeglia, who encourages others in the industry to consider similar gatherings of no more than 10 people. “An intimate group allows everyone time to speak, and you can accomplish a lot in six hours.” The upshot? “While we may have some different processes and procedures in place, what really stood out was what we have in common,” she says. “Our conversation affirmed our best practices, and the importance of communicating them to corporate leadership.