AT A RECENT MEETING I ATTENDED, people were so unhappy with the keynote speakers and some of the sessions that attendance was painfully lean on the last day. On the shuttle ride to the airport, that was all people were talking about.
If only meeting planners could experience things through the eyes of attendees — but they can! In this month's article on Washington Mutual's State of the Group meeting (see page 25), you'll meet a planner who includes attendees — and attendee research — in every element of his planning. Not only did he analyze post-meeting research from the 2003 meeting (WaMu has its own research “czar” on staff) and hold focus groups with attendees, but he put in place a “reality check” team for the meeting — a small group of managers called upon regularly to comment on the event's design, theme, and content.
CMI's parent company, Primedia, handles our internal meetings this way, too. Karen Garrison, our vice president of corporate communications and marketing — and meeting planner — regularly uses planning committees and online surveys that ask attendees to rate potential agenda ideas. She is also a real believer in followup, not only having to do with things such as sessions, meals, and service, but also with how the attendees rate the meeting against its objectives.
“Whether it's planning a meeting, or developing a policy, or launching an intranet or employee newsletter, or selling an ad, you're best served if you understand the needs and expectations of the target audience,” she told me. “The more you know about their needs, the better you can target your project objectives.”
As she puts it: “Never assume that you know what people want, expect, or need. Ask them.”
One final point: If you ask for input, be prepared to use it. If you don't, and go in an entirely different direction, you will lose credibility with attendees before the meeting even gets off the ground.
CMI's new look!
We hope you like our redesign — the fine work of Art Director Scott Raymond and our talented team of editors. Your comments are welcome. — Ed.