I attended a very large meeting last winter, but it was at a small breakout session that I learned more about a meeting's worth than I'd learned in nearly 20 years in the meeting industry.

Jim Daggett, CAE, CMP, founder and owner of JR Daggett & Associates, Chicago, an independent meeting management firm, led a session about meeting return on investment (better known as ROI). Daggett, an RCMA tutorial leader, is not only an excellent instructor, but he “gets it.” 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 meeting industry has advocated strategy over tactics for years. What is Daggett proposing that's any different?

The bottom line is this: You need to quantifiably measure your meeting's (therefore your own) effectiveness. Daggett is writing a book about the ROI and value of meetings, especially the measurement factor. He's coined the term MeetingMetrics, dealing with the measurements directly related to business strategies, which document the effectiveness of people-to-people interactions (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,” he says.

Here are my top 10 take-aways from that session:

  1. Small is the future. “The future of meetings is not a lot of 300- or 400-person general sessions,” says Daggett. “The future will include many smaller meetings. I challenge you to give me three to four ‘Ahas’ you've taken away from a large general session.”

  2. Organizations are looking at their core competencies and saying, “We're not in the meeting 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 organization's culture, goals, and objectives and communicating the big-picture needs of the meeting's audience.

  3. People need to be trained to be good facilitators! If a facilitator isn't good, even small roundtable discussions are wasted.

  4. Every meeting should have a business plan: Why are we doing this? How much is it worth? “Obviously 9/11 proved that a lot of meetings weren't essential,” says Daggett. “If they were 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. Each stakeholder has a different set of objectives.

  6. Let's talk like businesspeople. We need to go back to our leadership after our meetings with facts, not anecdotes.

  7. Focus groups are the top measurement tool for meetings. Whether you do a needs assessment before a meeting or an evaluation afterward, a focus group of 12 to 20 people is crucial. Ask them what their biggest job challenges are. You can't ask open-ended questions and get a quality response in three minutes, as post-meeting, written evaluations too often do.

  8. Start using computerized attendee management systems, and quit calling them registration systems.

  9. We as meeting planners 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?