With the sluggish economy, budget cuts and various projects being questioned, now is the time to sharpen our tools to make sure that we are delivering value and ROI. From a broad perspective, there are two ways to increase the ROI in a meeting or event. Keep the costs low or increase the monetary benefits. Fortunately, we know how to reduce costs. Professional planners know how to squeeze all they can out of contracts, trim costs when necessary and get the most out of every event travel dollar.
Through the ROI Institute, we have the opportunity to see hundreds of ROI studies on meetings and events. We learned what needs to be done to make it more effective to increase the ROI. Here are eight steps to drive up the ROI:
Make sure the meeting is aligned to business needs. While this seems obvious, too many times it is not accomplished. Why? The event is held every year, or someone thinks it is necessary or it is a logical or rational thing to do. Very specific business needs should be developed that clearly link the meeting to the business. This is accomplished with diplomatic, but aggressive, questions to pin down the person who requested the meeting. The key point is to identify the specific measure or measures and define them.
Make sure the content addresses the business needs. Here, it is important that the content of the meeting focuses directly on improving the business need. There must be some logic or thought processes (or even analysis) that supports linking the content to the business need. This challenge is simple: What is it that the individuals must learn in the meeting and consequently do in their work to influence the business need?
Set objectives at different levels. Sure, we always have objectives, but not as precise and focused as they need to be. Ideally, objectives should be at four levels:
??Reaction objectives should define the desired reaction to the meeting—not in vague general terms, but very specific objectives about content. Explore issues such as relevance, importance, value and intent to use content.
??Learning objectives are needed to set precisely what individuals will know or be able to after the leaving the meeting or event.
??Application objectives define what we want individuals to do after they leave the meeting. This takes the mystery out of what action should be taken to make the meeting successful.
??Finally, impact objectives define the consequence of the meeting. Ultimately this will be the business impact (i.e., increased productivity, revenue, market share, customer satisfaction, job satisfaction, quality, compliance or even lower cost). Impact objectives ensure that there is business alignment throughout the process.
4) Prepare participants for their assignment. Participants should not only be expected to come to the meeting, become engaged and learn, but they must be an active change agent and business contributor. They must actually use the content and, ultimately, achieve the consequences in terms of impact and be prepared to provide data.
Measure the reaction at the meeting with a content focus. Specific measures are taken on usefulness, practicality, importance, motivational effect and other content-related measures. This is what will add to value immediately. Asking questions about the cocktail reception, logistics, registration and hotel service—while helpful to make adjustments—will do very little to drive the business value.
Measure the take-aways. Learning the content is necessary to drive business value. Find out what individuals are learning. Simple measures are appropriate—even a simple checklist or quiz may be helpful.
7) Consider a forecast. Having individuals forecast what they will do is a powerful way to see into the future. How will they use the content? What impact will it have? Using these data and making some assumptions, with analysis, can generate a forecast ROI directly from what they will do. Imagine this scenario: A sales VP leaving an annual sales conference has a forecasted ROI taken at the end of the meeting with input from all participants using hand-held devices. This is now possible and certainly brings smiles to the face of the sales executive.
8) Consider a follow-up. The only way to know if the ROI has improved is to calculate it. Follow up to see if the participants have achieved their expectations. The follow-up explores applications and impact data. Yes, with some additional analysis the actual ROI can be developed.
Now is the time to focus on the results of meetings and events. Enough attention has been given on how to trim costs to maximize ROI. We must take steps to make the meeting more valuable, more business-focused and more results-based.
Jack Phillips is the chairman of research organization ROI Institute (www.roiinstitute.net). He can be reached at [email protected]