Note: Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D., chairman of ROI Institute, penned this primer on measuring meaningful outcomes along with Joe Fijol, DMCP, founder of ETHOS Event Collective.

Today, meeting and event planners are pressed to do more with less while being expected to raise the bar on experiences year-over-year. In addition, they’re asked to achieve a variety of goals for a range of stakeholders and prove the value of their meetings or events.

So, how do you demonstrate the deeper business impact and return on investment of your meetings or events? The answer—you must think about business value early and often through the planning process.

Planning a meeting or event always begins with determining goals, the number of participants, duration and budget. But there are additional variables that can be planned for and measured to deepen your understanding of returned value to your organization.

For example, there are easy ways to capture and measure participants’ reactions to a meeting or event as well as what they learn and how they are applying it. Then you can dig deeper to connect how your activity is impacting business goals that are often already being measured by your organization (e.g., productivity, sales). Finally, you can convert this business impact to show the monetary return on the investment.

But how do you get started?

Many of these things are easier to measure than you think. Here are a few tips you can try throughout the planning process and execution to help your team better understand and prove the value of their meetings and events.

1. Start with “why”

Go beyond meeting or event-specific objectives to look at your organization’s broader goals. Then determine what opportunities you must achieve and plan to measure your success. For example, if the meeting is incentive-based and includes significant others in the reward, this can exhibit a company cares about employees and could help improve retention. Measuring how that impacts the organization can be as simple as connecting with HR to track the retention of attendees compared to that of non-attendees.   

2. Define how the meeting will drive results

When planning something like a sales meeting, it’s obvious the key measure is to drive sales.  But if you’re running a conference on diversity and inclusion, the measurement might not be as clear. In those instances, begin by clarifying which specific aspects leadership is looking to impact. For example, a company may be concerned with how teamwork is affected by inclusion, meeting design or event experiences that simulate common issues and illustrate solutions. Before the conference, create a control group so you can monitor how learning is used post-meeting.

3. Design for application and impact

Plan for how people will use what they learn by taking an inventory of all tools provided throughout the meeting and how they’re illustrating and reinforcing their application post-meeting. For example, if your purpose is to introduce a new sales strategy, design a survey to administer to a group of participants at the closing session to gauge what they learned, then schedule virtual focus groups six months later with those same participants to measure how frequently what they learned is used and how it is or isn’t improving their performance.

4. Reinforce measurement goals with stakeholders throughout the planning process

Clearly communicate application and impact goals to all stakeholders and, more specifically, how the meeting is designed to achieve them. Planners, coordinators, developers, participants, managers of participants, sponsors and speakers all must be on board to leverage the best results. You don’t want anyone speaking or leading a session who cannot articulate how people should apply the material post-event. To simplify, create a one-page summary outlining meeting goals, a data collection plan and desired outcomes to distribute to all parties. This can help get their buy-in from the beginning as it will demonstrate the big picture. Take the time to create a compelling story that will inspire even the highest of executives to see the importance of obtaining results.

5. Start small

Pick one or two things to measure so your team can learn and get comfortable with how easy it can be to demonstrate return. For example, you can start by measuring reasons for attendance vs. nonattendance. This can clarify if the registration materials were unclear, the marketing materials weren’t compelling, if it was a budget constraint or a timing issue. Then you can adjust for next time. Be sure to pick a measurement that matters—making it relevant to the moment can make data collection and data measurement easier.

Measuring the return on your meeting or event isn’t hard, you just need to commit to processes and practices and educate your team and stakeholders along the way. The investment you make will pay dividends as it will protect your budgets, enhance the attendee experience and make your job easier long-term.

To learn more about how you can measure return on your meetings and events activity, check out the Purposeful Planning Podcast at purposeful-planning.com

Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D., chairman of ROI Institute, Inc., is a world-renowned expert on accountability, measurement and evaluation. He provides consulting services for Fortune 500 companies and major global organizations.

Joe Fijol, DMCP, principal, and founder of ETHOS Event Collective has been in meetings and events for 30 years. He sits on the HPAC Board of FICP and the IRF Advisory Committee and has been a speaker at IMEX America.

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