SMM Industry Observations

by Kelley Mahowald

Kelley Mahowald graciously guest authored this article she wrote while a student in the DCTC Hospitality and Event Management Program. She serves Canterbury Park as Catering and Event Sales Manager.  Kelley’s strong interpersonal skill are evident in the following article.  She puts those skills to good use in a career that is based on cultivating client relationships. Thank you, Kelley, for sharing your insights about Strategic Meetings Management (SMM).

 

Just as other industries have evolved with new technology, so has the world of meeting and events. Gone is the day where you show up for a meeting with a pen and notepad and move throughout the day incognito. In today’s world of information gathering and social media, long before the meeting begins you find yourself taking surveys, downloading apps, and networking with other attendees. Once you arrive at the meeting, you have the meeting organizers engaging with you via your smartphone; asking you to rate your experiences as you move throughout the day, offering you more ways to interact with other attendees and provide additional opportunities to observe break-outs you did not attend through live-streaming.

Why, you ask? Businesses are interested in making every dollar work hard and show a return on investment, which has propelled Strategic Meetings Management. SMM offers transparency into company spending, and tools, that allow meeting planners to show the effectiveness of each event by gauging the attendee’s expectations from beginning to end. One of the most important elements of information gathering is having a well-rounded test group. Technology allows the planner to see who is responding, how many are responding, and when they are responding, so they can react and continue gathering information as needed. Engagement before the event is essential; giving the planner time to adjust the meeting based on the attendee’s expectations. Exit surveys offer incomplete data sampling and the stagnant information gathered will only help with future events. Pre-event questionnaires and interactive technology make the information gathered advantageous. The importance of SMM has propelled the use of technology to capture as much information before and in real time to maximize the meeting’s outcomes.

SMM has become such an integral part of the meeting industry that it is not only affecting the meeting planning process but the whole hospitality industry. As Meeting Planners are tasked with stretching each dollar and creating memorable experiences for the attendees, they are looking outside the box for unique venues, which offer lower-priced room rentals and catering options than many hotels, while leaving a distinctive thumbprint in the attendee’s memory.  This is forcing hotels to look at how to position themselves competitively against newcomers to the game, such as Airbnb, as many traditional hotels cannot match their rates.  Another way SMM is affecting the industry is shorter more concise and/or smaller meetings to hone in budgets. This requires a clear understanding of the overall objective of the meeting, and from that, determine who the key attendees are and if there is an option of decreasing the size of the event or shortening the duration of the event. Both ultimately affect the revenue generated per meeting, thus changing the landscape of the meeting world.

Maybe the biggest contributing factor to the heightened need for SMM is transparency. Many companies have been unable to determine the effectiveness of the meeting content, gauge the outcomes, or track attendance. The new technology that is available allows for easy tracking with electronic registration, interaction with the use of apps, and real-time feedback which allows businesses to record and prove how meetings within their organization are aligning with global objectives. Even companies who have not yet implemented a strategic meeting management plan see the effectiveness of such processes, and more and more companies are following suit.

As mentioned in the article “Measuring Meets Value Guidebook,” the meeting planner has a much bigger task at hand than in years before, not only with the responsibility of coordinating the components of the meeting, but also proving the value and engagement of the meeting. The outcome will ultimately determine future approval for similar events. Smaller, more targeted meetings, such as training or team building events, are easier to gauge the expectations and outcomes needed for such events. Larger meetings, such as galas or product launch events, come under more scrutiny regarding how dollars are spent. The information needed to gauge the value will be obtained by gathering information from the participants before, during, and after the event.  SMM is a very intricate system that needs to be implemented in small steps, but those small steps can be very effective. Using the tools outlined in the article “Measuring Meets Value Guidebook,” focusing on Learning, Networking, and Loyalty can capture much of the data a meeting planner needs to ensure a well-rounded analysis of the expectations, engagement, and outcome of the event.

I recently interviewed Sarah Ruzek, Director or Education for Associations North. Associations North is coined as “an association for associations.” Their goal is to promote and educate their members, who are made up of trade and professional, both for-profit and non-profit. Sarah’s responsibilities include implementing the development of educational programs and marketing them to their members. She is tasked with keeping programs innovative and engaging, and her wheels are always spinning looking for new ways to “wow” their members and create experience and valuable learning opportunities. Data is gathered from their members by requesting feedback in various ways such as; planning committees, surveys, and networking events. These tools gather valuable information regarding member expectations, future events needs, and meeting focus. For larger events, such as the Annual Meeting and Expo, they track interest and engagement based on breakout session attendance and through social media regarding attendee expectations before the event. During this event, they also engage members with “pop-up” interviews as attendees leave their breakout session to find out what they took away from the session, as well as a live meeting app that allows for real-time questions and answers. The app lets attendees see the day’s agenda, check into sessions, rate sessions, and interact with speakers. These interactions allow them to gauge participation and meet expectations in real time. Circling back to the MPI article referencing loyalty, loyalty is one of Association North’s greatest measures of ROI. The number of returning members is a great reflection of how effective their programs are. Also, the success of their members and the success of the associations they belong to is a testament to their educational programs. They do often utilize Survey Monkey to gather direct feedback as well, at the conclusion of events. Overall, interacting with their members, learning what obstacles their members are facing – such as member retention, or highlighting trending topics and upcoming industry technology, they want to bring those solutions to their members.

I chose to interview Sarah, as I admire a role such as hers, where trying new approaches to meetings is encouraged and accepted. Association North offers many types of events, big and small, educational and fun. Their offerings cater to the attendee’s needs and expectations, but also push them to new learning environments – which promotes growth, both personally and professionally. Sarah is tasked with finding balance within a broad spectrum of needs for their diverse members. She can utilize overarching themes, new technology, and inspiring keynote speakers that peak interest and transcend industry lines. I admire Sarah’s courage, professionalism, innovation, and determination; all of which are essential attributes to becoming a successful meeting planner.

Before researching Strategic Meetings Management, I wasn’t aware of the impact it has on the industry. In a world where expectations are high and resources are scrutinized, it is more important than ever to maximize meeting outcomes and effectively engage attendees. This knowledge and understanding will help me greatly as I explore opportunities within the meeting and events industry. Taking on an SMM approach to meetings – focusing on outcomes, budget and data gathering will allow me to be a valuable addition to any organization.