You know you’re a most valuable planner, but management needs to realize it, too

We’re preaching to the choir here, but bear with us for just a moment. We all know that meeting and event planning is a complex and nuanced job, requiring that you always think several steps ahead and be able to immediately identify a solution when the plan goes awry. What’s more, for a planner to be truly excellent, these abilities must be combined with significant real-world experience in dealing with people.

But here’s the thing: Even if you possess all this ability and experience, your job is still never fully secure.

“There is always work for planners to do in getting recognized as indispensable to their organization,” says Terri Breining, president of facilitation firm Breining Group Inc. and former chair of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), who for years has promoted the idea of measuring the value not only of meetings, but also of the people coordinating them.

“Your value in negotiating contract terms to get all the elements a meeting needs at minimum cost is not self-evident to your bosses and their bosses,” she adds. “It’s the same with your role in generating business results through each meeting: Management won’t know it unless you show them. And just recently, I’ve seen a few planners lose bosses who actually did understand the planner’s value to the company. Those planners now have to make their case all over again.”

Strategic Meetings Management Blueprint

During difficult economic times, when planners naturally worry about their job security, they need to clearly document the value of their work. But even in relatively good economic times such as the present, planners must show managers that their expertise results in real financial benefits to the organization. They need their employers to recognize that they are MVPs—most valuable planners.

For instance, many popular destinations for meetings and events are seeing strong demand for 2017 and 2018, so availability is narrower and prices are higher. But savvy planners use tactics such as shifting the meeting dates one or two days, bringing an additional F&B event in-house, reusing meeting space via quick turnarounds and booking other meetings in the same chain, all to ensure that each event takes place at an acceptable cost.

“They leverage not just their negotiating skills, but also their industry relationships to get things done in a tough market,” Breining says. “Planners must document these specific things for management so that if an outside agency approaches the company and says, ‘We can do what your internal planner does for less money,’ there is a compelling argument against that.”

Pre-Meeting Research and Testing

By itself, however, this value is not sufficient to ensure the job security of an internal meeting planner. It’s also necessary for planners to demonstrate the value that comes from their knowledge of the corporate culture, each meeting’s business objectives and effective meeting design in order to actively assist in creating events that deliver measurable business results.

Actually, there’s one aspect of meetings measurement where many planners have an opportunity to make a noticeable impact: emphasizing and implementing pre-meeting research and testing.

“There are a lot of assumptions made by corporate executives about what issues must be addressed and what attendees need at each meeting,” says Ira Kerns, managing director of measurement firm MeetingMetrics. “But if you want to build a meeting with real value, you first have to know what will represent real value to attendees as well as to management stakeholders.”

Kerns’ advice: Ask the attendees of each event about the knowledge they already have about the selected topics, the additional knowledge and skills that they feel they need in order to meet management’s stated objectives, who they want to hear from, and what styles of learning and interaction they want.

Besides providing planners with an improved ability to measure each meeting’s benefit to the company, qualitative research (including interviews, focus groups and surveys) and quantitative research (testing and surveys) of attendees conducted well ahead of each event also allow planners to leverage their expertise to create the most effective event possible, thereby boosting their job security.

“If a meeting’s objective is to ingrain into employees the key elements of this year’s marketing program, but pre-meeting research finds that 60 percent of them don’t have full confidence in the direction of that program, then it’s clear the meeting must be designed to address that before anything else takes place,” Kerns says. “Think of how diminished the value of that meeting would be if that fact was not known.”

Post-Event Evaluation

In many cases, it’s difficult to determine precisely how much more revenue a firm generated based on a meeting. Nonetheless, measuring return on investment for a meeting doesn’t require that. After all, if post-event testing finds that 95 percent of attendees have full confidence in the firm’s marketing program, then executives can be confident that attendees were receptive to the education and training they received at the meeting, can test to determine specific levels of improved ability, and then can estimate how valuable the meeting was to the business.

In fact, planners can show executives big-picture thinking by helping place the value of a meeting in context with other factors that affect the company’s revenue.

“Isolating the impact of a meeting is important,” Breining says. “When planners can say, ‘Yes, the company introduced new product features and launched an improved website this year, but here are the measurements from our sales meeting that we feel had a tangible impact, too,’ they demonstrate a holistic perspective that makes them valuable.”