But should every meeting planner go through the Return on Investment (ROI) process—an effective, but time-consuming procedure for determining the costs and benefits of a meeting?
The answer depends on what’s at stake, say the experts from the ROI Institute who are working with Meeting Professionals International (MPI) to develop the documentation process.
“Cisco Systems might have 2,000 meetings every year. But the vast majority of those are small meetings where people get together to share projects and ideas,” says Jack Phillips, chairman of the Birmingham, Alabama-based institute.
A small percentage of those meetings, however, are critically important to the core business of the company, Phillips says. In those situations, corporate and association executives will want to make sure they’ve gotten their money’s worth. That’s where ROI comes in, says Monica Myhill, CMP and president of Meeting Returns, who helped Phillips to develop the ROI methodology.
“The question a planner has to think about is how closely is this meeting tied to the strategic objectives of my company?” Myhill says. “If I’m doing this meeting, is senior management going to want to know how to measure its success?”
The official ROI procedure is a five-part process that turns the benefits of a meeting into quantifiable data. “You want to capture the emotion, the excitement, the enthusiasm following a meeting,” Phillips says. “People had a great time. They were entertained. But that in itself has limited business value. You need to find out how important the meeting was to their success on the job.”
First, planners survey the participants in a meeting to gauge their immediate reaction. Second, they determine what the attendees learned—what skills, attitude changes or professional contacts they developed during the meeting.
“An important issue is the amount of new information they learned,” Phillips says. “If it’s the same old stuff, the same old speakers, the meeting was of no value to them. And that’s a critical issue.”
Third, meeting planners using the ROI methodology must find out whether the attendees actually used those skills or contacts on the job after the meeting was over.
“Only about 25 to 35 percent of all planners need to go to this level,” Phillips says. “It requires contacting attendees and finding out what they’re doing differently as a result of the meeting.”
In the fourth phase, planners find out how the new information attendees picked up during a meeting translated into better business for their company or association.
“This is the ‘So what?’ phase,” Phillips says. “Were you able to make more sales? Are your customers more satisfied? Planners reach this phase only 10 to 15 percent of the time, because it requires a commitment from the participants at a meeting to give you the data you need.”
But those numbers alone don’t tell the story, Phillips says. An attendee might argue that his sales increased by 20 percent following a meeting. But how much of that increase was actually related to the meeting? Planners measuring ROI need to consider all the possibilities—other factors contributing to sales, the attendee’s confidence in his own assessment—in turning these estimates into hard numbers.
Taken together, those numbers equal—hopefully—the positive results of the meeting. Subtract the costs of the meeting from that number, and you have phase five of the process: the ROI.
“A negative ROI doesn’t necessarily mean you had a bad meeting or a bad meeting planner,” Phillips notes. “It does mean that you want to talk about what to do in order to get a positive ROI.”
Only about five percent of all meetings require the kind of scrutiny that a five-part ROI study provides, Phillips says. He argues, however, that meeting planners who complete even two or three of the steps can greatly increase the effectiveness of their events.
“Even getting to level one forces you to set clear objectives,” Phillips says. “It requires you to ask yourself, ‘Why are we having this meeting? What do you want attendees to be able to transfer to their jobs?’ ”The ROI procedure can seem overwhelming, especially to planners who prefer designing creative events and working with people to crunching numbers. There is hope, however: Both the ROI Institute and MPI will offer a three-hour workshop in Nashville this April and an intensive, five-day certification process in Orlando next December. The two groups are also at work on a book of ROI case studies to be published next year, as well as another book, ROI for Meeting Planners.
Of course, the best resources for meeting planners are often the other people at their company or organization—especially those who have contributed to the meeting and have a stake in its success.
“A lot of meeting planners are so overloaded with projects and tasks already that one of the first questions they should ask is who else wants to help,” Myhill suggests. “And when you have someone involved, you don’t have to worry about whether or not they’ll give you the data you need.”