Strategic Meetings Management (SMM): Tech Talk

As Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) continues to become an important value and accountability business model for corporate and association planning teams, the topic of metrics to define, measure and report success is thrust into the spotlight. Of course, the concept of meeting ROI has been part of our industry's dialog for over 20 years, but the primary focus has been on reducing meeting costs and hotel contract risk reduction / cost containment measurements.

So now I would like to examine specific metrics to measure perhaps the biggest meeting expense, "people and productivity". Most meeting planners distribute post meeting satisfaction surveys to all attendees, but how do they really know the true impact of attendee learning and new skills that translate to productivity in the workplace?

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Ira Kerns. President of MeetingMetrics, a leader in tracking, benchmarking and reporting attendee impact, learning and new skills development. Ira has pioneered the process to achieve meeting attendee impact measurements, including specific online tools, resources and reports to streamline the process.

Q. Tim Brown - Meeting ROI has been around since the early 90's, generally focused on financial measurements. Why has it taken so long for attendee impact measurements to gain traction?

A. Ira Kerns – The primary reason for investing in a meeting or event is to produce results after the event, driving both individual and organizational performance achievements. Yet, there has been little, if any, emphasis on incorporating a process for designing and measuring meeting results, within a Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) focus. I find most meeting managers are much more comfortable managing financial information than trying to manage and measure the psychological impacts of a meeting; i.e., knowledge gains, skill development, attitude and perception changes, etc., even though these are the real, core drivers of a meeting’s effectiveness that can change attendees’ behavior and post-event performance. What is needed is for meeting owners, senior leaders in corporations and associations, to understand that there are proven meeting results measurement methods available. At MeetingMetrics, we have helped many companies and associations for over two decades to develop and accurately measure their meeting results, effectiveness and overall value.

Q. TB - Give us an overview of the general process needed to achieve what you call Return On Event (ROE) measurements

A. IK –Return On Event (ROE) is an umbrella term we have used for more than two decades for measuring the impacts and results of a business meeting, which can include financial ROI, but with ROE, we are much more focused on measuring the non-financial results of the event in terms of positive shifts and gains achieved in attendees’ knowledge and understanding, attitudes and perceptions, beliefs, motivations and skill levels after the meeting.

We normally deploy a pre-meeting baseline survey some months before the meeting to be able to provide survey results to the meeting designer with enough time to affect the meeting’s design – content, agenda, theming, etc. to assure a customer-attendee needs driven event. The meeting owner group also participates in the pre-meeting surveys so their strategic needs for meeting outcomes are also included in the survey findings and influence the overall meeting design.

Q. TB - I read that MeetingMetrics recently launched Event Performance Indices (EPI). Tell me how that works?

A. IK – The EPI is a new strategic set of measures we have developed to examine the overall effectiveness, cost-efficiency and performance of a meeting or portfolio of meetings. It is designed to answer the C-suite’s strategic questions, “How effective was the meeting?; How efficiently did it use our investment dollars?; and “How does it compare with other meetings in terms of overall performance and cost-efficiency?”

To develop the EPI, we worked from the “inside out”, doing a deep analytic dive into all the meeting results data we have accumulated in the MeetingMetrics databases. We found that a combination of six dimensions when combined into an index produced scores that comprehensively reflected overall meeting effectiveness.

When these six dimensions are translated into survey questions on a post-conference survey, they provide us with an accurate overall reading of the meeting’s effectiveness as well as readings of each of the indices.

Q. TB - OK, so now that planners collect this attendee feedback, how do they use the data?

A. IK – Regarding the EPI, for the first time, meeting owners have information that reports on a meeting’s relative effectiveness in meeting attendee needs and how the meeting performed in terms of relative cost-efficiency compared with a cross-section of many hundreds of meetings - for example, the percentage of meeting spend that contributed to positive meeting outcomes.

Use of the ROE findings, because these are specific detailed outcome questions, a meeting owner can quite easily see where the meeting produced strong positive benefits which can be supported and reinforced with post-event initiatives. The process also shows where the meeting didn’t achieve the desired results so remedial actions can be taken quickly.

And, because ROE graphs and table reports in executive presentations are easy to understand quickly, meeting professionals using the ROE method can be very efficient when meeting with their clients to demonstrate the successful outcomes of their meetings, for making recommendations on follow-up programs to support the meeting results.

Q. TB- How does this attendee data assist planners in planning and executing future meetings?

A. IK – ROE and EPI post-meeting survey findings can be used to improve future meetings in very specific ways. Survey results provide a baseline of ratings on which to build process improvements in terms of satisfaction and impact levels for year to year or other periodic tracking purposes. Also, by including in the post-conference survey some questions on attendee suggestions and preferences for meeting objectives, content, meeting style and organization related to the ROE and EPI findings (as well as about what worked well and didn’t work well for a given group of attendees) information can be collected for future meeting planning.

Q. TB - I know that you have partnered with Jack Phillips, who pioneered the ROI Institute over 20 years ago. Tell me how the business models of ROI, ROE and EPI effectively work together for Strategic Meetings Management focused planners?

A. IK – The key thing to understand is that meeting results measurement, scoring a meeting’s effectiveness, is a strategic undertaking that is complimentary to Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) and should, I think, be an integrated dimension of SMM. It is a missing piece in the whole picture as today’s practice of SMM is almost completely focused on financial risk and cost management without a commensurately thorough examination of a meeting’s effectiveness – which is after all why the money is being spent in the first place. Without managing and measuring meeting effectiveness, current SMM practice, in my opinion, is hollow at the core.

Q. TB - For planners not playing in this space, how do you recommend that they get started on attendee impact measurements?

A. IK – MPI has some good basic information on their website in a section titled Business Value of Meetings. Also, we have some white papers and articles on our website at that would be helpful. We are always available to discuss the ROE and EPI strategies with meeting planners interested in more details.

Q. TB - OK, look into your crystal are meetings going to look 10 - 15 years from now?

A. IK – Meetings exist because of our basic human and organizational needs to share ideas, teach and learn, to plot and plan, create relationships and bond, enjoy fellowship and find kinship in common purposes (not to mention a bit of job hunting on the side). The meeting industry has evolved to serve these basic needs by creating a variety of face-to-face formats which have now been amplified by virtual extensions (hybrid meetings) and standalone virtual events as well as social networking technologies and wireless mobile devices.

Looking ahead, the need for face-to-face will remain as a core vehicle for people to satisfy the basic needs I described, but as technology continues to provide us with ever greater abilities
and choices to participate in person and by remote connections and through networks, the idea of a meeting as an event at a fixed place and point in time is going to evolve, I think, into an experience that is less pinned in time and place and can be shared by almost anyone with access and that is available over time to anyone with the ability to connect into the experience and network within it and all around it.

TB - Thanks Ira and good to spend some time with you on this important topic. Let’s stay in touch on future developments on methods to use survey data to enhance the attendee experience.

It's important to point out that "people, productivity and profitability" are top of mind priority's for those in the C Suite and today, meeting planning teams must validate how these investments called meetings and events can achieve management's vision.

Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) is here to stay, which means corporate and association planning teams must expand their view of meeting value and incorporate the attendee experience measurements into the total meeting value analysis.

For additional information on MeetingMetrics, contact:

Ira Kerns, President
(212) 426-2333
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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