When we consider meeting design, it needs to be viewed as a journey. So what does it take to plan a successful journey? First, define what success looks like on a deeply personal level.
This requires starting at the beginning, with the people who will join you by attending your event. This may be based on mandatory attendance for a corporate event, or based on history, or based on your ability to entice attendees to come along with you as you explore. Each meeting plan must begin with the people, and as obvious as that sounds, it is about taking a few steps back to consider history, who your up-and-comers are, and who the outliers are you want to attract.
Let’s look at the example of planning a personal trip.
- Why is often where you start – it may be somewhere you have always wanted to go, you may feel you need a break, or have a thirst for discovering something new, or returning to somewhere you have always longed to go back, or you want time away with particular people to reconnect, or desire to meet new people and have new experiences.
- Then you decide who will come along with you, or if you will take this on alone.
- Then after perhaps some dream–oriented discussion, you choose where, or several locations, which you may then choose to encompass more than one, or you may narrow it down.
- The when is often dictated by the circumstances of our lives – work or school or family schedules all play into the decisions.
- What you will focus on, such as adventure and discovery, a favourite hobby – scuba, yoga, horticulture or museums, horseback riding or paragliding, hiking or kayaking, painting or drawing, engaging in a volunteer activity – all may factor into the choices you make.
Once you have these basics determined, let’s call it the static plan, you begin your research. This is where you begin to inform your decisions, deciding on the modes of travel from air to train, coach, car or elephant; the types of accommodation from tent to five–star hotel, cruise ship or AirBnB; and the level of luxury you will pack for, and you begin to map out your journey.
In meetings, this would then lead to the site inspection, where we test out our plan and map it back to our participants’ desires and our stakeholders’ objectives. This is where you confirm your decisions: of transport, of your hotels and venues, of your activities and events. You seldom do this alone, involving your key stakeholders, and ideally, experienced and fresh-eyed participants as you confirm you are indeed on the right road.
The next steps are often the more difficult, as you work to move potential attendees into confirmed participants. These may be people whose role defines their attendance, or who are earning an incentive, or the trickiest of all, those who are paying to attend and will need both rational reasons to justify as well as an emotional reason to connect to the event to truly become engaged.
This is where the magic of meeting design comes into play. As you weave together your story, it is encompassed by the destination and the authentic experiences which await. Combine this with the artistry of your programming, and balance this with lifestyle opportunities through activities, events or access to free time in the location, and you will turn your attendees into responsive participants.
It is responsive participants, those who are informed, make a choice they look forward to, and then engage in your event actively – in discussions and collaborations, by seeking actionable learning and sharing – who will become your community advocates. This is an earned and shared loyalty that comes from your diligence as a planner, with your team, which will drive your event and organization farther than you can measure. It will be these participants who grow your organization – in revenue or membership, in positive PR and in returning stronger year after year in their contributions and connections.
When you get into your driver’s seat, are you ready with all the tools you need to create your own stronger, more connected community?