If you’ve recently overheard a group of meeting planners discussing their jobs or the events industry, you’ve likely heard a new phrase intertwined throughout the conversation: ‘Enhancing the Experience.’ The previous standard of success for meeting planners often was met by setting up the breakout rooms correctly, ensuring the temperature was comfortable for everyone and picking out the right menu for meal functions. Those days are gone. While those factors remain crucial for a successful show, attendees are now fixated on the ‘experiential.’
Let’s take a quick walk down memory lane with an event planner that’s been in the industry for over 20 years…I fondly remember my first event planning job after college. There, I focused on internal events to help build the company’s culture as well as external events, such as a user conference, sales kickoff and regional prospective meetings. In addition to the basics of meeting planning, I recall meeting with my boss to discuss ideas and with the graphics department to decide the overall look & feel of the event. I would also meet with the communications team to build out a comprehensive calendar for internal & external communications. After the event, I measured my success based on comments I received from attendees and colleagues, generic ratings from attendee evaluation forms, and feedback from my boss. I have to say, all in all, I was usually able to give myself a ‘pat on the back’ – nothing horrible ever happened and everyone walked away pleased.
Now that I look back on those events with 20+ years of experience under my belt, I would evaluate them on a totally different level. As the CEO of a meeting & event planning agency, I evaluate our success by asking whether or not the client’s goals were met, did the attendees experience sufficient ROE (Return on Experience), and the overall evaluation of the metrics we determined to measure at the beginning of the event. Let’s break down those categories a bit further…
Any new project with Right On Pointe begins with an in-depth discussion of the goals and objectives for the event. It’s pivotal to ensure all key stakeholders share the same purpose and goals for the event, and to establish metrics against which the success of the event can be gauged. This type of discussion early in the process serves a couple of purposes through the execution phase.
First, to keep the client focused on their specific event goals. For example, an executive may enter the mix half way through the planning process with a completely crazy, but cool idea (i.e. a CMO comes to the events team with an exciting and unique entertainment act to kick off the users conference). At that point, we can circle back to the goals and objectives to ask – ‘will this idea help us reach those goals and objectives?’ to make a more rational decision on which course to take.
Second, at the end of the project when asked ‘Was that project successful?’ we’re not limited to a guttural answer of ‘I think so…’ Instead, we’ve already created a dashboard documenting the metrics we agreed to measure in ‘black & white.’
Now, let’s dive into the topic of ‘Return on Experience’ (ROE). ROE refers to the creation of ‘experiential’ events. One of my favorite examples of this is a client we’ve worked with for years that has experienced extreme variances in their events budget year to year. But they’re always trying to exceed and improve on their customer appreciation event from previous years regardless.
Our first event with this client consisted of 150 people in Las Vegas with the goal of not only increasing their head count, but to be ‘the event’ to attend in conjunction with an industry trade show. In the five years since, their event attendance has grown from 150 to 2,200 people, and we’ve booked some amazing entertainment, such as Foreigner and ZZ Top.
Before last year’s event, the client came to us with a challenge: their budget had been cut by two-thirds, but the executive team still wanted the event to ‘wow’ their attendees. Under those constraints, we decided to spend budget dollars on more cost efficient memorable experiences, instead of house-hold-name bands. In doing so, we completely transformed the event into moments of surprise and amazement. One of those moments came at the beginning of the night as people walked past a wall of exotic greenery to enter the venue. Most thought the wall was nothing more than decoration. However, each guest was surprised when a hand emerged from the wall offering them a signature cocktail. We called the experience a ‘living wall.’ As we hoped, this helped create an ‘experience’ that resonated with attendees.
Lastly, I’ll touch quickly on the topic of client and attendee feedback. In the era of social marketing, social media platforms allow for businesses to reach out and stay in contact with clients, as well as immediately gauge the client’s thoughts and feedback. We now capture the metrics of how people posted to social media outlets before, during and after an event. We’re no longer dependent on an attendee walking up to us to share their feedback, or pray that most complete the event survey. The meeting and event planning profession is always capitalizing on this new era by providing avenues to better capture more unique/better imagery for posts. From celebrity experiences and themed networking events to staged décor, we are responsible for providing those avenues in which attendees use in their social media posts. Knowing this has to happen, event professionals know they have to produce exceptional events or they will get demolished not only in person from those at the event, but from the thousand of others that are reading the attendees’ negative social media posts. No one wants that to happen.
So in closing, the bar for executing a successful event has been raised, as it should be.
We, as meeting planners, are no longer responsible for providing the basics for an event, but in turn, responsible for creating an exceptional experience that out does the prior event. We should accept the challenge with a smile on our face, rise up to the opportunity and even at times exceed the expectations placed on us. If not, we will not be successful from anyone’s perspective - our own, the attendees onsite or the thousands of others that experience the event from the social media posts they view.