“At most conferences, information flows from the top down in a numbing series of discursive, disconnected PowerPoints and sessions address topics relevant only to some of the people in the room. Participants leave slightly better informed than when they arrived.”[1]

Your events do not have to be like “most conferences” described above. In the March 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, two of the partners at the Strategic Offsites Group (strategicoffsites.com/about) share solutions to increasing the return on investment (ROI) that they provide to their Fortune 500 clients. 

The following is a summary of the article’s common sense solutions that can be applied to meetings of any size by both event management planners and association management companies:

• Assign clear roles for everyone responsible for the success of the event, including:

– The meeting owner/the most senior person in the organization who makes the final decisions on the meeting’s objectives
– Senior management team who is responsible for ensuring that the meeting’s agenda/program fulfills the meeting’s objectives
– Event director whose first assignment is to ask the meeting owner:
– “What do you want the outcome of the meeting to be from the perspective of the attendees?” and
– “What do you want them to say when their teams ask, ‘What happened at the big meeting?’”

• Create a conference website that makes two-way sharing of information simple

• Survey attendees before designing the meeting’s agenda/program in order to learn how much time should be invested on conference objectives and ensure that all issues related to each objective are addressed

• Help everyone be prepared for the event by sending, a week or two in advance, material related to the conference’s objectives

The materials can include an in-house produced webcast and a set of questions that will be discussed at breakout sessions

• During the conference, continually ask for feedback and questions, e.g. encourage an open dialogue by asking attendees to submit questions to be answered at the next day’s breakfast session 

Smartphone polling apps cost about $1 per unit or 30%-50% of the cost of a cup of coffee

• Give and Get breakout session where there are two walls; one is marked “give” and the other “get” 

Each participant is given two preprinted post-it note cards with his/her name and contact information on the sticky side. Next, the following questions are completed and posted on the appropriate wall on the other side:

– To fulfill my group’s objectives we could use help with…
– Our group may be able to help others fulfill their objectives because we are really good at…

Once all of the cards have been posted, each participant selects one card from each wall

• Send a post-event survey within two-days

The article includes a “Countdown to the Conference Schedule” where responsibilities are the rows and deadlines are the columns.

You can learn how the Strategic Offsites Group’s approach to meeting planning has evolved in their June 2006 Harvard Business Review article “Off-Sites that Work”.

[1] “Leadership Summits That Work: How to Stop Putting Your Top People to Sleep,” Harvard Business Review, March 2015 (https://hbr.org/product/leadership-summits-that-work/R1503F-PDF-ENG).