“Fake it until you make it” is debatably good business practice but not when it comes to meetings management and return on investment (ROI). In meeting planning, you need to focus on business goals and put into place the meeting management software and tools that will help you easily make sense of analytics and metrics. Without these practices, you’ll struggle to show the value of meeting spend to your company.
But how do you measure total meeting spend? If you’re merely calculating what you paid vendors for the meeting (like AV, catering, and room rental), you’re missing some very large components of cost.
So which meeting metrics are the most important when it comes to ROI and meeting spend?
It’s likely you’re already measuring meeting basics and tracking against questions such as:
- Did you stay on budget?
- Was the person you are reporting to satisfied with the outcome?
- Was the feedback generally positive?
That’s a good start but these basics are not enough. Today’s meeting planner should also be more strategic about the metrics gathered and reported on. Meetings management aspects you’ll want to consider include addressing metrics at three stages of meeting planning: pre-planning, during the meeting, and after.
The easiest way to track these meeting management components is by breaking them down into manageable pieces:
Outlining and Understanding Goals
Before we move onto how to connect your meeting goals and spend, it’s important to establish the basics for any successful meeting. These include the purpose/goal behind the meeting and how success will be measured.
Ensure that these definitions and goals are fleshed out by your stakeholders and that everyone is in agreement on how you will measure them (more about that in the next section). Make sure key decision makers are brought in at this point. Failure to do so could result in questioning what you measured and how, changing your definition of event success when it’s too late to do anything about it.
Tying Measurement to Analytics
Now that you know how your management views success, you need to tie in their definition of success with something measurable. If they leave the type of measurement up to you, share with them ahead of the event how you plan on charting success. You don’t want someone you report to being dissatisfied with the way results are measured after the event. Let them know what to expect in case there are any questions.
You’ll do this by presenting key objectives and benchmarks (if possible) and detailing how each will be measured. Ideally, you can measure critical analytics along the way and not rely solely on comparing initial data to end data. If all you have is two data points, you’re unable to make the necessary adjustments along the way to ensure success. Whenever possible, create midpoint or periodic benchmarks so the end result isn’t a data surprise.
If midpoint benchmarks aren’t possible based on your goal, you should still record baseline analytics (of what you decided to measure) pre-meeting. The data you use at this level will serve as a starting point from which to refer to later in order to measure success.
These early numbers are critical but what you measure, and how, will vary based on your goal. For instance, if the goal behind your meeting is teaching a new customer service technique, you’ll want to measure attendee aptitude before the session and after, comparing results in your meeting debrief. In this example, testing or polling software with reporting features would be used to gauge the success of the meeting.
Many meeting planners stop here. They measure whether goals were met and how much was spent. If they met goals and stayed under budget, they deem themselves successful. That’s partially true.
However, if this was all you had to track, you could use a spreadsheet. But there are a few more things that factor into ROI besides the money paid out to vendors for the meeting. For the most complete view on meeting spend, include estimates of the following in your event budget software.
Assess Hidden Costs in Meetings
Several years ago, Bain & Company estimated that a weekly meeting of senior-level execs was costing the hosting organization $15 million a year. Getting good return on investment on that number would be difficult. You may also be wondering what kind of meeting planner, or company, would allow for a meeting to be budgeted for that type of cost.
But it’s likely they weren’t aware of that number. That number was calculated by some of the following hidden costs.
- Employee salary/hourly rate and time in meeting
- Schedule: if the meeting runs over or under, that affects the cost
- Email: the communications spent on meetings can be disastrous
When it comes to meeting ROI these are important analytics to track. The cost of someone attending your meeting is a very real cost and in the case of the Bain & Company study, it can be a lot higher than you imagined.
Every employee sitting in your meeting room is drawing a salary for the time they are there. In the case of a training meeting, that presence may be required in order to learn a new skill to do their job better. However, in the case of a strategy or brainstorming meeting, their presence may not be worth the cost.
And it’s not just the portion of their daily salary that they’re spending in the meeting you’ll want to calculate. It’s also the things they’re not able to do while they are present in your meeting and while they’re preparing for that meeting.
In addition to the salaries of those in the meeting, your meeting attendees may require components and information from people not in that meeting. Prep work like non-attendees’ time compiling necessary data or reports should factor into the cost as well.
Meeting pro tip: Think about employee time as an asset and schedule meetings accordingly. Assess the need for each employee to be seated at the table. What is it costing for them to be there and what is it costing their team or your customers?
Next, consider every minute the meeting runs over schedule. There’s cost associated with that. Maybe you cut the meeting off right at the scheduled end time but there were things you didn’t get to. Those things cost money because they will have to go unaddressed or wait for a future meeting.
When you table topics, factor in what the freeze is costing you. If you’re putting off addressing an issue, give it a dollar value. This will not only go against your return on investment for your meeting but will also help you see the value in it. If forgoing a solution on a topic is costing your organization a lot of money, you’ll want to move up the timeline to address it. If it’s not, ask yourself if it’s something that really requires anyone’s attention. Is there truly a business case for addressing this issue.
Watch the time: Going over the meeting time allotted not only affects your participant’s schedule but it also (potentially) derails other meetings, their team, and may even cost them extra time at the end of their workday. This can wear away at morale so there’s an even greater cost at stake.
Email Communications Run Amok
Finally, one of the most often overlooked parts of a meeting is all of the communication that goes on ahead of it. Meeting planners feel the need to over communicate because so many attendees miss the communications. Reminding them multiple times through email often improves attendance rates. But when participants’ email boxes are full, this only contributes to their inability to see the communication among all the other emails.
And what about the time it takes to read each email?
When it comes to meeting emails, don’t send them out and wonder if they were read. Use an email event marketing program that gives you insight into who’s opened your emails and if they’ve clicked on your information. That way you know who needs additional communication. Select a program that gives you real-time insight into who’s RSVP’d. Sending out reminders to people who have already signed up makes them concerned that you did not receive their RSVP.
Cut back on the emails without losing the communication: Email fatigue is real and bombarding attendees with email reminders can be counterproductive. Instead, consider adopting software that helps you keep track of RSVPs and send RSVP reminders to (only) those who haven’t responded. Calendar reminders/invites also improve attendance numbers.
Final Meeting Analysis
After the meeting is over, you’ll need to set aside some time to recap your successes and revisit challenges. Some of the data you’ll look at as part of the debrief include:
- Invitations sent versus actual attendance. Ideally, you used event management software which keeps this number for you in real time. There is no reason to do this manually.
- Action items completed and decisions made versus outstanding issues.
- Engagement, polls, and/or learning scores. Which one of these you’re using depends on the goal behind your meeting. It’s a good idea to track engagement through questions asked and forms of interaction.
- Pre-meeting analytics versus outcomes.
- If required, schedule follow-up to assess the long-term impact of the meeting. Even if your meeting is a one-time occurrence, taking the time to analyze your successes and challenges will help you achieve greater success in future meetings.
Today’s meeting planner has the ability to chart much more than simple budget calculations in order to illustrate meeting success on multiple levels. With efficient technology and tools, meeting planners can connect their spend to business goals by focusing on advanced analytics and metrics easily.