Here’s a pop quiz for you. Which of these adjectives best describes the word “strategic”:
If you think they’re all accurate, you’re right. If you’re a seasoned planner, you already know that the success of any event depends heavily on how much targeted (strategic) planning went into it from Day 1. Your program may have begun as a wild-card idea in a late-night brainstorming session that included tequila shots, but as the designated planner, it ended in your lap right alongside the responsibility of assuring its success or failure.
Successful meeting planning involves mapping a deliberate plan of action with measured goals for each program you manage. Working without one is akin to a novice baker tackling a complicated soufflé without a detailed recipe. In its simplest form, strategic planning gives purpose to a meeting or event. Here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind:
1) Be specific, but keep it simple.
Bullet your issues and list them with timelines. Whenever possible, use specific dates (i.e., “Early registration opens July 1. Discounted rates are in effect until Aug 1, then increase by $150 per registrant.”)
2) Ask every possible question and make sure each has a logical and reasonable answer.
Questions like “why are we holding this event?” should be answered with a mission statement. Questions about budget items should have supporting material that documents its numbers.
3) Understand that success can be judged in many ways.
Know what your measures of success are and frame event strategies around them. If making a profit is important, work the numbers backward and forward. If improved public relations is your goal, consider sustainability and the perception of every element in your program. If attendee numbers are primary, do everything you can to get heads in beds, and don’t forget to cover all the ways to count them in the end.
Compiling a successful strategic plan comes down to asking and answering a lot of questions during all three stages of the event management — before, during and after.
Before questions include anticipating what attendees will expect if they decide to come, as well as how you can create excitement in advance (with contests and challenges, communicating interesting facts/figures).
During the event, you should get automatic reactions and feedback about what’s going on (via audience response systems as well as mobile apps and other instant social media, making sure you have the ability to react accordingly).
After the event, your plan should cover how to gauge what worked and how the next event can be improved (one-word response forms, fun-and-simple surveys, highs/lows, feedback from advisory panels).
Remember, strategic planning is a tool. It shouldn’t be so complicated that it needs its own babysitting service to proceed. It does fall under a meeting planner’s responsibility, but so do all other aspects of your programs. Make sure it’s something you can live with, not something you’ll avoid.