Where are you?” This crucial question is the first one asked in the Bible, was crooned by Frank Sinatra in his song of the same name, and should be the first thing you consider when you start designing your meeting. Specifically, you should be asking where your clients and prospective attendees are on the meeting’s goals, intentions and approaches, and making sure you are all on the same page.
Asking the right questions of meeting owners and attendees when you start planning is the most important challenge a meeting professional has to get right. If you don’t ask the right questions of the right people, the event design can go badly off the rails even before the rails are built.
The truth is, meeting professionals are not research professionals. They should not be expected to have the skills in interviewing, focus group moderation, or survey development that practicing research professionals possess. It’s not in the job description.
However, to get your meeting design correctly aligned with the meeting stakeholders’ needs, you or your company will have to effectively conduct basic, structured interviews or focus groups with a sampling of meeting owners and prospective participants, and possibly develop a survey to validate the information you have collected.
There is no shortcut for this. Skipping this crucial pre-meeting research stage can sabotage your meeting’s effectiveness, squander your meeting budget, and place its chances for success in jeopardy.
The following is a general list of questions to guide you. Customize your queries with specifics for each organization and event.
1. Meeting goals and objectives. Which do people identify as the most important for this event to achieve?
2. New knowledge. What information do attendees want to learn, and owners want to provide, at this meeting?
3. Perceptions. What do people perceive are the current strengths and weaknesses of the organization, and what do they think should be improved?
4. Attitudes. What do people believe about the way organization leaders feel and behave toward the attendees or other related groups? (Consider both positives and negatives.)
5. New skills. What skills do people want to develop as a result of attending the meeting?
6. Intentions/commitments. What intentions/commitments for actions and behaviors do you hope people will take away from the meeting?
7. Feedback. What specific actions and behaviors do you hope to document after the meeting using various forms of feedback?
8. Meeting Impacts. What business performance improvements do you hope to identify as a result of the meeting?
These questions can help you form an interview guide and/or a pre-event survey to surface the real needs of a prospective group of meeting owners and attendees.
When conducting your interviews, remember these eight tips:
• Ask the same question to everyone.
• Take accurate notes of people’s comments.
• Probe after each question. Ask why people commented the way they did.
• Drill down. Ask for further explanation and clarification.
• Consolidate your notes by each question.
• Write a summary of the comments for each question.
• Write an overall summary of your findings.
• Develop a set of recommendations for a meeting plan based on the findings that address the concerns and needs of the participants and meeting owners and that define the meeting goals, content/focus, agenda, sessions, activities, theme, and spirit.
Using this information can help you earn high ratings for effectiveness and satisfaction from clients, without it you could be singing with Sinatra, “Where are you? Where have you gone without me?”