While it’s easy to get caught up in the “what” pieces of meeting planning, a new report says the first question planners should ask is: Why are we having this event?
Meeting planners often spend a lot of time on the “what” elements of their events. That’s the stuff like selecting the right food and beverage menu, creating the perfect general session, and designing an expo hall that attracts both exhibitors and attendees.
While all are critical pieces, a recent report from American Express Meetings & Events argues that focusing on the “why” of an event is one of the most important—and often overlooked—principles of event design.
In “Focus on the Why: How Branding Principles Can Guide Your Event Design,” the company says the first step for any event should be establishing the desired outcomes for both the organization and attendees.
“Most simply, why are you having this event?” the report says. “Defining your event’s why—the ‘one thing’ that it should accomplish and how it should make your attendees feel—will serve as your guide post through every aspect of the event-planning process.”
The report goes on to outline three steps to “identify and apply the ‘why’ of your event to ensure the experience is focused, meaningful, and consistently delivered across all event touchpoints.” Here’s a closer look at each:
Step one: Identify the desired outcomes. Before planners start thinking about menus and room setup, they need to engage stakeholders in a conversation about what the event should accomplish. “In as few words as possible, [have them] describe the measurable goals as well as the intangible goals of the event,” the report says. Then, choose the top one or two that will be priority, such as building customer loyalty or increasing sales by 20 percent.
Step two: Get to know attendees. “Just as brands need to understand the needs and wants of their target audiences, event designers should consider all their constituents, from participants to sponsors/exhibitors to media,” the report says. It recommends a few exercises that can help define and visualize the emotional attributes of an event, such as identifying attendee personas and conducting pre-event surveys.
Step three: Choose the functional attributes. In this final step, planners circle back to focus on delivering the “why” in ways that meet attendees’ needs. “The functional aspects of your event—from invitation to registration to onsite experience—are the elements that will deliver a transformational experience that will exceed attendee expectations,” the report says.
While it may seem obvious that you need to consider the “why” (and a lot of you are probably doing so already), I’m sure there’s been a time when your association has held a meeting because it’s one that you’ve always had or because it’s already on the calendar—even if it’s not bringing as much revenue as you’d like and attendee satisfaction or excitement is dwindling.
But we’re living in a time where associations are competing with huge corporate and for-profit brands in the event space. (Think SoulCycle and Sephora.) That’s why it’s crucial that you carve out the “why” of your conference for attendees. As the report concludes, doing so “will yield a better experience for your participants and better outcomes for your business.”
What steps do you take to ensure you’re focusing on the “why” of your events? Please share in the comments.