Back in October 2015, I wrote an article on the seven purposes of a meeting. I argued, with the cost and effort for any meeting to be organized, it behooves us as professional planners to ensure the purposes behind bringing people together to remain at the forefront of all we do.

I had an opportunity to revisit this concept during a session I facilitated for MPI Montreal/Quebec called “An Introduction to Meetings Data.”

The question I was asked: If data is increasingly important in the overall management and justification of meetings, how would one measure success in a meeting that was meant to celebrate versus, say, promote? Or educate?

I can hear you say right now, “well, it depends.” And I would agree! But, just for the heck of it, I thought I would take a stab at the various data points that could be captured to assess the success of an event and track progress over time.

For those who aren’t familiar, the seven purposes Purposes were identified in research by Marriott International and defined as follows:

  • To celebrate: This is when the event is to commemorate a milestone or accomplishment.
  • To decide: With this objective, the event should focus on meaningful dialogue so an outcome or direction can be initiated.
  • To educate: When the meeting objective is to impart knowledge, where participants learn new things or acquire new skills.
  • To ideate: I prefer to call this objective to innovate or generate new ideas, develop new ways of thinking or doing things.
  • To network: This is when the objective is to meet and get to know people, often with a mind towards a transaction or exchange.
  • To produce: When the objective calls for people to collaborate to towards a specific goal or develop a specific output.
  • To promote: Related to or following the networking objective, this objective is to introduce a new offering (product, service) or promote a new idea or message.

As the research demonstrates, some of the of the most common purposes of a meeting are actually not particularly easy to measure in a business context; I’ve purposefully kept the order the same as that indicated by the data.

Think of celebration: How would one measure whether an event fulfilled this purpose? If the event was to celebrate a person, such as for a birthday, would you measure how the celebrated person felt (“yes, that was a great party!”)? What if a company was to spend money for an event to commemorate an anniversary or winning an award; would you measure consumer recall of that commemoration? Not so straight-forward to come up with what data could measure success in this context, is it?

The purpose of decision may be a bit easier to measure: If a meeting is meant to arrive at a decision of sorts – as in an annual general meeting – one might want to measure the total attendance. Was there a quorum? Were all decisions made with a clear majority? But the overall effectiveness of a meeting may fall short here if follow-up on the decisions is not implemented. While many would say this is the responsibility of the meeting’s owner, not the planner, what if the lack of implementation affects attendance the following year because people see it as a waste of time? Is it our job to be asking about the full decision-making process so data is available to use in assessing the potential of future meetings?

Regarding the purpose of education, we may be very good at laying out learning objectives in our programs. But how do we know we’ve met them? Are we relying upon the conclusion the speaker gives us, “in summary, today we’ve learned XYZ …” or are we truly asking what participants took away and retained? And for how long? Is the meeting a success if the majority of participants have forgotten 90% of what they’ve heard a week later? Should recall and behavior-change be part of the data measured, both pre- and post-meeting?

The purpose of ideation or innovation is even harder to measure; how do you know if you’ve come up with a brilliant, new idea? What if it’s just a good idea? How do you measure success?

For networking, participants may have a sense of how many new people they met. But as the organizer, did you ask them? So, how would you know if your networking meeting was a success?

Fortunately, the final two purposes may be measured less subjectively. If the purpose of a meeting is the production of something specific – as in a fundraising effort, perhaps – were the revenue goals met? Or for promotion, was there a target to achieve in terms of leads or sales opportunities, and was it reached?

After trying to measure and analyze the purpose of a business event in this manner, it occurred to me that connecting the dots between planning with a purpose and measuring success in achieving that purpose is far more subjective a process than what I might have believed at first brush.

What are your thoughts about event purpose and measurement through data? What have you implemented in your meeting evaluation process that has improved the quality of data and the tracking of your meetings?

Greenfield Services

Doreen is an Organizational Catalyst at Greenfield Services, an association management and consulting firm dedicated to membership-based organizations and the meetings industry. She co-founded the company with her husband Heinz in 1998 and sold it to long-time employee Meagan Rockett in November 2016.

She continues to consult for Greenfield’s association clients as a Member Engagement Expert and professional facilitator. In July every year, Doreen co-produces The Engaging Associations Forum, a thought-leadership conference designed to elevate the education level and facilitate conversations between association leaders.

Doreen is an Organizational Catalyst at Greenfield Services, an association management and consulting firm dedicated to membership-based organizations and the meetings industry. She co-founded the company with her husband Heinz in 1998 and sold it to long-time employee Meagan Rockett in November 2016. She continues to consult for Greenfield’s association clients as a Member Engagement Expert and professional facilitator. In July every year, Doreen co-produces The Engaging Associations Forum, a thought-leadership conference designed to elevate the education level and facilitate conversations between association leaders.

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