Every year, Meetings & Incentives Worldwide hosts our signature event: the M&IW Summit. In addition to facilitating industry connections and networking, one of the event objectives is to share best practices and emerging trends across meetings, events, and incentives. One of the most informative sessions from the 2023 M&IW Summit was Enterprise- and Event-Level Strategies: World-Class POV.
In this engaging session, M&IW moderators were joined by customer panelists to discuss the enterprise- and event-level strategies needed to be ready for the future of events. Let’s dive into the key takeaways.
To start the session, M&IW’s Bridget Wagner, Principal Consultant of Intent Strategy Group, moderated a panel featuring Stephanie DiRusso, Director of Customer Engagement Operations at Biogen, and Cheryl Oswald, CMP, CMM, Corporate Events Manager at CNH Industrial. Their discussion centered on the importance and challenges of an enterprise-level Events Program.
An Events Program, also known as a Strategic Meetings Management Program or SMMP, is a formalized and strategic approach to an organization’s events portfolio. It is used to define the rules and lay the groundwork for planning, budgeting, and more.
Defining a World-class Events Program
From a logistical perspective, an Events Program starts with “setting processes and procedures, getting everyone on the same page with company standards, and laying the foundational groundwork that can be scaled from there,” said Cheryl. These steps are necessary to create an effective Events Program, but what takes it from effective to world-class?
“It goes beyond flawless execution and financial optimization,” said Stephanie. “World-class success involves building strong relationships with stakeholders, innovative thinking, and continuous improvement.”
“Ongoing change management is necessary to achieve the adoption needed for success.”
Cheryl Oswald, CMP, CMM, Corporate Events Manager, CNH Industrial
The Challenges of Achieving a World-class Events Program
While the benefits of an Events Program are tangible, they don’t come without challenges. Bridget noted that common obstacles organizations face include getting executive buy-in and creating alignment and standardization across departments.
Cheryl agreed, adding that “at the foundational level, the biggest challenge is getting everyone on the same page.” When an Events Program is first implemented, many view the processes and procedures as extra steps that make their job harder, but that’s not the case. It’s actually about creating a go-to resource guide and making everything more consistent across events, Cheryl continued. “The policies are there to better the organization, the brands, and the individual events. Ongoing change management is necessary to achieve the adoption needed for success.”
One of the most challenging changes that Stephanie noted is consolidating vendors to have one true partner instead of multiple moving parts: “Having multiple vendors is not efficient and is more expensive, but the implementation and onboarding of a new event management partner is scary and requires downtime to tackle.” Still, it’s worth the challenge. “The right partner is a game changer and makes you brave enough to tackle the challenges,” said Stephanie.
“If you don’t have your people, you don’t have your events strategy.”
Stephanie DiRusso, Director of Customer Engagement Operations, Biogen
Outlook on the Future of Events Programs
Cheryl and Stephanie both agreed that the outlook and benefits of an enterprise-level Events Program are positive. “Each process and procedure makes us better, even if it seems like baby steps,” said Cheryl.
When it comes to ensuring continued success, Stephanie shared that “your people are your events strategy,” and as the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In the above clip, Stephanie stresses the importance of being a change agent within your organization no matter your role. Planning events and executing an Events Program is stressful, so it’s important to check in on people and change the culture. She concluded that “if you don’t have your people, you don’t have your events strategy.”
The next panel was moderated by M&IW’s Judi Maher, CMP, Customer Success Director, and featured Gina DeRaimo, SVP, Head of the Options Institute at Cboe, and Sarah Evans, Senior Events Operations Associate at the Obama Foundation. Their discussion focused on best practices at the event level. Topics included how attendees’ ages affect event design and considerations behind event location and food and beverage.
The Generational Impact on Events
The average age of the event audience can and should affect the event design. For example, Gen Z is very outspoken and firm in what they believe in and expect from an event or an experience, said Sarah. “There’s an extra level of responsibility for that audience,” whether it be creating a more grassroots, community focus or offering more leadership development opportunities. “We’re encouraging attendees to bring their authentic self and fully participate in the event, so there’s more intentionality behind accessibility in all forms.”
Gina noted that accessibility can look different for different generations. Because Millennials and Gen X have families, “there’s been a shift to family-forward events,” she said, especially with the coinciding shift to a more female audience. “Attendees shouldn’t have to choose between education and family,” Gina continued. Family-forward events include sessions that children and family members can attend as well as a staffed hospitality area where they can hang out during the other sessions. “It’s an extra logistical and operational challenge,” she concluded, “but it’s worth the trade off.”
“Authentic locations… are important and impactful, even if they’re not a main industry hot spot.”
Sarah Evans, Senior Events Operations Associate, the Obama Foundation
Event Location Considerations
There’s been a rise in unique, less traditional locations for events. “Especially for a global organization, there’s a responsibility to pick destinations that are global but distinctive,” said Gina. Sarah agreed, adding that attendees today, especially younger generations, want “authentic locations that are important and impactful, even if they’re not a main industry hot spot.”
Gina also mentioned the balance between choosing an exciting destination and keeping attendees engaged. Attendees should be excited about and interested in the event programming, but it’s only natural that they’ll want time to explore as well, especially if the location is somewhere off the beaten path. If there’s downtime in the agenda, offer optional group tours for the perfect blend of networking and exploration. The choice of venue can also make a difference, Gina said. For example, host dinners and receptions at an offsite venue so attendees can see more of the city.
“Attendees want choice and flexibility.”
Gina DeRaimo, SVP, Head of the Options Institute, Cboe
A Modern Approach to Food and Beverage
When it comes to food and beverage, “attendees want choice and flexibility,” said Gina. To help attendees experience the local cuisine while keeping them onsite for hosted meals, consider contacting key attendees or stakeholders and asking where they would want to eat nearby. Then, bring in those companies for catering.
It’s also important to cover all dietary restrictions, noted Sarah, “so main courses are vegan and side dishes are protein.” Vegan menus are also more sustainable, which is an additional benefit. Finally, “not everyone wants to be around alcohol,” she added, so offer alternatives. Options for non-alcoholic beverages that are still enticing include mocktails with fun edible garnishes, build-your-own smoothie bars, and a fresh-squeezed lemonade station. For a more compromised approach, the menu can list mocktails with the option to add alcohol.
Finding Success Across Events
From high-level strategies to each minute detail, there are many ways to achieve world-class events. No organization will have the same approach, but these best practices can be applied and adapted to any event to create a unique experience that keeps attendees engaged and invested.
Interested in learning more about today’s keys to success? Contact us to learn how our award-winning team of event experts can best support you.