Companies are invited to different conferences and incentive travel opportunities all the time, and must choose which events make sense to attend and which to skip. Even if a potential attendee wants to go to the meeting, often he or she must convince their boss as to why the meeting is important and how it will help going forward.
Corporate and incentive meetings are all about building relationships, networking, having a say at the table and learning. Attendees benefit with valuable takeaways that can impact both their personal (with incentive travel, for instance) and career goals.
“Being viewed as part of the team, building lasting relationships and trust with others, are the true intangible benefits that can’t be underestimated,” says Debbie A. McClure, director of communications for Strategic Incentive Solutions, a Canadian corporate and incentive travel company based in Ontario. “While modern technologies are great, sometimes it’s extremely beneficial for even a once-a-year, face-to-face meeting to accomplish or set goals and objectives, iron out problem areas and discuss future projects or product launches.”
Judy Payne, CMP, director of meetings and travel at Grapevine, Texas-based GameStop, says in today’s busy world, everyone values their time, so a conference must have great value in order to attend.
“Being viewed as part of the team, building lasting relationships and trust with others, are the true intangible benefits that can’t be underestimated.” Debbie A. McClure, Director of Communications for Strategic Incentive Solutions, LEED AP
“The secret ingredients to get attendees to attend are location, education and networking,” she says. “You need a great location — one that most planners would consider sourcing; it needs to be on-point, serious training, as planners want to share best practices with their peers; and attendees want to be able to meet with partners they work with so they can do business during breaks.”
She adds that while time and money are the biggest issues, if a meeting hits at least two of the “secret ingredients,” it will be a valuable experience for attendees. The conference then changes from “Something I may want to attend” to “Wow, I can get so much done at this event.”
Melinda Burdette, CMP, CMM, director of events for Dallas-based Meetings Professional International (MPI), helps shape the association’s signature World Education Congress and several other events throughout the year. She has developed a “Convince Your Boss” letter that describes the return on investment associated with attending MPI’s signature events.
“We strive to bring emerging trends and technologies to our conference in order to make it compelling and attractive for our attendees,” she says. “Our letter template focuses on the ROI and professional development in addition to networking opportunities.”
Lauren Grech, CEO and co-founder of New York-based LLG Events, says it’s important to find common ground between the attendees and the speakers.
“Attendees tend to gravitate towards events where they can take something away from the meeting or find something relatable or applicable to them. In short, this means that people attend sessions that provide value,” she says. “Therefore, when creating a meeting agenda, be sure to mix the right attendees with the right speakers so that people find themselves engaged and interested throughout the entire event. This ensures that they will attend and want to come to the next one.”
Laura Craven, LEED AP, vice president of marketing and communications at Imperial Dade, has been planning corporate events for 25 years and her company hosts a B2B trade show every year in varying locations. The guiding light of everything her company does is, “How will this be of value to our attendees?”
“We create events that provide opportunities for the attendees to discover ways to save money, increase their customers’ satisfaction, comply with legislation and have some fun while they’re at it,” she says.
Craven has found that personalized invitations that include a conversation work best for “convincing people.”
“Our sales reps will invite people to the show and discuss what will be available that will address that customer’s needs,” she says.
For example, “I know sustainability is important to you, please come to our Expo where you can see all of the latest green products and attend a seminar addressing the trends and municipal requirements.” Or, “I know cost-savings is a big deal, so come to the Expo and check out the floor cleaning machinery that will save your crew 20% of the time needed to clean your building.”
She adds, “We also do email campaigns which are more effective for repeat attendees so they know what to expect. They look forward to coming back and seeing what is new. We make attending as easy as possible. No fees, free parking and in some cases shuttle service from transportation hubs. We also offer complimentary F&B during the event.”
McClure understands that corporate and incentive travel are typically viewed as high-value perks of the company or particular position.
“Some of the most compelling reasons to attend are the opportunity to network with co-workers, clients/suppliers and higher-ups, being viewed as a team player by management, participating in round table discussions at the event and fitting in with the overall company culture of collaboration and team work,” she says.
Moreover, trade shows offer the same overall benefits, but are more work-focused. These events, she says, are about making connections with potential new suppliers and sourcing new product and information to share with management. That’s why people want to come.
The one excuse that is heard throughout the industry is “I don’t have time.”
“Ultimately, there are no good excuses, and that is a fundamental component to the way we run our business,” Grech says. “Everyone is inundated with responsibilities these days, so you just have to prove that your event will be worth their time.”
Craven addresses the “I’m too busy” excuse much in the same way.
“We address that by pointing out some of the things we will have available that will help them save time and money and/or solve a problem,” she says. “Many of our restaurant customers are having their margins squeezed by rising labor costs, higher rents and legislation that requires them to make changes. We design our seminars around current issues.”
McClure says that if there is a cost to the employee to attend an event, i.e. gas or travel costs, this could be a reason someone might try to decline.
“That’s when it’s important to remind attendees of the personal and career benefits. Sometimes people just don’t think about why conferences and trade shows are necessary; they see them as just more work, losing sight of the intangibles associated with these types of events,” she says.
Other reasons might include family conflicts, such as arranging child or pet care, or spousal/family member illness.
“Honestly, if there is a valid reason an employee cannot attend a corporate or incentive travel event, HR or the supervisor needs to listen and respect the individual’s reason,” McClure says. “This tells the employee that the company, and management, care about their personal issues and are willing to work with them, encouraging attendance at the next event. It’s also imperative that the company let attendees know well in advance of an upcoming event, so adequate arrangements can be made on the home front, if possible.”
Sometimes, potential attendees need to convince the higher-ups why a convention or meeting is important, and it’s vital that they know all the benefits when they pitch the idea.
“If you’re able to attend a conference and consolidate business — meet with partners, site a location and get some training in — the pitch is easy,” Payne says. “In this one trip, you can get so much done.”
Grech advises that attendees should be discussing how it will add direct value to the company they are pitching — whether in social, brand or financial currency.
“An attendee should address how this will impact the senior management and the company in terms of education and networking,” she says. “Meetings should always provide networking and education opportunities. The most crucial component of networking is the follow up. I always follow up with an email, notecard or phone call.”
The spiel to a higher up is easy, Craven says, and gives an example of what they should be saying: “By attending this event I will be able to see the latest products available that will help us save money, find ways to enhance our brand and stand out among our competition, improve our health inspection scores, and/or meet LEED certification requirements.”
It’s no secret that the ROI of a meeting plays a big role in a company’s decision to send someone to a meeting or not.
“It absolutely impacts a decision, as well as other factors such as time of year, location, etc.” Burdette says. “MPI offers registration scholarships through our MPI Foundation which has awarded over 200 scholarships annually.”
ROI and money issues are always a concern, which is why it makes sense to hire professionals to create corporate or incentive events that not only “wow” attendees, but are packaged within set budgets.
“Incentive travel and marketing firms work hand-in-hand with HR and/or management personnel who’ve been put in place to make events a success,” McClure says. “These professional meeting planners have the connections with destinations, venues and team-building, experiential suppliers to make events not just successful, but outstanding.”
By working within established budgets, they have the experience and connections to know where to suggest an event can or should be held, and sometimes even leverage their relationships with venues to keep costs in line with budgets. At the very least, they provide insights into what can be done effectively for what costs. This takes tremendous pressure off company personnel who may not have the time, connections or experience to accomplish the task.
“When attendees look forward to an event, they become and stay motivated, which means they’re less likely to find reasons not to attend,” McClure says. “They arrive excited and ready to get the most out of the experience. When attendees feel bonded to co-workers, management, clients, or suppliers, great things happen for the company. The ROI is seen both before an event in increased motivation and productivity and after the event with relationships and team work.”
If someone uses money as a reason for not attending, Grech tells them to look at this event as investment in their marketing and promotion — no risk, no reward.
“By attending this event, meeting the right people and making the right connections, you may make a fruitful partnership that pays off the cost of attending and then some,” she says. “The best way to create these opportunities for yourself is to come prepared with background on your company, your upcoming goals and what projects you might be able to collaborate on.”
While Payne agrees ROI matters, she notes when she goes to a PCMA Convening Leaders conference, her team will meet with three to five different city partners to discuss upcoming events, meet three to five of the company’s current vendors to talk about fine-tuning the program, review new technology, get new ideas for attendee engagement and get its CEUs.
“This is extremely valuable and a great use of our time and money,” she says. “Surveys are free and an invaluable source of information. Poll them for input on the locations, topics, etc.; find the solution that fits the greater audience; and then get to work.”
When someone uses ROI as a reason for not attending,