No one has ever elected to have a “purposeless” meeting. What, after all, would be the point of a meeting with no goals or objectives, one during which participants gather together to work toward nothing, engage in nothing and thus get nothing out of it?
So why is the idea of “purposeful” meetings even a thing?
As Lisa Langford, corporate meeting planner for Finance and Resource Management Consultants, which works with the petroleum industry, says, “If we’re looking to create purposeful meetings now, what were we doing before?”
A definition is a good place to start. The concept of purposeful meetings sounds straightforward: a meeting with purpose. But ask three meeting planners what it means and you’ll quickly learn that the term is open to multiple interpretations.
Angela Baer, CMP, with Caterpillar Inc., zeros in on a very narrow, core definition. “A purposeful meeting is one that first of all, needs to take place. So many in-person meetings are a giant waste of time that could’ve been handled with an email. Beyond that, purposeful meetings are those that are engaging — not PowerPoint downloads — and that benefit the attendees.”
Melissa Jimenez, global events director with Reval, a leading technology company, agrees and adds, “For me, the term purposeful meetings also means having targeted filters in preproduction, where experience and production decisions are made based on predetermined criteria. This helps to keep a great idea focused when additional stakeholders are added to the process.
“For conference content, I ask, ‘Why does this content need to be presented live and in person? What about the content or the presentation requires this to be in person?’ If the answers are not clear and focused, perhaps the content should be presented in a webinar or article. Clients’ time is so valuable. To warrant meeting in person, the content should be so compelling and presented in such a manner that it has to be done in a live setting and would not work as a webinar or article. This filter makes presentations much more meaningful and the ROI easily captured.
“For networking events, again, I feel that to have a purposeful meeting requires a preproduction filter. ‘How will networking be enabled so that attendees are leaving with meaningful contacts or deepened relationships? How are we actively facilitating that? I focus on an experiential-based production model where we don’t use any traditional icebreaker formats. The event itself is experiential, so the conversations that flow out of those experiences occur naturally. Connecting the right people to each other is very methodical and not left to chance.”
Langford hits on a definition that varies to some extent based on age range, noting that it may have a more specific and concrete meaning for millennials.
“The standard of measurement called ‘purposeful’ is core to their world view,” she notes. “Purposeful implies a positive impact occurring with their emotions, inspiring a change of behavior or perception. It is far and above the primary benchmark in determining the value of something and whether it earns their time, money and perhaps their most valuable commodity — a social-media endorsement. To plan a purposeful meeting is to go beyond the intellectual and catch an attendee’s heartbeat, identifying their individual value as both a singular and collective voice of change in the world. The challenge is to create something unique that stands out from the common collective experience yet results in an immediate common collective voice.”
The truth is that the concept of purposeful meetings encompasses all of those definitions and more, and it has evolved out of scientific research in multiple disciplines. Janet Sperstad, CMP, program director, meeting and event management, at Madison College in Madison, Wisconsin, and Amanda Cecil, Ph.D., CMP, associate professor and chair, department of tourism, conventions and event management, at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, have conducted extensive research on this topic.
Sperstad was the keynote speaker at IMEX in Frankfurt this year, where thousands of attendees were introduced to “Purposeful Meetings” as the first of the show’s annual talking points. The new yearly talking point, integral to both Frankfurt and IMEX America in Las Vegas next month, will serve as the focused lens for some educational content and industry research.
Carina Bauer, IMEX CEO, says that the annual talking point will give education programs at IMEX and IMEX America a stronger focus and provide a yearly “refresh” for both shows. “We chose purposeful meetings to start off our talking points as we think it’s a really rich concept that brings together a lot of core, strategic threads in the industry today.”
Bauer says it also gives the industry “a chance to explore a single, emerging or important trend in-depth and from a number of different angles. In this way,” she adds, “our talking point will act as a catalyst — one that hopefully truly inspires and also helps our partners, attendees and exhibitors to understand and to achieve more.”
So far, the results support that notion. “Purposeful meetings as a discussion point and education umbrella was very well received at IMEX in Frankfurt,” Bauer says. “We all want to make our meetings richer experiences, more positive, more impactful for the people that participate in them. Professionally, we all want to have a more strategic seat at the table as well, and purposeful meetings is a great platform for that.”
Where, then, do planners begin their quest to create purposeful meetings? Bauer says going beyond logistical details is critical. “Perhaps one of the most powerful things about the concept and goal of purposeful meetings is to stop and think beyond logistical details alone to the overall experience you are creating for people. What will be their takeaways? What will they remember? What will touch them or resonate with them long after they return home? What ideas and concepts can they put to work right away? This spirit of experience is what is at the heart of purposeful meetings.”
Understanding the research is perhaps one of the best starting points for planners. “Our research on purposeful meetings,” say Sperstad and Cecil, “explores the elements of neuroscience and human behavioral research, technology, event design, content programming and community impact to achieve truly purposeful results. We dive into how our minds and bodies work, to understand social drivers and how to optimize the meeting experience to create more moments of creativity, learning and connectivity.”
By their nature, the two researchers add, “meetings and events often can feel overwhelming, dull or unhealthy. ‘Purposefully’ designed meetings are precisely the opposite — engaging, inspiring and enjoyable with long-lasting, positive outcomes.”
While it’s true that the intent of meetings has always been to be purposeful, as planners point out, it’s important to note that the focus on creating purposeful meetings is different today, in part because of how researchers are approaching it. “This topic has gained interest because of the interdisciplinary approach, as well as the incorporation of science-based research into our field,” says Cecil.
And, she adds, the definition of meeting success itself has also changed. Her view in many ways echoes those of Langford’s millennials. “Event practitioners are looking for more ways to drive value and create meaningful, authentic experiences in a fast-paced, digital world. Defining event success has moved beyond financial return on investment (ROI) measurements and learner outcomes to exploring the elements of a meeting experience that influence human behavior and leverage the experience to influence decision-making, create moments of meaning and insight, and inspire creativity.”
Of course ROI remains important; it’s just that there are additional ways to create and measure positive outcomes for meetings, particularly for the attendees — and that doesn’t mean they have to cost more than other meetings. Cecil says there are no-cost and low-cost ways to bring purposefulness to the meeting experience.
In terms of approach to the subject, one of the biggest changes is that Cecil and Sperstad’s model for purposeful meetings is what they call “human-centric.”
Notes Sperstad, “We all know of (education) sessions painstakingly crafted with smart, measurable outcomes and selected speakers that don’t drive the outcomes we intended. Everything is perfect on paper,” she points out, “until you add humans.”
The human-centric approach by definition helps to mitigate that issue. And though planners need to be aware of how to implement this human-centric approach, it should not be the focus for the humans for whom it’s being implemented — the attendees.
“While creating a purposeful meeting is a human-centric approach to planning a meeting, the attendees are not there to understand or know why it is a good experience for them,” Cecil says.
Planners also must understand that creating a purposeful meeting is not about being prescriptive. “It is not a checklist of to-dos. It’s an approach to use at multiple stages of the event-planning process to ensure that you are designing for the performance of your participants and not designing an experience around the space you have,” Sperstad cautions.
“Don’t feel like you have to approach this as step one, two and three,” she continues. “It’s more about looking at your objectives for the event and focusing on the human element and the human performance, both cognitive and physical, to have a successful event. Being open to shifting your perspective in planning your next meeting with purposeful-meeting elements in mind can help you achieve better results for your meeting.”
Which brings us to the five pillars of the concept. According to Sperstad and Cecil, purposeful meetings and events should actively target and manage five key elements of planning: Behavioral Science, Health & Well-being, Meeting & Event Design, CSR/Legacy Building, and Event Technology. Here is how the researchers defined those core elements as part of the launch of purposeful meetings as a talking point at IMEX in Frankfurt.
Those are just the basics. Planners attending IMEX America this October at the Sands Expo and the Venetian and Palazzo will have an opportunity to learn more about the concepts and specifics of purposeful meetings. The results of the IMEX “Purposeful Meetings research: creating deeper meaning,” done in partnership with PSAV, will be announced. The study drew respondents from 33 countries. Sperstad will deliver the keynote speech on Smart Monday, October 9, education day for IMEX attendees. The keynote, “Purposeful Meetings — Driving Deeper Meaning and Insights,” will be focused, as it was in Frankfurt, on how to create truly purposeful meetings, drawing on Sperstad and Cecil’s science-based research.
And as in Frankfurt, attendees are likely to learn a great deal that’s new to them. “The aspects of neuroscience were particularly interesting,” said Amanda Fishburn, vice president of operations for Ignition Design Group, after Sperstad’s keynote speech in Frankfurt. “We need to move away from being too technical, to focusing on the power of the event experience — how we make delegates feel.”
Whether they attend IMEX America or not, planners will soon have an abundance of research and case studies on which to build their own events. Eventually, there should be no need for the term “purposeful meetings.”
There will be no other kind. C&IT