The Costs and Benefits of Managing Small MeetingsOctober 1, 2017

October 1, 2017

The Costs and Benefits of Managing Small Meetings

CIT-2017-10Oct-Column1-SmallMeetingsGBTA-860x418The GBTA Meetings Committee provides Meetings Management guidance, education and innovation through industry thought leadership. The Committee works to be the preeminent source of knowledge and strategic thinking on the state of Meetings Management for the industry by developing and maintaining educational materials and producing and communicating high-quality content on emerging trends in Meetings Management.

Is it worth the effort and cost to manage small meetings? The answer, as in most things, is “It depends.” It depends on how you define small meetings, how much effort you expend in their management, what you mean by “manage,” what your tolerance for risk is, how you define “risk,” what industry vertical you are in, which countries the small meetings take place in, whether they are simple or complex, how much you spend on them, what the return on investment will be, who the attendees are, and on and on, ad infinitum.

But still, it is an important question. According to Groupize, a small meeting technology provider, in their e-book entitled “Small Meetings are the Wild Wild West,” 66 percent of all meetings in the United States have fewer than 50 attendees, and by most measures would be considered small meetings. This represents $124B in annual spend, at first glance a worthy target for management. In the following sections we will demystify small meetings and provide some guidance on whether they are worth the time and effort to manage.

Defining Small Meetings

There are a variety of ways to define small meetings, including size (e.g., 10–25 attendees), spend (e.g., under $25K), meeting type (e.g., internal meetings), and so on. But this approach can lead to exactly the kinds of risks that meetings management programs are meant to guard against. The following two examples illustrate this nicely: 1) A small meeting of 12 senior executive attendees coming together to discuss the merger of their respective companies. This might be a small meeting, but it is also a very complex meeting, given the level of the attendees, their security concerns and the need for absolute privacy; 2) A small dinner meeting where government officials are in attendance, in a country with a very high Corruption Perception Index. This, too, is a complex meeting, given the strictures around the giving of anything of value to any foreign official, as laid out in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

These might be small meetings, but they are not simple meetings and are potentially high risk. Factors that make small meetings complex include brand exposure (optics of a meeting), financial risk (a large attrition penalty), duty-of-care risks (a teambuilding exercise that includes jumping out of a plane), industry-specific regulatory risks (Sunshine Act or FINRA) and anti-bribery laws (FCPA and the UK Bribery Act). So, instead of addressing small meetings, this article will focus on simple meetings, with the understanding that complex meetings, even though small, should be managed through the regular channels of a meetings management program.

Return on Investment Considerations

Determining the return on investment for small meetings requires examining the same three aspects as we would for larger (strategic) meetings, i.e., cost, risk management and end-user experience. In other words, is it cost-effective to manage these meetings? Does the risk profile of these events raise red flags for the organization? And will the attendee experience be positively impacted by the management of these meetings?

Full management of small and simple meetings under the current Strategic Meetings Management model is not likely very cost-effective for simple meetings between 10 and 25 attendees. It is only when the number of attendees surpasses 25 that the management cost becomes more in line with the overall cost of the event.

All that being said, the specter of risk exposure increases without the help of professional sourcing managers to negotiate the contract, and to protect organizations from other risk factors, such as cancellation and attrition penalties, contractual liability risks, duty-of-care risks, regulatory violations, and brand and intellectual property risks. Ultimately, not managing even the smallest of meetings can lead to an increased organizational risk profile, and the decision to accept such a risk profile should be an informed decision based on a full understanding of the potential challenges, and the organization’s tolerance for risk. Each organization needs to conduct its own cost-benefit analysis to determine the appropriate trade-off between the cost of managing meetings and the potential for risk.

The final aspect of ROI for simple meetings is to consider the attendee experience. Absent professional sourcing and planning staff, meeting owners, or more likely their administrative assistants, are left to their own devices to identify appropriate venues and plan the specific logistics of the event. They must find venues in cities with sufficient airlift to accommodate the attendees, and venues that have the right balance of amenities — not too few (no Wi-Fi) and not too many (a spa). They must plan meals for vegans, paleos and everyone in-between, and manage the logistics of meeting rooms and audio-visual requirements. Not managing these aspects of the meeting can lead to a significantly degraded experience for attendees. Here, too, organizations must conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the risks associated with having nonprofessionals plan their events are worth the savings to be realized by not professionally managing these simple meetings.

The Pros and Cons of Managing

In the end, it all comes down to whether your organization deems it necessary to manage small, simple or a combination of small and simple meetings. The factors that should determine an organization’s approach to managing small meetings ultimately depends on its tolerance for risk, the cost versus expected Return on Investment it seeks from various small meeting types, and the end-user experience the organization wants its attendees to have. The lower the risk and greater the attendee experience an organization seeks from its small meetings, the more likely the event should be managed by professionals. On the other hand, if an organization is more willing to tolerate risk, or if its events are simple, and do not incur significant risk, the less likely they will need to be managed. C&IT

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