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Planning the annual meeting: it starts with you.

Questions every chief staff executive should get answers to.

How involved should the chief staff executive be in the planning of the association's annual meeting?

Your gut response might be that the answer depends on whether you're the chief executive or the meeting planner. Yet this shouldn't be so. The most successful meetings stem from involvement by both on staff--and from involvement by the board. Essential to the success, however, is the right type and amount of participation, at the right time, by each person playing a role in planning the meeting.

Over time, an annual meeting receives a varied amount of direct interest and input from the chief staff executive. Depending on the particular association, this attention can be minimal or great. But, as many chief executives now recognize, this inconsistency in attention must be replaced by a complete understanding of the event's potential.

In considering the issue of chief staff executive involvement, I gathered input from many colleagues. Most based their perspectives on the philosophy that the chief executive should not interfere with the meeting planner's work. I support this philosophy and demonstrate the support in my work at the American Association of Museums, Washington, D.C., with the director of meetings and continuing education. But, in conversation with my peers, it has become clear that chief executives need to increase their involvement. Even during these financially difficult times, when every program and product merits examination, most associations cannot articulate the purpose and specific objectives of the annual meeting. This situation demands immediate attention by staff executives.

To focus on the level of appropriate involvement, I developed two lists of questions. Some of these questions--the ones pertaining to policy and goals--should be addressed to the board of directors and the senior management team; others--those relating to implementation--should be addressed to the meeting planner. It seems to me that these questions are valid regardless of the size of the association, its staff, or its annual meeting. All these questions are critical to maximizing the contribution an association's annual meeting can make to the overall goals and objectives of the association.

What to ask your board and senior managers

1. How does the annual meeting fit strategically with the overall goals and programs of the association? This event should not be isolated in purpose from the association's other activities.

2. How does the financial side of the annual meeting fit in with the overall financial goals and strategies of the association?

What to ask your senior managers and meeting planner

1. What general objectives of the association can be accomplished through the annual meeting? Are we taking full advantage of the potential of the annual meeting to address the larger goals and objectives of the association?

What to ask your senior management team

1. What has been (or could be) the impact of the annual meeting on membership growth, unity, credibility, and respect for the association?

2. What has been (or could be) the positive impact on the staff of face-to-face exposure with a broad cross section of the membership via the annual meeting?

3. After answering the earlier questions, what then are the specific objectives of the annual meeting?

As these questions are asked and answered, I'd expect the meeting planner to be involved. He or she should have input into the discussions and be aware of the background for decisions.

What to ask your meeting planner

Now for the questions the chief staff executive should ask the meeting planner. These questions assume that the meeting planner has responsibility for both meeting logistics and content. Note that in small associations the chief executive may actually be the meeting planner, while in associations that have meeting planners the chief executive retains final decision-making authority.

1. How does the annual meeting, as you conceive it, support the core mission of the association?

2. What is your understanding of the target market for our annual meeting?

3. Does the proposed content of the program fully respond to the perceived needs of our market, and is the scope of the content sufficient to appeal to the entire market?

4. What are the unifying principles that you are building into the meeting, and what messages are being sent by the content and focus of the meeting? Do these messages reflect the focus and primary interest areas of the association?

5. By what criteria do we agree you will evaluate potential meeting sites and select the ones to recommend (to the chief staff executive or to whoever is the final approval authority)? In setting these criteria, some associations have begun to consider political issues brewing in particular locations.

6. What is the projected average cost for a participant to attend the meeting (airfare, hotel, meals, and so forth), and how does this compare to the cost of previous meetings? To what percentage of our total market is the cost affordable?

7. Compared to previous years, what is the accessibility of the location to our market? What is the number of daily airline seats coming into the location, and how does this compare with previous locations?

8. What is the city's record for protecting the life and property of visitors? Is the city considered a high-crime area, and have other associations experienced violence against their meeting attendees?

9. What is the environmental quality of the location and the "liveability" of the immediate area where the meeting will take place?

10. Does the location of the meeting in any way inhibit the "normal" participation of our exhibitors and delegates when compared to previous locations? For example, are there inhibiting union work rules, costs, or customs regulations?

11. How would you rank the general service attitude of the people who staff the city's hotels, restaurants, convention center, and other service industries with which our delegates will deal? (This is certainly a subjective area, but I've yet to meet a meeting planner or chief staff executive who couldn't provide a definitive answer after using a particular site.)

12. How have other organizations ranked this location as an annual meeting site, and what comments--positive and negative--have they made? Will this site affect attendance positively or negatively?

13. Given the proposed site, location, costs of attendance, and so forth, what is the probability that the financial performance of the meeting will achieve our budget goals?

Final analysis

In the final analysis, will our members and the association be better off after the meeting? And, if so, how so? This is the ultimate question for everyone who contributes to or makes decisions about an association's annual meeting. The meeting planner must use this question as a foundation for all decisions to be made in the process of planning and producing the meeting.

As I reviewed this subject, I reaffirmed my conviction that, indeed, the chief staff executive should and does have a significant role in planning the annual meeting. As one of my colleagues noted recently, this meeting is perhaps the most important annual event in the life of an association. I couldn't agree more.

Note: In developing the thoughts expressed here, I was informed or stimulated in my thinking by: Elissa M. Myers, CAE, ASAE, Washington, D.C.; Richard D. Miller, American Association of School Administrators, Arlington, Virginia; Garis F. Distelhorst, CAE, National Association of College Stores, Oberlin, Ohio; Russell L. Abolt, International Sleep Products Association, Alexandria, Virginia; and Elizabeth Goulding, National Association of College Stores. My sincere thanks for their contributions.

Edward H. Able, Jr., CAE, is executive director of the American Association of Museums, Washington, D.C.

The Meeting Planner's Turn

Here's a meeting planner's perspective on the exchange that should occur between professionals in her position and their chief staff executives.

To achieve top results, I believe that the chief staff executive and the meeting planner must have a similar vision of exactly how their association's annual meetings are to be executed. The meeting planner must have a clear understanding of how the meeting fits with the goals of the association, in terms of programming, finances, and networking opportunities for members. The meeting can then be planned to fulfill--or better, exceed--the goals and objectives.

Following are questions I recommend meeting planners ask their chief staff executives when planning annual events.

1. What purpose does the association's annual meeting program serve?

2. What do we agree are the components of a successful meeting? What do we hope to achieve?

3. How much control do I have over the development and management of the annual meeting budget?

4. How much autonomy do I have in planning the event? Who are the other players, and where are the lines of responsibility drawn?

5. Am I responsible for the development of the program? How much latitude do I have in the scheduling and formatting of the program? Who has ultimate approval regarding the content of the program? Is it the chief staff executive? Or is it the program committee?

6. Are there resources available to offer alternative types of programming or to obtain experts for the program?

7. Who makes the final decision on hotel and convention center sites?

8. Do I have the authority to select all meeting vendors (such as the exhibit hall contractor, the audiovisual supplier, and the ground operators), so long as they are within the budget?

9. Will you support my decisions if a problem arises in the planning process or on-site at the meeting?

Meg McCarthy is director of meetings and continuing education for the American Association of Museums, Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Able, Edward H.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Don't fight - negotiate.
Next Article:Advocate at the top.

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