Strategic Meetings Management (SMM): Tech Talk
As Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) continues to gain momentum and acceptance with corporate and association planning teams, the need to assess current technology tools and assure robust reporting is essential.
Clearly, SMM is changing the way planners plan and execute meetings and how suppliers sell and deliver service.
An important part of this SMM puzzle is meeting registration and attendee communications. I’m excited to interview an industry colleague and friend, Jeff Rasco, CMP, for his take on this topic.
Q. Tim Brown Online registration and housing has been around for some time, but now the bar has been raised on the attendee experience. How do you see it?
A. Jeff Rasco We used to think IBM Selectrics were high tech registration tools, but moving registration and housing online revolutionized the process beginning in the mid 1990’s. Attendees could create and edit their information online whenever it was convenient, information became more accurate, and data much more readily accessible to the meeting organizers.
As technology continues to improve, the attendee experience improves with it. Information is much more current as registration sites are updated constantly by organizers, and the attendees themselves, through social media feeds, for example. Communication with attendees is much better as email became the preferred method of communication. Secure data transfer to vendors such as hotels and travel companies has also enhanced the experience by greatly cutting down on errors. Attendees can make a change to their registration/reservation on their smartphone on the way to the airport, and the planner and supporting vendors will be ready and waiting on arrival.
Q. TB How has the red hot Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) initiative impacted attendee communications?
A. JR SMM and attendee communication, including online registration, are joined at the hip. When you look at the GBTA’s Strategic Meetings Management Program (SMMP) “Wheel,” Technology is the hub and Registration of Meeting/Event is at the top of the circle. SMM has taken the silos that have characterized the meeting planning process, such as Approval, Sourcing, Planning, Payments, Data Analysis and Registration and now has the capability to link them together through Technology. The leading software suppliers who have led the way in enhancing two-way attendee communication have jumped into SMM with both feet, and we are seeing continuous improvement in the processes.
Q. TB Of course, with SMM, the focus is on data management and reporting, so how do planners best address this important issue?
A. JR Planners have better data at their fingertips than ever before. Understanding their strategic value in their organizations and the critical importance of the data they control, planners have never been in a better position to bring game-changing information to the C-suite to improve their organizations performance. Companies like ours are intentionally designed to handle the technical and tactical matters and allow our planner customers to access and analyze the data that is generated from their meetings and can propel them to higher levels of strategic value.
Q. TB How does Social Media enhance the attendee experience and communications process?
A. JR When handled well, Social Media can create additional buzz and generate registrations and interactive communications. Because of its immediacy and cross-linking, planners can use Social Media to interact with and inform attendees about all aspects of the meeting. We especially find this helpful as attendees and speakers are able to
create a “communications triangle” of attendee-->speaker, speaker-->attendee, and attendee-->attendee. This triangle, which can also occur at the planner<-->attendee level with its own positive results, can create better presentations, enhanced education, better networking, and a considerably improved attendee experience before, during and after the event.
One caution is that planners must truly understand the tools they are implementing and their audiences. A poorly designed and monitored Social Media presence can bring down an event as quickly as a well-planned one can elevate it.
Q. TB We all hear a lot about mobile apps...how does this best fit into the mix?
A. JR We’ve been talking a lot about the attendee experience and mobile apps can truly enhance the process. Mobile event guides take all that stuff we used to print and stick in those conference bags and put it literally at the attendees’ fingertips. And unlike printed documentation, updates are easy and immediate. In addition, from a smartphone or tablet attendees can communicate with other participants, speakers and organizers; evaluate sessions; use interactive maps to find their way; book appointments; utilize lead retrieval and reverse lead retrieval; find local attractions; and the list just goes on and keeps growing.
We are also seeing mobile applications which help the planner in many ways. Those four-inch binder planner “bibles” are being whittled down to a smartphone’s four-inch screen. MeetingApps.com has hundreds of applications listed for just about any aspect of the planner’s life across all the major platforms. We don’t yet have a one-size-fits-all application for managing events, and planners need to look at their own processes and pull together the right applications to take their binders online, but it is clear that digitizing the piles of meeting documentation provides a much higher level of productivity for planners onsite (and provides a more professional look as a bonus).
Q. TB Looking ahead, what are the new innovations that we can expect to see in the next year or two
A. JR We will see continued growth in the SMM software area as more companies scramble to improve their offerings in a very competitive market. Alongside this growth will be a corresponding increase in mobile app development. Just as the success of online registration in the ‘90’s created hundreds companies offering these applications in the two decades hence, mobile apps are going to continue their ascendancies as the killer apps of the early 2010’s.
One of the things we have been working on is the transformation of the onsite registration experience through technology. We have the ability to print badges on demand, including bar and QR codes, RFID and Near Field Communication. We can check people in using a smartphone, tablet, or computer kiosk. Attendees can share their contact information with each other and with exhibitors with a quick “bump” or a scan. As we’ve already mentioned, the program guides are becoming digital. But the onsite experience for attendees, vendors, and planners is not generally as orchestrated as it will be in the next couple of years. We should be taking lessons from Apple’s retail stores in our attempts to transform the onsite registration experience into something completely different, and I think we’re just a couple of clicks away.
TB - Thanks Jeff and I appreciate your candid comments on key elements of online registration and attendee communications. I will circle back with you at a future date to discuss new innovations on this topic.
In today’s fast paced SMM environment, planning teams must assess all current technology tools being utilized and determine what is required to enhance both team efficiencies, brand enhancement, interactive attendee communications and 24/7 access to reports.
For additional information on Attendee Management, Inc (AMi), contact:
Jeffrey W. Rasco, CMP
CEO and Founder
Attendee Management Inc.
Tim Brown is CEO at Meeting Sites Resource. MSR is a global strategic meetings management solutions organization with a 20 year track record of meeting excellence. This includes global hotel sourcing and custom contract negotiations, professional meeting support services, Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) consulting and advanced meeting technology.
Tim contributes articles to industry trade publications and speaks at many industry events. MSR also designs custom strategic education for planning and procurement teams. MSR is a recognition recipient of Meeting Professionals International’s Golden Paragon Award, MPI’s highest recognition for meeting excellence.