Meeting for Impact

Planning exceptional corporate eventsDawn Vivenzio isn’t your traditional event planner. She’s built an innovative role for herself at MassMutual as Strategic Program Manager, planning sales and client services events for MassMutual’s retirement services. Here’s where she’s different: her emphasis is on meeting strategic goals.

She is in a unique position to serve as a liaison between all the groups that need to be connected in order to pull off world-class events.

MassMutual has invested in bringing people together for events — both internal meetings and external meetings with customers. Dawn plans 5-6 events each year, ranging from large national conferences with 500 attendees to more intimate meetings.

I got the opportunity to partner with MassMutual on several events this fall, and had the opportunity to connect with Dawn in follow up to capture her perspective relative to how the meetings industry is evolving and what companies need to consider in order to plan successful events.

How the meetings industry is changing

One of the biggest changes happening in the meetings industry is a shift we’re also seeing across other aspects of sales and marketing: a shift away from direct product sales toward thought leadership.

When Dawn started event planning in 2006, meetings were what she calls “Death by Powerpoint.” Speakers were used to talking at their audiences and giving hard pitches.

Now, you see more “seminar selling” at events. MassMutual creates their event content to help their audience grow their businesses. The content isn’t necessarily even related to MassMutual. Instead, the goal is to deliver valuable “intellectual capital” that attendees can apply to impact their day-to-day work.

How to plan successful corporate events

Dawn’s focus is on event strategy, and her experience planning outcome-oriented events makes her a great source for event planning best practices.

Here are Dawn’s tips for planning a meeting that makes a difference:

1. Define clear goals.

When you’re creating your event strategy, Dawn recommends involving key stakeholders. Ask each stakeholder to define their goals and objectives for the event, and keep everything tied to business strategy. If you can, involve senior management, too. If your goal is to share thought leadership, start with your in-house thought leaders to shape the event strategy and content. The theme and event focus is developed around the core learning and outcome objectives.

2. Bring in a strong team.

Dawn credits a lot of her event success to the teams who help her define and create the content and bring together all the moving parts. The team of people you choose to help you plan and execute events can take your event from average to exceptional.

Look to people in all parts of your business for their creativity and insight into what customers are asking for and what challenges they’re facing. Leverage everyone you can to create interesting and relevant event content and market it to your target audience in a way that will drive registration and engagement before the event begins.

3. Deliver actionable and relevant content.

It’s very clear when you attend a MassMutual event that the content is a focus. All of the content is thoroughly screened and meticulously prepared and practiced. The sessions directly align with common themes and learning objectives. The result: maximum value and impact for the audience. Attendees remember these events because of the stand-out content. As an outside keynote speaker I was always invited (and perhaps even expected) to attend the executive presentations prior to taking the stage myself. This helped me shape my message and make it a whole lot more relevant.

4. Pay attention to details to deliver a remarkable experience.

When you’re planning an experience, no detail is too small. Dawn and her team focus on every possible detail. They always visit sites prior to selecting a venue. They thoroughly vet every speaker. They seek out attendee input to shape meaningful content. They generate pre-event enthusiasm with a custom mobile app.

The event team is constantly fine-tuning the event format to find the right balance between presentations, peer-to-peer knowledge transfer, and networking and social time. Their audience has high expectations for their time investment, and the MassMutual event team does everything they can to deliver a high impact experience.

5. Track ROI of the event.

After every event, Dawn holds a debrief with everyone who was involved. At the debrief, she shares results from post-event attendee surveys and zeroes in on a follow-up plan. It’s important to the MassMutual team to decide who’s going to follow up with event attendees, and how they’ll continue meaningful discussion around the same themes that were covered at the event.

Then, she tracks results after the event. Survey feedback is a given but they take it even further. Does the event lead to new proposals three, six and nine months after the event? Are event attendees good partners going forward? Do they understand and align with the MassMutual belief system?

6. Always keep your eye on where you can improve and innovate.

If you’re at the top of your game, you know that meeting your goals once isn’t enough. After every event, Dawn and her team think ahead: How can they top it the next year?

Dawn stays innovative by doing a lot of research on event industry trends and best practices. She’s always looking for the next great location, speaker or tool to create a memorable experience.

Thanks for sharing your pro tips, Dawn!

Ryan Estis & Associates is a training and development organization helping companies, leaders, sales people and individual contributors embrace change and achieve breakthrough performance in the new economy. We offer keynotes, live classroom training and online learning that blends interaction, energy and actionable content designed to elevate performance. Contact us for programming inquiries and assistance determining the curriculum that could best support your learning and development objectives.

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