Planning Successful Meetings Starts with the Process

by Mary Jo Wiseman


I consider myself lucky to have spent 20+ years in a career I truly believe in, one that adds value to an organization by drawing upon our key strengths and knowledge of the hospitality industry to plan and execute meetings and events. I firmly believe it is not just one person who makes a meeting or event happen, but rather a well led team of dedicated, enthusiastic, talented individuals who come together to do what they do best to help organizations exceed program objectives and make them shine. I want to share with others what I’ve learned in my career to help them be all they can be in this challenging, ever-changing marketplace in which we have the privilege to work.

I have always been of the mindset that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about planning a meeting (or any project for that matter) and that it is the process or system we use to get us started that can either keep us on track or send us off the rails. The process for me didn’t come overnight; rather it evolved. It took time, it took practice, it took patience. And, it took making mistakes along the way, which in turn accorded me valuable learning opportunities and numerous chances for do overs. When the going gets tough, just take a breath and say out loud: “Focus.”

The planning and executing of a meeting can be very daunting for someone who has never planned a meeting before—or for someone who plans only an occasional meeting or two while still trying to keep up with their day-to-day responsibilities. But it will be far less daunting if you begin the process with a plan that identifies or defines the following.

  • Goals, objectives, and key messages.
  • Intended primary and secondary audience.
  • Action items and the multitude of tasks related to the actionable items (tasks).
  • Timeline for when the actionable items must be accomplished.
  • Who will be accountable for each task.
  • Budget dollars allocated to the program.

If you are well organized, detail oriented, disciplined and have a knack for seeing the big picture, know and understand the tasks that need to be done and in what order—and you surround yourself with the right people to help you—you will be well on your way. But first you need to take the time to come up with a plan to manage the project.

I remember the first time I was on-site in New York handling my first board meeting for a CEO who was new to the company (a daunting task for him also, I’m sure). After the meeting, he congratulated me on a job well done and one of the things he said was, “I know these things don’t just happen,” as he was pointing to the table décor after one of the dinners. He got that a lot of thought (and planning) went into making this important dinner so special—from the menu selection to the specialty linens, to the flowers, and even the matching place cards. He really appreciated all the details that went into making the evening the success it was and the message it sent to our Directors.

I also believe the project management skills used to plan a meeting can be used to plan other events in your life as well; whether it’s planning your own or a friend’s wedding, remodeling a room or a whole house, moving, or taking that vacation of a lifetime. The action items—the tasks within and the order in which they need to be done—will obviously change from project to project, but the thought process is the same. Whether it is a corporate event, association meeting or small private wedding, the plan and executing of the details are key to the success of the event.

I really found this to be so true when I was planning my own wedding—with just three weeks lead time (yes, just three weeks) and no time to spare. It was a small, very private wedding with just family, but the details were still many. We had our plan; we had our task list and we kept each other accountable. The day-of flowed like clockwork and the stress—well it just wasn’t there. It’s now been two years and we’re still smiling and you will be, too, if you just take the time to first think your projects through.

Create your plan; surround yourself with the best possible team of experts; define the levels of authority; come up with a task list/time line; keep everyone accountable; meet regularly, keep good notes, and don’t forget to follow up on any missed assignments. The rewards will follow.

Communication throughout the entire process will keep everyone involved, informed and make it a fun, team experience working together to create your successful event!

About the Author
Certified Meeting professional, Mary Jo (MJ) Wiseman, spent 24 years in the meeting and hospitality industry as a corporate meeting and event coordinator where she managed the full spectrum of the event planning process across all levels of management with an emphasis on high profile, executive level groups including senior management, Board of Directors and key customers (agents and brokers).
Mary Jo is also the author of “The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings” available on Amazon and Create Space
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