Experienced planners know it is critical to engage meeting and incentive program attendees during their travel events. Without engagement, people are not motivated to attend, excited to learn, energized to participate, aligned around a shared mission and purpose, collaboration and more. It is often challenging to engage people during meetings and events for reasons we’ll cover, but this alone is insufficient because engagement must begin far in advance of the event operation, build during the event and continue afterwards.

We must consider and plan for engagement pre, during and post. Engagement must begin during the pre-event stage, when participants are learning about the event, build during the event when we need their full participation and commitment and then continue post event, so that there is a lasting benefit and ideally, a return-on-investment (ROI).  Many planners focus on the event design itself, to ensure that it is planned efficiently, to run flawlessly, with all activities occurring on time, contingencies are planned for, etc. but don’t pay attention to the pre and post.

Pre-event – Engagement Planning:

For incentive programs, the event itself is the reward for a job well done, usually for salespeople, but it is a “lagging indicator.” The earnings period, which occurs up to a year in advance, is when we must begin to engage the participants and it is the “leading indicator” of success. This time gives us the opportunity to communicate the program objectives and benefits, train the participants, monitor and coach their performance, challenge them to work in teams as well as be their personal best. And for programs focused on channel partners who sell or distribute multiple brands, this is the most important time to engage them in your program, lest they shift their efforts to a competitor’s program.

For meetings, the pre-event period is when we can encourage participants to register and take advantage of assessments, training and pre-work that is offered. We want to ensure not only that there are enough attendees to fill the seats, but also they come prepared and ready to participate, collaborate and gain the maximum benefit. Here are the areas to plan and begin to build engagement:

Goals and Objectives – the meeting or event is planned to accomplish the goals and objectives of the sponsoring company and to engage people, we must also align them with their personal goals and objectives or there will be a disconnect and suboptimal performance. Ideally, we want to accomplish strategic alignment as well.

Agenda Planning – the agenda should be planned to interest the participants based on their needs and interests, not just those of the company.

Communications – it is important to have an integrated marketing plan to communicate all aspects of the meeting or event early and on a frequent basis, in a multi-touch campaign using the web, social media, print pieces, promotional “teaser” items, videos and more.  Event communications must not be static.

Assessments – there are many assessments that can be used to learn about the participant’s level of engagement, their motivators, interest, capabilities and needs. One example is the Motivators Assessment from The Culture Works (wwwthecultureworks.com), which takes 15 minutes and provides a report for the participants and their managers about their primary motivators and “identities.” This tool helps improve communications in a variety of ways.

Training  – integrating training within incentive programs is a best practice, which is often overlooked and this is applicable to meetings pre-work as well. The meeting and event itself is the time to reinforce training and celebrate the results of learning, not for the primary training to occur.

Incentives  – many incentive travel programs appeal only to the top 20% of the sales force, because based on most rules structures, these are the only people who will be able to realistically earn a spot.  The rest of the salespeople, including the middle 60%, who are usually able to increase their performance with more training and effort become disengaged.  The way to overcome this is to design a second tier program, usually with award points that can be redeemed for tangible merchandise awards, so that everybody who puts in the extra effort and engages can earn an award. (Note: The idea is that top salespeople are already selling at or near their capacity because they already have the motivation, training, skills and process to succeed at the highest level. Sure, they can bring in a bit more sales with a competitive incentive program, perhaps a 10% increase, but the middle 60% of salespeople can increase their performance by 20% or more if we help improve their motivation, training, skills and process with an effectively designed and administered incentive program. If you take the number of middle 60 sales reps and multiply their sales by a 20% increase, the result is a much greater increase than if you multiply the top 20% of reps by 10%.)

Collaboration – although we think of collaboration as something that occurs during the event, we can also encourage it pre-event by using online collaborative tools. There are many of them, from enterprise systems such as Slack to mobile apps such as Journyz.

Recognition – the most important thing we can do to engage people is to recognize them more frequently and authentically for their efforts, progress and accomplishments.  There should be a well-planned recognition strategy and tactics for every event starting with the pre-event period. Budgets/ROI – the time to plan for return-on-investment is during the pre-event period. This is when we can track initial engagement of an incentive event, actual performance and results. For an incentive event, we should create an ROI projection, track progress and make adjustments along the way to ensure that there is a positive ROI post-event.  There are various methods and models such as ROIpro, an online system from Travyrs (www.travyrs.com)

About the Author

Ira Ozer is an enterprise engagement expert who helps companies improve the engagement and productivity of their employees, channel partners and consumers.  Ira leads the team at Innovation Meetings and Engagement Partners which provides the complete range of integrated services necessary to improve engagement, including assessment, strategic consulting, incentive, recognition, innovation, wellness, meetings program design, training, communications, engagement technology, ROI analytics and more. Ira has been a leader in the incentive and performance improvement industry for more than 25 years, having held senior leadership, sales and marketing posts at companies including Sony, USMotivation, Meridian and BI Worldwide.  Contact Ira at iraozer@innovationmeetings.com.