A post-conference history is a valuable resource used much like a blueprint that provides a solid foundation on which to build future events. One of the very first questions an event planner or venue will ask for is an event history. This information aids them in many ways. There is an art to designing a programme that successfully builds on previous events and a detailed post-conference history can help in avoiding potential pitfalls.
Not taking the time to write an effective post-conference history can be costly in terms of time, energy and money.
“I believe that there are three things that can produce the most effective post-conference report,” says Karen Massicotte, CMP, CMM, director of operations, PRIME Strategies Inc., a Vancouver-based incentive travel, conference and event management company. “First – develop and communicate the strategic objectives of the conference to all stakeholders and ask them to report on how they met these objectives; and ensure that the objectives are aligned with the overall corporate and organizational goals. Secondly – from developing the critical path to writing the post-conference report, it is essential to document all decisions, actions and outcomes; use meeting minutes for planning meetings; keep samples of printed materials; track sustainability initiatives; ensure proper financial documentation is maintained; collect the right data for documentation of demographics and statistics; and write the report as you plan. Thirdly, you must measure – ensure you have developed an accurate way to measure the return on investment.”
It is important to track pertinent information that will need to be included in a post-conference history as you move forward through planning, operations and on-site execution. Don’t depend on your memory after your event has run.
Cynthia Richards, president of Event Spectrum Inc., based in Toronto, says “all of our account executives keep a journal, listing key elements in point form including revised costings, any issues, additions, and major scope changes.”
Visual reminders can be helpful as well. A new product, just introduced to the market last month, is the Polaroid Digital Instant Mobile Photo Printer –which could prove to be a useful tool to capture and record visual elements, as a reminder in journals. This printer fits easily into a pocket and allows you to print pictures instantly from a cellphone with a Bluetooth connection or from a digital camera with a USB cable. The printer does not require any ink, as it utilizes a special brand of paper. It prints out a two x three-inch photo with an adhesive backing. This sticker, placed in a journal as a reminder, with logistical notes, serves as a highlight to be noted in a post-conference history for future events.
Elfie Siemens, CMP, director, conference services, The Fairmont Winnipeg has another on-site recommendation. “Get meal numbers and guest room pickup daily from the conference services manager and keep it on file for preparation of the report. Include the actual number guaranteed, number served, and number paid for.”
An in-house summary for future reference, and an executive summary for a client will naturally contain different information. An event planner will compile a report that will help them when working on future business with their client and give them insight on a particular property, supplier, or product for future events.
“After every program, ESI conducts an internal review with everyone that has ‘touched’ the programme – from sales planning to operations, to final reconciliation. At this time, we review the entire process, keeping in mind how we could improve it for the next time,” says Richards. We also capture any VIP information that we uncovered during the programme – such as special SUV preference or dietary preferences. This is confidential, but is kept for all future programmes.”
For her internal records, Massicotte likes to keep “samples of materials used; best practice templates, forms and processes; contracts; critical paths; final meeting specifications; challenges; when decisions were made by executive; and changes.”
A client’s post conference report should be prepared as an executive summary. Remember they will likely be preparing their own internal post conference report as well with confidential information that the event planning company will not be privy to. Your report will act as a supplement to theirs. Massicotte says, “Keep the report clear, concise and easy to duplicate or share with a client’s stakeholders. It is essential to ask the client what their stakeholders will want to see in the report to ensure that the data and documentation are captured from the beginning. Ensure that there is backup for all financial information.”
For external use it is only essential to write an executive summary on the outcomes of the objectives and highlights of the programme. Keep the communication simple and include visual accents like graphs and photos. If further information is required for a specific audience like a supplier, detail that information out separately and outline specifics to them with clear actions for future programmes.
When preparing a client’s summary, Richards suggests, “Always start with the programme’s key objectives to ensure they were achieved. Bring the contracted amount and final billing in a comparison chart. We distribute by hand or by e-mail the approved programme survey immediately following the event. ESI summarizes all surveys and records any key comments. Clients appreciate that we do this for them on their behalf.”
You will want to hold an in-house post-conference review in order to make sure that all essential elements for the event history have been captured.
“For internal presentations, it is essential to have a open review of what worked, what didn’t, and actions to move forward,” says Massicotte. “This should include the full internal planning team and on-site team. Keep the review very structured and focused on the topic during the meeting. Keep the team action focused and consider how every key element affects the next.” Richards says an internal post-conference review should be “kept concise and within a key time frame. One hour maximum.”
CLIENT PRESENTATION TIPS
For Massicotte, client post-conference presentations are “very programme-specific. For a large conference, sales meeting or incentive programmes, you may do a personal presentation; for a small meeting, you may just need the hard copy with a solid executive summary to review the contents. It is important to define the expectations upfront with the client at the beginning of the programme to ensure that the final delivery of the report meets their expectations. The final report presentation can also be used as an opportunity to close future business and/or develop the relationship. Remember that presentation is critical. Ensure that there are visuals in both, that it’s grammatically correct, includes their brand and yours, and most importantly demonstrates the final outcomes of the strategic objectives.”
The report should be presented at the same time as the financials are closed off. It’s important to keep in mind that the report is a business document and should be written and presented as if the CEO will see it. Therefore, keep narrative comments to a minimum, do not defend or judge actions – just communicate the results. “Celebrate the programme’s successes in the report and communicate actions for any challenges or future opportunities. If the information or comment cannot be backed up, it should not be in the report,” says Massicotte.
“We hold all of our post programme meetings in person with the key stakeholders,” says Richards. “It’s important for everyone to be there so that discussion can occur and future considerations be noted. It is best to hold the postmortem as soon after the event as possible. If the final reconciliation is held up, we do this separately. Ideally the post report has to occur within two weeks
of the programme.”
“It has better impact, I think, if it can be done in person,” says Siemens, “but often an organizing committee is in different cities, so hard copy works just as well, then you can keep it on file for the next event.” A post-conference summary is an important planning tool for both the client and the event organizer. If the event produces outstanding results, the post-conference summary can also pave the way for increased budgets and expanded event programmes as well.
A post-conference report is a valuable part of the event process – that needs to begin right at the initial planning stages to fully realize its potential.
CONFERENCE SUPPORT CHECKLIST
- Proposed event objectives
- Prioritize, keeping in mind past, present and future objectives
- Critique them as to how they will help you meet specific objectives
- Date of travel
- Actual number of participants
- Guest profile/demographics
- Gateway cities (if air travel was involved)
- Total airfare spent
- Total number of participants that required air transportation
- Average air cost per person
- Guestroom breakdown, e.g. how many suites, how many single/king guestrooms, how many double guestrooms (shared two-bed accommodation) and room rates
- Total accommodation costs
- Meeting room spending and meeting room charges
- Audiovisual spending
- Total food spending
- Total beverage spending
- Total group activities spending
- Total entertainment spending
- Total spending (including expense reports related to the event)
- Total cost per person
- Company objectives going in
- Company objectives met
- Executive history, success summary
— Judy Allen is the author of the best-selling Event Planning series of books (Wiley).