The Right Data Can Justify ROE in the Face of Increased Meeting Budgets

January 31, 2023 Array Team

By Michael Varlotta, Principle MLVII Associates, and Ryan Mazon, Senior Vice President of Business Development for Array

As planners continue to produce in-person life sciences meetings for eager attendees, they are spending significantly more on these programs than they did pre-COVID. On average, there has been a 20 percent price increase in food and beverage, lodging, travel, A/V and speaker fees. With higher costs in these essential products and services, there is little opportunity to hold a less expensive in-person meeting without sacrificing quality in a way attendees – and stakeholders—are likely to notice. However, by planning for engagement that leads to actionable insights, meeting planners can deliver more impactful meetings, demonstrate the return on education (ROE) that justifies their budgets, and continually improve meetings as part of an overall organizational strategy.

With costs being fairly uniform within each industry, there’s not much planners can do to save money. While they can change airlines or book 14 days out to try to improve airfare, shop around for discounted hotels (striving for the same quality) and look at their rental car contracts, costs have gone up so much that these strategies will make little difference. Additionally, the speaker’s fee for service runs 50 to 60 percent of the total cost of a meeting and it’s wise to expect these to go up in keeping with inflation.

One way to significantly reduce overall meeting cost is to move the program to a virtual format. In 2022, companies reported roughly 30 to 40 percent of their meetings were virtual. The reason for this ranges from convenience for speakers and attendees to pandemic restrictions or concerns. These can be an effective means for reducing costs such as airfare, hotel, ground transportation and food, none of which are needed without people in the room. And, while the speaker still receives a fee, it is usually lower than in-person fees because there is a lower time commitment and no out-of-pocket reimbursement.

However, it’s important to note that virtual meetings must be well-thought-out and offer the same level of interaction, engagement and knowledge transfer as in-person meetings. Otherwise, savings could come at the cost of ROE. When holding a virtual meeting, it’s important to use tools to engage the audience as well as measure the educational impact of the program overall. This includes benchmark polling at the start of the program, the opportunity for all attendees to ask questions, polls at the right time and place, and post-program surveys that ascertain, for example, if you proved what the attendees wanted, whether the speaker was good, if they now know who to enroll in a study, or believe in product safety, etc. With strategic pre-event planning, the information collected during a virtual meeting can demonstrate knowledge retention that shows you didn’t sacrifice value for cost.

With roughly a third of meetings being conducted virtually, companies are doing between 60 and 70 percent of their meetings live and there’s no reason to believe this ratio will change. This means up to 70 percent of all programs have significantly higher costs associated with them and will continue to through 2023. The challenge to meeting professionals, then, is that they’re being urged to deliver live events, their budgets are increasing, and they must substantiate the higher costs.

Data is critical to substantiating these costs and improving ROE in the future. The right meeting data enables a planner to ask for the 20 to 30 percent increase in budget while saying, “I know I’ll be able to pay back that percentage in an increased revenue way because here’s what the data shows me.” Following an event, if a meeting organizer can let stakeholders know that 98 percent of the people that were in their training are going to do it right, that was worth the dollars spent.

While meeting planners all collect data at their events, they do so to varying degrees depending on the technology they use. Some only collect demographic information indicating who was in the room. Depending on the stakeholder, this may be sufficient. If you’re holding a meeting to update training, it might be enough to know that everyone who needed to attend did. However, if you need to demonstrate that attendees left with accurate information about your product, knew how to use it safely and could communicate that to others, you need more information.

For example, Array collects many different pieces of data from every meeting, right down to the individual level. This includes not only answers to individual questions, but what questions they asked, notes they took and slides they saved. This means it’s easy to confirm if any one attendee correctly answered important questions about a drug’s usage or a potential study participant profile, for instance. This becomes most valuable when looked at in the inverse: Who answered the question wrong?

To really maximize the value of polling, it’s important to identify during planning what the most important content is going to be during the meeting. What is the must-know takeaway for attendees? Questions that ascertain this can then be planned into engagement tools during the meeting and data collected. There’s an opportunity for dynamic follow-up if a speaker and/or organizers can identify who the people are who still haven’t reached the level of knowledge needed before they leave the room. With a well-placed and crafted poll, for example, you can test audience knowledge of a key point. The results of that poll may show that 92 percent of the audience understood the content that was presented and answered correctly. What’s important, then, isn’t the 92 percent. The important fact is that 8 percent of attendees still sitting in the room got it wrong. By knowing there is this discrepancy in educational retention, a speaker can circle back on a topic to try to improve that understanding.

Imagine being able to report back to stakeholders that 92 percent of the audience understood and answered questions about critical educational messages correctly – and that measures were taken to make sure the people who were still confused were addressed before the meeting ended. That’s achieving an improved educational impact. However, the most value then comes from taking information gathered across several meetings to improve on subsequent programs. If, for example, you see a trend in attendees misunderstanding a key piece of information when it is presented a certain way, but answering correctly after it is reframed, the content could be edited to cater to what seems to be the best presentation of that topic. Knowing exactly how well attendees gained knowledge from each meeting, and how to improve future meetings, not only justifies the current budgets but creates a greater standard for value going forward.

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