Everything You Always Wanted to Know about ROI

Do clients ask for better measurement of Return on Investment for meetings and events? Do you know exactly what that means, what kind of evaluation data they need to see to be happy and for you to become their hero?

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Elling, well, welcome to our studio.

Thank you.

It's the FRESH conference, here in Belgium.

So, that's why you are here, live, in our studio.

Absolutely. I came to the first FRESH conference, in 2009, I think. In Frankfurt. It was called The Meeting Content conference then. I've been every year, since then. It's one of the highlights of my professional calendar. And I always come away with something exciting. Something totally new for me. Something I hadn't thought about before. It's my annual great source of inspiration.

It's fresh, you would say, then.

Yes, it's absolutely fresh, it's absolutely fresh.

Okay, you are here to talk on FRESH, about ROI. That's, of course, why you are famous. In the meeting event industry.

ROI is the thing we all talk about. And we think we know a lot about. But when it comes to the point, we need to prove ROI of our events, we aren't capable.

Yes, and people define ROI in different ways.

Then the problem starts.

But strictly speaking ROI is a money measure. It's like: I put a euro in the bank in January. And if I get one Euro back in December, I had no profits. So, that's zero ROI. If I get two Euro back, it's a 100% ROI.

Same as your event. You invest time and money. Time is money. And you're looking for a profit, if you're a corporation.

But then, in our common talking about measurement, we use the word ROI to mean just something of value. Not necessary money value. And there's this confusion, maybe. Or different terms.

Some people talk about ROO. Return On Objectives. I'm not particularly fond of the acronym. But it's much more about measuring the business value. And you can measure it in many different ways. You shouldn't be too fixed on this money measure. It's absolutely not the only thing that will tell you and your meeting owners...

Whether the meeting is successful.

Whether it was successful or not, yes.

But I think we're over-focusing on this monetary measure.

Okay, what measures can then be a good example?

Well, first of all, in order for a meeting to create value for any stakeholder, the participants need to go out of that room and do something they would otherwise not have done. So, they can get inspired and educated. And they learn new things. But if they go back into their office and just carry on as if that hadn't happened. There's no way they're going to create value for you. As a stakeholder, as a sponsor, or a meeting owner.

So, if you can measure change in behaviour, after the meeting, then that's a very good indicator. If people go away from the meeting and they send you a request for proposal. Or they invite you to come and present your product to their decision makers. Or they go away from the medical conference and they actually practice the new methods, that they learned at the medical congress.

If you have that proof of behaviour, usually you know what follows afterwards. Then, at that point, you usually know, whether this was a good investment or not. You don't know if it was a 50% ROI, or 500% ROI. But most of the time, that doesn't matter.


So, you want to measure a lot of things. But changing behaviour is maybe the most important.

Okay, but if you want to change behaviour, you need to know what the behaviour was, before the event.


You need to know what it is after the event.


And then measure the difference.


But how do you do that?

Well, measuring behavioural change is easy. You just ask people. I mean: you go back...

You can't do it straight afterwards. Straight after the event. Because you need to give them some time to behave. But, very often, you can go back to them You know, a few weeks later. A couple of months later. And you say: have you done the following things? Or if it's a corporate event...

Maybe it's a product launch, or a team building, or a channel event, Then your sales force will be talking to these people afterwards, anyway. And they can report back whether they've actually done, what you wanted them to do. Getting the data is never the problem.

Okay, I always thought...

No, getting the data is never the problem. The problem is: to find the right, measurable, objectives.

Setting the objectives is like 80% of the measurement job. I mean, you can't measure, if you don't have objectives. That's obvious. You don't even know what data to collect, if you don't have objectives to measure against. And once you have those objectives, then you can always get the data, trust me. And a lot of data, you can simply get, with sufficient level of accuracy, from asking participants. Asking other people involved in organizing the event. That's easy.

The hard thing is to know, you know, exactly what questions to ask them. What data to collect. And that's where I would say, the behaviour data is the most important. And of course, when you then set your desired behaviour objectives for the event, whatever event it is, you have, as you say, you have to ask yourself: well, why are they not doing that already.

You know, I can't take them through an event, which will make them do that.

Unless I understand, why they aren't doing it already. I mean: is it a lack of motivation? Or is it an attitude? Or is it a lack of knowledge? Or skills, or information?

So, once I know what behaviour I want as a result, and I know why my target participants don't do it already, I can start designing my event. And then I just take them through a series of experiences, which is what events are, to foster that desired behaviour. I work on their attitudes and their knowledge and empowerment. And whatever it takes.

The funny thing, Elling, is: it sounds so logical.

It is, it’s common sense.

And yet, almost all events aren't organized that way. Most events are organized: oh, we need to drive sales. Oh, let's do an event and have the sales manager do a speech. And then we do more sales.

Yes, it's absolutely right. I'm just speaking common sense. There's no rocket science here. And it does mystify me why all events are not organized that way.

But I've come to realize that we're talking about a change in mindset. That we're changing the mindset of people, the mindset of an industry. Or of a profession, of meeting professionals. And changing mindsets is very hard. It takes generations.

You should do an event for that.

Well, maybe, yes.

How to change people's mindsets?

You can measure it.

And in a way, the biggest problem is not the mindset of the event professionals. They really want to move forward and be more professional in their job.

The paradox is that many of their clients, the companies for whom they organize events, they're afraid to do something differently. Sometimes they're afraid of being measured. In case the measurement is not good.

But I say: don't worry. If you plan it with your objectives first, the result will be good.

But again, it's old habits. We're changing the mindset of management, when it comes to accountability. I mean: everything a company spends money on, management will check if there's return on investment. But somehow events travel under the radar.

The ROI-mindset means, you sort of start the process, by thinking: what's the connection to the bottom line? And then work backwards. From real value. Backwards, backwards, backwards.

Until you end up with: who do we need to have in the room? You know, our target participants. It's a different mindset. Even in its simplicity. And changing mindsets just takes a lot of time.


Maybe to conclude with: do you have, because examples always work, do you have an example, of what you think is the best example you know, on how to include ROI, in a good way, in an event?

Oh, many examples, because of what I do. I coach a lot of people. I train a lot of people. So, it's hard to pick a specific one. But I think the example...

So, I'll answer it a little bit more general.

When you have an event and you start the planning process. Before you do anything else. Don't think about speakers or venues or anything.

You start the planning process, by setting the objectives.

Who do we need to have in the audience? What do we aim for, in terms of a good learning environment? Good hospitality? You know, making it worthwhile for participants? What are our behaviour objectives? How do behaviour objectives connect to our bottom line?

If you can do that process really well, in the beginning, you may even write the questions, that you're going to ask the audience afterwards. Before you do anything else.

And then I go to you, you're my meeting designer. And I say: can you design me something which will give me five out of five, on all these questions, from participants afterwards.

So, any event which is planned that way, that you're absolutely clear, exactly what we're going to achieve. And you design to achieve exactly that and nothing else. Then it will be a good event. You know?

So, it's an attitude and it's a little bit of discipline.

I think it was Alice in Wonderland, or maybe it wasn't, who said: you know, if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else. So, you need to find out exactly where you're going, first. And you need to have those precise and measurable objectives. For the target participants. For the learning environment, you know, the principles you're going to apply. To make the speakers interact effectively with the participants. How you're going to excite them and get the adrenalin and the oxytocin and the endorphins flowing in their bodies.

You need excitement. That's the glue of learning. So, you need to plan for that. Set objectives for that. Measure that you did that. And then you won't be surprised, if you have a good learning environment, with the right people, that you've actually changed their attitude. They've bonded with people, who can support them afterwards. And then you measure learning. You measure behaviour as a result of the learning experience. And you're not surprised when they do, what you want them to do. Because you've already proven, that they changed the attitude that it required.

So, if you can plan that sequence, right from the start, your event will be successful, almost by definition. You know it before you even start. If we just now execute well. And we know how to do that. We've designed a sequence of experiences for our participants. And we have reason to be quite confident, that it, you know, the end result will give us the ROI.

Okay Elling, thank you very much for coming over here, live in our studio.

Thank you for inviting me.

And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.