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The end is the beginning: Next steps when a meeting is over

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You thought you were finished, but the work has just begun . . . for the next one.

The quintessential mark of professional meeting planning is the ability to facilitate continuous improvement. If you don’t think of the next one NOW, it will be too late. The longer you wait to start planning the next event or conference, the less opportunity you have to improve it.

We just concluded organizing the largest MS meeting in the world. Close to 9,000 MS specialists, researchers, clinicians, advocates and allied health professionals from 92 countries convened in Boston in mid-September.

The wrap up involves not only making sure we pay all the bills and collect all outstanding receivables, but also making time to reflect on and document the success and lessons learned from the meeting to position the organization for greater success in its future meetings.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you conclude your meeting.

Hold a debrief. Find out how each member of your core team felt about what just transpired. Review stats of demographics and responses in attendee surveys. Meet with your vendors and reflect on each aspect of the meeting planning. Share the results with the leadership. Ask your committee members what they say were valuable lessons learned and what were worth repeating. Between the various stakeholders’ comments, you’ll see a pattern of laudable aspects and not-so-ideal scenarios that may have taken place on the show floor. Plan to repeat aspects of the meeting planning that worked, re-strategize and re-think clunky processes or services.

Document. Once you know what’s replicable and what needs to be changed, write a memo outlining the recommended changes. Keep photos of the rooms to help you remember set-ups. Record data of usage of services (Wi-Fi, web clicks, access views) and specs of technical requirements. Consider writing three report levels: one for sharing to anyone who asks; one for the board of directors with outlined suggestions; and another for the staff with the nitty gritty details to help in future planning, vendor hire, contracting and negotiations.

Celebrate. Have you written personal thank you notes to key team members and vendors? Leave voice mails of thanks for that special touch. Throw a get-together with staff and vendors, if they’re local, to tell them how much they were appreciated. Share photos of the events among staff to reminisce the outstanding work that everyone just did. Write letters of recommendation to vendors’ staff who did an outstanding job.

Purge. Go through your network and paper files and remove doubles of draft copies. Save the final version of any print material. Delete unnecessary emails. Sort emails and save only problem-solving or communication threads where decisions were made. Label the inboxes and file away.

Rest. When everything is finished, take time off to recharge. Shut down your phone and don’t check emails. When you come back to the office — your energies will be renewed. You will feel more confident. When you have everything recorded, you won’t need to remember how you want to execute the meeting next time because you’ve already thought about it. You will have more excitement for the next one and the cycle of excellence continues.

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