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Mr. Salisbury

Group Meetings

Branding Via Events & Group Meetings

By Ralph Salisbury, Senior Vice President, Impact Enterprises, Inc.

After providing 'creature comforts', conveniences, and an impressive selection of nutritious foods in order to increase their competitive edge in the event and group meeting business, hotels and event planners now find themselves even more challenged to stay competitive. These 'creature comforts' are important in order to be in the competition, but today are not enough to gain a competitive edge; these do help to make attendees comfortable, but comfort has become expected, it is now a standard that is only noticed if it is missing. The competitive edge sought by hoteliers is gained through increased brand recognition which requires lasting or "impactful memory".

Hoteliers now need to look beyond creature comforts and 'invest' in the psychology or consciousness of their guests and meeting attendees. Understanding that a meeting's true (long term) success is determined by valuable knowledge gained and retained by attendees should direct investment into research that may determine what will help maximize this. The goal is to create "impactful memory", a memorable experience, by ensuring both the physical setting and atmosphere provide opportunity to maximize the attendees ability to focus on the essence of the meeting; to gain knowledge and hold on to it.

It is a given that the sponsor of the meeting and the 'presenter' are responsible for the value of the knowledge; the hotel provides an environment that will help to enable absorption of the knowledge offered, resulting in a contribution to that unique experience that leads to lasting memory.

"Offering these unique meetings and events experiences is really how we can differentiate ourselves (from) other like-minded hotels," says Paul Whetsell, president and chief executive officer of Loews Hotels & Resorts. So what is this "environment" that makes a meaningful contribution? The key word here is meaningful; an environment that allows for an 'emotional connection'. Emotions are personal and can be powerful memory generators that effect 'impactful memory'.

So memory becomes impactful when an emotional or personal connection to an event can be made, and it is this type of connection that event planners need to aim for. It can be attained when attendees acknowledge not only the comfortable physical surroundings and amenities provided, but acknowledge the value of the meeting itself; valuable information had been gained and held. This valuable information is a personal benefit that leads to a personal connection to the event and brand. It is however, the combination of 'acknowledgements' that are important; acknowledgement of comfort, amenities, and knowledge gained.

So how do hotels and event planners reach their wished-for goal of generating impactful memory that they believe may lead to brand recognition which puts them in the forefront for capturing more event business? Well, maybe they should consider using what already exists in their corporate culture, their Social Consciousness / Corporate Responsibility initiatives. These are real, meaningful, important, and are put into place for several reasons, one of which is to generate business; management may not want to admit to this one reason, however, socially conscious initiatives are viewed most positively by today's business and pleasure travelers who now look for 'responsible' hotels/resorts.

This being said, the other reasons for responsible initiatives such as staff participation and moral, conservation efforts, a humanity cause, have become equally important and personally meaningful to both staff and management; these encourage a positive attitude during work and this positive attitude is very much noticed and enjoyed by guests and event attendees. The underlying benefits of social consciousness initiatives can be most rewarding. See: CSR In The Hospitality Industry.

The potential for corporate / social responsibility initiatives to result in creating that personal connection sought between attendees and hotel is considerable but must be planned for carefully. A tactful approach to appealing to the attendees sense of fairness, to their humanity, must be done implicitly; blatant statements about who you (hotel property) are, and what 'great' things you do would be counter-productive in today's socially conscious business environment. Your goal is to subtlety, in a highly sensitive manner, bring to mind positive thoughts for the attendee which can contribute to a relaxed comfortable frame of mind even before he/she enters the meeting room. If properly handled, these efforts will also have a positive impact on your other guests.

These efforts must continue into the meeting room. What you want to accomplish is to include in their meeting mindset some positive heart. Positive heart, their sense of humanity, can contribute to dismissing a mindset that generates preconceived ideas about the meeting. Too many attendees come to group meetings with preconceived ideas about the meeting, and these ideas can interfere with focus, and, therefore, loss of concepts and information that could be professionally and personally valuable. In addition to preconceived notions about meetings, attendees may have unconnected business or personal issues that will cause the same focus intrusion.

Planning a meeting room with ambiance that helps to dispel preconceived notions and creates a personal calm for the attendees will increase focus on the subject at hand. It is this increased focus that results in absorption of the concepts and potential benefits offered in the presentation, and becomes the acknowledgement of value required for impactful memory and that personal connection to the property that management aims for.

An aside: If management of the hotel / resort applied these same concepts to all public areas of the property, a personal connection to the brand from all guests, not just group meeting attendees, could develop. Being subtle and implicit in your approach to gain positive heart for your guests is the key.

One way of appealing to the attendees sense of fairness, their humanity, in a subtle manner can be accomplished through the use of images; images that have the potential to tactfully convey your message about socially conscious endeavors. These images should be incorporated into your public area decoration, and need to be subtle, implicit, and reflect 'accomplishment' not 'need'. These become a part of the common area décor and complement it using appropriate colors and image size. The images themselves need to be subtle regarding the endeavor, and need to be changed-out regularly; one particular image cannot be made a permanent part of the décor.

Large screen monitors with slowly rotating images, not videos and no sound, would also work in these common areas providing the images depict accomplishment in a very positive manner. When I refer to images, it must be understood that photographs must capture intent without obvious focus on an individual, team, animal, or other specific recipient of the initiative. The focus of the image must be on the success of a concept; specific recipients are incidental. Allowing guests or attendees to identify with a meaningful and 'successful' concept, not the specifics of the concept, will encourage a subtle diversion from an existing mindset. Specifics can be distracting, and tend to be short-lived, so the attendee's or guest's original mindset returns. A subtle diversion, no focus on specifics, can contribute to a sense of calm for attendees who may have arrived with a potentially distracting mindset; potentially distracting from the essence of the meeting at hand.

Do not lose sight of my model, the images displayed are not just pleasing to view, but subtly convey a positive 'worldly' message that the attendee can identify with on a personal level, and one that generates a feeling of 'positive heart'. This enables that calm that encourages a greater ability for focus and results in a higher level of 'gained and held' knowledge, which in turn helps with positive impactful memory and brand recognition.

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Most everyone today, from Baby Boomers (my generation) to Millennials have acquired knowledge about social responsibility, whether they are active participants or not is not important; it is the knowledge they possess that allows for an emotional connection at a particular moment. Millennials in particular, have become active voices in a variety of socially conscious challenges, and it is this generation that contributes an increasing number of participants to group meetings. See: Millennials Are Pushing B2B Companies Toward Greater Social Impact

The purpose of a group meeting is either to provide potentially valuable information or meaningful ideas, and most agendas offer both. But how much of this valuable information is lost due to distractions brought on by mindsets or preconceived notions about the meeting, or other personal issues? Attendees do arrive at meetings with a variety of notions about what to expect. Some may want to be there, others may be required to be there; whatever the reason may be, valuable information is available, and when this information is absorbed and retained, a positive experience has been achieved.

The hotel's subtle and successful depiction of its socially conscious endeavors needs to be followed by subtle references to the same by the presenter. It is fairly well documented that in order to accomplish the objective of the meeting, the attendee's attention must be captured at the beginning. This is not always an easy task for presenters; mindsets and preconceived notions, if not dismissed, will weaken focus on the presentation. Mount this challenge by bringing your attendees together on a meaningful note that is a unifying common thread, but one that is outside the intent of the meeting.

Such unifying threads bring your group together on a level it did not expect. The personal connection to this unanticipated yet meaningful note dispels mindsets or preconceived ideas because there is now a new focus on a personal level. Think about it; how many times have you been in situations/groups where (a) you may have been bored when someone addresses a concept or current event that you can identify with, and immediately your mindset changes, and the 'event' becomes a lasting memory. This is what happens when something unexpected occurs, it stimulates memory for that 'event'. Injecting levity at the beginning of group meetings used to be a popular means of grabbing attention, the problem with levity, although it captures attention, this attention span is short lived, allowing preconceived notions to resurface.

A better option is to tactfully 'appeal' to your audiences sense of fairness; to their humanity, to their personal wellbeing, and do so implicitly; relating it to an acknowledged and accepted universal concept or issue that they may be able to identify with on a personal level. Whether they have an interest in the 'concept' or not is not important; what is important is that they can identify with the concept which takes their focus off of a preconceived notion. Remember, all of this is to be done implicitly. Your attendees are more susceptible to innuendo than to an obvious attempt to 'capture' them; they expect an attempt to 'capture'.

The hospitality industry has taken on environmental responsibility as a major focus. This might be a good CSR initiative to incorporate in events and group meetings. See: Hotel & Management Company Green Pages . It contains a very impressive list of hotels actively pursuing a green agenda. You might ask why is there such emphasis put on green issues. The answer is an obvious one for 'business'; the public demands it.

Senior Vice President of Impact Enterprises, Inc., Mr. Salisbury has established a corporate responsibility program that includes a initiative that allows Impact’s staff to be active in ‘giving-back’. A degree in business from Syracuse University lead Mr. Salisbury to Wall Street, then onto his own business, and finally to Impact Enterprises, Inc. His credits include real estate investment for state and municipal pension funds, wind energy development, communications, and marketing and advertising. Volunteer activities have included the Yellow Ribbon Fund at Walter Reed Army Hospital, the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Nelson-Tebedo Research Clinic, and VA Medical Centers in Portland, OR and Bend, OR. Mr. Salisbury can be contacted at 845-988-1900 or rsalisbury@impactenterprises.com Please visit http://www.impactenterprises.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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