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Program Development
Program development is piecing together the content, agenda, and selected
formats into a design compatible with the meeting objectives. The degree
of involvement in planning and implementing the program, particularly the
business agenda, distinguishes the meeting manager from the facilitator. In
some organizations the meeting executive is instrumental in determining
content, but generally speaking, program subject matter is the responsibil-
ity of management or the program committee. Whatever the role, the PCO
provides professional counsel as an expert communicator, since, as previ-
ously stated, a meeting is essentially a medium for communication.
For those events, such as seminars and association conferences, wherein
a fee is charged, organizers have come to understand that content is the
vital ingredient. Attendees are seeking return on their investment of time
and money and that means they want more than one-way communication.
The time-honored paradigm of a speaker dispensing knowledge to a recep-
tive but static audience is giving way to innovative, interactive learning
methods and such radical models as participant-controlled content and
agenda. In this changing environment the event organizer plays a vital
The PCO orchestrates the program, much as the conductor would a
musical score, beginning with an attention-getting overture, proceeding
with links and bridges, appropriate crescendos for emphasis, and moments
of quiet and rest to ensure proper pacing. A cursory knowledge of stage
direction and an understanding of the skills of the playwright and musical
arranger are as valuable to program design as are the most esoteric disci-
plines of group dynamics, adult learning theory and behavioral science.
Only with the proper application of all these skills will the meeting pro-
gram achieve that critical pacing and smooth continuity which ensures a
receptive, involved audience and effective communication of the essential
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Clearly defined goals are essential to program design. Articulated by man-
agement, the meeting goals and objectives serve as master criteria against
which all elements are judged before acceptance of the program. Too often
program committees “shoehorn in” a speaker or an audiovisual presentation
based on personal taste rather than relevance. Meeting professionals’ roles
become that of devil’s advocates. They must eschew favoritism and personal
preference, stick by their convictions and advise the program designers to
evaluate all elements in terms of objectives. It takes considerable courage,
though, to explain to the chairman of the board why his annual message is
too long and does not scan.
Time Frame
Adequate planning time is a must for a program which is to reflect polish
and professionalism, particularly when complex elements such as electronic
media and video are involved. As programs become more sophisticated,
more lead time is needed. A typical timetable for program development is
illustrated farther on.
Before the first speaker is named or the first topic selected, the following fac-
tors must be validated:
z What are the program goals?
z Who will attend?
z What will they gain from this program?
z How much planning time is needed?
z How much program time is allocated?
To validate goals they must be measured according to the participants’
needs as well as those of the sponsors, e.g.:
To increase personal income by aggressively expanding prospect list
and acquainting prospects with our new products.
To increase sales by introducing sales force to new marketing sup-
port programs and sales tools.
Audience validation varies with the type of meeting and is directly
related to organizational goals. Thus the question of who will attend will
require a far different approach for an incentive meeting than, perhaps, a
54 Planning
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