How do you ensure your conference delivers value for your people and the business?
theGrogroup get involved in running conferences, as speakers and as organisers, and over the last 10 years we have brought more than 20,000 people together at different events. There are a number of key essentials that you need to bear in mind if you are going to get the most out of your event. So if you’re planning your 2017 conference here are our top 10 tips:
1 Define the purpose
Many organisations when asked this question, simply say “…we want to bring everybody together and bring them up to speed…” This simply is not enough. If they were up to speed what would you want them to do? Which of your people do you feel don’t know the direction of travel and how could they improve if they did?
Define a clear purpose for your event that makes every activity, presentation and keynote message focused with laser precision.
2 Engage your audience
If you review your timetable and can see a series of presentations, no matter how exciting, or focused, we all know, ultimately they are just presentations. And your audience will be sitting there typing away on their phones doing nothing but listening. You must engage your group.
Short presentations are great but this is such a great opportunity for your speakers to work the audience and get them to participate. What did they think? Rubbish? Brilliant? What did the presentation miss? What would they want to see happen as a result of a change and movement in direction?
Work out how you can collate the views of the audience either with roving mics, or questions on postcards or using the sli.do app (see more below) and draw in responses so you can act on them afterwards.
3 Make it relevant to the audience
We hosted a large conference in December with 250 managers and partners from one of the country’s leading accountancy practices. As part of the event The HR director ran a 20 minute presentation on the results from the engagement survey. This was fascinating for the audience but what made it so successful was the subsequent 30 minute workshop where each table was involved and engaged in creating solutions for the problems identified as part of the survey.
If you don’t know about sli.do – a fantastic piece of software, then please go to the website and take the tutorial. No we don’t get commission but it simply is the very best way to facilitate a room full of people posting questions, which you can moderate, live, and then vote on questions and all solutions that the audience post. A very simple and very effective tool that can immediately engage the entire audience who are given permission to get out their phones and simply log onto a website. Bullet-proof.
We have seen many away day events and partner offsites delivered, that create a mountain of flipcharts, paperwork, creative ideas lists, project plans etc. All of which gather dust over the subsequent 11 months before once again finding traction at the following year’s event when people realise nothing has been done and it should still be on the agenda.
The power of focus is absolutely paramount. Far better to focus on very few items on your agenda but insure that the real effort is put into following up over the subsequent weeks and months. That way you can return after three or four months and get back to the business summarising the results of all the hard work that has been done after solutions was suggested at the offsite.
5 Give me a break!
Some of the best events that we have facilitated occurred when organisers were open to the idea of allowing their teams longer for lunch and coffee. In practical terms shifting a couple of hundred people out for a coffee break means it is impossible to do this in 15 minutes. But even if you have a smaller group, it is essential you give them a good long break because, apart from many needing to answer the inevitable emails, it is the only time that people can take an opportunity to network with their colleagues and people they see less frequently.
90 minutes for lunch will pay dividends.
Is it worth organising the seating plans? Every. Single. Time.
For most organisations that work within functional teams there is inevitably going to be a silo mentality. Few professional service firms have integrated their service lines to provide their clients with a seamless service that partners are instinctively and immediately responsive to a client’s desire to resolve a broad range of issues. In general people rarely are cognisant of what the firm can offer or how to offer it effectively.
To facilitate this it is always valuable to mix up the teams, geographic locations and seniority across your conference tables and to manage this process over the time that you run your offsite. The same applies for any evening function such as dinner as it is a great opportunity to get to meet people you don’t know. Ask us about “Network Bingo” – an effective way to ensure your delegates leave understanding how to probe their clients effectively about service lines with which they are less familiar.
Business leaders tend to believe that a timetable should be shared out between them and they ought to be presenting a ‘top down’ tell session, that heralds lofty ideas such as strategy and the inevitable financial review. It is rare that the audience actually crave that information.
Here is an opportunity to get the more junior, aspirational and bright team members to put together different presentations which they believe are important to the growth of the business and more importantly, to the firm’s clients. One firm had recently created a cyber crime division and the conference was a superb opportunity, with every manager and partner in the room to go out, introduce themselves and the nature of the challenges and unashamedly sell their services so that the entire audience would be able to have meaningful discussions with their own clients and mitigate future risks.
It’s well worth engaging with the project teams within the business some months before a conference deadline so that an update can be given at the event. And remember it’s not all about the partners, so we ensure you include the manager staff grades too so that they have a greater degree of engagement and can be heard.
8 What about clients?
Consider inviting clients along to give their perspective on the service provided. It’s controversial. It’s risky. But it will make your audience sit back and think 10 times more than the very best client service professional saying how important it is to do X or Y when you’re dealing with clients. Nothing better than having a client on the stage to explain why they chose your firm or indeed why they chose not to use your competition.
Our best experience of this was when the client said from the stage, “… what most impressed us about your firm was that when we invited the proposal team for lunch you graciously accepted and we were able to learn a little more about everyone that would be working with us. The competition dismissed the more junior staff and we only met the partners. That told us everything we needed to know about their ‘joined up thinking, partner led service and teamwork!”
Presenting in front of the whole firm, or your management team is very different from a Monday morning seminar or at events that you may attend locally. For this reason it is absolutely critical that each speaker has rehearsed their session. We insist that we run through any of the presentations of significance so that the speaker is absolutely confident in the way they’re going to deliver the key messages and also that the balance of style is used throughout their talk to ensure the audience remains engaged and attentive.
10 Consider using a host to facilitate
We are often told that the atmosphere changes when a conference of any size is hosted, that instead of the slightly haphazard, rough and ready feel when everything is homegrown, suddenly people realise they are at a special event! Something of importance, where simply because an unknown stranger is now announcing speakers to the stage, there must be a greater degree of attention paid to all the key messages. There is no rational reason for this, but it is unquestionably true.
Clearly we would have to say this! One of the most important roles of such a host is not only to introduce the speakers, understand the purpose of the events and promote key messages by using hooks from various sessions throughout the day but also to encourage and coach all the speakers and ensure the material is the best it can be to deliver the required messages.
Get in touch if you would like to pick our brains and help you deliver a powerful and effective event for your team or offsite for your management group.
Call us on 01892 610060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org