Flying home last week, I happened to sit next to a woman who worked for a very large company and was returning after its large national conference. I asked her how it was. She rolled her eyes. "Same old, same old," she described. She elaborated that the speakers were mostly dull, lackluster. The topics... a few were new, but mostly refreshers. The setting... lovely. But Florida in July? Last year, same time... Arizona? Too hot to enjoy the outdoor surroundings. The highlight for her was the great conference gifts she received each year... (thank Goodness her promotional counselors were doing their job!)
But isn't that sad when the best part of an all expense paid trip to a luxury resort and learning experience with your peers was the imprinted gift?
And so I asked her more questions about the event. Did she receive a pre-conference survey asking her what she'd like to learn? "No," she responded. Were there dedicated times during the conference for her to learn from her peers, and openly share best practices? "Other than randomly at lunch or the awards banquet, NO," she replied. Were the presenters company employees or outside speakers? "A mix. The keynote was good, but most of the company speakers were clearly masters of their subjects, but poor or out-of-their-element presenters." Did you have fun? "Not during the sessions. A couple of funny moments, but otherwise, not really. We made our own fun after the sessions."
Little did she know was that I was on my way home from presenting at a sales meeting. One where the CEO - when planning the event - focused on the HOW, not just the WHAT. Wow delivery PLUS content. It made all the difference in the world to the attendees.
So I told my seatmate about the event I just facilitated. Where the company allowed me to poll the attendees on what they wanted to learn, about their goals for the meeting. And then design some of the meeting content around their needs. Several sessions were solely based on learning from each other... what works for them, situations they've encountered while in the trenches. There was time to get to know one another, in opening networking sessions with fun facts about each other, to must-attend breakfast and lunch gatherings, and even a group team cook-off competition. A theme that tied everything together. Fun and engagement were woven into every session... especially those which were the most technical and sensitive. And despite the fact that it was oppressively hot in Florida, the attendees didn't seem to mind a bit, even when they had to attend a networking session IN the pool, wrangling 300 rubber duck prospects using only pool noodles. They LOVED it. And didn't want to leave the pool, even with a thunderstorm approaching.
Yes, she seemed jealous. <GRIN.>
And so on the rest of my flight, I scribbled down these tips for anyone planning a corporate event or sales retreat, from 10 to 5000 attendees.
1. Poll your attendees. Ask them what they want to learn on the topics. And incorporate some of it into your program.
2. Know the ultimate goals for the meeting. Pick a theme to coincide with those goals. Then choose the promotional gifts that go along with them. It keeps everything you do more FOCUSED, and ultimately more memorable.
3. Hire dynamic, engaging speakers. If you must use folks in your own company, have them take a session in engaging presenting practices before they even begin planning their sessions. Great speakers know that it's not WHAT you do, it's HOW you do it!
4. Give attendees time to share their best practices with each other as a PART of the program. (It's what they want. And bonds them together like nothing else.)
5. Make it fun. Even the dry, boring topic sessions. It can be done. And if done well, it will be remembered far longer.
6. Strapped for resources on your own payroll? Keep you and your team focused on what you do best and hire a seasoned meeting planner and facilitator. They can anticipate every need, focus on the little details, keep everyone surprised and buzzing about the event, and add that wonderful creativity element that makes it so fun. Even rubber ducks! <WINK! WINK!>
I would be honored to help plan and facilitate your next event. In the meantime, best of luck in planning your upcoming meetings!
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Mary Ellen Sokalski
Diva of Direct Marketing.