The Conference Blueprint – Part 3; Event Outcomes

The Conference Blueprint – Part 3; Event Outcomes

Conference Blueprint Part 3; What do you want your delegates to THINK, FEEL and DO…

 

 

Ok, so we’ve locked down the objectives and allocated key roles and responsibilities.

 

We are in good shape. All we have to do now is to remember that we have an audience at this conference, and everything will be fine…

What are your desired outcomes?

We’ve all attended conferences, meetings and workshops where the venue was fantastic, the catering wonderful and the conference hall stunning and yet still come away thinking and feeling a bit, well, meh!

That is to say, underwhelmed, or even bored!

The temptation to use a conference as an opportunity to tell people everything whilst they are a captive audience is often too high. This is where the next section of the Conference Planning Blueprint can help.

By identifying in advance, what you want the audience to THINK, FEEL and DO then this can provide an easy reference point during the design and delivery process.

 

If a part of the conference is not helping to achieve one of these mindset shifts, then why are you doing it?

By agreeing what you want people to THINK, FEEL and DO, before, during and after the conference, you create agreed criteria on which to make key design decisions as well as a reference point for measuring the event’s success.

1. Helping people to THINK differently

Consider here how you can offer new interesting information or content. Be provocative in the material presented and give people time to consider, challenge and reflect on external perspectives or latest business insight.

When you are considering conveying important information or knowledge then don’t assume it needs to be a procession of presentations, and there are plenty of ways to keep the audience interested. Breakouts, pairs’ discussion, polling, Q&A and the most basic of interactions, asking for thoughts and opinions as you go.

 

2. Changing how people FEEL

If you’re bored during a conference, it’s normally because the designers haven’t really considered the effect of their content on the participants. It is important to consider what audiences want and need. In the theatre, actors and directors know to keep the audience interested and how to tap into their emotions.

If the performance isn’t engaging the audience, then it is ultimately self-indulgent and alienating. Audiences want to be engaged, entertained and kept ‘in’ it from beginning to end.

Consider a theatre production or film you still remember. It is likely to be because it grabbed you emotionally in some way.

To ensure that your audience are staying with you, you must involve them. It’s why in the tradition of the British Pantomime, the audience is asked all the time to help (oh no they’re not, oh yes they are…..let’s leave that there shall we).

Now, we are not asking you to ensure you have a magic lamp at your conference, or ask your leaders to dress up as Cinderella (although…..) but we are suggesting that if you want your messages to land and your conference to have lasting impact then consider how you want them to feel and how you can effectively introduce emotions into the agenda.

Creating shared experiences is one way of doing this in a conference setting. The same as in a pantomime, where the audience are brought together by their dislike of the villain, a conference can create opportunities for people to bond and build relationships.

3. What do you want people to DO?

Even if you have expertly conveyed new and provocative thinking and captured the emotions of the audience effectively, this may all still result in post-conference inaction if delegates are not adequately equipped.

What tools could be useful to take back to the day job? What skills might need to be developed in order to carry out the desired actions? What obstacles can you remove in order to make taking action easier?

The Conference Blueprint is purposely designed to ensure that you can’t capture hundreds of actions in this section! Be selective about the call to actions you agree on and challenge yourself and your stakeholders to ensure that these actions will be the ones that result in the shift you are wanting to achieve.

Why is documenting outcomes so important?

It’s essential to consider your audience because they are the ones who will be having to implement any changes that result from the conference.

Undoubtedly one of the conference’s objectives will be around a new initiative or mindset shift or behavioural change and only by considering your audience and their emotional and intellectual state, will you be able to ensure that they understand, appreciate and ultimately act on those objectives.

By using the Conference Blueprint to agree and document these outcomes then you are able to use them as the criteria on which to base agenda or timing decisions as well as measure the success of the conference post event.

It seems obvious to consider your audience doesn’t it, and yet we can so easily get caught up in the content, the theme, the speakers, and end up neglecting the most important component – the attendees. Don’t forget your audience. They are the ones who are going back after the conference and delivering all the things you want them to as a result of attending. They are your best bet for ensuring it was a success and they will be telling you in the feedback whether it was or not from their perspective.

And then, after it’s all finished and the planning and delivery is a faint memory, you can proudly shout out to yourself and anyone else listening, in true pantomime fashion, ‘IT’S BEHIND YOU!’.

Download the full Conference Planning Blueprint here…

If you want to tap into our conference planning expertise, then please do feel free to contact us here.

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Are you wanting to encourage employees to talk more openly and honestly? Our Conversation Cards activity is a fun, light-hearted way of getting people to open up. 



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The Conference Blueprint – Part 2; Roles and Partners

The Conference Blueprint – Part 2; Roles and Partners

Who owns the tracker owns the conference.

We look at how to build a solid conference with real meaning. Giving away our FREE conference blueprint.

In Part 1 of this Conference Blueprint series, we described how important it was to know why you are holding a conference and choosing and sticking to a super-objective.

In Part 2, we look at how to best ensure that what you plan will actually happen. As the old saying goes, there is ‘many a slip twixt cup and lip’. Or as we prefer to say, somewhat tongue-in-cheek as a conference approaches, what can possibly go wrong?

We all know that the answer is quite a lot but keeping it in mind is as good an insurance policy as any. Mmmm, insurance. Now there’s another thing – perhaps for another day.

The Core Design Team

The one thing most likely to create a successful outcome at your conference, is a tight design and execution team. Small, (4 or 5 maximum) with the decision-making authority and the recognition that they are ultimately accountable to the key sponsor or conference owner.

This team, although it will consult and communicate with a wide range of stakeholders and internal and external partners, is best served if the accountability rests firmly with them and that everyone recognizes their authority. We have all heard the somewhat derogatory ‘designed by committee’ when things don’t go well, but rather than overly complicated multiple layers of authority, making decision-making unwieldy, instead make sure the steering co is few in number and with a clear vested interest in the success of the event. It’s a great opportunity for inexperienced leaders to step up.

External Partners in Conferences

It isn’t advisable to produce large events without skilled partners and we have been invited to design and deliver conferences many times in the past where the opening conversation has started something like this. “We produced the whole thing internally last time …never again!”

This isn’t true for everyone and there is no doubting the richness of the conference experience when an in-house team creates and executes a fabulous conference, but by and large, trusted partners really can and do help.

Trusted is the key word here and whilst recognising that significant budgets are at play, don’t be tempted to micro-manage your partners, but instead place your trust in them and keep communication frequent and at a good level of detail. It pays to check and double check of course, but let that responsibility lie with the partner.

There are one or two watch outs here. Once you are comfortable with your choice of partners, be very clear when providing the brief.

Avoid cross-over. If an external partner and an internal function both think they are responsible for the afternoon session on day 2, well it’s going to take some time to sort out who is doing/creating/providing what. Mind you, better that than nobody being responsible at all.

Beware scope creep. It is very tempting for external companies to suggest themselves for additional services, when perhaps it isn’t their core offering. The phrase to listen out for is “We can do that as well if you like…” If it wasn’t part of the original discussions, there’s probably a good reason.

Although it was painful at the time, we are forever grateful for the advice from a CEO we have worked with for many years. He advised us, after a particularly huge event had over-stretched our capability, to make a list of what we don’t do, as well as what we do. It’s been very helpful on a number of occasions, especially when clients ask late in the process if we can ‘create a few slides’. We’ve learnt to say a kind but firm no to that one.

Lastly, on the partner front, don’t be tempted to bargain by playing partners off against each other. Although it may seem a reasonable negotiation tactic, it doesn’t help to build relationships over the long term. The very last thing you want is one or more partners feeling disenfranchised when you drop or replace their services in favour of another.

If it’s possible, when the negotiating and contractual matters are out of the way, bring all the partners together and brief them on the super-objective as well as the execution. In our experience, every team works best together if they know not just what they are doing but why. If food and beverage know what the producers are trying to achieve and why the facilitation or presentation team require changes in the usual routine, it helps if they have already built a working relationship.

Keeping the event organisation under control

And so on to The Master Tracker! Every team knows the one person who possesses zen-like understanding of spreadsheets (hint – in this instance it is not the author of this article) and every team needs that person.

Each partner organization will have their own specific ways of being able to report on what is ready, what is in-progress and what hasn’t yet started. They are also unlikely to be of much use to each other. When we work with our preferred production partner, MCL, for example, we feel comfortable that they have their complex technical documents covering every piece of staging/lighting/sound equipment etc., but if they show it to us, quite frankly it gives us a headache.

What we really need to know is that the frontline for the band is booked and fits their spec and that they can rehearse from 6pm. What each player wants to know is that everything they need is in its place.

A Purple Monster detailed running order shows the flow of the delegate experience and is a perfect facilitator’s guide to who is doing what when, but it isn’t useful for those in charge of logistics or for food and beverage. So, someone has to be able to track the big picture.

For each moving part of the conference, one individual should have the role of reporting its status and recording it on the master spreadsheet or tracker.

The logistics company are keeping it up to date with hotel rooms, transport, visas etc; internal supply chain are reporting on product displays; Purple Monster are liaising with executive assistants for rehearsal scheduling and an external agency has booked the dancing dog.

Okay, we must admit, we’ve never booked a dancing dog, but we live in hope.

The key factor is that someone, a special someone, must be that single point of accountability and know just how each and every moving part fits in and where it’s up to. It is, I’m afraid, one of the many thankless tasks of a conference. That said, any self-respecting conference would remember to thank them at the end.
Finally – there are two things we know to be absolutely true. Pretty much every conference we have ever played a part in follows these two strict rules.

1. Despite everything pointing to the contrary and no matter how many times the deadline is stressed to the presenters, the final power point slides will not be ready until … about 10 minutes before the start of the conference.

2. Nothing ever goes totally to plan, so you will need a contingency budget and a mindset that is always open to change. Always expect the unexpected.

Over the years we have had many things disrupt the perfectly planned conference. CEO running accidents, travel chaos, power-cuts, wet weather, hot weather, hot and wet weather and the delivery of a pop-up princess castle in error. There are many things that can disrupt your conference, but a tight team with committed and trusted partners can overcome …anything.

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Conference Blueprint – Part 1; Why even have a conference?

Conference Blueprint – Part 1; Why even have a conference?

The Conference Super-Objective

We look at how to build a solid conference with real meaning. Giving away our FREE conference blueprint.

As soon as the idea of a conference makes it onto an executive plan, it immediately triggers a series of questions. This prompts the owner or sponsor, to find an individual or group of people to supply the answers.

The list is not a short one and it can be overwhelming, especially if this is your first time and your conference has a lot of moving parts.

Where is it?
When is it?
Who is speaking?
What’s the budget?
How many attendees?
Which parts of the business?

And so on. That’s before we’ve even begun to consider content.

If somewhere in this picture is you, then read on, as we create a short Purple Monster series on The Conference Blueprint.

We’re going to prioritise the questions, first on the list, is one that sometimes seems to be forgotten and yet we believe it to be the most important. We call it the Super-Objective, but it might be more simply expressed as…

“Why are you having a conference?”

The term ‘Super-Objective’ is borrowed from Constantin Stanislavsky’s ‘An Actor Prepares’. The Russian theatre practitioner used it to describe a character’s through line, the one goal or objective that drives them through the whole play and is more important than any other motivation.

At the start of planning a conference, you need to know what it is. The challenge of course is finding out what it is in the first place and then aligning everyone else to it. However, be assured that the very best conferences are not a series of bits and pieces loosely tied together, but instead a carefully constructed journey that is heading towards that one goal.

One of the key challenges is that the moment you mention a conference, everybody wants a piece of it. There are many different reasons. Some see an opportunity to get their crucial project in front of everyone; others to make an impact with senior management; others because …well because they’ve been told to by someone else.

Whatever the reason, if you’re part of the organizing effort, expect folk to come out of the woodwork, right up to and including the day of the conference.

Chip and Dan Heath in their book ‘Made to Stick’ share a great story that examples this. When Jeff Hawkins led the Palm Pilot team, to ensure an elegant design and avoid ‘feature creep’, he carried around a piece of wood, exactly to size and when an engineer suggested a new feature that needed an additional port, he asked them where it would go on the already allocated space on his wooden block.

You might wish to do a similar thing with the conference plan in order to avoid ‘conference creep’ .

Sitting under the super objective are the other ideals you would like the conference to bring home. These ‘objectives’ should sit within your content. You want great content; well written, well prepared, well rehearsed and engaging.

Firstly, don’t have too much. If you drown the audience in content, they will remember none of it. If it’s just information you could have sent in an email, then you are not doing your delegates any favours.

Secondly, each objective must still lead to the Super-Objective. They are signposts on the way to the end goal. If it’s a new operating model, then ‘ways of working’ is a good fit and will still drive you in the right direction.

We had an example recently of a senior leader trying to shoe-horn a piece of content into the conference, where it didn’t belong. Although the topic was perfectly fine, it didn’t contribute to the Super-Objective. It was like watching a film be interrupted by the commercials, rather than a great bit of sub-plot adding to the narrative.

We’ll cover many other aspects of the conference blueprint as we progress this mini-series, but we wanted to finish with measurement. How do you know the conference has been a success? Well this is where the Super-Objective is very helpful.

Instead of sending out post-event surveys that prompt questions like:
Was the catering to your liking? Or
Did the guest speaker
a) Disappoint
b) Satisfy requirements or
c) Exceed expectations?, you can ask more open questions, yet specific.

“Do you know why we held the conference?”

“What difference has the conference made to your attitude and behaviour?”

If you have carefully planned what the delegate journey looks like and you can point to all the key moments in which the Super-Objective was hammered home with impact, then you can be confident that the delegates will respond in the way you would like them to.

The conference was worthwhile and of value.

Although surveys and word of mouth reporting are good indicators, what you really want to measure is the business impact. We’ll discuss in the next article the idea of what delegates might think feel and do, but as far as the conference through line is concerned, it must make a difference to business results in some way.

You may be looking for better engagement scores or better productivity; a shift in D&I thinking that results in more women in the boardroom; an increase in retention figures or simply more people phoning each other. Whatever you decide, having this clear goal/mission/Super-Objective will make a real difference and make it measurable.

 



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Getting people to really understand the bigger picture

Getting people to really understand the bigger picture

Getting people to really understand the bigger picture.

The summer holidays are well under way here in the UK, but the next academic year is already looming.
We’d like to take this opportunity to look back at some of our work from the last 12 months. A show and tell perhaps? An end of term review? You get the idea…

One of our high growth areas is the visual side of our business. It’s no surprise really, because a common challenge large organisation have is getting people to fully understand and engage with where the organisation is going.

Being able to show it all in one big picture is an attractive and engaging way to do just that.

So as you are sat reading this, watching the desks slowly empty for the summer, the out of offices being turned on, you may be pondering what 2019-20 will look like for you and your organisation. You could write a list of goals, set targets, send everyone an email asking them to do the same…But we all know that’s probably not going to do the trick…
especially as the majority of the workforce are currently swapping laptops for flip flops and trying to cram an oversized beach towel into their carry-on luggage…

So here, in true end of term awards assembly style, are our top three articles on how you can achieve employee understanding of the future state through the use of engaging strategic visuals. Recommended by us for a bit of summertime reading (before you finally make a start on the best seller you got for Christmas.)

First up, we explore the effective use of one central visual and how we build on that to create a really useful tool that makes your engagement efforts scalable….Conveniently entitled ‘Making your engagement efforts scalable’…some great content, but sadly no merit points for the title.

Second in our top three is a piece of creative writing about a carpet cleaner…no, seriously it is…and it is also about our experience of taking complex strategic information and simplifying it by using visuals, breaking down the complicated messages into simple easy to understand points.

And winning with our golden star award is our article from way back in April…

‘Do we know where we are going?! Bringing your organisations’ vision to life’ where we look at the power of visuals to not only bring the company vision to life but take everyone on that journey with you….

So if you are not on annual leave with your paper back novel, kindle or downloaded podcasts to listen to, then please sit back at your desk and enjoy these reads.

If you like the idea of collectively agreeing a future vision but you’re not sure how much people will speak up, then you need to dive into our ‘Powerful Conversations’ Series…

 

Unleash your conversation superpower!



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How powerful is purpose?

How powerful is purpose?

What do we mean by purpose? And how can we benefit from it?

In recent years there have been many examples of people with strong purpose effecting change. Ones that come to mind immediately include the Scottish Referendum, Brexit, the MeToo movement and the Florida Parkland School students, lobbying for changes to gun laws in the US. Whether you agree with their purpose or not, it is impossible not to notice the results.

 

 

 

 

Perhaps the most powerful current example is the single-minded campaigning of Greta Thunberg for climate change, who surely epitomises what a clear purpose can achieve. Her recent tweets show the focus on her cause.

Her purpose is clear, and it overrides every other consideration in her mind. It’s been effective enough to convince two governments to date, to declare a state of climate emergency. Not bad for a 16 year-old student.

Purpose is referenced in business all the time. It’s clear that many institutional investors are no longer satisfied with organizations having the sole purpose of a financial return to shareholders, especially at the expense of the environment. Your purpose also must be a force for good in society in some way, however small. Social media has created a powerful lobby and company’s intentions and actions are constantly being scrutinized, so apart from anything else, it makes economic sense to closely question the purpose of your organization.

At a recent conference we had the opportunity to listen to Haley Rushing from the The Purpose Institute – the acknowledged leaders in the field of corporate purpose. She shared the South West Airlines case study, amongst many others, and why the purpose of giving people ‘the freedom to fly’ is so much more powerful than being a low-cost airline.

Real purpose has social impact at heart.

 

 

It also helps that the language is thoughtful and powerful – the phrase the late, lamented charismatic leader Herb Kelleher used was “democratize the skies”. Poetic purpose!

Whilst hoping that you may already have found some of this article interesting, we can hear you shouting “GREAT. WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH ME??!!” Fair enough. We hear you.

Whilst it’s possible for anyone to influence the company’s greater purpose, it’s unlikely to be at the top of your to do list today. But whatever project, programme or activity you are undertaking, it really is worth starting with the purpose. Ask yourself two simple questions.

1. Is there a clear purpose to the work we are undertaking?

2. Is there a social benefit beyond the economic or organizational goal?

This doesn’t have to be a planet-saving Thunberg level benefit, but is it going to help people in some way? Does it go beyond economic benefit, and will it bear scrutiny if at a later point someone asks why money and time was being spent on it?

More often than not, the origin of projects and programmes are lost somewhere in the establishing of steering groups, streams of work and levels of governance. We have been charged with engaging hundreds of people in change programmes in the past and when we asked the simple question, ‘Why are you doing this? What’s the purpose?’, there really wasn’t a simple answer.

In one particularly bad example, we declined to continue working on a project, because the real answer to the question was ‘To paper over the cracks and make it look like we’re listening’. We’re not purpose experts, but like most humans, we can smell a rat.

After working with Haley, we were very taken with the idea of re-examining our purpose, as we have done consistently over the years . When undertaking your next project, or perhaps now you’re in the middle of it, consider these four things.

· Keep it simple. Don’t try to make the purpose cover everything
· Be specific and avoid woolly platitudes. E.g. “make your lives easier”
· Don’t say something it isn’t. You’ll get found out.
· Fully commit to the purpose and don’t compromise.

Purpose is not a one and done thing, but we are very clear about ours. It is to ‘bring content to life’.

We have a sub-set of having fun doing it, but we remain true to this in everything we do.

When purpose is right it’s powerful.

World leaders meeting with a 14 yr old is a pretty good proof point. You should be able to convince people at every level around you that you have a solid purpose and if you can’t, well then take another look.

Alternatively, call us, and we’ll take a look. 



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Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

Translating the overwhelmingly technical into the wonderfully simple

When an organisation is introducing technical and complex changes, the temptation is to place all the relevant information in lengthy documents and make it available to everyone that may be affected.

The assumption being, that everyone will read it, interpret it and thus know what they need to know.  In most organisations, where the volume of information is vast, that is, at best, unlikely.  In addition, if the information has been written by technical experts, it may serve more to confuse than to enlighten.

Although the obligation of providing information has been fulfilled and thus can be ticked off the project plan, it often fails to enlighten anyone and can create frustration and confusion. There is another way.

Alana bought a new carpet-cleaning machine at the weekend. (She is an official grown up now!). She shared on Monday morning the excitement of unboxing it, which rapidly turned to amazement and then to confusion at just how many parts it seemed to have. Her mood shifted to despair as she realised how much needed to be done to assemble these items to produce a fully functioning bit of kit. Perhaps the carpets could wait a day or two?

Thankfully, the despair was short lived, because the very thoughtful carpet machine manufacturers had created a wonderful technicolour spread of just exactly what went where and the order in which it went.  As well as clear assembly instructions, there were visual diagrammatic steps for operation too. What attachment was for what surface, how much solution to mix and which brushes were specially for homes with pets. A potential technical minefield easily explained and the previously terrifying array of bits was swiftly transformed into a fully functioning domestic delight.  Result – a delighted Alana, some very clean carpets and a slightly disgruntled Murphy dog. 

Wouldn’t it be great if the same happened in business? Technical, complex and dry but necessary information conveyed in a way which people can quickly understand and apply.

Here is the thought process we go through when we are faced with the challenge of translating technically complex information into the understandably simple.

1. What one thing do we want people to know?

2. What do we want them to do afterwards?

3. How do we want them to feel?  

Then:

1. What is a metaphor, a phrase, an analogy or concept that conveys all this information?

2. What creative vehicle could we use to clearly demonstrate that concept?

3. What other information needs to be conveyed that can be weaved into this overarching idea.

 

This diagram illustrates some examples. These creative ‘hooks’ can then be used throughout the messaging to reinforce the key point. 

Having a strong hook isn’t going to be able to describe your complete IT network in 5 minutes but here are a few other techniques we use in order to make the technical more simple: 

1. Make it Visual    

Take a leaf out of the carpet cleaning machine manufacturer’s book- make it visual. Need to show the relationship between the head office and the factory floor? Show it. Depicting the environment in which people work makes it immediately relatable and recognisable.

2.    Don’t try and include every little thing.

You will run the risk of getting stuck in the weeds and never actually getting to the end of articulating what you need to. Extra discussion can address the more detailed data once you have delivered the basics.

3.    Make sure it is relevant

Sense check it with individuals from the business who live it day to day. They will soon be able to tell you if it lands with them at a human level or not.

4.    Include the benefits

This works well in process visuals – to be able to see the benefit of a certain process step really helps in getting buy-in from individuals. Click here for examples of process maps and other visual creations. 

5.    Have some fun!

Can you include in-jokes? No car parking? Temperamental printers or dodgy light switches? Feature a nod to these! The laughter of recognition is a great icebreaker.  

Here is a recent example of a before and after: 

Whilst we are not suggesting that the assembly of a carpet cleaning machine presents the same technical challenge as say, introducing a new ERP, we are ultimately seeking the same outcome. 

A communication vehicle that can simply explain process and procedure and convey the required complex technical information in a simple and effective way.  Visuals really are the key.    

By the way, should anyone want their carpets cleaning …Alana recommends VAX.  If it’s strong simple visuals you are after, then please feel free to get in touch!



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