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.

While you're here...

Do you want to get people talking more openly and honestly? Our conversation card activity is a fun way to do just that!



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