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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