The Conference Blueprint – Part 5 Where to go and who to invite

The Conference Blueprint – Part 5 Where to go and who to invite

Conference Blueprint Part 5; Where to go and who to invite.

You may have spotted a theme with our Conference Blueprint series so far and that is that the objectives and the outcomes come before the design and therefore informs all the other key decisions.

Who should attend and where to hold the conference is no different.

However the majority of projects that we are involved in, the venue and attendee list is agreed before anything else is even thought about.

Our extensive experience of running conferences tells us that this is the wrong place to start and uninformed decisions made early on are much harder to fix further down the line.

Venue Considerations.

Let’s be clear, the venue can indeed make or break a conference. At one conference many years ago, we had brilliant presenters, incredibly well-prepared content and a beautiful venue. Then the air conditioning malfunctioned and at least a quarter of the audience eventually fell asleep in the balmy late summer conditions. So, the venue is important. If everyone arrives late because they couldn’t find it, if the coffee is cold or the room baking hot then you will certainly know about it and it really will detract from even the best conference agenda.

However, there are many, many amazing venues out there and some will support your objectives and some will hinder them. This section of the process is to ensure it does the former.

In this section of the blueprint you are not naming venues. The likelihood is if you do this you will default to the usual ones, the one the CEO liked or you’ve been to before which is the safe option because you know they will do a good job. No, you are listing the key criteria. What factors does this venue need to have in order to support your overall messaging?

Examples of strong venue criteria we have seen:

  • Event on women in leadership – a venue with a glass ceiling.
  • Event on promoting a team culture – a sports stadium
  • Event on effective storytelling – a theatre

There are hundreds of venues in the UK alone which could meet any one of these criteria but using the blueprint process will encourage you to think creatively about how your objectives and messaging will land. The alternative could lead to an event about innovation and creative thinking being held in a dark, 1980’s hotel function room. The impact you have worked so hard to achieve will have fizzled out before anyone has sat down on the first morning.

There may well be practical criteria, rough location, proximity to airports, capacity etc but once you have them documented and agreed, then it’s really important to stick to them. It’s so easy to create a list of strong and ambitious venue criteria and then completely abandon it in favour of a venue which involves longer journeys and extra overnight stays for all delegates, but it has a great day delegate rate or it’s on a preferred supplier list. If it was deemed important enough to be a criterion in the first place, then don’t abandon it at the first sign of a bargain or for convenience.

As ever, consider how the choice of venue will complement and enhance your message, not detract from it.

Attendee criteria.

 

The blueprint will also encourage you to select attendees with the same rigour that you decided your venue. In large organisations, attendance is often based on levels of seniority and in a lot of cases that does indeed make sense, but again, don’t just default to that option.

Refer back to your objectives and ensure that the criteria help to build a list of people who will help deliver the outcomes you have set out to achieve.

If the objectives involve people in the design of a new strategy, then maybe a cross section of employees across all levels would be more appropriate.

If it’s about promoting a more gender inclusive culture, then don’t be exclusive by only inviting women.

If it’s about rolling out a new strategy or vision, then ensure that all geographies and functions are covered, even if that means inviting less senior people to ensure smaller areas are represented.

We understand that the selection of attendees can sometimes be a political football so that is another reason for carefully thinking it through and obtaining sign off prior to issuing invites.

That way any difficult messaging can be managed sensitively, rather than people assuming they will be involved and only finding out by accident they are not. And if you’re the accountable person, anticipate some challenging conversations with your LT when they insist that she must come and he shouldn’t be there.

Stick to your criteria and good luck!

And that’s it. You have your conference planned! Well, almost. Next week we will summarise the key points you need to use the conference planning blueprint as well as give you some tips and advice into how to ensure the delivery matches the expectations set out in this planning process.

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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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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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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