Our predictions for 2020 in the world of conferences and events – The Summary

Our predictions for 2020 in the world of conferences and events – The Summary

Our predictions for 2020 in the world of conferences and events

The Summary

2020 is now well underway.

With January now behind us, we creep ever closer to Spring and the re-emergence of those old favourites that we welcome every year.

That’s right, the predictions for what people are talking about in 2020 and what we at Purple Monster are concentrating on this year when designing events and conferences.

Over the last 4 weeks we’ve covered:

The environment and global concerns.
The pull for life-long learning
Consideration of diversity, equity and inclusion as authentic subject matter.
The desire to put physical and mental health on the agenda.

This week we give you the highlights of all these topics.

Giving you the opportunity to consolidate everything we’ve said and, as a bonus, you don’t have to read the other four articles. 😊

Here are the headlines…


Environmental sustainability

Everything that occurs in large-scale events has an environmental as well as a financial impact. With a more conscious approach to the planning of your conferences you can make huge reductions in those environmental and budgetary costs, with little or no visible effect on the delegate experience.

Our top tips

1. Take active steps to promote responsible transport options.

Ways you can reduce this impact:

  • Use systems to calculate the ideal location minimising travel for all your attendees.
  • Challenge the attendee list – the fewer people attending, the less travel. Can you do one main event, then a series of more local events to capture more people but reduce travel?
  • And finally – avoid people travelling at all – it is now possible to create highly engaging and interactive virtual events.

2. Provide alternative options to single use plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups.

Ensure single use bottles, disposable cups, plastic cutlery etc are simply not available at your event. Insist that your venue takes responsibility for this and make it part of your policy that you won’t book venues that use such materials.

3. Demonstrate steps to reduce waste i.e. remove venue notepads from tables, minimal merchandise.

  • Be considerate around what needs printing – can agendas, slides and information be provided on an app or website rather than physically handed out?
  • Ask your venue to remove any notepads or printed material from the rooms you are using.
  • Be thoughtful when deciding merchandise or giveaways. We are not saying ban it all together but do people really need another branded pen or stress toy?

10 years ago recycling was not that widespread but it is common practice now. So we can do it. Think about it next time you are planning a conference and meeting.

Diversity, equity and inclusion

We talked about the inequities we’ve all grown up with, and how despite our best intentions ‘to be good’ it is a constant challenge to ourselves and to everyone to ‘check our privilege’ and consciously take time to consider a new and more diverse approach.

Our top tips

1. Ensure all panels, speakers, contributors have diverse backgrounds and thinking.

Consider these questions when planning whose voice is upfront at your conference.

  • Have you consciously considered who should be on your panel?
  • Are various levels of the organisation represented?
  • Are you hearing from your suppliers, partners and customers?

2. Be mindful about designing sessions that include everyone

Consider the less than obvious:

  • How far are the distances between sessions?
  • Is there good access for people with mobility issues?
  • Are icebreaker sessions considerate of the introverted?

3. Food is important – Remember to respect peoples’ choices around diet.

  • Ask the venue to provide fresh fruit as well as other more traditional sweet snacks
  • Ensure there is always plenty of water on offer
  • Consider the impact of a ‘heavy’ lunch on afternoon sessions


Physical and mental health

We always say that our main job is ‘to look after the delegate experience’ from the minute they walk into the venue until they leave at the end of the day or week.

Now we cannot be made responsible for each individual’s mental health or indeed their physical conditioning but as thoughtful conference designers we do want to create an experience that will be beneficial to people in terms of their physical and mental well- being.

Our top tips

1. Try and do something that is physically energising without being exclusive to others

  • Leave space in the agenda in the morning and at the close of the day for people to fit in their own way to re-energize.
  • Offer a gentler alternative. Yoga or Pilates is a great way to start the day. It doesn’t suit everyone but for the less physically competitive it can be a great way in to physical wellness.
  • Always ensure that there is plenty of water on hand throughout the days (in a reusable bottle of course)

Factor in well being sessions into the design. As well as the physical, include mentally stimulating options as a way to kick off your days.
Look outside of the ordinary. There are wonderful restful options out there like Street Wisdom and Zentangle and TED talks. Think about Including these in your conference design; Either share links to them or base your actual sessions around them.

Lifelong learning

In our article we looked at the difference between training and learning.

Highlighting these key points.

  • Training is normally short-term and focussed on a specific goal
  • Learning is much more long term and the goals far reaching
  • Training is either a skill or information presented to a student to understand and practice
  • Learning is more about self-discovery than copying or repetition
  • Training normally focusses on improving understanding and skills required for your role
  • Learning is much more about understanding yourself as a person
  • Training programmes are often group orientated
  • Learning is a personalized experience
  • The article was not designed to decry training and trainers. They play a crucial role in maintaining and improving organizational and individual capability.

On the contrary, we are certain that the best way to facilitate learning is to have committed and passionate teachers and trainers, but to go beyond the immediate knowledge and skills requirement and look holistically at the development of the individual.

So this year when you are thinking about your next meeting or your next workshop or conference, consider how much time you are able to dedicate to your delegates’ learning.

  • Allow plenty of time for reflection, after any session. The temptation will be to move onto the next piece of content rather than allow people the time to reflect on what they have just heard or experienced.
  • Ensure that your agenda includes experiential sessions where your delegates can feel what it is like to experience the shift in mindset. Yes, the content is important but how people react and respond is where the learning happens.
  • Be open to change. It’s the surest way we can think of to ensure you might learn something new.

So, there you have it; our BIG items to consider when planning your meetings and conferences this year.

  • Challenge your own thinking
  • Consider if you can shake things up a little
  • Make it about the attendee not about the content.

And if you need a little nudge in a more creative direction, please give us a call.

Good luck!

Download our updated planning canvas or get in touch with the Monster team to help you!

Our predictions for 2020 in the world of conferences and events – Lifelong Learning

Our predictions for 2020 in the world of conferences and events – Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning


This month we’ve been focussing on subjects that we believe will be at the forefront of peoples’ minds this year and beyond. So far, we’ve covered: 

  • The environment and global concerns.  

  • How diversity, equity and inclusion is the way forward for fair-minded companies 

  • Physical and mental health as a vital consideration for both employers and employees. 




This week we are looking at… learning. 


  • When did you leave school? 

  • When did you finish university? 

  • When did you complete your masters? 

  • When did you stop learning? 

Let’s just think about those four questions again for a moment… here comes an entirely unscientific but factual survey:

Researcher: ‘Excuse me venerable and esteemed colleague could you answer some questions about learning please?

Me: ‘Of course, I’m always keen to help organisations find out about learning and its usefulness. And by the way what a politely worded question?’   

Researcher: ‘Just answer the question.’ 

Me: ‘Yes of course. Shall I ask my family members too?’ 

Researcher: ‘People won’t believe this exchange’ 

Me: ‘Perhaps we should stop it and show an interesting table….’ 

Ok it’s not a terribly meaningful piece of research but I bet you also have the same answer to the question in column 4. Of course, we never stop learning. We may not have been the best at school, we may never have been top of the class, we might not have a masters degree or any sort of qualifications for that matter, but does that mean we are incapable of learning? Of course not.  

In a recent interview, the performance coach and Mindset expert Dr Maurice Duffy was quoted as saying, ‘There is no such thing as failure. Only winning and learning’. I’m sure that’s an easy thing to say and to an extent it’s a relatively easy thing to understand and to teach. But when you consider that this advice was given to a world class sports professional who had recently been banned for unsportsmanlike behaviour and was attempting a comeback at the highest level, then perhaps we’d better listen to his advice. 

    When we first set up as a company in 1995 we were known as an experiential training company. In fact, we were called Purple Monster Training. In about 2006 we dropped the word ‘training’, not because ‘training’ isn’t valuable, it is, but because we worked out that what we now did wasn’t really training at all, but more like lifelong learning.  

    When we first set up as a company in 1995 we were known as an experiential training company. In fact, we were called Purple Monster Training. In about 2006 we dropped the word ‘training’, not because ‘training’ isn’t valuable, it is, but because we worked out that what we now did wasn’t really training at all, but more like lifelong learning.  

    So what is the difference between learning and training? 

    Training is normally short-term and focussed on a specific goal 

    Learning is much more long term and the goals far reaching  

    Training is either a skill or information presented to a student to understand and practice 

    Learning is more about self-discovery than copying or repetition 

    Training normally focusses on improving understanding and skills required for your role 

    Learning is much more about understanding yourself as a person 

    Training programmes are often group orientated 

    Learning is a personalized experience 

    Both are important and have a place in the corporate curriculum, whatever your role or seniority. In our experience, learning departments have ambitious goals and targets, which cover a whole host of development topics.  It may be the organization is looking to improve engagement, increase productivity; focus on agile working or building a more adaptable workforce prepared to undertake more individual responsibility.  Whatever the ask of the business, these are not topics that can be achieved through training alone. Most of the challenge is around personal attitudes and behaviour, mindset if you will, and the levers for creating sustainable and meaningful change lie more in individual learning and development, rather than only training for new tools. 

    So this year when you are thinking about your next meeting or your next workshop or conference, consider how much time you are able to dedicate to your delegates’ learning. 

    • Allow plenty of time for reflection, after any session. The temptation will be to move onto the next piece of content rather than allow people the time to reflect on what they have just heard or experienced.  

    • Ensure that your agenda includes experiential sessions where your delegates can feel what it is like to experience the shift in mindset. Yes, the content is important but how people react and respond is where the learning happens. 

    • Create sessions that might provide a little discomfort. Don’t let colleagues work only in their comfort zones but look for stretch and challenge. Don’t introduce panic or worry your colleagues unnecessarily but do stretch them.  
    • Be open to change. It’s the surest way we can think of to ensure you might learn something new. 

    This article is not designed to decry training and trainers. They play a crucial role in maintaining and improving organizational and individual capability. On the contrary, we are certain that the best way to facilitate learning is to have committed and passionate teachers and trainers, but to go beyond the immediate knowledge and skills requirement and look holistically at the development of the individual.  Inspiring teachers make a difference to all of us and those that can inspire us to follow a path of lifelong learning are to be most admired.  Training can sometimes feel like something we have to do and sits very much in the here and now. We need to get up to speed with this application and this system and we have to achieve this before such and such a date.  By comparison, learning is about developing fully rounded humans and especially those with the capacity to adapt and learn whatever the workplace of the future may bring.   

    One of the most popular and one of our favourite TED talks is Sir Ken Robinson’s talk ‘Do Schools kill creativity?’. Remind yourself of it again if you have a spare 18 minutes. Apart from anything else he is genuinely funny and his talk challenges our thinking around how we learn and why working only in a linear and narrow field of topics, kills our creativity and capacity to learn and adapt in adulthood.  

    And to close, here’s another very recent quote from Dr Duffy. And dare we suggest something a little cheeky? When you read this quote, then substitute the words ‘educational system’ for ‘corporate organisations’ and the word ‘kids’ for ‘colleagues’.  

    ‘Our kids deserve a better future. Our educational system is giving us skills for yesterday. Now we must focus on Friendships, Mental Health, Innovation and Creativity’. 

    Wow. That’s a whole other article.  

    Download our updated planning canvas or get in touch with the Monster team to help you!

    Engagement Exercises to try #3 – Listen, Check, Summarise

    Engagement Exercises to try #3 – Listen, Check, Summarise

    Exercises to try #3 – Listen, Check, Summarise

    Building on the ABC exercise that we gave you last week. We proudly present ‘Listen, Check, Summarise’. If anyone would like to suggest a sexier name for this, please send your suggestions to George: georgina@purplemonster.co.uk

    This is another thoughtful, considered exercise which works well with people who are responsible for managing others. But also, great for teams to try together, again developing trusting relationships and empathy amongst colleagues.

    We make it a little complicated, just for fun really!

    The aim of the game

    The aim is to develop greater listening skills and be able to communicate what you’ve heard accurately.

    How often do we mis-read emails, text messages or misunderstand someone’s tone?


    The set up

    It will take about 5 mins to set up, and a maximum of 10 minutes to run.
    Ask the group to split themselves into smaller groups of 4.

    Each team member names themselves, A, B, C and D.

    Ask A to face B, and C to face D. It should look like they are facing each other as if on a train in a seat of four. 2 couples facing each other.


    How to run the exercise

    Ask everyone to think of a customer interaction that has gone wrong…’think of a time when you had a bad experience as a customer and tell your partner.’

    Round 1

    It’s up to you, but let’s say you give everyone 2 minutes each to tell the person opposite their story.

    So, once you’ve heard your partners story. You need to ‘check’ you’ve heard it correctly. Ask your partner if you’ve got the main points correct. Then once confirmed, ‘summarise’ your partners story back to them.

    Now swap over. Repeat the listen, check, summarise as per the second part of the diagram on Round 1.

    Round 2

    Turn to the person at the side of you and share the story you just heard. NB, this is not your own story, but the one your partner just shared with you.

    See part 1 on the diagram. So, A tells C and B tells D. Listen, check and summarise.
    Then swap over, part 2 so C tells A, and D tells B.

    Finally, Round 3

    This is the best bit! You now ask the teams to work diagonally across each other, by all means ask people to swap chairs if they need to!

    So, A tells D the story they just heard in Round 2 (which will be their own story 😊)
    B tells C. Listen check summarise.

    Then C tells B and D tells A. Listen check summarise.

    There may be laughter and excited chatter when running this exercise. Others will take it incredibly seriously. After all, you are responsible for someone else’s words.

    Top Tip…

    There are 4 stories, each team member will hear 2 different stories and finally their own story played back to them.


    • Ask the group about the exercise. How hard was it to concentrate on listening to begin with?
    • Did that change when you were telling someone else’s story.
    • Were you distracted trying to listen or correct details in what you were hearing elsewhere?
    • How did the story change? Were there details left out?
    • Were there things embellished?
    • What does this say about the nature of communication?
    • Ask people for their insights and get them to share with the big group!

    You could run this exercise with a small team at the start of a meeting, or you could use the mechanism with perhaps a different question at a much bigger event to get the room to buzz with the fun of sharing stories.

    Download a pdf workshop sheet of our Listen, Check Summarise exercise.

    While you're here...

    Got to organise an epic conference but don’t know where to start?

    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.

    While you're here...

    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. 

    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.

    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!

    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.