Conference Blueprint; Summary of advice for planning a conference.
So here we are at the end of our five-part foray into the mysterious world of conference design and planning. If you’ve downloaded our blueprint then, ‘thank you’ and if not, well now’s your chance, it’s still available here.
In our final article on conference planning, we are going to take you back through the key steps and throw in a few bits of advice and help that we’ve gleaned ourselves and received from others along the way.
When Purple Monster first began 25 years ago, conference design and delivery was in its infancy. Of course people had held conferences for years and people got together to do ‘away days’ and ‘refresher courses’ and there were presumably ‘big’ meetings but in those far off pre-digital days it was much more about a transfer of information rather than a two way communication exercise.
Here is how you would likely do it
- Set a date
- Set the agenda
- Book a venue
- Book a speaker
- Send out invites
Over the last five weeks we have been trying to encourage you to think differently about the way you go about planning and imagining a conference. The conference blueprint offers an alternative approach and we think, gives you a greater chance of building a conference that is worthwhile going to and has lasting value.
- Determine the super objective
- Assign accountabilities. Who is responsible for what?
- Consider what you want the audience to think, feel and do
- Planning the high level agenda and flow
- Determine who you are inviting then search for the right venue.
1. Determine the Super Objective
Be really clear on what it is you are trying to achieve and don’t let anything switch you from that.
We have been lucky enough to work with the brilliant and charming Ben Hunt-Davies a few times over the last few years and he understands the concept of super objective better than anyone else we have ever come across. His oft quoted (and regularly misquoted) work is called ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’ and it highlights in the plainest possible sense what you should do to ensure you are sticking to your guns in terms of objectives.
If you need to understand more about Super Objectives either read Chekov (recommended only for theatre purists) or Ben’s captivating story of his experience before and at the Sydney Olympics of 2000.
2. Assign Accountabilities
It’s vitally important that everyone is clear on what role they play in delivering the outcome that you all want. This means noses potentially being put out of joint, former favourites not doing their schtick this year and Gianni from the CFO’s office not doing his normal 73 slide presentation on EBITDA. Sorry Gianni, it’s not part of the plan.
Create a design team and have regular and proper conversations with your sponsors to ensure they are clear on the route down which you are progressing. Have regular conversations and involve all your partners early so that they can all feel part of the success and not in competition.
3. Agree the outcomes; Think, Feel, Do
This seems so natural to us as we have always been thinking about how your audience will react but it seems that this isn’t a default position for all conference planners and designers.
What do you want your audience to THINK, FEEL and DO as a result of your conference. Be plain. Be overt and if necessary tell them again that the reason we are all here is to…..(insert your super objective here)
4. Planning the High Level Agenda
As in all good storytelling, reintroduction is the key here. Reintroduce the overall super objective every time that you bring anything to the table. Does this move the agenda forward? Does this play into the objectives fully? Is it a discreet session that has to be in and if it is, how do you connect it to the theme?
Don’t forget…Powerpoint is brilliant and has been unfairly blamed for poor communication since it became the new executive toy when it was introduced to the Microsoft package in 1994.
It’s not the tool that’s to blame, it’s the users. In the right hands, it is a fantastic visual aid, helping great ideas to jump off the screen and into the hearts and minds of the audience. In the wrong ones, it is a bullet-pointed form of conference torture, allowing its users to inflict wave after wave of meaningless words, until the audience are beaten into submission, or asleep. Tell Gianni ….no!
5. Who is coming and where are you going?
Be prepared to have tough conversations with people who may be more senior than you. People want their direct reports there but are they at the same grade or level as everyone else? Who is going to add value to the discussion or make things happen following the event and so should they be there rather than simply just choosing the top slice?
You will know the machinations of selecting the ‘right’ people and whatever that is in your organisation you have to stand by the decision that was made by the people assigned early on in your design process. When it comes to venues, choose somewhere that works for the audience.
Make it accessible, relevant and different from what everyone might expect. Be creative. Don’t just go for the convenient.
It takes a great amount of time, patience, understanding, relationship building, emotional intelligence and a little bit of luck to truly build a great conference experience for all your delegates but if that all seems a little bit overwhelming then please feel free to give us a call. We will be happy to help you design an engaging and effective conference experience that your delegates won’t forget.
And if you’d love to hold a conference, but there is no way that your people can travel or spare the time for two or three days away, then have you considered a virtual conference? We know a thing or two about those as well and would be happy to share some ideas with you, wherever you are in the world. Call us on ‘Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, Messenger or perhaps, Microsoft Teams, which seems to be being rolled out as part of the Office package. Mmmm, sounds familiar 😊
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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