After months of design, preparation and planning a large scale, global leadership conference…What could possibly go wrong?!
The simple answer and the one that no one really wants to hear is quite a lot! So, we figured as we head into our big event, the least we could do, to provide reassurance, not just to our clients, but to anyone else embarking on such an endeavour, is to create a small check-list of the watch outs.
Senior executives have done this kind of thing many times before and as a result, are tempted to look at the slides and then leave the rest to chance. Strongly advise them not to. It is always worth a walk through in the space to take a good look at lights, the mics, the audience seating and their timing. Beware especially the speakers that say things like “I’ll be fine on the day”. The most experienced international performers rehearse in the space, whenever they have the chance, and the smart ones take that time also to build rapport with the technical crew.
Ask all the ‘what if?’ questions. What if there’s a power failure and there are no slides, no music etc? What if you have to cut the presentation by 15 minutes? What if you had to step in for someone else? You don’t need to forecast catastrophe, but it’s healthy to expect the unexpected.
Keep to Time.
There really does have to be someone with authority, who is keeping everything to time. Complex events, including the movement of hundreds of people really do rely on keeping to time. If a speaker runs over by 15 minutes, they may not consider it a big deal, but the knock-on effect for the venue staff, the crew, the delegates, the other speakers can be huge. If someone is going on too long – get them off.
In the moment.
It’s difficult for anyone to focus and concentrate for a whole week, but unless you are asleep or on a break, then the only way to be is fully present. Stay in the moment, whether it’s to listen, to ask questions, to present, to help someone else, to notice something that ‘s needed. Conferences can be hard going but being fully present will help you get most from the experience.
There will be last minute changes and being able to flex and improvise can often be the answer to ensuring a smooth path. If someone is having a minor meltdown because something hasn’t arrived or their slides aren’t right, be the one that reduces the tension by providing an alternative for them. Change the order to give them time to reshape their presentation and help them do it.
There will be problems. If you can work well as a team, then those problems will be solved a whole lot quicker. It may require you to do things outside your normal remit. Do them, with a smile. It helps if everyone knows their role and responsibility, but don’t throw anyone under the bus, be in it together and own up quickly if you’ve made a mistake. That way it can be sorted. Before the start of the event, bring everyone together and make sure they all feel part of that team – whether chief executive or production assistant.
A story to help…
And it wouldn’t be a PM article without a story. For a one-day leadership event, focused on forecasting the future, we chose to have on stage a large Dr Who Tardis prop. Nothing wrong so far.
However, on the morning of the event, when we opened the packaging, we were a little surprised to discover a Disney Princess Castle. There were a couple of interesting conversations, but happily none about whose fault it was.
Instead, we decided to front up the mistake to the client and proceed with the castle, because it really was a fabulous prop. The result, people still remember that conference fondly and in particular, the analogy of myths and legends that we created on the fly.
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