My first agency, Communique, produced and staged meetings all over the world. We were involved in theming, content creation, meeting planning incentive travel, and events. Today I have come full circle, after successfully exiting the agency and research business five years ago, I am now a conference anchor, keynote speaker, moderator and stage interviewer.
Much has changed over the years, mostly driven by new technology, but the endgame remains the same, to deliver exceptional take-home value for your audience and your sponsors and a meaningful return on investment for your organization.
Four Steps to Better Conferences & Events
1. Head, Heart & Hands
Start with your desired outcome and work back. At the end of your event, how do you want to impact your audiences Head, Heart and Hands?
Head - what information do you want them to retain?
Heart - how will they feel about your organization, your culture and direction, what you offer the marketplace, and their role within it?
Hands - what is the change in behaviour you are looking for when they return to work?
Set pre and post-meeting benchmarks to measure your success and to establish your return on time and capital invested. Sales numbers are easy to measure, by sentiment is more difficult. Both are equally important.
2. Identify Your Core Idea
I am a fan of curators who stage a museum exhibit around a core idea. It creates an invitation, expectation and direction. Instead of being a voyeur meandering between display cases without purpose, you find yourself on a journey of discovery and enlightenment.
Meetings need to be curated as well. Agendas that are a smorgasbord of content, duct-taped to a theme give the audience permission to wander, and they often leave without consequence or conclusion.
Meetings calibrated to a core idea can spark curiosity and invite involvement. A core idea isn't just a theme. It is your essence and reason for being. It is why you are bringing people together. A company struggling with its competitive position might look to unpack a word like 'relevance', while one looking at a major pivot might build their entire agenda around 'reimagination.
3. Hire a Conference Anchor
It is not uncommon to have some of your attendees walk into a meeting room with preconditioned biases, a cynicism that is manifested by unfamiliar surroundings, one-way conversations, and the belief that the people on stage are out of touch with the dynamics of their world. They view the podium as the place for Speakers to pound bravado and even the word 'we' is often heard as 'I'. Perception is the reality, and these people can become spoilers who can create a toxic climate that spills onto the conference floor.
Look outside your company to find someone who can be your Meeting Anchor/Host. This isn't a Master of Ceremonies who introduces speakers and delivers housekeeping. This is someone with a fresh pair of eyes, has objectivity and can ask the questions that deserve answering. Your Anchor is there to establish the core idea, and weave it throughout your event. They do so by coming on after each presentation to interview speakers, moderate key panels, and quarterback fireside chats.
Your anchor must be quick thinkers with a journalist mind, but also engaging and entertaining. They need to have an understanding of your business and marketplace. The best can help you promote your event, do media interviews, and get invited back year after year as they help you create continuity.
4. Content Worthy of Their Attention
Today's audiences are visually sophisticated, multi-taskers, and many have grown up immersed in gaming and content creation. Each has a mobile wand to distract them. They are a tough audience to win over. Speeches baked in rhetoric supported by PowerPoint slides.
My advice is to borrow from the world of storytelling to craft your narrative. Make your audience your hero, their quest is to uncover the knowledge and insights to make them and their organization better at what they do.
Your Guideline: Less is more
Keep your talk to twenty minutes, and have your conference host interview your presenters to accentuate key points, tap into positive emotion, and ask the questions your audience wants to be answered.
There has never been a more important time to invest in Conferences and Events. Humans are social creatures. Tear them away from the cloud, their devices and their social media. Foster communication, collaboration and culture through face-to-face connections.
Bring about your desired outcome by curating events with a central idea, serve up attention-worthy content, and have it orchestrated by a third-party anchor who turns the one-way conversation into a two-way interaction.
Follow these four steps and you will dramatically increase take-home value, your return on time and money invested, and most importantly the reward of making your audience's eyes shine, their heartbeat and their spirits soar.
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