You’ve been tasked with planning your company conference. You have been told it needs to be ‘different’ and ‘make an impact’! What does that even mean and how do you plan an amazing, interactive company conference?
In this blog post we’re going to share with you how The So Team approaches annual conference planning.
Got a conference to plan and want it to be amazing?
Download our Awesome Conference Planning Workbook and get a head start using our tried-and-tested design tools.
Company conference planning
Whether it’s down to your commitment, your charisma or your sheer organisational genius, you’ve been entrusted with delivering an awayday, an event, a Summit or a teambuilding that will reinforce the company’s strategic pillars, be interactive and different and memorable to attend. Lucky you!
You’ve seen your share of average events, and you know the score. Crowds of potential cynics are waiting in the wings, eager to caffeinate their way through yet another turgid experience, fill in some feedback forms with meaningless platitudes then head back to the office and business-as-usual.
On the plus side for you, it’s an important job and a great opportunity to show the rest of the business what you are capable of.
That’s why you’re determined to make this year different and create an event that oozes agility and innovation. But with time ticking on, and a crowd of unruly stakeholders to manage, where do you start?
If you want to be the hero of the day, and deliver an experience that impacts, engages and unlocks people’s innate creativity, then follow our 3 simple steps to turn a boring snooze-fest into an agile blockbuster.
1. Create a conference theme your participants care about
To sharpen your focus, your conference needs a clear purpose. You want to make it a gathering your people want to be part of.
Too many conferences happen ‘because we always get the sales team together at this time of year’. That’s not a reason, it’s a routine.
If you’re going to ask people to give up their time and put their to-do lists on hold, you need a mission for them to unite behind. So spend a bit of time thinking…
- WHY you are bringing people together?
- WHAT is going on in the organisation right now?
- WHERE do you need people to be focussing and why?
- HOW will the people inside the business benefit from having attended?
Now create an expression of the ‘Why’ that’s a single, pithy sentence which everyone in the business understands, and that motivates the whole team – and have it approved by your stakeholders.
This is not intended to be a slogan or a strapline. It’s a Ronseal statement of what the event is going to do for you all, and it’s going to be the basis for decision-making and communication about the event moving forward.
To develop your theme, use our event planning worksheet – start by filling in the matrix to help you get clear about your ‘why’.
2. Build a conference ‘journey’ that inspires
Create a physical map of the high-level journey participants will go on, from invitation to post-event follow-up.
Gatherings are a key piece of internal communication. An opportunity to show that your words and your deeds match. Yes, strategy is important, but more importantly, details matter. Humans have evolved to take in tiny signals from our surroundings and we notice a whole lot more than we are consciously aware of. Nothing says ‘We’re never going to change’ more clearly than yet another 2 days locked in a windowless basement with the lights turned down and an endless barrage of powerpoint. Every aspect of the experience has the potential to reinforce or give the lie to your stated intentions.
- Look at all the possible touchpoints along your annual conference journey and reflect on previous experiences of your own in which these have been used well, and not so well.
- Make a decision about which are the main touchpoints you want to use to reinforce key messages and then have some fun with these moments, creating innovative and surprising experiences.
- Make them stand out: come up with ways to reinforce your key messages that are provocative, quirky or just entertaining and you’ll be creating lasting memories that will drive the mindset you want to see.
3. Make your ‘doing’ interactive and human
All humans fundamentally want to connect, learn and have fun, and these are the behaviours that lead to creativity and agility. So why make events so energy-sapping, unstimulating and stressful?
In our experience, serious has never equalled effective or creative.
We’ve delivered hundreds of company events, conferences and summits of all shapes and sizes.
Often organisers bring us in at the last minute in a bit of a panic, because after careful planning they’ve suddenly realised their event is in grave danger of being boring, constrained and eminently forgettable.
Make sure you don’t fall into the same trap. Download our free Event Planning Worksheets and follow these final tips:
Get creative about where and how you hold your event. Beware the sausage-factory approach to standard delegate packages taken by most hotels and conferencing facilities. They’re offered because they are just good enough, but mostly because they’re profitable for the venue. If you want your event to feel different, and you don’t want your participants to feel like chipolatas on a factory line, then you need to get hands-on. Find a venue that’s willing to work with you as a partner and create something distinctive.
Make working sessions short and make them interactive. Stop thinking presentations and start having conversations. Presentations result in passengers. People flip into a passive ‘receive’ mode when faced with a darkened room and powerpoint slides – and that’s not the best way for them to change their thinking.
Make the interaction two-way. Get people to talk to neighbours, shout out answers, fill in quizzes, draw pictures. Have them responding as well as receiving and you’ll see your messages sink in much further and much faster.
Food and drink matter. Think about how and when you are feeding people. To guarantee a room full of snoring post-lunch layabouts, just roll out the standard fare of sandwiches, pasta and dauphinois potatoes. Alternatively, try giving people a menu that’s light, energy boosting and nutritious and watch their engagement levels soar as their brains are fuelled to focus and think clearly.
Most importantly, get serious about having fun. People who are enjoying themselves are relaxing and accessing the full range of their subconscious processing power, which means you’re getting more great ideas for the business, and when this happens the group are selling the key messages to themselves.
Don’t leave it for the dinner, set the tone from the first hello. Start with a smile, and people will respond in kind. Keep people moving around and encourage them to get to know their neighbours better. Tell jokes, show comedy videos after the breaks, give silly gifts and prizes.
3 Important Points To Remember…
The reality of planning your best ever, most agile annual conference is that it is as easy as planning a boring old run of the mill conference. You just need to bring a different approach to the process.
- Get clear on your ‘why’ and why your participants will care
- Use carefully chosen touchpoints throughout the conference journey to get your message across
- Get serious about having fun throughout your event
Realising You Need More Hands-On Help?
I hope this blog post has highlighted the planning steps needed to ensure your event is a roaring success. These tips are part of the process that The So Team uses in all our Event Planning Workshops. If our free event planning workbook has left you realising your need more hands-on help, then book a 30-minute inspiration call with one of The So Team.