What do you do if you have a difficult message to deliver at your conference or event? It is a very common problem, and sweeping it under the carpet is definitely not the answer. Read on for the mistakes we’ve seen made most often, and how to avoid them.
Don’t avoid the elephant in the room
Sharing those tricky messages at your conference can be a challenge. It’s tempting to want to carefully manage the mood at big events: sticking to senior speakers who’ll stay on message, and allowing only stage-managed Q+As. But if there are issues to be addressed (and even in a very successful business, there are always issues to be addressed!), sweeping them under the carpet won’t help – all may seem OK on the surface but if there’s an elephant in the room, before long someone is going to trip over it.
With your big event coming up it is important to leave space to get real. Make a plan that will allow for positive and negative thoughts to be shared, and tackle issues together in an open, constructive setting. It may feel risky but it’s far riskier ignoring a problem.
Here are some more commonly-made conference communication mistakes, and our advice to help you avoid them.
If you’d like to know more about how we can help you with your conference , learn more about our Awesome Conference Design Workshop here.
Wheeling on the big cheese (and then wheeling him straight off, and out of the door, before it goes pear-shaped)
We only have the CEO for 45 minutes first thing in the morning and he has key messages he wants to share, so we won’t allow for any questions.
The So Team say…
We don’t know your CEO. But we do know that while great orators can be uplifting, inspiring and can rouse spirits, they are few and far between. Also some organisations seem so in awe of their leaders that they daren’t give any feedback to them about their delivery style.
Real conversation is what tends to convince people – rather than an obviously pre-prepared shopping list of messages – the opportunity to hear a senior leader speaking off-the-cuff and first-hand doesn’t happen often so think about other ways in which your most senior leaders could share their messages.
How about they get interviewed by a couple of audience volunteers or could the Board divide up and talk to 20 people each rather than 120 in total? If you’re feeling really brave don’t give them a slot at all, just give them the mission to network and share the key messages outside of the official content.
Conference watch out…
If the big boss finishes their 45 minute slot with the words ‘sorry I can’t be with you for the rest of the conference’ then we think better for them not to make an appearance in the first place – all the participants hear is ‘I’m far too busy and important to be stuck in this room and you’re not, ha ha I’m outta here! See ya suckers!’
“Any questions?”… and those tumbleweed moments.
Q and A is best done at the end of a presentation, in a group of 150, down a microphone. And it’s just unfortunate that Stuart’s question last year was more of a statement of his own opinion and he came across as though he was trying to prove how clever he is…and I know let’s plant some pre-prepared question stooges in the audience in case no-one asks anything and it all feels a bit awks.
The So Team say…
Just because someone is not comfortable speaking down an echoing microphone in front of all their colleagues doesn’t mean they don’t have a useful question to ask. And however much the extroverts and usual suspects may value their own contributions, those who shout the loudest are not the only audience members who’ve been interested and engaged in the content of what’s gone before.
As guest speakers at many conferences, some of the best and most interesting questions get asked to us in coffee breaks and in smaller group moments, after people have had time to reflect or when they feel more comfortable. Consider allowing for questions submitted during the course of the day and then answered at the end, or creating space to mingle and mix more informally with speakers and chat in smaller groups to let conversations flow.
Also, the questions that need to be asked around any given subject aren’t hard to predict – they happen on a daily basis around the water cooler and coffee machine. Stop treating grown up business people as children and answer those tricky questions as part of the presentation itself and stop waiting to be asked – recognition of difficulty if addressed properly is far more effective than badly sweeping it under the proverbial conference carpet. You’ve finally got the chance to stop the whispering in the corridors, so take the bull by the horns and ride it baby..
Conference watch out….
It’s always what’s not being said in the room that gets talked about most, when people go outside!
If you have a conference to plan, don’t waste your money on the unnecessary stuff. Get our tips for making your conference budget work harder read blog
Saying, “We’d love to hear your feedback about that particular issue….later”
Feedback is ok in theory, but if we allow people to be negative at the event it will turn into a massive whinge fest…remember that time when Sebastian from accounts brought up the subject of the new pay review process?
The So Team say…
Your people have legitimate concerns and fears about the status quo and plans for the future – which they will still share with each other (not with you) at the coffee break or in the bar – unless you provide a more constructive setting where issues can be tackled and addressed. Embrace cynicism, and get it out in the open then address concerns. Engaged people who spot problems on your behalf are a priceless asset, if you channel their energy in the right way.
We would recommend running an interactive exercise around a sensitive topic – get people to talk in small teams about why this is an awful state of affairs and why it’s going to ruin the business forever (whatever they’re point of view around it). Once they’ve got that off their chest get them to talk about the advantages of the new plan and how it will help move business forward – let the devil out, and the angel in. If it’s happening, it’s happening – be real about it from the outset.
Don’t try and hide content that needs processing and conversation – get it out there early on when there is the most energy in the room to deal with it – everyone knows that business isn’t all smooth sailing and it’s better to have all hands on deck to help overcome the stormy seas of reality – too much metaphor in that last sentence? Watchout for that at conferences too!!
If you have to deliver difficult messages at an annual conference:
Difficult messages don’t get any better if they’re avoided, rushed or fudged. Plan to ‘out’ the elephants in the room, before they trip someone up, by following our top tips.
- If the CEO is speaking, have them speak informally and authentically about the issue (not hiding behind a powerpoint)
- Think about the questions that you know people will ask in the Q and A, and address them in the core content – don’t wait to be asked by someone brave enough (or angry enough)
- Feedback, on any subject, is a thing of value to be embraced. Use conference time to gather feedback, and to really listen to what people are telling you – then respond and acknowledge concerns.
To get hands-on help with making your conference or event amazing, book a 30-minute inspiration call with one of The So Team.