Each year around this time of the season, I get frantic calls to deliver keynote addresses and workshops early in the first quarter, or toward the end of this year. Some organizations plan their partner retreats, national sales meetings, or conferences well in advance. Yesterday I received a call about speaking at an event this October, and I also received a call to speak in November… of next year. Having done this for a while, I can often tell early in the conversation which events are geared to be a feel-good event, and which ones are designed to have a lasting impact for the organization.

Don’t get me wrong, what makes a great speaker is the ability to entertain while you educate and engage the audience. And, if the audience isn’t laughing and smiling, then we’re not doing our job. But, there are a few things that you can do to ensure success for your next partner retreat or business conference:

  1. Know your goal: One of the first questions I ask the executive in charge of the event is “What do you hope to accomplish as a result of your event, and specifically my session(s)?” It might be that they want everyone on their team to be more comfortable speaking with potential clients, they need to figure out how to get heard above the noise in the marketplace, or they want to overcome the fact that every client discussion seems to be about price. It could be all of those. But, if the goal is simply to entertain the audience, then hire a juggler or fire-breather. Entertainment is a given with a good speaker, be sure the session helps achieve a goal.
  2. End each session with homework: One great piece of feedback I received in a survey response a while back was that it was difficult for the attendees to keep track of the take-away messages and how they should implement them in their business. So, here’s my little secret (it’s just between me and you). I cheat!  Each participant gets a pre-printed piece of card stock that has three columns on it. One column is the take-away message.  One column is the action item the participant will take. Can you guess the third one?  It’s the due-date. If we can’t translate the session into actionable tasks with deadlines, then what was the point?
  3. Track progress and deliver reinforcement: We will often get each participant to enter their tasks and deadlines into a form (I provide the tool for free for my clients). This provides a great method for accountability. The best organizations provide for rewards and recognition based on meeting those deadlines. Finally, keep in mind that we are dealing with human beings. The habits we have formed took decades to put in place. One keynote address or workshop is not going to create a lasting impact without some type of reinforcement. This does not mean you need the facilitator to stick around forever. Consider having your speaker record a series of videos to reinforce key messages for your team. Schedule time to discuss and practice new concepts.

Whether you are bringing dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people together for your event, you are making a substantial investment in your company’s or firm’s future. The cost in labor, travel, entertainment, and lost revenue is not trivial. If you take the steps outlined above, you will increase your chance of seeing a positive return on your investment… and everyone attending will feel that their time was well spent. In case you are wondering, these tips not only work well for major meetings, but weekly sales meetings, too. If you have been doing the “same old” pipeline review, try this format and see what happens.

Please share your stories of events that were successful, and those that were less than perfect (those are usually a bit more entertaining).

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