Association Congress

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Why you have to adopt the correct process when organising events

The basis for one of the sessions I will be giving at CIBTM in Beijing. It's about adopting a process, and hopefully the right process when managing events.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Chairman Part 2

Last week I blogged about the importance of the Chairman and the role they play as conductor / ring master in your conference. In essence it was about giving your Chairman more responsibility for the day. It wasn’t shifting some tasks, shunned by the lazy organiser, and thrusting them unwelcomingly onto the Chairman’s shoulders; but more of an allocation of important things owing to each others’ particular skills.
With this duel responsibility we have to give the Chairman a strong element of control and I’ve thought about this as I prepare to chair a stream at the Association Congress next month. Here’s a link to that event again. For any conference programme to ‘work’ i.e. to take delegates from one place to another having ‘learned some knowledge that they can apply’, we have to use one particular key tool.
Identifying and using key themes throughout the day is the most important tool a programme developer and their chairs can use to structure the days sessions. These themes should be woven into every session like the gold thread in a medieval tapestry. As well as giving some structure to the day they should also give context for every session. Now this is an important point. When we look at a conference programme we can see a huge variety of topics to be covered; and when you are a delegate shifting from the micro to the macro, or the national to the international it’s easy to get lost.
Making sure all your speakers see and agree with the key themes should provide some kind of rough road map that will keep everything going in the right direction. Here are some key themes from a recent Directors’ staff away day that I put together. Every speaker was given these themes before they start to structure their presentation:
·         The external economic crisis
·         External stakeholders   
·         Change is ahead
·         Reduced funding from Government
·         New revenue streams
Given to speakers a month or so before their session this gentle steer really helped the structure and consistency of the programme on the day. In this example the themes were put together by the Chairman and the programme developer working together and I believe this is the very minimum input that your Chairman should have with this type of briefing. If you have the right Chairman he / she should understand the topics extremely well. And as they are likely to be their peers, they should be very close to the content too. That’s if you have the right Chairman of course.  
Next steps?
So my first suggestion is that for every conference you are running you should ask your Chairman to come up with four or five key themes. They may be different or similar to the ones you have picked out and focused on in your event marketing but that’s not a problem and it can be done in five minutes. Once you have the themes you can come up with something which you can send to every speaker. The link is a live brief; it’s actually the one I have developed for next July’s Association Congress. You can get a sneak preview (before hopefully you copy the idea) here: Chairman's briefing for speakers.
I developed my model after speaking at a conference chaired by Elling Hamso from the Event ROI. He provided something similar to all the speakers and was a chair who truly understood the role of the Ring Master. And I hope the info over the last two Blogs will help you understand the role and give you confidence to appoint and control the right Chairman.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Let’s take conferences back to basics

Is the following too much to ask, is it fanciful? Is it too much of a stretch? Just image if every conference organiser only put on a conference that followed the following list of or actions: let’s call them commandments:
This conference will:
-          Be built around the learning needs of the delegates and have those at its’ core;
-          Be built to allow great networking, not just in the breaks but throughout the event;
-          Be in the best venue to allow a comfortable learning and networking environment;
-          Be fun and enjoyable;
-          Be memorable and
-          Will not be a vehicle for suppliers to sell to delegates
Before a speaker / facilitator stands up in front of my delegates they will:
-          Be fully briefed by me and the conference chair. And I mean fully briefed (see last weeks’ Blog)
-          The organiser or the chair will have met the speakers and seen them perform;
-          They will be experts in content but also in delivery, and if they are not, I will help them. They will have undertaken addition presentation training (the costs of which we will cover) if they need it;
-          They will have a shared vision which is clearly understood about what the event is trying to achieve;
-          They will be fully prepared;
-          They will engage with delegates and other speakers before, during and after the physical event;
-          To ensure they put the effort in, if the profile of speaking is not enough for them, then I will pay them
If this happened would we be having the eternal debate around ROI at conferences? Would we be struggling to justify a reasonable fee for a conference? I doubt it.
So what’s our industry doing?
Now as an organiser who’s organised hundreds of commercial conferences I know that this is too much to ask for every conference we organise, although we get a lot closer! But is it too much to ask, or dare I say expect, from conferences run for the conference industry? I don’t think so. Do you?
Shouldn’t we be more demanding of our trade associations; membership bodies and other companies that organise conferences for conference organisers? I think we should.
Imagine heading round to Gordon Ramsey’s for dinner and he serves you a bacon sandwich. You wouldn’t be happy. So don’t except conferences that are easy to knock up unhealthy snacks. Put the pressure on our industry to show us exactly what they can do. Run a proper conference.  

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Making sure you get the most from your conference chair

I’ve been asked to chair the ‘Conference and Events Stream’ at this years’ Association Congress in London. I love chairing events; it’s fun. But as an event organiser I know it’s no fun (quite literally) when you have a BAD chairman. And in this blog I would like to discuss that it is not always the chairman’s fault; it’s sometimes down to the organiser never quite spelling out what they want the chair to do.

So what are we organisers doing wrong?

Too many conference organisers just give logistical briefs: “Keep the conference to time”, “Lead the applause after each session”, “Don’t take a call when a speaker is speaking” – this has actually happened to me! But I suppose, can we expect anything different when we don’t brief them well enough? As organisers we have to get beneath the logistical brief and really help our chairs. Feel free to use what’s below as your chairman’s brief.

The ideal chairman’s brief

You are a simple chairman only in name. You are the conductor: you are the ring master: if this conference is a car, you are the engine.

Filling the chairman’s role at one of our conferences is so much more than keeping the day to time. There are few things that make such a positive impact on our event as having a great conference chair. This is your opportunity to shape the learning for a room full of your peers. It’s a big responsibility. So here are a few tips on how to make sure you shine in the best possible light:

Before the event:

1.       Realise how important you are to the day! You are the star striker. The quarterback. It’s your role to make sure there is energy in the room, that people are relaxed and ready to enjoy the day.
2.       We would like you to speak to every speaker. Simple as that. Give them a call, say hello and ask them what they are covering and why they are covering it. Take the time to make sure there aren’t any obvious overlaps and that they are covering the important aspects.
3.       We will send you all the slides as they arrive. Look through them and come up with a couple of questions for each speaker.
4.       In the run up to the conference we may ask you to do a bit of promotion for us. We see that as extra profile for you and we hope that you do too.

During the event:

5.       Please get there early and speak to a few delegates. It always very useful to find out from them exactly what they are expecting to get from the day. Bare these in mind when you are quizzing the speakers.
6.       After each session do please lead the applause. Also please sum up each session. It’s likely that each speaker has only two or three important points and we consider it your job just to emphasise those to delegates.
7.       At the end of the morning session and the afternoon session, it’s time for a summary again. But this time, tell the delegates what you’ve taken from the sessions and perhaps even, what you are going do to with this new found wisdom.
8.       Let’s all be flexible. If there is something that you want to cover, perhaps running over a bit, then do so; just let me know. But remember, cold coffee leads to unhappy delegates!

After the event:

9.       We really like to close the loop with our delegates. We would love you to spend an hour or two and send a note to all of the delegates summarising the day, perhaps adding a link to some content on the web that you think would be useful to them.
10.   And finally, please accept the cheque to cover your time and effort making this such a great day for delegates. We realise how important you are so of course, we are happy to pay.

Come see me in action at