Someone recently asked me to guess how many events I had spoken at in the last 3 years. I honestly can't remember … and I'm not saying that to try and impress you. The fact is, in the last three years, I have participated in easily more than a hundred corporate events of all types. Some are internal seminars, while others are larger scale annual events or conferences. I've been invited to speak at everything from workshops for the military to networking events for young professionals. The topics for these events, also, have varied from the future of healthcare to how technology is bringing change to Africa to how to be more creative.
The reason I am telling you any of this is because the idea of how to create an amazing event, no matter what industry or audience, is a topic I have spent A LOT of time thinking about. Today, I am proud to announce a partnership with an event called the Corporate Social Media Summit – where I will be taking over as Chairman of the summit. The event is coming up in just two weeks in New York – and routinely features an amazing list of corporate speakers and great content. This will also be chance for me to work together with the conference team to collect some feedback and talk about how we might improve the event in future years.
The week before that event, I am also co-hosting a unique launch event with a networking group based in DC called Cadre. The event will be the "official launch" for Likeonomics and feature a short TED-style talk by me, following by a unique panel discussion featuring 3 of the real people who I wrote about in Likeonomics. It is a chance to go inside the writing of the book, put a real face on some of the success stories in the book and also meet an amazing group of people in a great venue (the Arena Stage in downtown DC).
Both of these events, separated by only a week, offer the perfect chance for me to share some of the lessons that I've learned about what creating a really useful and engaging corporate event really takes. So here are my top seven tips for how to really create an amazingingly useful and engaging corporate event:
- Give people time to breathe. The most common mistake I see at event after event is overscheduling. Avoid that mistake by leaving in enough buffer between sessions, time for people to interact, and ask your speakers to deliver shorter/punchier presentations and talks.
- Hit the right balance of inspiration and practicality. There are not many speakers who can deliver both practical advice, and inspire a large group simultaneously. That is ok, though, as long as you think about speakers less in terms of their content (which is always important) and more in terms of the emotional state they will leave the audience with. The best events have both kinds of speakers.
- Be VERY careful about letting sponsors speak. This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally the quality of a talk is inversely proportional to how much a speaker's organization has paid to sponsor your event. In other words, sponsors as speakers usually suck. But the real reason so many events allow this is because they haven't really thought through how to offer REAL value to sponsors, so they let them speak instead. Take the time to understand what your sponsors really care about, and then offer them more value without the speaking slot.
- Reconsider the temptation for multiple tracks. As your event grows in size, often organizers create different tracks for different topics. There is a reason that TED events don't do this. The real problem with splitting your audience is that people at the event no longer have a shared experience. There are plenty of events where multi-tracks work very well (particularly when you have very distinct audience segments with different needs), but think carefully about whether you really need to do this.
- Put your attendees on stage. I recently spoke at an event where an organization included "employee keynotes" as part of their program. At an event last year, any attendee was invited to submit an idea for a 7-minute "pecha kucha" style presentation. Efforts like these help shine a spotlight on attendees of an event, and dramatically increase the engagement from your audience because you are giving them to chance to share their point of view.
- Give people a useful framework for networking. Offering a "happy hour" at the close of a conference where you dump 100 people in a room is nice, but often the really valuable networking connections are really tough to make in that environment. Could you let people group together by interest, or use some sort of "smart badge" technology to let people more easily connect? The easier you make it for people to create real valuable connections, the more likely they are to get real value from the event.
- Make recapping the event easier. One of the facts of life about any corporate event is that not everyone gets to go. That means that almost everyone attending your event will need to produce some sort of recap of it for the rest of their team members who are back at home. For the last several years, I have produced a "top ten lessons" blog post for the Corporate Social Media Summit. It has been a great way of summarizing some lessons that anyone can take and repurpose for their own necessary job of recapping the conference to their own team members.
Any other tips that you have learned over the years that have helped in creating a really successful corporate event? I'd love to hear them here!