When organising conferences, remember that the breaks between presentations are just as important as the presentations themselves, says Glenn Leibowitz, Head of Communications for McKinsey China .
“Making new professional connections is probably just as valuable as soaking in new ideas. Conference organisers should tilt the balance away from content-heavy sessions and more towards free-ranging networking breaks.”
There is a lot hanging on your next sales conference, employee briefing or channel partner business presentation. Every live corporate event has the potential to change attitudes and influence behaviour in a positive way. In the enthusiasm to deliver the message however, the audience is sometimes forgotten. The people in your organisation and across the “extended community” will be critical to your company’s success.
Even in the most “automated” business processes or in companies where the technology of the product is its most valuable asset, the ultimate purpose of all marketing communication and support for the product or service is to generate revenue! The all-important buying decisions are almost inevitably made by individuals with personal opinions and prejudices. A conference is often your only chance to meet them on neutral ground, present your business credentials and engage them in open dialogue. That is why the break-out sessions and refreshment breaks are a vital part of the event. They must be planned and produced creatively, with the guest’s or delegate’s interests at the heart of your thinking.
Concentration lapses quickly in the audience if the room is too hot or inadequately ventilated, there is extraneous noise, the speaker cannot be seen or heard properly or the presentation content is dull or irrelevant. That’s just a brief list of the many potholes in the road that leads to your desired destination. If you want to win the hearts and minds of the people on whom you depend, make their wellbeing your top priority!
Themed breaks, with appropriate room decoration, displays and costumed waiting staff, portray and reinforce the values and core principles that you are communicating in the formal conference sessions. They lighten the mood, encouraging delegates and hosts to mix and mingle in a relaxing and entertaining setting. Delicious healthy food and refreshing drinks will renew flagging energy levels, whilst stretching the legs and chatting are both good ways of improving circulation and simulating the brain cells. The endorphins generated by lively conversation and the company of others will lift the spirits and raise enthusiasm. The “feel-good factor” of well-planned conference breaks is of great value in maintaining the momentum and heightening the anticipation of the audience.
Staying on track
The “break-out sessions”, seminars and workshops that often accompany conferences are equally important opportunities for engagement and interaction. Although they will be focused on particular topics, they must be seen as a fully-integrated part of the conference agenda. Sometimes they are treated as “break-away” rather than “break-out” activities and seen as a chance for factional splits and divisive plotting by interested groups. The best initiative for avoiding this is to involve key people in the planning and content of these sessions. It is also important for a spokesperson from each group to report from the conference platform during the next plenary session, on what had been achieved.
This also highlights the necessity of a post-conference reporting process, possibly online or using a conference app, for distributing key messages, copies of conference presentations and the minutes of break-out sessions, after the conference. There is often an opportunity, through this channel, to reach a wider audience as well as re-connecting with those who attended. It can also be used as an efficient way of collecting feedback with an online conference questionnaire.
The connections made and friendships forged in an enjoyable conference break sow the seeds for future growth and development, for both individual participants and their organisation.