Here’s how to maximise your return on investment, long after you’ve switched off the lights at the conference venue or dialled off of your virtual event.
The true test of a successful conference is not what participants say as they file out of the auditorium or step away from their laptop, but what people who didn’t even participate are saying months after your event draws to a close.
Let’s face it, corporate conferences often represent quite an investment in terms of money and time. So why would you not want to make sure the benefit is felt throughout the entire organisation? Surely, the goal is clear, consistent and compelling messages delivered to colleagues by highly motivated leaders who heard those messages first hand.
Yet all too often, when we at Axiom are engaged by clients as independent third party researchers to solely check how well corporate conference messages are retained, understood and acted on, when we haven’t been involved in the conference itself, frontline staff report being poorly briefed or not being briefed at all. Indeed, when we ask them about messages from a conference that their boss attended, a typical response is: “Oh, is that where they were that day?
So here are five tips to help you maximise return on your conference investment and get participants acting as infectious advocates of your messages.
1. Set up the cascade challenge
In the opening moments of your conference, get a senior presenter to set up the cascade challenge, be super clear that participants are required to go back and brief key messages from the event – and that their effectiveness in doing so will be measured and reported.
Highlight that a big part of their role as leaders is to enthuse and inspire their teams. As conference facilitators, we often ask participants, somewhat tongue in cheek, which part of their salary they want to give back if they don’t think they can do that!
2. Make it easy to play
If you’re serious about getting your messages to live beyond the end of the conference, you have to make cascading them as easy as possible. That means doing better than sharing a selection of presenters’ slides. That’s like someone trying to deliver the punchline to another person’s half-heard joke, or looking at someone else’s holiday photos and pretending they’re interesting.
Instead, create a bespoke slide deck, highlighting three to five key messages that you want leaders to brief in, and employees to remember and act on. Importantly, include speaker notes, build in a segment for questions and answers and provide leaders with back-up FAQs.
And if you aren’t sure what the five key messages from your conference are, that’s telling you something about the conference content itself!
We often ask participants at events to rate their understanding of the key messages. We then ask them how well they believe their teams would do if asked the same question. This clarifies their task ahead.
3. Equip participants to succeed
Dedicate time at your conference for participants to familiarise themselves with, or better still practise with, the cascade materials you want them to use.
You could also provide tips and techniques to help leaders thrive in their role as message multipliers – for example, by harnessing the power of business storytelling or asking great questions, as opposed to getting total silence with everyone looking at their shoes.
Doing this is a much better use of conference time than shoehorning in yet more content – content that no-one remembers afterwards.
4. Measure the success of the cascade
Follow through on the promise you made at your conference to measure and report the effectiveness of cascade briefings. Carry out a survey of frontline staff using a sample that’s as representative as you can. Be sure to go further than simply testing for compliance (i.e. “Did you get briefed or not?”).
Instead, check the extent to which employees on the shop floor, or office floor understand the key messages and, critically, what they are doing to ‘live’ them locally. And while you’re talking to them, find out ‘the word on the street’ in your organisation, perhaps via the Engage App – this often highlights a gap between the leadership agenda and day-to-day life in your organisation.
Individual anonymity helps but make sure you capture enough data so you can draw up league tables showing teams, functions or countries doing well – and, by implication, falling short.
5. Keep the key messages alive
If your corporate conference messages really are key, you’ll want to keep them alive even beyond the conference cascade.
Why not set up a competition in which employees tell you, in their own words, how they are bringing the key messages to life in every corner of your organisation? This could take the form of case studies, even short videos. Then get employees themselves to vote for the winners using your internal social media channels. We devised and implemented this approach for our client at Mölnlycke Surgical.
Try these techniques and, even though you might dim the lights at your conference, you can shine the light on your key messages throughout your organisation for months, even years, to come and maximise your ROI.