How to maximise return on investment long after you’ve switched off the lights at the venue.
The true test of a successful conference is not what participants say as they file out of the auditorium, but what people who didn’t even attend are saying months after you switch off the lights at the venue.
Let’s face it, 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 staff at the coalface by highly motivated leaders who heard those messages first hand.
Yet all too often, when we at Axiom are engaged by clients to check how well corporate conference messages are retained, understood and acted on, 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 s/he was that day?”
So here are five tips to help you maximise return on conference investment and get participants acting as infectious multipliers 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, being super clear that participants are required to go back and brief the key messages from the event – and that their effectiveness in so doing will be measured and reported.
Highlight that a big part of their role as leaders is to enthuse and inspire their teams. As a facilitator, I often confront participants by asking 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’d better make cascading them as easy as possible. That means doing better than photocopying 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.
Instead, create a bespoke slide deck, highlighting three to five key messages that you want leaders to brief in, and staff 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 narrative techniques or generating meaningful two-way communication as opposed to getting total silence when you ask for questions.
Doing this is a much better use of precious 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 frontline employees 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 – this often highlights a gap between the leadership agenda and day-to-day life at the coalface.
Individual anonymity helps, but do capture enough data so you can draw up league tables showing teams, functions or countries doing well – and, by implication, falling short.
In future blogs, I’ll share techniques you can use to measure success.
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 something like this for 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.