One of my mentors, Jack Gilmore, CEO of Strategic Events, reminds me to ask this question when planning any event. “so what?” That’s an easy question after you have a brilliant idea or solution, but coming up with the right answer to that question is the key to really successful events. As meeting planners, we are often tasked with the impossible. Our clients/bosses ask us to create a two- or three-day symposium, complete with breakouts, speakers and elements of fun on a shoestring budget. But to what end? What is the overall outcome of the symposium supposed to accomplishment? Team building — encouraging participants to work better together? Increased employee morale — making them feel better or more positively about the enterprise? Interdepartmental networking — demonstrating that discussion and idea building is available from within?
Once we know these, or other, parameters, anything is possible if we remember to tie it back to the following guidelines:
Remember your audience. I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but this is the part that is most often overlooked. Sure, your conference is for your company’s internal technical support, but how many of them are engineers? What is the average age of the attendees? Would your attendees appreciate a woman speaker who gives tips on work/life balance? It has been my experience that most all attendees appreciate a good underdog keynote story. We used to be able to put people in a conference room for a pep rally. Now, however, more is expected of the time in the conference room. The speaker should evoke ROI for your company by encouraging the attendees to make some kind of change or improvement to their current job in the company.
Check last year’s event surveys. You are doing surveys, right? What continues to get rave reviews? If your attendees asked for more networking, book a speaker like Wendy Kinney to teach your attendees how to make the most of their networking time. What percentage of attendees participated in the gala night last year? If that number needs to be higher, what internal communications can happen to make attendees most comfortable? By letting everyone know what the dress code is for the gala night, you’ll have fewer no-shows because of improper packing. http://wendykinney.com/
Know who you’re buying. How many speakers like this has your group heard before? As a meeting planner, I love websites like National Speakers Association – Georgia and Sam Hill Entertainment. Using these websites allows me to peruse as if I were window shopping, but also makes it easy for me to book a speaker or entertainment when I’m ready. Find out if the speaker/entertainer has been booked by your competition within the last year. If so, find a comparable alternative.
Know your budget. Budgets for all programs are being scaled back. Here are a couple of ways to get the biggest value for your event dollar.
- Negotiate the travel fee. Finding a local presenter or entertainment within a 50 mile radius can dramatically reduce the fee to possibly free travel.
- Negotiate the rider. The rider is the part of the speaker/entertainer’s contract that lists what is necessary to provide onsite. I have worked with entertainers who requested mini jars of honey that must equal one liter and four lemons cut into specific sized wedges. This is an extreme. Many times the rider consists of a pre-performance meal in a breakout room, two bottles of cold bottled water per member, hot tea, coffee, and a full length mirror. These are all items to remember in your overall budget
- Offer more exposure or added value. If you can’t pay a speaker’s full fee, how else can you add value? Is there training budget available to pre-purchase books that will help the speaker attain New York Times Best Seller status in exchange for a reduced speaking fee? Is there a travel budget available to invite the speaker’s spouse and/or children for the weekend? How much value can we get from this speaker? Wendy Kinney offers 30 pre-written tweets, pre-event blog posts, and newsletter articles. By the time the audience sees her in person, attendees have already bought-in and are eager to hear more. Ask the speaker/entertainer what elsecan be provided for that fee? Many times you’ll be pleasantly surprised that there is more.
Investigate alternatives. Has your company always done a two-day symposium followed by a sit-down dinner event with a band? In 2008, a Fortune 100 company’s program budget was reduced by over 60 percent. We had to totally revamp the gala night. Instead of the band and sit-down dinner, the attendees enjoyed a game night complete with mechanical bull, simulated surfing competition, arcade games, billiards, and a henna tattoo artist. Their post-event survey showed this format is what their attendees have been waiting for — totally different, but totally effective.
By asking the question, “so what?” when coming up with cost effective alternatives, then answering “because,” and really loving the answer, your meetings will be more cohesive, memorable, and therefore, longer lasting.