I’m writing from Penang, Malaysia, after a Global Conference for a global personal care powerhouse. We helped design it, organize it, facilitate it, and to coach key leaders in engaging their people.
It was in direct contrast to typical Conferences which truly are elaborate time wasters. There are numerous problems with conventional Conferences.
1) They waste budget that could go into genuine development efforts.
2) They allow mechanical and uninspired bosses to tick a box to demonstrate they’ve done something “to bring our people together”. Even though often they’ve confirmed grounds for apathy and cynicism and additionally served to entrench cliques who tend to flock together, hang out together and fortify each others pet prejudices.
3) There is not only a huge cost but scant ROI because the real cost is all the untracked commitments made during the Conference. Fuzzy questions (as no one wants to say the Emperor has no clothes) elicit fuzzier answers (as titular “leaders” are loathe to commit to anything without first going to committee to ensure any action has been rendered anodyne).
4) Any “team building” or “bonding” component is artificial, contrived, treated as a graft or an off-ramp, and rarely integrated with the overall flow of activities.
5) The quality of internal presentations is often truly appalling, with Powerpoint overload and acronym avalanches predominating.
6) More time is spent on getting t-shirts and banners right than engagement right. This then begs the question, “How much of what we experienced or achieved could have been done by Webcast?’ The answer had better be that at least 50% of what we did could only have been or certainly best be accomplished in a “high touch” setting, or don’t bother.
The Conference we just concluded was one of the very best I’ve seen. Here’s why:
1) The leaders have spent time becoming a true team — a team with both unity and diversity in appropriate measure. This was evident and remarked on by numerous delegates.
2) Messages were crystal clear. The split between vision (where we are going) to plans (how we will get there) to capabilities (things we have to build and transcend in order to deliver) to people (tracking an intensive engagement survey and team dialogues as prep) to action planning (real actions we will take in our natural teams right away) to leadership commitments (made clearly, unambiguously and with a time-line by the senior team) was just about right.
3) Different modes of engagement were in evidence. Superb videos to titillate the senses and replete with comments from key stakeholders, the ability for delegates to Tweet comments in real-time, plenary huddles and live Q&A with senior leaders in a “fishbowl” at the front, culturally relevant activities like helping to paint a part of your portrait on a Batik that became ultimately a stunning piece of art with everyone’s “piece” being a part of the whole, a chance to compete in a race around historic Georgetown (the Unesco World Heritage epicenter of Penang) interacting with locals and partaking of local activities and delicacies, innovative venues for dinner in historic mansions and glittering ballrooms and our own outdoor hawker stand, great jazz bands and DJ’s and local dancers, a chance to make music with rhythm experts, a caricaturist who captured key moments with insight and edge, a wonderful recognition ceremony where teams (and not just individuals) were acknowledged for specific achievements and progress, wonderful break-out syndicates where different leaders presented plans and answered questions, daily huddles and rehearsals by the senior team to course correct and calibrate, and the willingness of the global boss to be coached, and to connect as both leader and human being in a closing that was an “opening” and which brought 200+ people to their feet.
4) Each presentation was challenged to be a) specific b) interactive c) relevant d) future-creating e) succinct f) delivered by someone who had a real passion for the subject.
5) Facilitators from our side coached and helped capture commitments and will follow through. The mode of follow-through and the time-lines are clear and committed to.
People found it illuminating, fun, entertaining. New relationships were created (the most critical thing you can’t do by Webinar), next steps understood, emotion engaged.
Then the price-tag becomes a true investment, the time and energy provide astronomic returns, and the Conference becomes a true launch pad and catalyst. Don’t settle for something else — it will inevitably then be something less than what it should be.
A Conference is to bond, provoke, guide, focus and liberate collective potential. If two days or so can do that — and they can when done right — wow!