How to run a great conference.

By Bob Morrell on May 22, 2018

Jeremy and I have spoken at many company and association conferences in the last 16 years. Our experiences prompted us to write our guide to conferences ‘Unforgettable’ which is available from our website.

Our most recent two, both located abroad, were excellent examples of how to do it properly. The first was a travel company’s own event, where all frontline salespeople were invited to Majorca to experience the location and also develop themselves a little and to challenge their thinking, and also to celebrate their success. Our job was to deliver practical training for these people which would give them something practical to take away.

The second was an association, with the event located in the United States, which was giving their members several things, entertainment, inspiration and some learning sessions. Our job was to deliver an inspirational session (twice) with key sales tips and ideas on how to grow more by selling more profitably and more often to current and new customers. We were on the same speaking bill as Jerry Springer – how cool is that?

So firstly, before we tell you how to do it properly, let’s give you a snap shot of conferences we’ve been at, which were examples of how NOT to do it.

  1. The CEO who stood up as the gala dinner starters were served and proceeded to talk for 45 minutes, thus depriving his 500 staff and guests of a warm starter, and screwing up the service for the panicked kitchen.
  2. The Financial Director who showed his favourite You Tube clip because he thought it was funny. It really wasn’t.
  3. The conference which required everyone to arrive in fancy dress, for no reason whatsoever.
  4. The staff award of £1000 for a store manager and £250 per member of staff – great – hang on though; before tax.
  5. The presentation with 20 bullet points per slide – are you kidding me? Surely, he’s not going to read them all out – he did.
  6. The introducing of the new Sales Director who promptly clammed up and said NOTHING. For an endless 5 minutes. Poor guy.
  7. The introduction of a theme which has nothing to do with anything – like ‘happiness’ followed by a painful forced game.
  8. The sponsors presentation which we have to sit through because they’re paying – please!
  9. The ageing athlete/sportsman who trots out one of 3 practiced speeches to a largely indifferent audience.
  10. The awards night where the audience were far too drunk to stagger up to the podium.

There are so many more, and one day we’ll create a forum to display these and far more amusing anecdotes. So you can see through these examples how easy it is to totally mess up this expensive investment in your staff’s time.

So how did our recent hosts get it so right?

  1. Timing – there was time to relax, enjoy and explore – seen just as important as the conference itself. Plus travel time and tiredness were also taken into account.
  2. Learning – there was some learning – us – but it wasn’t compulsory (although most came) so you can take something useful from your time away.
  3. Entertainment – was incredible, big parties in amazing venues, fun sessions at the bar, and  impromptu get togethers – plus free time to circulate and get to know people.
  4. Speakers with purpose – in Majorca there were partners and directors who gave brief but impactful speeches. In the US there were interactive sessions too and stellar speakers who held their audience spellbound – and reminded us all that the best speeches are stories that are told with a voice and require no slides or images, just our imagination and our attention.
  5. Challenge – some of the speakers weren’t afraid to rattle their audience – this is probably the most important thing of all – through real challenge we create debate and arrive at solutions – if everyone’s smiling about how good everything is, then where’s the substance?

Our next few months are packed with training gigs and filming, and we’re looking forward to our next conferences in the autumn, however, we know for a fact that these events will have to really work hard to match the venues and fun atmosphere for Majorca, and the entertainment and challenge provided in the US, and yet those areas are the crucial missing areas of most conferences and we would urge organisers to really consider who speaks, and what they ask them to say.