How to rock your people event

I often get involved in events. Sometimes as a speaker, sometimes through my day job, and sometimes as part of my volunteer role for the CIPD.  It probably isn’t a surprise to anyone that I love a good conference or event. Last week I managed three HR events. They are a great opportunity to share information, to engage, to meet people and to learn. What happens at HR conferences often finds its way into my work in one or another. 

So, prompted by a conversation on Twitter, I thought I’d share a few things I have learned along the way about events, hoping they might be useful to others. 

  1. Like with all good people stuff, start with why. What is the point of your event? What messages do you want to send? What do you want people to know or to feel at the end? Start with the end in mind and keep it there at all times when designing your content. It will keep you on track.
  2. Recognise that some people don’t like events and conferences. It isn’t their thing. Maybe because they are disengaged with their job or company. Maybe just because they find them difficult. I’ve been at several conferences where a delegate has been having a snark fest on Twitter. For those who find events difficult, make it easy for them to play some part (see next point). But at the same time recognise that your event is for the majority – focus on them first, and a little less on those attendees that you couldn’t engage even if One Direction turned up (maybe just me that one).
  3. Think carefully about any of that team building malarkey. For every person who thinks it would be super awesome to learn how to do the Haka or play drums in a circle of truth, there is another (including me tbh) that would rather run away as fast as possible in the opposite direction. If you take people too far out of their comfort zone then they are just going to check out one way or another. 
  4. Don’t make it all about you, all about a broadcast. I’ve been to too many events which are just corporate messaging and information sharing and ‘can you read this slide from the back?’  Frankly, you could stick this sort of stuff in an email / video / blog etc. An event needs to include dialogue.
  5. Put yourself in the place of the delegate and look critically at your content. Would it interest you? Would it inspire you? Or would it send you to sleep with your eyes open? Design your event with the delegate in mind, not yourself.
  6. Stick to your timings. Don’t pack so much in that you run over. Make sure your speakers don’t run over too. I’ve been known to stand up and tell someone their time is up and ask them to stop talking. It is rude to your delegates not to stick to what you have promised. If you put an Agenda out there, make sure it happens as stated.
  7. Build in learning. If you are spending time and money getting people in a room for a work conference, make sure that there is something in it for them to take away. Help them learn something new along the way.
  8. Build in fun. In particular, see next point. Fun at work is not against company policy.
  9. Build in agenda-less time. Open space. Thinking time. You don’t need to manage every moment, and some of the best insights and thinking often come from outside the structures. 
  10. PowerPoint. Less is most definitely more. As noted above, if all your speakers are going to do is read off a slide then you might as well just send it to people via email instead.
  11. Don’t forget the hygiene stuff. The right food and venue won’t make a bad event good. But they can certainly take a good event to a great one. Have decent food, plenty of water, natural light, good temperature. Make sure the venue is easy to find and provide directions and information about public transport. Have plenty of breaks.
  12. Don’t make it just about the day. A good event should have an effective build up and should then live on. There should be stuff before and stuff after. Tell people what to expect in advance. Share outputs, share photos, send updates, write blogs, encourage reflection and action. Ask others to do the same. Start an open discussion. Be open to feedback. Take the message out wider than the delegates.
  13. Include cupcakes, always.

Of course there is one last point. One that you might have come to expect from me.  Make your event social.  For the internal events, this is an opportunity to use your enterprise social network.  Externally, get the content out there. Blog. Tweet. Instagram.  Periscope. Increase your reach.  Involve the back channel. Provide a resource for others. Share your stuff. Make that hashtag rock.

And….. Don’t forget to enjoy it!

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