It’s conference season in South Africa. End of year gatherings to close off 2018, and talk about how you’re going to make 2019 your best year ever? Whether it’s the entire business or a small team, these meetings are critical. If you’re going to be running an end of year conference, do your best to make it count.

As a conference speaker for more than 20 years, I’ve often been asked to sit on planning committees to help them think through how best to run their next conference. I’m often astounded at how often the previous year’s agenda is pulled out, and becomes the starting point for conversation and planning. The result, more often than not, is an almost carbon copy of last year’s conference, with a fresh theme, and some different speakers. The questions they then ask me are, “we had a political analyst last year, do you know a different one for this year? We had a sports personality last year, do you know of any good one’s for this year.” Bleh!

The Two Questions Every Conference Organiser Should Ask

There are two questions that need to be asked, right up front, before any conference planning gets going. Before last year’s agenda gets dusted off and used as the blue print. Before any themes or speakers are considered. They’re two simple questions, but they change everything….

  1. Who owns the conference ?
  2. What do they want to say?

Who Owns The Conference?

Every conference is owned by someone. There is a person at the top of the food chain to whom the conference belongs. At a sales conference it’s the Sales Director. At a company wide conference it’s the MD or CEO. There’s always someone who has the most to gain by getting all her / his people together in a room for a period of time. This person may not have a lot to do with the planning of the conference, or even the running. However, they’re the person who cares most about it’s success. No matter what your role in making a conference happen, you must start by asking ‘who owns the conference’?

What Do They Want To Say?

As smart as you might think human beings are, in reality they can only remember one, maybe two big things. You can make your conference about 10 things if you wish, but you need to accept that most of your delegates will only leave remembering one thing (maybe two if you’re lucky). Asking the conference owner what they would like their people to leave remembering becomes key when putting a conference together. Whatever that one thing is, the entire conference should be designed around repeating that message, in every conceivable format and through every possible channel. Once the delegates get back to the office there should be no doubt in their mind as to what the conference was about. If you don’t deliver on this, then you could have just wasted an incredibly large amount of time, money and resource on achieving very little, if anything at all.

Now You Can Line Everything Up

Once you know who’s conference it is, and what that one thing is they’d like to say, you can line everything else up. From venue, to theme, to speakers, to entertainment, to experiences, to decor, to food, to bedroom drops, T-Shirts, Team Building, etc, etc. If something doesn’t reinforce that one message then bomb it. If a speaker can’t tailor their talk to align with that one thing that needs to be said, then don’t use them. That goes for every single element you end up considering.

Conferences aren’t about out-doing last year. They not about getting bigger and better with more bling. Conferences are about getting the messaging tighter and tighter to ensure that when everyone leaves, there is no doubt as to what comes next.

It’s a large investment to put a conference together (for a big and small number of people), and if you’re going to spend that sort of time, money and resource on getting people out of the office, then you need to do everything in your power to make it count.