Strategic events are often one of a company’s largest, annual recurring investments as part of their broader engagement programs. Coordinated events present another opportunity to engage employees, customers, partners and other key stakeholders to reinforce key brand messages, strategies and experiences.
What exactly do we mean by “strategic events”? Events can range from annual sales conferences to investor days to customer appreciation events to employee engagement events with a shared goal of shifting the beliefs and behaviors of the attendees to a desired state of engagement and alignment.
Yet, far too often the desired outcome isn’t achieved by one, standalone event, which means the price tag of it usually outweighs the benefits. And measuring ROI? Don’t even think about it.
5 Principles for Increased Engagement at Strategic Events
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Companies that follow the five essential steps outlined below are much more likely to come out of a strategic event with more engaged employees, customers and partners. We’ve found that these five principles lead to the strongest levels of employee engagement and ROI at events:
1. Build a program, not an event
Events have a shelf life. They can generate short-term enthusiasm, but often not sustained engagement. To combat this, companies should design events that connect to a broader engagement program. In shifting perceptions and behaviors, people evolve along a curve of hearing, understanding, believing and living. It is difficult, if not impossible, to go through each of these phases in a single event. Long-term programs, on the other hand, employ a steady drumbeat of communications and experiences that reinforce core messages and behaviors over time.
2. Start with insights
Too often, we see organizations use events to communicate at an audience based on what they want to tell them. Just like customer research before launching a new product or service, it is vital to find out what’s on the mind of the target audience and shape the content and experience based on that insight. What is most important to them right now? What questions and concerns do they have? What are they thinking about as they walk into the event? What type of experience are they expecting? Go on a listening tour of your audience, and even take them through early stages of the content and event plan to get their feedback.
3. Define the core idea and story arc
Most events we see are like an all-you-can-eat buffet of ideas and messages. Content gets developed in silos and, at best, may be connected together by talented speakers. But more often than not, the audience is left having to piece together the messages and determine the universal takeaway themselves. Instead, companies should start with a well-defined idea or belief and integrate it throughout the event, from the messages of individual speakers to the event experiences. This core idea is more than a high-level event theme. It is a through thread that creates a compelling story arc and breaks down silos so everyone can hear, understand and apply the main point of the strategic event.
4. Modulate the experience
Many events overly fixate on the “main stage” talks. These are great for inspiration, but fall short on application. It has been proven that adults learn best when they are given multiple ways to access content. The best structured events do not rely on a single format like the main stage; they create experiences with multiple formats. This could be smaller group labs or workshops, hallway experiences, or an exposition where attendees can interact more intimately with experts or artifacts. The bottom line is, mix it up. Create a diverse experience that stimulates the audience in various ways.
5. Put culture at the center
Employees, customers and other stakeholders are increasingly attracted to organizations with a clear purpose and strong culture. However, too many companies still treat strategic events strictly as a “business meeting.” At Prophet, we have found that core messages and desired behaviors are more easily retained when the company’s culture is reflected at events. This means keeping things light, having moments of fun, surprise and recognition, and celebrating heritage. Just like the story arc, spend time crafting the emotional arc of a strategic event and figure out when, where, and how to infuse signature stories, recognition, and fun into the agenda.
These are the core principles we start with when working alongside clients to design a strategic event. Put them to work at your 2018 sales conference or as part of your employee engagement program, and you’ll see more engagement and higher retention levels.
Interested in planning an event to drive growth within your organization? Contact Mike Fleming, a Partner in Prophet’s Atlanta office who leads our efforts to help clients design and execute strategic events and engagement programs.